A reader alerted me to a fine article at HPR by Joseph Shaw of the UK’s Latin Mass Society. He wrote something that pertains to my look, yesterday, at the guidelines issued by the Diocese of Little Rock. I took strong exception to a dictate in those guidelines for a specific reason. Shaw’s piece adds an interesting perspective.
After Shaw comments on the development of a strong social dimension to participation at Mass, to the detriment of the mysterious and ritual dimensions, he writes of the historical practice of distribution of Communion outside of Mass and its subsequent return to the context of Mass. My emphases and comments.
The increasing emphasis on Mass as a meal began long before the Second Vatican Council. A major step in this direction was moving the reception of Holy Communion back into Mass, in the early decades of the twentieth century. For many centuries prior to this, Communion had been distributed outside Mass, and commonly (as the frequently of reception increased with the waning of the influence of Jansenism), between Masses. There is a parallel between this development, and the later encouragement of the distribution of Hosts consecrated at the same Mass, rather than those consecrated earlier and stored in the tabernacle. The meal symbolism is served by both changes. What may be lost is the sense of the eternity and singleness of the Mass and the Victim.
I have no strong personal objection to either historical development, but it is a fact that today the reception of Holy Communion outside Mass is once again going to become the norm, at least for a time. It seems that for many Catholics the very idea of reception outside Mass, except for the hospitalized and housebound, has become difficult to imagine, and much of the push-back against the banning of Mass with a congregation appears derive from the idea that if we cannot attend Mass, then we will not be able to receive Communion. [Exactly. Thus, the loss of the sense of what Mass really is.] Indeed, so difficult has this been to imagine that many bishops and priests have failed to note that this remains a possibility, and one where the risk of infection can be managed in all sorts of ways: by limiting the number of communicants, if necessary to one; by the priest cleansing his fingers before and after the ceremony; by performing the ceremony outside, or in a controlled environment; and so on.
Clearly, a carefully controlled approach to distributing Holy Communion outside Mass will place a limit on the numbers able to receive, and even on the most optimistic view Catholics will have to get used to another aspect of standard past practice: infrequent Communion. Today, not only is Communion outside Mass hard to imagine, but for many Catholics so is attendance at Mass without the reception of Communion. This implies a casual attitude towards the reception of Holy Communion which perfectly accords with the placing of the meal-symbolism ahead of other considerations, but is not a positive development from other points of view.
Shaw is certainly right. His point about it being “hard to imagine” not receiving Communion at Mass underscores a major crisis in the Church today: Have people been adequately catechized about what Mass is?
It seems also to me that Communion outside of Mass, and less frequently, may be a way forward as Chinese COVID-1984 continues or some other demon virus comes along.
My objection to the dictate in Little Rock about Communion after Mass only for those who want to receive on the tongue was not so much about that being after Mass. While that seems unfair, given that Communion on the tongue need not be any riskier than Communion in the hand, it could be a viable way forward. It was the tone of disdain in the Little Rock Dictate for the people who want Communion on the tongue that has no place in a diocesan document.
The sheer insensitivity of that tone underscored the fact that the single most systematically marginalized group in the Church today are those who desire traditional sacred worship.
At the same time, we have to be honest and admit that, sometimes, “trads” can be their own worst enemies when it comes to their dealings with clergy.
We can and must do better.