Joseph Shaw’s HPR article has food for thought about reception of Communion during COVID-1984

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.

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  1. Danteewoo says:

    It seems to me that attending Mass without receiving Communion is a greater , more important thing than receiving Communion without attending Mass. Why? Because Mass as the reenactment of Calvary is God loving God, which is more important, a greater thing than God loving us, which is Communion. What do you think, Father?

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  3. Gaetano says:

    I can confidently assure you that many priests & seminarians are nor properly catechized about what the Mass is. Not only are they deliberately not taught what it is, they are actively & intentionally taught otherwise, and even screened before they enter to ensure they don’t hold such beliefs.

  4. Fr. Reader says:

    If many priests do not bother even to celebrate Mass everyday (unless they have an obligation), and much less to receive communion, how they would transmit this idea of receiving communion outside Mass.

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    I ordinarily use a hiking staff, actually a pilgrim’s staff, to assist with my walking, and so when I approach a priest for Holy Communion, both of my hands are busy.

    In this circumstance, it just isn’t possible for me to take Communion in the hand, setting aside the various considerations.

    The priest this morning did still try and insist on distributing the Host into my hand, ’til I made a gesture and a shrug and said “no can do, sorry”.

    I take the sensible precaution of taking Communion last in these circumstances, as I would not wish others in the Congregation to fear that I might have infected them !!

    The Spanish Lefty government meanwhile seems to have authorised the Mass from tomorrow onwards ; but banned the “distribution of objects” during Mass.

    The atheistic scorn could not be more obvious …

    PS there are not huge Congregations of crowds at the Sunday Mass here, but only small numbers.

    The absent have made a certain choice between the World and the Christ.

  6. MarkosC says:

    My impression is that the 1 hour rule was supposed to be a bare minimum that applies to all people, at all times, and that people were encouraged to do more as able/prudent/etc.

    Setting the minimum as the normal probably does encourage slothfulness when people attend Sunday Mass in the mornings. (assuming the clergy talk about it in the first place and the people have sufficiently spiritual and prayerful interior lives to even consider it – which may be the underlying problem)

    But there are situations where Mass is not a Sunday Mass in the morning. (note that I believe the vast majority of people attend Mass only on Sunday morning, so my examples below are inherently exceptions)

    For instance, we have “vigil masses” on Saturday evenings (for people who often want to “get their obligation out of the way so they can do other things Sunday”, as one person explained it to me), Sunday evenings (for the sleepy and straggling – I know one parish with a standing-room-only 7:00pm Sunday Mass because it is the last Mass in its Diocese) and even waay late in some situations (a certain Catholic university has a 10am Mass for the Order that runs it – that almost no students attend – then 6pm, 7pm, 9pm, and 11pm Masses for the students). I’ve also attended Sunday Mass at an airport chapel at 3:00pm – a time chosen by the the airport workers who were the vast majority of attendees – and the priest/congregation was among the most serious and pious I’ve ever encountered.

    This is not evening talking about daily Mass. I once worked in an office next to an urban Cathedral with 12pm and 5pm daily Mass. Obviously it’s easy to have lunch or dinner after Mass, and if our firm had some event or meeting with hour’dourves at 10 or 11 it was easy enough to stop socially snacking by 11:15.

    Would then folks recommend the three hours as canonical minimum in all situations? (should be easy enough to do for those daily masses in all but exceptional circumstances. I would generally not snack except for a little at those meetings anyway)

  7. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Yes I would recommend 3+ hours in all situations. It is meritorious and beneficial to attend and pray with the priest at Mass even when we don’t receive Holy Communion. That was the norm for many mamy centuries. To do less is to casualize reception to the point of banality.

    That is Fr Z’s whole point. The idea that we have to receive “the white thing before we sing the song” is the whole problem. If we want to receive at every Mass we attend then the Church should require us to care enough about Communion to be willing to skip business hour’dourves altogether. Or eat them and make a spiritual Communion and have more strength to skip the snacks for Jesus the next time…

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