Another vain attempt to impose Novus Ordo lockstep unity on the faithful: Archdiocese of Seattle

It is at least ill-advised to attempt the same thing again and again and again with unvarying poor results, and yet keep on the poorly chosen course.

Yet another discouraging example of episcopal over-reach, in the interest in trying to impose the illusion of uniformity on the Communion Rite of the Novus Ordo.

The Archbishop of Seattle issued a pastoral letter on liturgy.  HERE

Say what you want about the rest of it.   This part, however, has the offensive and illusory detail.   Let’s look together on page 10.

First we read:

Reception of Holy Communion is a sacred moment of encounter with the risen Lord in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. It is intimate, yet it is not merely individual: This is a communal action. When we go forward to receive Communion, we do so as part of a procession with the whole gathered community. We become what we receive: the Body of Christ. For this reason, unity of posture is important in the Communion procession as well.

First of all, it may be a “communal action” to go forward to receive, but the effects of reception are not the same in those receiving.  I quote St. Thomas Aquinas’ Lauda Sion:

Sumunt boni,
sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inæquáli,
Vitæ vel intéritus.
The good receive,
The wicked receive,
But their lot is not the same,
Life or ruin.
Mors est malis,
vita bonis:
Vide paris sumptiónis
Quam sit dispar éxitus.
Death for the wicked,
Life for the good:
See how unlike the result
from like acts of reception.

I did word searches in the Archbishop’s letter:

reconciliation – 0
penance – 0
confession – 0
sin – 1 (Quote of St. John Chrysostom quoting Scripture)
community – 14 communities – 5

Every reception of Communion in the state of grace builds up the interior life of the communicant.

Every reception of Communion in the state of mortal sin is an additional, compounding sin of sacrilege that imperils the soul.

Every reception of Communion in the state of grace builds the “community” up.

Every reception of Communion in the state of mortal sin tears the “community” down.

And yet in the Archbishop’s letter there is not one mention of of the Sacrament of Penance, Reconciliation, confession, mortal sins, the state of grace.

But let’s make sure that people are in lockstep in how they walk up to the front of the church so that someone without anointed hands can give them the white thing.

Individuals go to Heaven or to Hell, not groups.

It seems to me that the Archbishop would do well to focus on the spiritual well-being of both individuals and the whole body of his flock by stressing the absolute obligation to receive the Eucharist in the state of grace. 

Let’s consider the next part:

As we move in procession to the altar, we bow before receiving the Body or Blood of Christ, and remain standing to receive Holy Communion, whether the host or the chalice. To kneel at this point, or to add other gestures, individualizes the reception of Communion. But this is not the moment for personal expressions of piety, which can distract others and draw attention to ourselves. Rather, reverent in our belief in the Lord’s true presence in the Eucharist, this is the time when we should be most unified as a community. In receiving the Body of Christ, we become one with Christ, and through Christ, one with everyone else who receives the same Eucharistic Lord.

“As we move in procession to the altar, we bow…”.  Oh, do we?

And what about this?

“To kneel at this point, or to add other gestures, individualizes the reception of Communion.”

Are you kidding me?  Watch a Novus Ordo congregation for a while.  People approach for Communion and some bow and some don’t (even after being instructed to).  Some put their unwashed left hand over their unwashed right, while others put right over left.  Some say “Amen!” loudly.  Others, mumble.  Some say nothing at all.  Some step aside to communicate. Some consume on the spot before moving.  Some walk away with Hosts and have to be (I hope) chased down!  Others do the one handed thing and then pop them in their mouths like an hors d’oeuvre.  Others make the sign of the Cross right away.  Others are elaborate and careful.  Still others make some sign… I don’t know if it is a cross or not.  Some do nothing.  Some genuflect immediately before receiving.  Others, after reception, say “Thank you!”  That’s a favorite.

But the Archbishop is really worried about those who want to kneel to receive being a distraction.  They are a distraction from the chimeric fantasy of uniformity of reception.  You can hear the “tisk” of disapprobation about what is both the way Catholics have received for many centuries but also what is still guaranteed them by law:

But this is not the moment for personal expressions of piety, which can distract others and draw attention to ourselves.

It’s not time for their expression of piety, but it is time for the Archbishop’s personal preferences about how they ought to receive.

In another section of the letter than follows, he quotes Sacrosanctum Concilium:

Let us commit ourselves to greater fidelity to both the prayers and the rubrics of the Roman Rite, remembering that no person, “not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

“On his own authority”.  Shall we at this point remind the readership of Redemptionis Sacramentum 90-92?  The Church’s highest liturgical authority legislated for the whole of the Latin Church that the faithful always have the right to receive on the tongue and to receive kneeling.

Archbp. Etienne wants uniformity at Communion.  Fat chance.  It isn’t going to happen.  His energy would be better spent on preaching about the Sacrament of Penance and giving the good example to his priests of hearing confessions before Masses, so that at least those communicants are not likely to be unshriven for only God knows how long.

How about trying to achieve greater unity in reception of Communion in the thing that is, by far, more important: reception of Communion in the state of grace?

But let’s for a moment grant him his premise.   Let’s give the importance he wants to give to greater uniformity for the sake of collective identity as the Body of Christ during Mass.  We can do that.

That said, after some 5o years of options for the reception of Communion, or attempts to catechize, and then finally to impose the desired uniformity, and while allowing for the obvious exceptions of the elderly or impaired, we come finally to one inescapable conclusion:

To achieve greater unity in the reception of Communion, the only way is…

…reception on the tongue while kneeling.

They very thing that these folks imagine will produce uniformity is precisely the thing that is creating the disunity.

The obvious answer lies in our Traditional practice.

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  1. Kevin says:

    Some beleive in the real presence some don’t, more don’t care. With this the case the uniformity in posture is irrelevant. Nothing more than sterile choreography.

  2. ProfKwasniewski says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for this excellent analysis.

    I have worked with a few bishops over the years who were feverishly opposed to kneeling for communion. It was something that really got them worked up. To me, this was always deeply disturbing. How can it be such a problem to kneel before God? (Even if the USCCB foolishly chose a different standard?)

    It seems to me that there is a real problem of FAITH here, an implicit denial that the Word has become flesh, and the Word-made-flesh has become Eucharist (if I may put it that way). Otherwise this aversion to the 1,000-year-old custom of kneeling — an obvious sign of adoration — cannot really be understood.

  3. Cardinal Sarah might want to send a letter admonishing Mons Etienne and the others to retreat from this nonsense; doubtless his successor will signal in some way that they can in fact continue to do as they like but C. Sarah will have laid a marker down as to what ought to be. He’s got one more week. (Well, one more week, worst case. Spes contra spem.)

  4. ex seaxe says:

    We are given the host or chalice individually and consume it individually. If the Church were wanting us to communicate as a communal gesture, she would surely have adopted the procedure I have seen in a Presbyterian church. The congregation remained in the pews while the bread, and the wine (¿grape juice?) in individual glasses was distributed, and when each had received a portion then acting together each person consumed, that was a communal gesture.
    The Archbishop’s instructions could be worse though, some dioceses instruct everyone to remain standing until each has returned to their place, “as a communal gesture”. In our congregation some cannot stand, and some cannot kneel, that sort of uniformity is an illusion.

  5. Tom says:

    There’s that word AGAIN! Community! Let us eradicate it from the lexicon. The word has become meaningless through persistent over-use.

  6. TDPelletier says:

    ”But this is not the moment for personal expressions of piety, which can distract others”
    should have been
    ”But this is not the moment for personal expressions of piety, which can inspire others”.

  7. Hidden One says:

    As Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out a long time ago, the repeated “nobis” of the “Agnus Dei” is replaced by the first person singular in the “Domine, non sum dignus” for a reason.

    In truth, the authentic unity of the faithful, even during Mass, is not a horizontal web of connections. Rather, the connection between each of the faithful both is and is through Christ. Whatever truly facilitates a deeper relationship between one communicant and Christ inescapably and automatically entails a deepening of the communion between that communicant and the others. The reverse is also true.

    I pray that His Grace will soon have mercy on his sheep.

  8. I wonder how many of those who hate kneeling for Holy Communion are okay with kneeling to protesters?

  9. oldCatholigirl says:

    A baby step towards unity would be to have everyone face the same direction, i.e., towards God, during Mass.

  10. iPadre says:

    The never ending drumbeat of a generation loosing ground.

    If they want “unity of posture,” it should be by conforming to the norm, not the that which is only a permission giving by indult.

    I pray every day the indult is rescinded.

  11. teomatteo says:

    Professor P. Kreeft likes to recount that a nonbeliever attended Holy Mass with him and when they left, the visitor asked him, “Now you are saying that those people received the body of God as they knelt?” The good professor answered, “Yes, yes they did”. The visitor asked, “How could they ever rise from the ground after receiving their God?!?”
    I vote for kneeling.

  12. Cincinnati Priest 2 says:

    Fine analysis, as usual.

    To his credit, however, it should be said that +Etienne at least uses the word ‘sacrifice’ seven times in the pastoral letter. In this day and age of emphasizing the Eucharist *only* as a meal, that is something.

  13. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    When I first read the headline, I thought “That’s Archbishop Sample’s archdiocese!” I’m very pleased to be wrong about this. Portland is just down the highway, but I gather so short a distance can make such a great divergence of opinion.

    Some time back you drew our attention to the problems with the reception of Amoris Laetitia, noting that neighboring dioceses across international boundaries could have this problem. Apparently it’s even possible in adjacent dioceses not influenced by different national conferences.

  14. Lepanto ! says:

    I would rather lick doorknobs in China than genuflect / bow to the church of the State here in Seattle.
    Trinity Sunday was day 89 {and counting since our last previous public Mass in the Archdiocese of Seattle}.
    Our priests under the yolk of “obedience” don’t want to rock the boat so they foolishly and eagerly accept the template promulgated by the feckless, corrupt Etienne and his Chancery minions that are in lockstep with the State….Gov. Inslee being among the worst in the USA for WuHuFlu overreach.
    That template, as stated in a previous missive from the Chancery requires: Digital sign-up in advance, maximum of 50 people, mandatory masks, door checkers to confirm one is on the list (more minions complicit with the State overreach), ushering to seats by ushers / minions, “anti-social” distancing, a hall pass to use the bathrooms, no communion at all whatsoever until after the conclusion of Mass where all are instructed to shuffle and bumble their way to the Communion Rail in family groups.
    ….Oh, and don’t miss the collection basket on the way out. Next group please, right this way!
    We did not sign up and did not attend and will not attend the Church of the State.
    Priests and their respective orders – Redemptorists, Dominicans, FSSP and misc. others can and should push back on the Abp. ; NONE did. That is on them and no small matter. These priestly orders have canonical status in the Diocese and cannot get kicked to the curb by the “Ape-the-State” Abp. The diocesan priests as well either take a stand and the consequences OR be complicit by their lockstep.
    The State deemed Almighty God non-essential in the State of WA and the useless, pathetic Abp said **nothing in reply** for 80+ days and only then issued his “template” which apes the State. The mountain of evidence of why and how they are on the take makes it obvious why no pushback occurs from Abp to State. NOTE: Etienne was quick to *immediately* issue a tome on racism however after the sickening riots erupted in Seattle just blocks from the Chancery offices and the Abp’s Mansion which he is “too humble like Francis” to stay in and is threatening to sell for a multi 7-figure sum to further prop up the crumbling cesspool of a diocese he inhabits.
    The Seattle Abp even went so far as to recommend {require?} and facilitate individual parishes take out SBA loans in the initial phase of the WuHuFlu lockdown. Through their Chancery stooges at each parish, the Pastor was “assisted” in taking these loans. Who advises a solvent Catholic Parish to take a loan from the DMV of lenders, the SBA?
    More debt for the Parishes and they unwittingly hoovered up those funds for some of their very own parishioners who were furloughed or had their businesses shuttered and could not access relief because someone else {their Pastor} received the funds. SOME of these remain without work and SOME will never be able to re-open their livelihoods. Can you imagine some of the fallout in the confessionals as a result?
    State overreach.
    Feckless Archbishop who won’t punch the bully on the playground.
    Complicit priests and their stooges.

  15. iamlucky13 says:

    Although it is quite unfortunate that he did not address sin and reconciliation in his letter, to give some credit to our relatively new Archbishop, I wish to note that he is reversing the past instruction, upheld by multiple Archbishops, to stand after the Agnus Dei. He writes:

    “In addition, we should “kneel after the Agnus Dei”until it is time to go forward in the Communion procession. Kneeling is a posture of adoration. “

    Although the GIRM does not specify a posture here, I find it far more fitting to kneel. Furthermore, the past instruction to stand is a holdover after the attempts to end kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer fell apart after a couple of years of a confused mix of postures. Even in Seattle and with strong peer pressure, the progressives couldn’t convince the majority of regular Mass attendees that there was no reason to kneel for the consecration, so they settled with official sanction for standing after the Agnus Dei.

    The prior instruction also was “should,” rather than “must,” and I seldom heard of parishes trying to enforce it. Unfortunately, I do know of one case where the teenage daughter of some family friends was lifted to her feet by an usher when she knelt, which was humiliating for her. It could well have been a contributing factor to why she left the Church as a young adult.

    As to the quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium: I hope this signals intent to further reign in the previously very common habit of many priests to improvise the prayers and rubrics. It used to be rampant. It’s much better in the last 5-10 years, but still not rare.

    While the depth may be limited, Archbishop Etiennes actions so far seem to be some of the more tangible signs of support for a number of young priests in this Archdiocese who have slowly been restoring more reverence to the liturgy, and in many cases being fought tooth and nail by very vocal members of their congregation.

  16. Sue in soCal says:

    In my diocese, before my husband, my son, and I moved here, there was a diocesan wide conference called by the bishop to determine what color wine would be used by all churches in the diocese. Red was declared the winner and the appropriate jug of whatever wine was the correct color was purchased at the local liquor store for use at Mass.
    This was a decision of some importance, apparently, because when I bought white sacramental quality wine and donated it, there was quite an uproar the first time it was used. Who knew that color was more important than proper quality.
    Then Bishop Etienne was the previous ordinary of the diocese.

  17. The Tradinator says:

    Better put on the ole’ hip boots, it’s getting deep.

  18. SAHMmy says:

    With all due respect…’s SEATTLE! My son lives there. I go to Mass when I visit him. It’s AWFUL. Before the Covid BS I’d get the stinkeye for wanting to receive on the tongue. The teaching and preaching there is AWFUL and ugh and modernist. *shudder*

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  20. monstrance says:

    Lapanto !
    I can’t help but believe that the actions of many of these bishops is swayed by their lawyers.
    The way most of them have followed lockstep their respective state’s dictates. The modern day bishop has become more concerned with filling the coffers than the salvation of souls.

  21. Fr. Charles A. F. says:

    I remember reading somewhere that this imposition of unity of posture in liturgy used to be distasteful to older Italians, when there was still enough of them around to remember that this fad came into being at the same time as, and in imitation of, Mussolini’s military parades…

  22. Ms. M-S says:

    If it’s “at least ill-advised to attempt the same thing again and again and again with unvarying poor results, and yet keep on the poorly chosen course” it’s at worst close to a popular definition of insanity. On the “process” side it veers toward indoctrination and brainwashing, suggesting less a “sacred moment of encounter” than the Collective marching in unison to the Tao. Oh, Fordy! This is honestly scary.

  23. JonPatrick says:

    Interesting that it is those that attend the traditional Mass that are accused of “rigidity” yet the dioceses and parishes that offer the Ordinary Form seem to be rife with these attempts at unifying posture etc. while at traditional Masses generally each person is allowed to worship in his or her own way.

  24. Imrahil says:

    My particular disagreement here is not even with the application to the particular issue of Holy Communion. It is with the whole idea of uniformity which the archbishop decidedly advocates.

    My somewhat traditionalist take on that is that that’s not the Catholic way of doing things. And “not” not in the sense of “imperfectly”, but in the sense of “not at all”.

    Also, I somehow would prefer someone told His Excellency about what a march-in-step and what a march-without-step is, what standing at attention means and how to do a salute and to pay one euro (or, I guess, one dollar) when the uppermost button of the blouse is closed or any other button open. Now, I do not say that is a bad thing; quite the contrary, in its proper place.

    The military tends to be better at it, though. (Of course, they do like their dismissals, too. Also, when I was a young conscript, “formal service”, as the expression was, was held by most to be harder than anything except actual missions and training-area exercise.) But there is also something like unity in disuniformity. This might perhaps be rightly the Church’s proper ground: in an army, it is mere accident that soldiers are different from each other, the idea is that they fight “like one man” as the phrase goes. In the Church, all really are in union, or meant to be, but emphatically as different people, because God created them as different people and loves them as different people, and they are meant to (and often enough do) love each other, which means loving them with their differences. “According to Himself the Son was a sword separating brother and brother that they should for an aeon hate each other. But the Father also was a sword, which in the black beginning separated brother and brother, so that they should love each other at last.” (Chesterton)

    And thus, the Easterners and Westerners worship in different rights, but they are one. The Westerners nowadays worship in different languages, but they are one; and when they worship in Latin, which is good for many reasons (but I’m not sure whether uniformity is one reason, the least, or none at all), then the German pronounces a German Latin, the Englishman pronounces an English Latin, even the Frenchman pronounces a French Latin perhaps, and Pope St. Pius X. said it would be nice if people all pronounced an Italian Latin (it being the dialect of the Church’s capital), but emphatically went no further than “it would be nice”. And if you come to an Old-Rite Mass during the preface and Sanctus, you’ll see (I) those who kneel all their way through Mass and don’t even get the idea that there’s a preface, (II) those who kneel at the beginning of the Sanctus, (III) those who kneel when the priest makes a bow, because they conclude that he finished his Sanctus, and (IV) those (which usually include me) who kneel after the choir finishes the Sanctus. In a way, it is a greater manifestation of unity that it doesn’t need uniformity, than enforcing uniformity would here be.

    (In fact, in the Novus Ordo, you do sometimes, and especially when comparing it to the Vetus Ordo, get the impression that it is like a battalion’s line-up, but without all the discipline. The Vetus Ordo not so much; rather more it is a distinctly un-military thing with discipline.)

  25. acardnal says:

    The GIRM DOES allow for reception of holy communion while kneeling in the the USA:

    #160 The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, March 25, 2004, no. 91).

  26. RosaryRose says:

    It’s not my personal piety. Its not about me. It’s not about the Archbishop, the other parishioners, it is all about Jesus. God before me.

  27. SemperServusDei says:

    What about unity with the saints in Heaven, the vast majority of whom received on the tongue while kneeling?

  28. Orual says:

    “How about trying to achieve greater unity in reception of Communion in the thing that is, by far, more important: reception of Communion in the state of grace?”

    Amen, Father!!! If we could only get this ONE thing right, everything else would fall into place!

  29. KJAdney says:

    Having known the Archbishop before his current (or prior) elevation, I think it is very reasonable to believe he could be manipulated by his chancery and clerical minions to issue such an ill-advised directive.

    In addition to “community”, a book could easily be filled with the religious buzz-words and phrases that should be forbidden.

  30. ejcmartin says:

    The letter almost seems like it was lifted verbatim from my diocese’s instructions back in 2011. We must all stand as community, blah blah blah until all have received and only sit/kneel after the priest or “Eucharistic Minister” has closed the Tabernacle door.
    The same people who complain that the faithful who prefer the traditional Mass are too rigid, ironically, nearly a decade later are the only ones who stand up straight as an arrow until the priest has closed the Tabernacle.

  31. iamlucky13 says:

    Responding to RosaryRose:
    “It’s not my personal piety. Its not about me. It’s not about the Archbishop, the other parishioners, it is all about Jesus. God before me.”

    I agree with your overall point, but would like to add that in a sense it actually is about my personal piety.

    It is not about showing my personal piety to others. It’s about doing a pious act to reinforce to myself Who I am receiving.

  32. Will Elliott says:

    In response to Sue in soCal: I’ve long been convinced that the use of white or rose wine for communion has been driven by sacristans since it is easier to clean those stains out of purificators and other altar linens than the stains resulting from using red wine.

  33. CatholicEsq says:

    It’s actually reaching the point of being bizarre. There is a strange obsession with making sure the laity do not kneel or receive on the tongue. Are the Bishops really just concerned with ensuring conformity around the table of plenty for our “communion meal” (as if that reasoning made any sense) or is there something else going on here?

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  35. Jared B says:

    I’m in the archd. of Seattle and for us this was a bit of a mixed bag. The Archbishop restored kneeling after the Agnus Dei, after decades of being expected to remain standing afterwards. So of course we are very happy about that, at least. It’s one step in the right direction in a diocese with some of the deepest history of theological and liturgical liberalism anywhere in the country. I don’t know what kind of compromises the archbishop maybe felt he had to make with the diocese’s still entrenched apparatchik just to avoid a freak-out over even that much reverence being reintroduced into the Mass, so I want to give my bishop the benefit of the doubt, and be thankful that I and my family can finally kneel after the Agnus Dei like normal Catholics without sticking out like a sore thumb. “Brick by brick” and all that.

    I did notice the _circular logic_ about kneeling for Communion though. Kneeling is supposed to be verboten because to “kneel at this point…individualizes the reception of Communion”, but it is only individualizing because it isn’t officially allowed, eh? The bishop could just as logically have made kneeling the norm, and then not kneeling would “individualize the reception”.

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