Wednesday, June 04, 2008

One for Joseph Fromm

So I thought I'd throw a bone to Joseph Fromm over at GoodJesuitBadJesuit. Given his ability to stand in judgment over the relative goodness or badness of a member of the Society of Jesus, I reckon he'll appreciate that I've been spending some time with both the code of Canon Law and with various directives issued by the USCCB  in regard to the reception of the Holy Eucharist.

You see, there's a young diocesan priest in my Bronx neighborhood who has been the source of great consternation these past few months. Now for many, Father certainly looks the part: he struts regally throughout Little Italy in his cassock and biretta. He also has brought the Latin Mass to the parish. 

Yet Father sometimes forgets that the homily is often better spent breaking open the readings and preaching the Gospel of Christ rather than ranting about poor mass attendance (preaching, of course, to the people who do attend). And just yesterday, I heard from a friend that this week's homily - Matthew's Gospel on the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built on the sand - addressed the pressing need of a diatribe against taking communion in the hand. 

Now Father and I have had already a little skirmish over this issue. It's in the hands of the chancellory right now. But in my effort in wanting to be a GOOD Jesuit, I went back to the teaching of the hierarchical Church to see what it had to say.

And this is what I found:

1. In Canon 912, we read that "Any baptized person who is not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion." 
Now I mention this simply because I thought it very interesting.

Here's where it really starts to get interesting. On the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I found a work from the Committee on Divine Worship entitled Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America.

A little ways into the norms, I came upon this little gem. Believe me, I prayed over it at mass this morning:

41. Holy Communion under the form of bread is offered to the communicant with the words "The Body of Christ." The communicant may choose whether to receive the Body of Christ in the hand or on the tongue. When receiving in the hand, the communicant should be guided by the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem: 'When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost."

Call me crazy, but I think that's quite lovely. And it's interesting, too, that St. Cyril - born in 315 CE - appreciated back in the good old days that Communion in the hand wasn't a grave offense to the Lord. 

Now I'm all for personal predilections: coffee with cream or without, vanilla or chocolate, bagel with cream cheese or butter. There may be all sorts of reasons motivating one's choice but, ultimately, one has a choice. As the norms are very clear, an attitude of reverence and devotion is to be maintained both on the part of the Minister and on the part of the Communicant. 

It may certainly happen that some day a directive will be promulgated that Holy Communion may be taken only on the tongue. On that day, I will do so. But to the extent that I have choice, that I have prayerfully considered and find that I have a preference for receiving in the hand, I will continue to do so. 

Not to be trite, but if I met our Lord today I'd sooner stick out my hand to greet him than stick my tongue out at him. Actually, I'd probably hug him but, I reckon, you get the gist.

I mention Joseph Fromm explicitly because I know how liturgical abuse gets under his skin. And I thought I could be a good Jesuit if I helped to limit what I see as a corruption of the purpose of the homily - to break open the living Word and to help articulate it to the Body of Christ - when it is used as a personal platform to expound upon one's personal preference. 

Perhaps it's just me, but when I am subjected to long harangues on ANY topic in the place of the homily, I leave the Eucharistic celebration somewhat irritated. I take it as an insult to me and to God's people that the priest has no interest in reflecting prayerfully on the readings and helping to bring us into contact with the living Word, choosing instead to trot out his own pet issue and give an address that is wholly out of place for the Eucharistic celebration. 

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