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Saturday, May 09, 2009


Robert Miller

The whole business of conferring blessings "in lieu of Communion" (whether by priest, deacon or EMHC) should be suppressed. It is a practice that demeans the liturgical action in progress, much like the congregational "sign of peace", and it lends itself to the same abuse -- it suggests something "more important" is going on than the Holy Eucharist.

Deacon Harold

Here is an excerpt from a recent unofficial letter from the CDF on this matter. The document is a letter (Protocol No. 930/08/L) dated Nov. 22, 2008, sent in response to a private query and signed by Father Anthony Ward, SM, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

As a private reply the letter is not yet a norm with legal force and, as it makes clear, is not a definitive reply. However, it provides some valuable pointers on the legitimacy of this practice and the mind of the Holy See regarding it.

The letter said that "this matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation," so "for the present, this dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations":

"1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

"2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

"3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

"4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, 'forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry'. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

"5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church's discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin)."

I agree with Robert. I have always been uncomfortable with this practice, which doesn't make sense liturgically.

While they're at it, I hope the CDF specifically and directly bans bishops and priests from inviting everyone to join him in extending their hands when he gives a blessing. What's up with that?!


Lately we have visited other parishes in our diocese looking for a new parish home (for reasons other than liturgical) and we have been struck by the consistency of liturgical abuse in every one of them so far. I don't think most of EMHC's and priests really know how far off the mark things have become. Much of it has become habit engrained in an environment of sloppy and/or non-existent eucharistic theology.

A few years ago my wife and I had been under some pressure to become EMHCs and when I got a copy of Redemptionis Sacramentum from the Internet and printed it out as an explanation of our declining the offer, the person making the offer wanted nothing to do with reading it. So there is also a willful blindness, and I think perhaps even a fear, in some cases, of a loss of an "office" or "role" in the liturgy that doesn't actually exist.

My wife and I declined not in objection to the basic principle of the necessity of EMHCs occasionally, but on the basis of not wanting to become part of an ongoing problem of regular EMHCs when none were needed according to the guidelines. It seemed that to some, having a mass without EMHCs was as serious a problem as not having a priest.

fr richard

What bothers me about this practice, even when a priest does it, is that the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, is, so to speak, set aside in favor of some blessing.

It gives the appearance that these two things are are somewhat equivalent, and that the most important element, at this most sacred time at Liturgy, is that everyone can come up and "get something".

For some years now I've never been to a Roman Mass where this does not happen.


I'm an instituted acolyte which means that I'm the first person off the bench to give out communion in "extraordinary circumstances." I can't stand it when people come up for blessings...

But what am I supposed to do? I mean, seriously. I can't refuse it and not look like a huge jerk. Plus, the pastor would get mad at me, which I can't have (not if I want to get ordained, anyway). So I feel like I have to do it.

We need more direction on this from the bishops. Plain and simple. Has anyone been in a parish that has stopped the practice that can shed some light on how to do this pastorally? Any ideas?

Robert Miller

This is a very good thread because it trades some experiences that point to the need for some of the liturgical reforms that B16 has advocated before and during his Pontificate. B's questions above are especially important. How can we make the changes that are needed in a pastorally sensitive way (after all, many "conservative" Catholics rather like having their children or grandchildren come up with them to receive a blessing at Communion and greeting their pew neighbors between Pax and Agnus Dei).

First, the Church should, as B16 has suggested, either dispense with the "Sign of Peace" altogether (and, in my opinion, preferably) -- or move it to another place: e.g., before the Offertory (symbolically following Jesus'admonition to make peace with our brother before we offer our gift). The "Sign of Peace" is not the liturgical "Kiss of Peace".

Second, again as B16 has suggested, receiving Communion kneeling, on the tongue, should be re-instituted as the ordinary practice (it remains the ordinary form). There are many good reasons for this, but among them is to reduce the occasion for extraneous blessings.

Third, again as B16 has suggested, administration of the Sacrament under both forms should be returned to extraordinary practice -- perhaps for first communicants, bride and bridegroom, and maybe a few other occasions like anniversary Masses. Like the second, this one would have many salutary effects. But it should be an invariable norm that Communion is to be administered under species wine only where there are enough priests and deacons to administer both species, without help from EMHCs.

Finally, the "Communion procession" (replete with repetitive hymns, standing congregation and strong practical disincentives to non-participation) should be suppressed. In most diocesan "worship" offices and parishes today, participation in the "dance" is more important than worthily receiving Holy Communion. That's why we find so many coming up for blessings and, perhaps, many more receiving with guilty consciences (though I judge not, and don't want to get into the latter issue).

ann couper-johnston

I hope Pope Benedict enjoys a long life! If this is the opinion of the CDF it should be more widely known (and implemented!). Pope Benedict has the knowledge and experience to redress the post-Vatican II excesses and steer a course between the SSPX and the many who have used Vatican II as the excuse for sloppy practice in things liturgical.

I came into the Church immediately after Vatican II and so have experienced what I consider to be a decline in liturgical practice. One thing I find particularly inappropriate is the way people amble up to Communion. Here in the UK they just get up out of the pew and saunter up any old how, in the same way as they might to the counter to get lunch at work. This does not, to me, express the nature of what they are doing - where is the awe and wonder, the sense of occasion, that should mark reception of the Body and Blood of Christ? How can we expect people to be captivated by the Mass if it appears no different from what we do in the humdrum routine of everyday?

I find the sign of peace an intrusion at a time when we should be focussing on Our Lord, He who has just become present and who we are about to receive: it is inappropriate to divert our attention to those around us at that point. I also find some of the acclaimations at the elevation an intrusion. "Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!" is OK, but are we really supposed to rehearse our Faith as in some of the longer ones? Surely the most appropriate thing, if we must respond audibly at that point (which I dispute) is the simple: "My Lord and my God", which announces the arrival of Our Lord under the appearance of bread and wine: THE great event which has just taken place. As I see it, the most important thing, right then, is to affirm our belief that HE IS PRESENT, not recite a commentary on the implications of it.

Can someone turn up the CDF on the matter?

I have attended Mass celebrated by Fr Cantalamessa (not sure if the spelling is correct, but hope you will identify the right man!) who should know the mind of the Vatican. He will only distribute Communion to people kneeling and does so on the tongue rather than in the hand as a matter of principle.

I prefer to receive Communion from an ordained minister, and always do so for preference - though sometimes I have to go to a extraordinary one (because I have mobility problems, they sometimes approach me first: sometimes it would be quite obvious that I was deliberately avoiding them, and I don't want to invite controversy or bad feeling, just do what I think right quietly and unobtrusively) Roll on the day when the CDF or whoever puts an end to these practices!

I too, would welcome more discipline regarding Communion in both kinds: I welcomed the introduction on certain limited occasions (in small groups, on special feasts) and like to receive that way on such days as Corpus Christi, Easter, Christmass, but what we have gained by it becoming the normal practice I do not know.

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