February 9, 2009

On Being an Ordinary Eucharistic Minister

Yesterday I had this dialogue with a communicant:

Charles: The Body of Christ
Random Soul: Thank you
C: The response is 'Amen.'
RS: I'm sorry, Father, it's my first time.
C: (surprised) You're first time ever?
RS: (apologetically) No, but the first time in a long time.
C: (relieved) O.k.; The Body of Christ.
RS: Amen!

Then, seeing his thumb and forefinger set in the dreaded "pincers" gesture, ready to grab the host from me, I motioned it towards his mouth. He got the idea and received on the tongue.

It's funny; in my growing up in religious life I have often detected an indirect and largely unspoken doctrine that pastoral ministry is supposed to make you more loose about rules and less concerned about church teachings and procedures. In the place of these, you become more "pastoral." For whatever reason, this hasn't happened to me. Besides, I find this colloquial meaning of "pastoral" somewhat offensive.

My role as ordinary Eucharistic minister is a good example. My experience as a parish priest has made me more aware and strict about how I minister the host at Mass.

If someone does not respond to the address, 'The Body of Christ' with the 'Amen,' I don't give it to them until they do. I do not accept common alternative forms of the 'Amen,' such as "Thank you," and "Yes, Sir."

If someone does not present their hands at least above their navel, I act like I don't see them and try to communicate them on the tongue. I do the same thing when people present the "pincers," ready to grab the host from me. As one of my very first (and best) friar teachers liked to say, "Sacraments are given and received from one member of the Body of Christ to another. They are not grabbed, taken, or passed around in a circle."

I do not hesitate to leave my station and follow people if I don't observe some indication that they have consumed the host. I enjoy being known for my willingness to do this, and I hope it encourages people to consume the host promptly. After all, we are supposed to consume the host before we even turn around!

Apart from all these trials and difficulties, I continue to find this ministry nearly overwhelming in its depth and beauty. To look into someone's eyes and proclaim them the Body of Christ is an intense act of reverence and intimate regard. As I have written about before, I feel intensely privileged to be given the ministry of reverencing and offering to God all of the stories of joy and pain I see in each set of eyes and each pair of hands.


Pia said...

This is beautiful,especially at the end, even though it brought a few laughs at the start..I've heard a few priests give an explanation of how to receive Communion instead of preaching the homily.

I often receive communion and say Amen, but the priest doesn't say the body of Christ. More than one has done this.
But my most precious memory of Communion is when a very dear priest email friend who I'd finally met in person, said "Maria Pia, il Corpo di Cristo". I'd heard of priests calling communicants by name in the States, but it had never happened to me and in Italy it just isn't done, at least not in my neck of the woods. It made it very special for me.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the comment, Pia. I actually used to do an analogous routine in reverse, if I'm a communicant. If he was one of those who thought (wrongly) that I should I communicate myself because I'm a religious, I would make him give me the host.

GrandmaK said...

I was personally touched by your comment re: grabbing and taking. It is beautiful to realize the sacraments are offered and received. The are gift! Thank you! Cathy

4narnia said...

beautiful reflection, Fr. C! thanks for sharing this. i, too, love the last paragraph of your post. from the many times that i have received the precious Body of Christ from you, i can truly tell you that it's a beautiful experience compared to othper ministers i've received from. you always do take the time to look into a person's eyes and are so reverant and intimate when giving the Host(Jesus' body) to a person. it's really beautiful and very much appreciated. when i receive from you, i get the feeling that you are showing that receving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is a very special and sacred thing and that we should take our time and receive Jesus with great care and reverance. in regard to all the trials and difficulties that you mention, i, too, just from being an altar server, the carelessness and extremely irreverant way some receive Jesus. it's sad - maybe once in a while you or any of the priests could give a brief "refresher" to the congregation on the proper and reverant way to receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus. one time a couple of years ago during the summer, we had a visiting priest at St. Therresa's who did just that! because i was the altar server at that particular Mass, i could already see snd sense that he wasn't happy with the way some received Holy Communion, so at the end of Mass, before the final blessing, he gave a brief, pretty strict, lesson on the correct way to receive. i was glad he did this because some needed the little lesson. there were many "pincers," as you call it and many who did not even respond with an"amen." although i have never had to follow anyone down the aisle, i, as an altar server, have stopped people from walking away with the Sacred Host in their hand - i simply just tell or motion to them that they hsve to consume the Host right away. thank you, Fr. C, for the beautiful way you offer the Body of Christ; for your inspiring homilies and just by your great example and encouragement. PEACE!
~tara t~

4narnia said...

hi again, Fr. C! sorry for the typographical errors and also for leaving a word out of one of my sentences- i commented from my cell phone, so it's often difficult to see the errors, but i guess the main message of my comment is understood. thanks again, for sharing on such a great topic! PEACE!
~tara t~

Br. Tom Forde OFMCap said...

Well said, fra., I too have come across the 'pincers' and 'grabbers' though I have yet to have your courage. Usually they're people who're not regular church-goers and don't know what to do. they go to communion because everyone else goes! One of the things we've lost since the Council is the sense of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and we clergy and religious are partly to blame. You're right about the term 'pastoral' - often its used as an excuse to ignore the rules, worse to ignore Tradition and write one's own traditions. Maybe Benedict XVI will make a real difference.

Brother Charles said...

Amen, brother. Let's pray for the Holy Father to stay healthy!