November 23, 2009

Giving Communicant Catechesis

This morning it was my joy to offer Mass with the students and teachers from both our grade and high schools. The younger ones come to Mass once a month, but the high school students only come a few times in the course of the school year. Because it's the ancient Christian feast of American Thanksgiving this week, we had a big Mass for everyone. It's good to see the church almost full once in a while apart from the Christmas Vigil and Ash Wednesday.

I really enjoy the kids, and I especially appreciate the preaching challenge at these Masses. Today I added an extra little homily. Normally I abhor the giving of instructions during Mass, but I just had to go over how to receive Holy Communion with the kids. We are blessed with some fine and diligent young people, but in my experience some of them receive Communion a little carelessly. I often surprise some kid who wasn't expecting me to 'go for the tongue' because they are holding their hands so low, 'do the pincers,' or present their hands with jacket sleeves over them. Inevitably I end up chasing some child or other down the aisle to make sure he has consumed the Host. Since this is embarrassing for the poor kid, and a little distracting for me--although I love having the reputation as a priest who does it when necessary--I wanted to give a little practical catechesis on being a good communicant at the end of my homily.

I meant to just give the practical expectations for those who choose to receive in the hand: how to hold up the hands, not to grab or pinch, and then to receive the Host before turning around, stepping to the side if one desires. But what I found was that it was hard for me to give purely practical directions; I couldn't do it without giving the theological catechesis that goes with it. I found myself explaining why we do what we do, what it means, and why it is critical to our Catholic faith and identity that we receive the sacraments diligently and carefully. This is, of course, a very Catholic way to experience oneself as a preacher; the lex orandi and the lex credendi go together. In Christ, God has emptied himself into our humanity and how we move and behave plays out who we are saying we are when each of us accepts our new Name from the minister of Holy Communion: "Body of Christ."

So there I was, committing one of the sins I hate most in preachers: giving two homilies at one Mass. But the experience confirmed for me what I am and desire to be: a catholic Christian.


Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, I for one commend you on giving this catechesis; a "shot in the arm" for your congregation when needed. What I don't quite understand is the fact that you feel the need to offer communion in the hand. As you are FAR more aware than I, the communion in the hand according to the GIRM is still "supposedly" the exception. There is no need for it.

A well-placed announcement after the homily saying "from this mass on, we will be showing our highest respect for the eucharist, receiving at the altar rail on the tongue." Our Lord didn't call His people "sheep" for nothing. If you show them this is the right way, they will follow.

Brother Charles said...

"Supposedly" being the operative word.

First, personally I would much rather minister Holy Communion on the tongue, but not all priests or extraordinary ministers would feel the same way. But Father...why don't you stop the abuse that makes EMsoHC a norm or a right (through a false idea of lay ministry and "participation") and get rid of them...well thank God the Holy Spirit hasn't given me the authority (yet) to have to struggle over that particular issue of conscience of the lex orandi...

Second, our altar rail was consigned to the flames before I was born.

Third, even though it has become the (perhaps unfortunate) norm, our folks to have the right to receive in the hand if they wish. So I would never deny it, because I find it to be the height of offensive clericalism for priests to deny the faithful their rights in the liturgical assembly, such as those who say, 'please don't kneel for the sake of the personal symbolism I wish to impose upon you.'

/ rant

Bless said...

Father C... It is a good reminder for the kids, but the adults needs it too.If I see communicants receiving the Holy Body and Blood without reverence, I commit the sin of thought.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, your points are absolutely well taken. But unless you have some hard-core obstinant CTA/VOF types hell-bent on "I want it MY way", you'd be surprised at just how compliant your parish would be toward your preference. In my lifetime, I have seen parishes gone from orthodox, to liturgical dancing during the homily, then back to kneeler chairs being set up right before communion so that people could kneel and recieve communion on the tongue.

I guess my point (again) is never EVER sell yourself short. It's not a matter of imposing your will on your parish, but leading them. I know from reading your homilies how effective and eloquent you are, so I'm sure another 2-part homily explaining your feelings on WHY you would prefer your parish to receive on the tongue would be accepted on a large scale, no questions asked.

Qualis Rex, Talis Grex...the "Rex" being YOU!!!!! : )

Jeanne said...

I'm always glad when our pastor takes the time to remind us how to properly receive communion. If you think about it, I'm a 40 year old adult - I was taught how to receive communion when I was 8 years old, so 32 years passed between instruction! Hey everyone needs a reminder when it's that long!

Oh, and in our church, it's the Eucharistic Ministers who chase people down to make sure they aren't walking back to their seats clutching the host. I've been in the side choir seats, and have seen folks receive communion in the hand and walk away, as if to take it somewhere between the altar and the seats. One gal is great about chasing folks down with dignity and charm.

Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!