April 9, 2012

The Unprecious Blood

Recently I went to a church to offer a Mass. That's the itinerant life of the 'help out,' of the mercenary priest. I arrived during the communion procession of the Mass scheduled before the one I was to celebrate. I entered by a side door to the sacristy. While I was sitting there saying my prayers, a minister of Holy Communion rushed in. He showed me an empty cup, and asked me if there was any way I could get him a "refill." Now usually in situations of this type I'm able to deflect my annoyance with some kind of humorous recollection of the wine crisis at the wedding at Cana, but this time, as I realized that the man thought I would know where the wine was kept so that he could have more for his cup, all I could manage--in my horror--was, "That's not how it works."

Several times over the course of my life in the sacred ministry I have had experiences with certain ministers of Holy Communion that reveal that they do not understand that the consecrated sacred species is a different thing than the altar breads and wine in the sacristy. I have caught well-meaning folks trying to top off pyxes and ciboria of the Blessed Sacrament from the supply of altar breads in the sacristy. When confronted, almost all of them acted perplexed at my concern.

I guess it's a failure of catechesis and formation. But underneath I always ask, why bother then? If the Eucharist isn't really the Body and Blood of Christ, what's the point? If it's just an idea, I'm staying home. I can have ideas by myself without all this hassle, thank you very much. I need the Church because that's where the sacraments are. And if the Lord isn't risen into the sacraments and into his sacramentally renovated people, what's the big deal about the Resurrection? Then it's only some optimistic miracle from history. But I don't need the Church for optimism either. If all we preach is optimism and activism, then it's only a testament to people's good sense that they decide the Church is irrelevant.

Our generalized irreverence for our Lord's Presence as the sacred species exists in a mutually reinforcing relationship with the erosion of our assent to the truth of this teaching. The more irreverent we are the more we will take Him lightly in our minds, but the more reverent we try to behave, the easier it will be to believe.

I don't mean to single out extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in this rant; many that I have worked with put us ordinary ministers to shame by their reverence and the gravity with which they take their ministry. We priests are sometimes just as guilty, if not more, by the casual way we handle the Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, I include myself in the accusations of this rant. On Holy Saturday morning I was asked if I would restore the Blessed Sacrament to the tabernacle that night. I intended to do so when I returned home from the Easter Vigil at the Poor Clare monastery. But, after the Mass, having broken the fast with one of the brothers with the traditional Chinese food and beer and then going to sleep, dutifully not saying Night Prayer, I totally forgot. Having just preached to the nuns about our Lord risen into the Eucharist and ourselves as his body, I totally forgot to restore him to his tabernacle after his Friday and Saturday of exiled repose.

May God grant me the grace to repent of my impiety and irreverence before I face him as my beloved Judge. And may I know how to help others recover from our confusion, irreverence, and ignorance. Amen.


Barb Szyszkiewicz said...


I remember one Sunday when we completely ran out of consecrated hosts long before we ran out of communicants. Not sure how it happened, BUT Father brought out some unconsecrated hosts, went to the altar, and silently went through the Eucharistic prayer a second time (complete with all gestures) while the choir sang the Communion song.
It made a big impression on me. It was very clear just how important it all was, how crucial to make sure that the bread was, indeed, consecrated; that it wasn't just symbolic. That silent witness was worth the words of many, many homilies.

seashoreknits said...

This was rather a shocking post to me. I am a fairly new (5 years this May) convert, but it would never have occurred to me that even the "ordinary" Catholic would not understand about consecrated vs unconsecrated hosts and wine. I mean really understand.


Sara said...

Thank you for the reminder to reach out to my pastor and thank him, for his devotion to the Eucharist and his hard work with the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in the parish.

Anonymous said...

The refrain of an upbeat, southern Communion 'hymn' on Easter morning was "breaking the bread, on our knees -- drinking the wine, on our knees." It really disrupted any sense of recollection I had, and all I could think about was no wonder so many Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence anymore. Especially nowadays, with such a lack of instruction all around, pastors have such a great responsibility for all of the aspects of the liturgy.

theCuriousCatholic said...

We are not born knowing. So we might say, "Well, then you should find out!" But you can't know to ask, if you do not know you do not know.

Can we be surprised when it's more important to teach the rules of religion instead of the substance of Faith? When "fat friar" is fond imagery instead of oxymoron?

John Swencki said...

Friar, I have come across situations as you describe more often than I'd like. We priests could be better teachers and discerners of ministers.
Maybe I'm wrong, but it dismays me when someone in the communion lines comes to me with hands crossed over their chest (indicating the wish for a blessing instead). Is a blessing a good substitute for the Eucharist? Does it some the person embarrasment from not getting into the COmmunion line? SHOULD EVERYONE go to COmmunion? Wouldn't it be better to teach these folks to make an Act of Spiritual communion?

Brother Charles said...

Wouldn't it be better to teach these folks to make an Act of Spiritual communion?

That's what I do when I'm assisting at Mass as a morally absent priest and I discern, for whatever reason, that it's the better part of devotion not to receive.

Anonymous said...

Yeesh, I could rant on this one also, and I’m just a poor old bloke sitting in the back pew. I often think two of the major contributors to this caviler attitude towards the receiving of the Eucharist are the absence of the altar rail, and an unregulated demand by the assembly to receive both species. What was originally intended to enhance the Eucharistic experience has turned instead into yet another typical American fast-food style drive through. The best way to catechize in this case is not through spoken instruction; it is through insisting on proper behavior: precious blood is reserved for the priest under the majority of circumstances, priests are the only ones permitted to touch sacred vessels, and parishioners should receive the host with patient dignity; no matter how long it takes! If one can rant about current attitudes, covertly observe a first-communion; you can reserve one long rant for the parents, and a second catechesis for the first-communicants.

Suzanne said...

I am so relieved to read this post. It’s comforting to know that I am not the only one who frequently comes across such situations, nor am I over-reacting. Nor am I without fault. For my own admission once when I was new at bringing Communion to the sick I arrived at the hospital to find the parishioner was not capable of consuming the species. After reciting Psalm 23 I turned around and went home, leaving my packed pyx on bedside table that night until I could return to church the next day. I didn’t know (or didn’t think) to consume the particles myself and instead let the Sacrament irreverently lay all night. I’m still ashamed. Mea culpa.