Archives  | NCRonline.org 

Send This Page to a Friend

 Writer's Desk 

September 12, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 20



Dennis Coday Too much focus on rubrics causes worry

By Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

Would you like to donate to NCR?
Your support keeps
this Web site running.

The other night, I went to a parish meeting called to instruct eucharistic ministers in new liturgical guidelines. I found it worrisome.

The meeting was called to update the eucharistic ministers on changes needed to comply with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. "The GIRM" -- pronounced like "germ" by those in the know -- took effect in November 2003, and the parish had made some changes before that, but the parish was not in complete conformity with those revised instructions, and apparently it needed to curb some of the "liturgical abuses" identified in the instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum ("The Sacrament of Redemption"), which was issued April 23 by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

For instance, the people at the meeting aren't called eucharistic ministers anymore. They are now, officially, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. "Communion" must be used because only the priest can properly be called a "minister of the Eucharist." It's an ordination thing.

On one level, the changes were minor.

  • Glass or ceramic vessels can't be used any more. Precious metals only, please.
  • Communion cups on the altar are filled before consecration. To decrease the risk of spilling the precious blood.
  • The proper technique for folding the corporal (the white cloth under the communion vessels). So that the precious crumbs can be disposed of properly.

The biggest change concerned the appropriate time that communion ministers can enter the sanctuary. They can't enter the sanctuary until after the priest gives himself communion. Previously the 11 ministers would come forward during the sign of peace and form a semicircle behind the altar.

The big question then became: Where should they stand so communion can proceed smoothly and quickly. Several options were examined and then the decision made. Ministers would come forward near the end of the sign of peace, collect the ciboria for distribution of the bread and extra hosts from the tabernacle if necessary, and form three lines in the alcove where the tabernacle resides. They wait there until after the priest serves himself and then they move into the sanctuary.

This change was accepted -- if not universally popular. "It looks like the defensive team waiting on the sidelines during a fourth down," one man said.

"How is that more respectful than standing around the altar?" one woman asked.

The meeting quickly turned to talk of very practical issues: reminders to check -- and follow -- the schedule, pleas to update phone numbers, suggestions about how to move communion lines more quickly, etc.

Near the end of the meeting, people began talking about the changes that had taken place over the last two years: the bow before receiving communion, the cost of replacing the crystal communion set.

One thing that most people would not contenance was keeping the priest in the sanctuary during the sign of peace. This parish is fairly subdued; the sign of peace doesn't look like a melee. But still people wanted to know, as one woman asked, "Father why wouldn't you come out and greet us?"

Someone from the back -- apparently someone more acquainted with the GIRM -- piped up to explain: "The Body of Christ cannot be left unattended in the sanctuary."

Then one guy said, "Oh don't worry about it. They are going to change again in a year or so." He'd been a eucharistic minister long enough to know that liturgical styles change over time.

At least some of the people at the meeting seemed to have missed the point -- or didn't know -- that these guidelines were not from a locally hired liturgist who would be enamored of another way of doing things next year.

These rules come straight from Rome, and the local bishop is ardently enforcing them.

I left the meeting worried on two levels. I worry about those who think these changes are just another passing fancy. I also worry about what seems to me a renewed focus on rubrics. Are we returning to a church concerned about the position of fingers and how far apart a priest holds his hands during the Eucharistic prayer? I had thought we had dumped that baggage long, long ago.

Share NCR with your Friends
The meeting sent me looking for a book that had inspired me 20 years ago. Bread Broken and Shared: Broadening Our Vision of Eucharist (Ave Maria Press, 1981) by Blessed Sacrament Fr. Paul Bernier.

Bernier wrote that the Eucharist should be a communal experience and outward looking. It should be active if not down right activist. The Eucharist should drive us out into the world and to work building the kingdom of God, he wrote. "If we do not [do this work], our liturgies are empty." He wrote:

A true Eucharist is never a passive, comforting moment alone with God, something which allows us to escape the cares and concerns of our everyday life. Eucharist is where all these cares and concerns come to a focus, and where we are asked to measure them against the standard lived by Jesus when he proclaimed for all to hear that the bread that he would give would provide life for the entire world.

I have to question how a focus on folding linens to catch crumbs and keeping the unordained out of the sanctuary until the right time will lead us to a Jesus who preached the Beautitudes and lived a healing ministry.

The parish meeting ended with the pastor thanking and congratulating the people gathered for one aspect of their work. These eucharist ministers make sure that communion is taken to the local hospital everyday. Christ is present in the Eucharist to the sick every day, the priest noted, something he has not seen done anywhere else.

I had to wonder: Is this a group of people who need to be told where to stand during Mass?

[Dennis Coday's e-mail address is dcoday@ncronline.org]

Copyright © 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111    TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280