Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What do you do when...?

Had a kind of unsettling experience at Mass this afternoon. Watched as a middle-aged woman came up to Communion with a little girl who seemed to be close to four years old. The child had the cutest sparkly pink skirt on, it was hard not to notice her. Grandma (I assume) was taking the side aisle, but the child kept motioning toward the center where the priest and an Extraordinary Minister were giving Communion. But when Grandma reached the Communion station on the side aisle and received the Eucharist, she turned and began walking down the center aisle holding the child's hand with one hand, and pinching the Eucharist between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. (Perhaps she had promised the child that she would give her the Eucharist herself when they got back to their pew?)
I popped out of my pew and began walking down the side aisle keeping an eye on Grandma and the Eucharist. Finally one of the "regulars" motioned to the woman that she had to consume the Host then and there. Grandma seemed to demur with a half-smile that almost looked like a smirk. By then I had slipped through a pew and met her at the central aisle, summoning all the "Sister Said" authority at my command. "Swallow it. Now. Don't play with the Eucharist." She did, and then said with truly beautiful humility and grace, "Thank you."
Maybe what looked like a smirk was something more humble; an admission of a mistake? But the "Thank you" was impressively gracious, unlike my nervously gratuitous admonition about what seemed to be her "playful" attitude.
Her behavior was totally inappropriate, but strange things happen a lot at Communion. Once when I was serving as Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, a man wanted me to give him two Hosts, so he could bring one to a person in back who was unable to walk up the aisle. (I promised to go back there myself.) I've seen priests follow people down the aisle under similar circumstances (someone back in the pew had asked them "bring One back for me"). Another time, I found a Host under a pew. And there probably have been many little children who received First Communion at the hands of some well-intentioned relative who was convinced that their child (or grandchild) was preternaturally gifted and should receive First Communion at three and a half. (By the way, should you be the parent or grandparent of a spiritual prodigy, you can present the case to your pastor--there certainly are great precedents--my sister was named after one of them: Little Nell of Holy God--but if you carry the Host down the center aisle in your hand or in your pocket--that has happened, too-- I will be sprinting down the aisle to call you on it.
You have been warned.

24 comments:

James said...

Good stuff. I have often considered the possibility of some like wackiness and what should be done.

Patm said...

my husband once chased a fellow down the aisle and to the door, when he'd noticed that the man had palmed the host and was hurrying out. My husband said, "consume that host now, or give it back."

Consumed. But who knows what mischief the guy was up to

Rkbrookescyp said...

That's why in the traditional Anglican liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer the priest says "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on Him in your heart by faith with Thanksgiving"

Michele Laughlin said...

We just re-trained all our parish Ex-MoC's and re-instituted the use of the altar server with the Paten to 'help' people decide if they are receiving properly in the hand, or on the tongue(and to also protect the Eucharist from the floor) It also helps to give a little time to the Ex-MoC or priest to make sure they person knows what they are doing in receiving the Sacrament and to observe that they immediately consume it.
We had two incidents of the Eucharist being left on the steps of the Church after Mass...an obvious desecration. Now Father is reminding the congregation on how to properly receive the Eucharist, and what it means to receive the Sacrament worthily. He's also asked the entire congregation to be on the lookout for someone who might take the Eucharist back to the pew, or keep it in their hand, or put it in their pocket. It's actually brought to the forefront for a lot of people exactly what we as Catholics believe about the Sacrament. It's been a good thing!

Milites Domini said...

This is precisely why the Holy Eucharist should never be given in the hands. We "receive" Holy Communion, we do not take it. Let us pray that the Holy Eucharist is once again "solely" received on the tongue. Our hands are not worthy of touching the body, blood and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ - ever. God bless.

helgothjb said...

When I attended a parish near a college campus I remember our deacon seeing a female college student take the Eucharist in her closed hand. She then started walking towards the back door in a hurried pace. The deacon, not the fittest of sorts, sprinted full speed and caught her after she had left the church and was on the sidewalk. Her took the Host from her and consumed it. He never knew what her intentions were. It seems prudent to station some who are not distributing the Holy Eucharist to keep watch for events such as these, they are not that rare. It was in this same parish that our pastor deemed it necessary to give a homily about the proper reception of Holy Communion in which he said, "my dear brothers and sister, Our Lord Jesus does not need to go for a walk!"

Ambrose said...

In China I saw a priest yell to a choir member to follow someone that he apparently had suspicions about. That choir member returned from the back with the Eucharist in hand. It probably wasn't anything sinister, and very likely a curious and confused visitor, but when Father noticed out of his peripheral vision that something might not be right, he was on it!

Sr Anne said...

Just last night I was reading St. Peter Julian Eymard--even back then he spoke of Our Lord willingly placing himself at the risk of profanation when he "invented" this marvelous sacrament. He risked the cross in coming to earth for us; he risks all sorts of ignominy in the Blessed Sacrament, as long as he can make himself fully available for us. As St. Eymard said, our first disposition before the Eucharist ought to be amazed thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

As a Eucharistic Minister I feel blessed to be able to place the Bread (body) of Christ in a believer's hand. It is going to become part of the body. The food of Christ that he asked us to eat. I like to hold the Bread for a time before taking Him into my body. It feels like a time of absolute physical contact with the Lord that leads to absolute communion. If someone takes the bread without cosuming it, for whatever reason, at least the person has held the Lord. Who are we to assume what is right or wrong and what just holding the host brings to them. We have many members of our church that do not drink from the cup and it is not up to me to judge that decision, but I cannot help but feel and think of what they are missing by not fully being at the table.
Also, I feel that the Lord likes to take walks. He walked always meeting with all people in many different circumstances. Why is this any different?

Christopher Milton said...

To the Anonymous Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion,

To hold His body in your hand risks profanation. The Church teaches that He is present wholly in the consecrated bread, even in the crumbs. Even the most complete host leaves crumbs, just look at a paten after communion. Told hold His body in your hands leaves crumbs of Him in your hand that are then dropped on the floor and trampled or washed down the drain.

Being that Christ commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves and that I would not like to be trampled or washed down the drain, I find it important to avoid these fates for my Lord. I already had Him nailed to a cross for my sins, isn’t that enough?

As for those who abstain from consuming His precious blood, the Church teaches that they miss out on nothing. Christ is fully present – both Body and Blood in either of what we call the Body or Blood.

Finally, the Lord did love to walk, and did indeed meet many people while walking. This, however, is very different. The Lord’s ways and wills are far above our own. And while he submits in part to our wills by humbling Himself and taking the form of bread and wine, our own hubris and desires to “take the Lord for a walk” should never endanger Him to the risk of profanation.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith. The Church in her wisdom has carefully protected and outlined the rites and acts surrounding it. Who are we to innovate on the desires of the Bride of Christ?

Anonymous said...

Hooray for the anonymous Eucharistic Minister. Since we are now allowed to hold the host in our own hands, why would there be some kind of a time limit on when we consume it? As a young adult, going through some trying times, and thinking I was not worthy of receiving Christ, I did not follow my mother to the communion rail one Sunday. She came back to my side, and quietly handed me a portion of her host. I believe Christ meant her to do that.
Who knows then, why someone was carrying the host.

The Dutchman said...

Bravo sister Anne!

I hated getting communion in the hand and that's probably why I switched to St. John's where they want you to kneel at the altar rail. As an usher there, I have to watch people receiving in the hand to make sure they consume it right away. I really liked the way you handled the situation and hope to show as much panache if I ever have to deal with something like that.

Sr Anne said...

Anonymous, Jesus may very well have inspired your Mom to share her Communion with you, the way a young mother nourishes her infant with her own substance.

So can we just have Eucharistic "take out"? The nature of "Communion" itself says that this is not something we can carry off to our own burrow, to adore or consume as we please: communion is the way humans participate in a sacrifice. This is true whether we mean Eucharistic communion in the Sacrifice of the Mass offered by the priest, or communion in an animal sacrifice offered in the Temple in Jesus' own day, or communion in the animal sacrifice offered today by a tribal priest in a nature religion. Communion means you are in the sacrifice. The reason the Eucharist can be (and has been from time immemorial) brought to the sick is that we believe that they do participate in Christ's sacrifice offered in the Mass, through their suffering. We aren't just offering a convenience; we are making a statement of faith. That being said, even those who bring the Eucharist to the sick have to be commissioned, and are accountable to the entire Church for the way the Eucharist is protected and distributed. I suspect a lot of this is lost on most of the people who see this ministry in action (and by many who carry it out!).

For those like Christopher and Milites who believe that Communion in the hand is ipso facto out of line, the Church Fathers would have been mystified by that attitude. "How else are you to receive," they would ask, "unless you stretch out your hands?" That was all they knew!

Sr Anne said...

Grandma update:
After Mass today, yesterday's EMHC told me "the rest of the story." When Grandma approached for Communion yesterday, she did try to have him give the Eucharist to the little girl. He said no, and gave Grandma Communion on the tongue. As she turned away, he saw her take the host from her mouth--at which point he alerted someone. So before she could leave the Church, she was met at the door and asked if she had consumed the Host.
For myself, I do regret that I was not more Christ-like in handling this. I have to learn to let Jesus have a hand in these matters: He would, I am sure, have first raised one of his famous questions. Like "what are you doing?" And then use that as a catechetical opportunity. So I am praying that the Lord take me in hand, guide me in the truth and teach me to be a full witness to him: not only in words or in "defending the faith" but in letting him be a Good Shepherd also to the confused...

Anonymous said...

So what if someone walks out with the host, even if the intentions weren't good?Much worse was done to Jesus's body during the crucifixion.

Anonymous said...

Sister, Thanks for commenting on my remarks concerning my mother sharing the host with me.
I like your "stretch out your hands" phrase, but am still at a loss as to why there is a time limit, or why the gift cannot be shared. When we are given gifts they are ours to use, consume, hold as we will.
Years ago, only the priest could touch the host, and his fingers were especially consecrated. Now we are all able to "stretch out our hands" and touch the host.
D/

Ruth Ann said...

This is an interesting conversation. I once asked a Sister, "Which is holier, to receive Holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue?" She pondered thoughtfully for a moment and then responded with a rhetorical question, "Do you sin more with your tongue or with your hands?" I pondered that for awhile. For me I use my tongue for more sins than my hands. I suppose one could turn that around and ask, "Do you do more virtuous actions with your tongue or your hands?" Just more food for thought.

Bottom line, I think both methods of receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion can be reverent or irreverent, depending on what is in one's heart.

Michele Laughlin said...

Christopher- even Tertullian said to 'make a little altar with your hands' to receive the Body of Christ back in the day of the early Fathers of the Church...so the reception of Holy Communion in the hand was re-instituted by the Church after Vatican II, not create something brand new.

Mary said...

What is more disturbing to me than someone offering their own host to another, or even walking away with it, is someone who knowingly walks up to the priest and receives the consecrated Body of Christ into their own unconfessed, unclean, sinful one.

Sr Anne said...

Anonymous (you with the Mom), we are not given the Eucharist to use "as we will," because Jesus told us "take this, all of you, and eat it." It is not given as a possession, but as food we are starving for.

The idea (besides the "technical" part about participating fully in the sacrifice) is that as Jesus comes to us, he transforms us into a new "real presence" of himself, so that wherever we go, whatever we do, whomever we interact with, it is really Jesus going, acting, speaking and relating. We become the presence of Christ for those who have not yet received his Gospel, for those who are distant from him or his Church, for those who for whatever reason cannot, do not or will not receive him Eucharistically. We are "in communion" with Jesus, and we become his invitation to join that full communion in the Church and become members of his living body and receive him in the Eucharist and become his new presence in yet even more new places...

That is how the gift is shared: in a very "incarnate" way through us: through our real selves, not by carrying the Eucharist outside of church, but by our being transformed from the inside out into Jesus. St Augustine said that whereas usually the food we eat is transformed into our own flesh, in the case of the Eucharist, it is the food that transforms us into itself.

We become, in him, the Communion we ought to bring outside the Church; we become the Jesus we are to remain with and share. That's our fundamental call! This is what it means to evangelize!

Anonymous said...

Do we all see now why we need to return to the age-old tradition of receiving communion on our knees and in the mouth?

I was reminded last night by two priests that it is perfectly fine and normal for good Catholics to abstain from communion for any reason they feel fit. What we have no is a situation where communion is not an honor but a right. And it isn't. To receive communion means that we are living ALL of the faith in our hearts and in our life. It's not a cattle call. It is not meant for everyone.

At the heart of this is an honest assessment of ourselves. We live in an age that demands us to constantly praise ourselves. We want no criticism, no mention of our sins. The dissenting, liberal wing of the Church in fact knows no sin, except the sins of others.

I've made tremendous growth since coming back to the Church two years ago. What I've learned is to refrain from communion when my life is not in accord with the Church, and to not go to confession until I can make a FULL and sincere confession. Have the courage to be honest with yourself - we're not always disposed to receive communion. And have complete respect for the teaching of our Lord through his Church. Grace comes to us through CONFESSION first, then communion. Communion without a full confession leads to a spiritual death. (1 Cor.)

Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous with the Mom. Thanks for your reply. I have no problem with Christ's words, "take and eat," but am wondering why someone has put a time limit on it. He did not say, "eat immediately."

The Dutchman said...

I take the admonition "Faith without works is dead" to mean that we will be judged on our conduct as well as our intentions.

It is not enough simply to believe in God and trust in Jesus, we must manifest this belief in our actions, and PLAYING BY THE RULES is one of the ways we manifest our faith.

Sr Anne said...

Anon (with the Mom), thanks for keeping the conversation going!
As Catholics, even though we have the reputation of not being "Bible Christians," we are really very, very good about reading things in the light of the Bible. For instance, the Eucharist...
There was a kind of prophetic "clue" about the Eucharist in the history of Israel, wasn't there? The manna in the desert: "bread from heaven"; "the bread of angels" (those words we usually associate with the Eucharist refer in the Bible to the manna). As Catholics, we read about the manna to help us understand the Eucharist better.
Manna was the "daily" bread of the people on their long journey through the desert. God told Moses, "Each day the people must go out and collect their ration for the day. I propose to test them in this way to see whether they follow my law or not" (Ex. 16:4). (A nod, then, to the Dutchman.)
But what if they wanted to keep some manna on hand, to eat later? "It bred maggots and smelled bad" (Ex. 16:20), so they pretty quickly learned that manna was only good for the day it was given. Only in two instances did the manna not go bad: when they gathered extra for the Sabbath (since manna did not fall on the Sabbath) and the manna that God told them to save in a jar in the Ark of the Covenant. So this experience of Israel is a good hint to us that the Eucharist is not to be hoarded or reserved privately.
In addition to "reading" about the Eucharist in the light of the biblical manna, the Church has also understood the Eucharist to be the "daily bread" we ultimately pray for in the Our Father. Daily bread: taken and eaten every day.
"Take and eat" form one single command; the "taking and eating" are one, unified act at Mass, just as they are at a meal. (You wouldn't fill your doggie bag when you are served dinner: you eat it!)