Do this, some of the time, in remembrance of Me

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix is issuing new “norms” (euphemism for “restrictions”) for the reception of Communion under both kinds. Parishes that gave out both Body and Blood on a regular basis must limit it to certain occasions. The early Christians would be puzzled, but Olmsted, citing Rome, holds his flock to more exacting standards.

Phoenix obviously offers reasons for the changes, which you can find at “Questions and Answers: Norms for Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Forms”. I try to stay within seven or eight hundred words, so I’ll pick just a couple of points. (Since the document has been updated at least once, my comments are based on the text as I accessed it October 2.)

For one, the “Questions and Answers” specifically speak of a “relaxing of restrictions,” not their creation (3). This claim hinges on new guidelines in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal. Ritual rules from Rome are always the baseline, and no, Rome has never permitted both bread and wine for everybody all of the time. But allowances can be made, and are made.

Such allowances were formerly granted by bishops’ conferences alone. But under the new rules, the diocesan ordinary has considerable personal latitude. So restrictions actually are relaxed…if you’re a bishop like Olmsted.

Meanwhile, we must consider that “in this country, the Church had special permission to experiment with Holy Communion under both forms for 25 years” (13). (Spoiled Americans!) And when you factor in global poverty (booze is always pricey), most Catholics can’t ever get near the wine anyhow. (Spoiled Americans!)

Thus, when we properly understand how Phoenix fits into the universal Church (“from the broadest, most inclusive perspective”), we realize Olmsted is actually continuing the “great expansion of the practice” of offering the cup (13). Amazing, right?

This is Machiavellian doublespeak. Restrict the cup if you will, but do not insult people’s intelligence by saying the diocese giveth because it taketh away. I also see a curious inversion of what mothers tell their picky eaters at dinnertime: “Don’t drink your milk, there are starving kids in India.”

Second, I observed the list of the times both Body and Blood “may be offered” (11). Namely: “at the Chrism Mass and feast of Corpus Christi.…to a Catholic couple at their wedding Mass, to first communicants and their family members, confirmation candidates and their sponsors, as well as deacons, non-concelebrating priests, servers and seminarians at any Mass, as well as community members at a conventual Mass or those on a retreat or at a spiritual gathering.” (A local priest may also designate “other important solemnities” like the feast of a parish patron.)

Notice the substance of what Olmsted will apparently enforce. Communion under both species is specially reserved for those dressed for the part (“servers” but not, for example, “lectors”), any priests who happen to be around at the time (“non-concelebrating” indicates you aren’t on the altar), men who will become clergy (“seminarians”), and vowed religious (“conventual Mass” is the community Mass of a convent, monastery, or other religious house). Special people need not be constrained by special occasions, like the rest of us.

The rest of us. Olmsted is wary of the rest of us: “In normal circumstances, only priests and deacons are to distribute Holy Communion; when both forms of Communion are used frequently, ‘extraordinary’ ministers of Holy Communion are disproportionately multiplied” (4:5). The result is a “practical need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary (or lay) ministers” (12).

Jamie Manson, when quoting those points in her NCR column last week, wryly observed: “The multitude of lay hands, it seems, is starting to make [Olmsted] feel uncomfortably outnumbered.”

And there it is. To quote TV detective Adrian Monk, “Here’s what happened.”

In the eyes of the hierarchy (Olmsted is likely just the trial balloon), people don’t know their place anymore. They are a rude, demanding mob. We need to restore the Eucharist, the big event of the week, as a kind of etiquette class, making it perfectly clear who’s who. From there, we might stamp out other problems with “obscured roles”: women trying to be priests, LGBTQ people exercising the rights of cisgender straight people, notions of married priests, etc. A place for everyone, and everyone in their place.

But in the Church, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female” (Galatians 3:28), we have to turn first to the life and example of Jesus. As Garry Wills wrote in What Jesus Meant, Jesus “walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs.” Seizing the Eucharist, and using it to spin up a blizzard of cobwebs, is a sin.

UPDATE 11/15/11: Bishop Olmsted rescinds the Communion policy; allows for “wide use of wine.” Read it at: Final Phoenix Communion norms allow wide use of wine | National Catholic Reporter

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One thought on “Do this, some of the time, in remembrance of Me

  1. This is defintiely an awful reality and I like your use of the term Machiavellian doublespeak. As sad as it is, this is the way the Church is going for the time being in the hierarchy. Claiming solidarity by taking people’s potential connectivity away is a real abuse of power, and poor theology. It’s important to note there is not even one scripture citation in Phoenix’s response, matter of fact the only two citations in the whole document are from Trent and the GIRM. I don’t think Jesus would have this many qualms about who gets to receive and when. Their argument is especially weak, because if drinking the blood of Christ adds nothing in reality to the sacrificial memory, then why on earth would anyone offer the blood of Christ at all? To offer it only on feast days is completely ridiculous, especially citing the exceptions you do above, as it gives more clerical privilege than we already have. (And note: we have this privilege in the Catholic Church because of a very poor theology of orders heavily emphasizing ontological change.)
    If Jesus were that afraid of falling on the floor potentially, He would not have made Himself food for everyone. Yes, it is bad to abuse this reality, but I don’t think that liturgical abuse is at the forefront and intent of everyone’s mind who is a Eucharistic minister. To presume liturgical abuse for lay people is ridiculous, as many lay people have just as much if not more theological education than their priest.

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