Monday, November 20, 2006

Liturgical abuse: "Offer it up"?

I once privately related to my priest my frustration when trying to recollect myself before Communion and focus on Christ when eight Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion regularly file up from the ranks of the laity and self-consciously stand about the Altar looking a bit like nervous community theater actors auditioning for a part. We have a healthy, able-bodied priest at each Mass, and at least one deacon (sometimes two) on hand. The priest's attitude toward my complaint was very sympathetic, but his counsel was to "Offer it up."

His counsel keeps surfacing as an unresolved question in my memory. "Offer it up"? Why offer this up? I could understand offering up the pain of arthritis, or the anguish of the death of a loved one -- something over which one has no control and can do little but pray. But if someone was, say, suffering from a troubled conscience because he was having an adulterous affair, would the priest counsel him to "Offer it up"?

The problem here is that the sort of thing being permitted in our parish and parishes across the country are in direct violation of Vatican's published liturgical laws. The Vatican Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, expressly forbids our current practice:
[158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason....
In view of this, I struggle to make sense of my priest's counsel. It is not that I wish to be a doctrinaire knit-picking stickler about the letter of the law in these matters. In my view, the letter of the law is not the primary thing. The law is always a means in service of an end, which here is the purpose of liturgy: divine worship. What is of primary importance here, in my view, is the amplification of whatever faciliates divine worship, honors God and elevates and edifies the human heart, and the elimination of whatever does not.

Yet perhaps there is one sense in which I can understand my priest's counsel. For whatever reason, circumstances are what they are. Whether the reason is because he may be afraid or unwilling to go against the tide of institutionalized liturgical abuses and make the mandated changes may be beside the point here. Given the status quo, I may lodge my objections with my priest and bishop, but then what? Have I any alternative but to "Offer it up"? My priest, perhaps despite himself and the Church's failure in self-administration, may have a point.

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