Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Pope insists on liturgy changes"

I recently received a copy of the Catholic answers Report, a publication of Karl Keating's Catholic Answers organization in California. The headline article is entitled "Pope Insists on Liturgy Changes" and addresses two liturgical changes upon which the Holy Father is reportedly insisting. The first concerns the overuse of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs); the second concerns the change in the words of consecration from "for all" to "for many" to reflect a literal translation of the Latin "pro multis." Neither of these, of course, is news. We have discussed the former in "On the institutionalization of abuse in the Novus Ordo Mass" (August 20, 2004) and "Extraordinary ministers: from liturgical abuse to liturgical norm?" (May 16, 2006); and the latter in "Pro multis means 'for many,' Vatican rules" (November 21, 2006). Nevertheless, it is heartening to see Catholic Answers highlighting these matters of concern.

The former question -- concerning EMHCs -- is what interests me here. The discussion of EMHCs in the Catholic Answers Report comes under the subtitle: "Role of Extraordinary Ministers Trimmed." (I know . . . "That'll be the day . . ." says a sardonic John Wayne voice inside my head. But let us continue . . .) "Rome has been concerned about the widespread overuse of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in many countries and particularly in the U.S., where extraordinary ministers are often treated as an ordinary part of Mass," states the article. The ordinary ministers, of course, are "priests, deacons, and instituted acolytes." (What's the last time you've spotted an instituted acolyte around your suburban parish?) Canon law permits the use of EMHCs when there are too many communicants present to be served in a "reasonable period of time" by the ordinary ministers. (I know. . . That John Wayne voice again . . .) To its credit, the Report is straight up about this:
But in recent years, many liturgists adopted an ideology that tries to blur the line between clergy and laity at Mass, and extraordinary ministers became one of the key ways used to advance their agenda. Large numbers of extraordinary ministers were used on a regular basis -- far more than were actually needed. In some places, extraordinary ministers were used to distribute Communion while a perfectly healthy priest simply sat down and waited out the Communion rite.

An attempt was also made to gloss over the extraordinary character of their service. In many places they came to be referred to as simply "special ministers" or even "eucharistic ministers" -- hiding the fact that they are to be used only in extraordinary circumstances.
That such use of EMHCs has become something on the order of an institutionalized abuse is not an overstatement. The norms governing the extraordinary roles and circumstances in which EMHCs may be used have been clearly spelled out in official documents: the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canons 900, 907, 910, 230 #3); the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal" (2003), ##100, 162, 284; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) documents, "General Principles: Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass" (USCCB, Committee on the Liturgy), and "Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds for the Dioceses of the United States of America" (USCCB, August, 2002), no. 26; the Vatican Instructions, "Redemptionis sacramentum: On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist" (2004) ##151-159, and "On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the sacred ministry of priest" (1997), Article 1, #3; Article 8.

Yet the conspicuous defiance of these norms on the parish and diocesan level has been mind-numbing. In my own parish, the standard number of EMHCs at Sunday morning Masses is a full variety show contingent of eight (8) individuals! If they are "short," even one, the priest or deacon will call for another EMHC from the congregation to have the full contingent of eight EMHCs. It is standard practice for these EMHCs not only distribute Communion, but to 'bless' children and infants who carried or accompany their parents in the Communion line, or even adults who approach with their arms folded in front of them. Until recently, the United States had an indult from the Holy See allowing EMHCs to purify the vessels that held the Body and Blood of Christ. It was standard practice in my parish until recently for EMHCs not only to purify these vessels, but to consume the remainder of the Precious Blood after the distribution of Communion. My impression is that these practices are far from being unique to my own parish. I have encountered them in my travels across the country.

The good news is that the Holy See appears to be reigning in these abuses. In a series of recent documents, the Vatican has emphasized that EMHCs should be used only when there are too many communicants for the ordinary ministers to "reasonably serve." (I know . . . That John Wayne voice again: What does "reasonably serve" mean in such statements?) There is some evidence that the Vatican is going beyond repeating earlier instructions with their implicit escape clauses, however. In October 2006 it was announced that Pope Benedict had decided not to renew the United States indult that allowed EMHCs to purify the vessels after Mass. From now on, Americans will have the same rule that applies throughout the world, and vessels are to be purified only by ordinary ministers -- "priests, deacons, and instituted acolytes." (Nancy Frazier O'Brien, "Extraordinary ministers of Eucharist barred from purifying vessels" (CNS, Oct. 24, 2006) Hopefully, Benedict's decision is part of a larger pattern in which the Holy See will continue to apply steady pressure to ensure that the overuse of EMHCs is discontinued and they cease being used as pawns in an attempt to blur the line between clergy and laity.

No comments: