|Fondly known by alumni as St. Alcan.
Lately I've been posting my old "Mad Trad Corner" columns from the Prairie Messenger. Sadly, I have not saved the readers' letters from those days, but I see from my email archives that there had been quite an indignant response to my Gregorian chant piece, or perhaps it was the Holy Name one that caused the fuss. Surely nobody could have been annoyed by my close reading of "The Holly and the Ivy."
Amusingly, it was not the Trad who was mad, but some of the Prairie Messenger's left-leaning readers.
My column ran over a period of 26 weeks in 2010 and 2011 before the PM decided it was not as much interested in "balance" as it had imagined, which is to say my poor editor was badgered into dropping me. I was a little sad, but it was inevitable, and given the divisions in the Church, it was amazing that my column lasted that long. Monsieur Coren, who was picked up by the PM after all other Catholic media fled screaming from his suddenly-not-so-secretly-Anglican-convert self, lasted only one column. I think what this means is that the right side of the aisle can scream even more loudly than the left.
However, the gauche redoubled its efforts, I have reason to believe, after this piece because it flies right smack in the eye of "communal meal" theology. Also, it is no doubt very painful to have to see the weirdo who kneels down before a priest in the communion queue as a human being.
Standing and Kneeling are Both Acceptable
Before the Council of Trent, ordinary laypeople were so often too timid to approach the Blessed Sacrament that the Council decreed that Catholics must receive the Eucharist at least once a year, “and that at Easter, or thereabouts,” to quote The Penny Catechism. And because it remained sacrilegious to receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin, the Council also asked that Catholics go to confession at least once a year. The two sacraments went together, giving rise to long queues outside confessionals on Saturday night and large numbers of communicants on Sunday mornings.
The fasting law, which first asked Catholics to refrain from food and drink from Saturday midnight, and was later shortened to three hours before Mass, gave Catholics who chose not to receive communion an alibi, as it were. Non-reception did not, or perhaps not as easily it does now, excite suspicions that one’s neighbour in the pew was in a state of serious sin. Although it took place during public worship, one’s own personal communion was just that: personal.
One contemporary liturgical approach overemphasizes, to quote a popular hymn, “our oneness in the Lord” at the expense of our own personal communion with the Lord. Row after row of congregants automatically clears and joins the communion line. Sometimes even non-communicants process to the front, cross their arms over their chests, and are blessed by the priests (or blinked at by extraordinary ministers who cannot, in fact, give blessings). The pressure to join the queue, to express solidarity with the group, no matter what one’s private feelings, is almost inexorable. Receiving the Eucharist is very much a regimental activity nowadays, and that is perhaps why it seems so odd when a person at the end of the line kneels at the feet of a priest and sticks his tongue out.
It is uncomfortable to be the only person in church who kneels to receive the Eucharist, as I know first-hand. I was that person for a few weeks when I was a teenager, and it embarrassed both my family and the priest very much. Fortunately, my pastor was a kind and generous man, and simply laid the Eucharist on my tongue. Since then I have heard and read many stories of priests and extraordinary ministers passing over kneeling weirdos with a sneer or snarling at them to get up. Such priests and extraordinary ministers cannot have read Redemptionis Sacramentum with any attention.
Redemptionis Sacramentum is a 2004 instruction by the Congregation of Divine Worship, of which Cardinal Arinze was the head. Its English title is “On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist,” and every word is balm to those with a particular devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The whole document is as thrilling as a novel, so I recommend that you read it online. I will quote solely from Chapter 4, as it pertains most closely to the theme of this article:
‘The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing... “However, if they receive Communion standing, it is recommended that they give due reverence before the reception of the Sacrament…”
‘In distributing Holy Communion it is to be remembered that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who seek them in a reasonable manner, are rightly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them”. Hence any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law must be admitted to Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing.
‘Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her…(90-92).
What I hope is clear is that communicants have choice in this matter. Catholics may receive the Eucharist standing, and they may receive the Eucharist kneeling. They may receive on the tongue—which is, in fact, the norm—and in Canada, at very least, they may receive the Sacrament on the hand. What is not okay is to pass over the kneeling Catholic with a sneer, or to bark at him to get up. Perhaps it is time to replace the communion rails, to make him more comfortable.
In the cathedral of my diocese, the communion rail still stands. On the rare Sunday that I am there, I watch as communicants queue before extraordinary ministers or kneel before the altar. Some of those kneeling receive on the tongue, and some of them receive on the hand. The scene is disorderly, but happy and welcoming. I can’t remember how I received or if I received when last I attended Mass there. I don’t receive every week, but that is a personal matter.
****Speaking of personal matters, today is the seventh anniversary of Benedict Ambrose's reception into the Church. Congratulations, dear Benedict Ambrose! It is also a matter of congratulation for me, for when B.A. became a Roman Catholic, he became a highly eligible Catholic bachelor in his thirties, and I snaffled him before other Single Catholic women had a chance to notice.
It is also, therefore, the seventh anniversary of my introduction to the Extraordinary Form, i.e. the Traditional Latin Mass. Before my Edinburgh trip, I had seen it only once, years before, and thought it incredibly dry and dull. However, it made an enormous impression on me in 2007 and became a bright ribbon in the polychromatic braid that was my astonishing European Vacation.
It was the liturgical solution I had been longing for ever since I was introduced to the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, to say nothing of Saint Augustine and other Early Church Fathers. It was the bridge between the old Catholic world of Butlers' Lives of the Saints and the desert to which I fled after my demoralizing misadventures in American Catholic academic theology. Lex orandi, lex credendi, some priestly professor once taught me, and at last I had found a liturgy that powerfully prayed what I believed, in which "liturgical abuse" and scandal are almost impossible as opposed to, I'm sorry to say, almost inevitable. The poor Novus Ordo is like a little baby; it needs a lot of protection.
And now let's all pray the Prayer to Saint Michael together:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and may you, O prince of the heavenly host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into Hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Święty Michale Archaniele, broń nas w walce. Przeciw niegodziwości i zasadzkom złego ducha bądź nam obroną. Niech go Bóg pogromi, pokornie prosimy; a Ty, Ksiaże wojska niebieskiego, szatana i inne duchy złe, które na zgubę dusz krążą po świecie, mocą Bożą strąć do piekła. Amen.
P.S. In case you are dying to know, that is an aluminum statue of Saint Michael the Archangel at the University of Saint Michael's College, University of Toronto. As Saint Michael is an archangel, he doesn't actually look like anything, so actually a few planes of aluminum could really... Oh, sigh.