Monday, April 26, 2010

Abbott & Costello Go to Mass

For the next few days I'm going to talk about reception of communion, and things I've noticed or experiences that I've had. And I thought I would start today, a little irreverently, with the new practice of bowing before receiving communion.

In 2002, when the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal appeared, it included within its guidelines a new request that people bow before they receive communion. This was part of one of the document's overall thrusts, namely that we approach the liturgy -- and especially the eucharist -- with a more intentional reverence.

Now, I don't know about you, but I have to say, when these guidelines came out, I was more than a little bit put out. Obviously, I don't know what the guys in Rome are seeing as they gaze out upon the world Church. But in my limited wanderings hither and yon, rarely if ever have I been struck by a lack of reverence in people as they approach communion. Being a eucharistic minister can be an extremely humbling experience, in fact, because as people come to communion, sometimes they let their guard down, and you see in their eyes the hunger and the real need they bring. Don't tell me these people don't appreciate deeply what's going on here. Don't tell me they aren't being reverent.

On the other hand... I am reminded of a story told by one of my theology professors. He was distributing communion at a parish in Boston one Sunday, and when he said "The Body of Christ" to one guy, the man responded, "No problem!"

This is not exactly what one might hope for. To put it mildly.

Just needed to get that out of my system. Much better.

It is surprising to me how often in distributing communion I say "The body of Christ" and the person receiving communion just looks at me. No Amen, no alternate-post-Vatican-II-response that you sometimes get like "I believe" or "Let it be so" or "Thank you" or even just "Cool." Just that expectant look, as if to say, so are you going to give me that or what?

Do these puzzlings sorts of responses show a lack of reverence -- that is, a lack of appreciation for the sacredness of the moment? Maybe. In some cases, almost definitely.

Bowing, unfortunately, does not directly address this issue. What those people need is a little catechesis -- i.e. I say, "Body of Christ," you say "Amen". "Body of Christ":"Amen!" "Body of Christ": "AMEN!" (It really may need to be that simple.) Plus, an explanation of what it all means; how Amen is our way of saying "yes", an acclamation, a statement of faith.

Instead, we add choreography. Choreography! And choreography that actually requires a little timing. If you bow after the saying "Amen," you're likely to end up with the eucharist headed toward your face, because the e.m. is now moving to offer you communion. If you bow during the e.m's words, you've effectively missed the power of the moment. They just said "The Body of Christ," for God's sake. This is not the time on Sprockets when we dance; it's the time we stop and take it in.

If you bow when you first approach the e.m., this is effectively what's going to happen, because frankly, from parish to parish it's pretty hit and miss whether and how many people bow, which means the e.m. has no idea what to expect person to person, so once you step up, they're going to begin. (It is the great irony of many of the liturgical changes that they were meant to standardize behavior, and yet instead have simply created new varieties. Hello, Law of Unintended Consequences. Can I go home now?)

Bottom line, if someone is going to bow, the best moment is before they get to the front of the line. But again, if you want that to happen in a parish, you actually have to take the time to walk them through it. Which as far as I can tell pretty much no one has done since the practice was first instituted here some 5 or 6 years ago.

As to whether this should really be our practice -- well, I don't know. Now that we've had some time with the practice under our belt, it might be worth evaluating whether this means really accomplishes the stated end (let alone meets the real need).

It could also be worth asking ourselves, are we legislating for the whole on the basis of bad form in a largely non-catechized (and probably usually non-practicing) group? That's not usually a recipe for success...


Patrick T. Darcy said...

Dear Jim,

Long-winded introduction: As a former Chicago Province Jesuit who cherishes his twenty-five years In the Society, I found your blog on the website, “Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit.” The good Jesuits are the conservatives and you can guess who the bad ones are. Given the irreverent title and content of your March 30 blog, “Where is this Agnes?,” I think that it’s safe to conclude that “they” would place you in the Bad Jesuit category. Since the website just posted your March 30 blog, I am only now able to post a comment.

As someone who grew up in the Latin liturgy and was very grateful that Vatican II made the changes from Latin to English, I was somewhat taken back by the dismissive tone in “Where is Agnes?”

It’s late as I write this, so I will not attempt to explain or defend the use of Latin in our liturgies. Actually, I have neither the desire nor the expertise. Check it out with your nearest Jesuit liturgist. However, I have to say that I have never heard the argument that Latin is used in some liturgies because it constitutes “correct” liturgy. (As an aside, I think the return to the celebration of the liturgy in Latin, with the priest “facing the East” [“ad orientem”] is a major mistake and will cause more harm than good).

Good music, whether in English or Latin, is good music. Yes, there are some awful renditions of Agnus Dei, but I have also sat/sang through my share of terrible renditions of Lamb of God.

There are wonderfully, uplifting hymns in English as well as a number of deadly ones. The problem is not the English or Latin. The problem is bad music.

Am I safe to say that you have had very little contact with Latin hymns? How anyone can hear the Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus (Heavenly Bread) sung and not be moved is beyond me. These are but two examples of music which lifts one’s mind and heart to God. It's not the language; it's the music.

In pace Christi (in the peace of Christ),


kmbrco said...

Truth be told, I don't remember a lot from Catechism (other than being told that I was born bad and going to hell). The day I made my first confession I was so scared of what might happen, I threw up. And, honestly, I was a good kid.

I did learn, and still remember, though I am a lapsed Catholic, to say "Amen" after I was offered "The body of Christ". If there was anything that stuck with me, it was that.

Catechism might be a remedy for this dilemma, though I find that, in general these days, there is a great lack in reverence for much of anything. A lack of respect. A disparity of etiquette as well.

People show up for job interviews wearing sweathshirts with the hoods over their heads. The younger generation doesn't seem to know what a "thank you" note might be. Not even a "thank you" email.

I could be grousing about the "kids today", as I'm in my 40's now and of a different generation, but I don't know if that's fair to say.

Maybe someone could post a communion "how-to" on Youtube. It might catch on...