Sunday, May 2, 2010

All God's Children Got a Seat at the Table

Last week I presided at a liturgy at Notre Dame School in the Village. Notre Dame is an all girls' academy founded in 1912 by the Sisters of Saint Ursula (one of the greatest groups of sisters you're going to find.) Saying Mass occasionally at Notre Dame has been one of the pastoral highlights of my time in New York City; I just love praying with those young women. They're a real inspiration.

On this occasion, a number of women came up for communion with their arms crossed over their chest, to indicate they can't receive communion because they're not Catholic or haven't had their first Communion yet, but they want a blessing. Which was a little unusual -- I don't often see adults coming forward if they're not going to receive.

It was also, to my mind, fantastic, and a sign of good catechesis on the part of the school. One of the real tensions of our faith and liturgy is that we believe that Christ came for all of us, that he saves all of us, that he loves all of us --regardless of our own beliefs or deeds -- yet then we tell non-Catholics they are nonetheless not allowed to come forward to the table to receive communion. We do so out of a sense of propriety, in a way -- to truly enter into this sacrament requires preparation. One should not do it lightly.

And yet, the argument could also be made that who knows what good God might be able to work -- great good, potentially -- even when operating outside of our normal procedures. And it's very important that eucharistic ministers are not made into cops. Sometimes we put them in that role, especially priests; but to ask them to behave in such a way during the liturgy is to warp their role and this moment. We recall, it is called "communion."

Inviting adults to come forward and receive a blessing is a great way of dealing with these issues. It respects the process of initiation which culminates in the reception of the eucharist, and at the same time respects the dynamics of this moment of liturgy, the sense of something being offered to all, God present in a special way, wanting to bring life, liberation, hope, joy to all.

I don't know who first thought of cutting the knot in this way, but it sure does work. (In fact, sometimes saying a few words of blessing over an adult while touching them on the head ends up a very powerful experience for them (and you) in and of itself.)

My sister's first communion. (You should have seen her confirmation.)


Jen Pontow said...

Nice picture! Must have been Meggan's 1st communion. HAHA

KenAnselment said...

My heavens, that child looks like my daughter, Katie, who just received her second communion yesterday.

kmbrco said...

What an interesting concept.

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

What is a second communion?