Happy Despite Them: Eucharistic devotion cut off at knees: two little examples

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

The Catholic Church offers and guards the inestimable treasure of the Holy Eucharist to the faithful. 

Happy Despite Them: Eucharistic devotion cut off at knees: two little examples

But we’re experiencing difficulty in the form of very few actually believing in it, because our bishops have failed to teach it — and more importantly, have failed to act as if it’s true.

Hence the unavoidable cynicism with which most of us regard the USCCB’s “Eucharistic Renewal” (somewhat overshadowed, to be sure, not only by its own lameness but by the inscrutable, yet destructive, workings on the broader stage of the Synodality Synod).

Despite the touchingly optimistic verbiage of the campaign (kudos to the firm that produced this bit of starry-eyed copy: “The National Eucharistic Revival is the joyful, expectant, grassroots [sic] response of the entire Catholic Church in the U.S. to this divine invitation”), a campaign that is slated to last for three years, everyone knows that besides enriching the PR firm and other professionals running the thing, no real improvement will occur.

Why do I say that? 

Well, let’s take a look at two common practices at parishes in even our “best” dioceses. These are just two that suddenly struck me — they are by no means the most irreverent or the most strikingly counterfactual to the stated goals of the renewal, they are just two completely normal occurrences at many parishes.

I almost hesitate to pull these two things out when there are so many issues in the Mass as experienced in most parishes that militate against any sort of eucharistic revival, trademarked or otherwise. 

They are simply two things that go on all the time and that have been criticized over and over for as long as I have been a Catholic (more than 42 years), and undoubtedly before that too. Call them little bellwethers of laxity, harbingers of self-importance, or habits of irreverence that for some reason, insignificant as they are, just cannot be relinquished, even though they cut devotion off at the knees, even as we are exhorted, managerially, to love the Eucharist more; and frankly, I am tired of the deception. 

If you can’t fix two glaringly reverence-squelching yet eminently fixable issues in everyday parish life, then what is the purpose of all the hoopla?

The two practices — again, I’m not saying these are the worst possible things that go on — are these:

One: ushers who fanatically and with unquestioned authority keep an unholy order as to the going up of the faithful to receive Holy Communion, pew by pew. 

What is their purpose? Why do we need them? Why must they, like some sort of ecclesiastical regime of butlers, preside over each row’s activity and permission to approach the sacred precincts — in some places, rigidly requiring alternate emptying of the pews, as if people are not able to penetrate on their own the mysteries of making way for each other under the normal, fairly louche regime of permitting them to go at the same time as those across the aisle from them? 

What would happen if the ushers were simply not there? (I am not speaking here of ushers — guards, really — overseeing those who have received, to be sure that no sacrilege occurs, an all too common occurrence that would be much alleviated by forbidding reception in the hand, but I digress). 

Would utter chaos reign? Would people literally stumble over each other in their heedless rush to the communion station? Would they randomly stray towards the back of the church, unsure of the direction? Would there be a pile of bodies strewn along the way as they clambered over each other?

I will tell you what would happen. 

The faithful would regain their freedom to go to Holy Communion if and when they wanted to and were internally prepared — yes, possibly not in row order, crazy as that sounds. They would not feel pressure to approach, and surely one goal of the Eucharistic revival is to enliven consciences and help people to be more delicate about the state of their soul when they receive. With the ushers there, monitoring and enforcing the procedure, the social crush and sheer human respect almost ensure that at least some unworthy reception will occur, for who among us can resist being herded… 

Not to mention the obnoxiousness of shufflingly obedient communicants being accosted from behind by ushers and gestured firmly to move over to another communion line, as if there are so many at Mass that efficiency is and can be the only real criterion. (This brings up the issue of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, also employed to keep things moving, but we’re trying to confine the list to two.)

Two — and remember, by no means only these, but I’m trying to just point out two: the priest haranguing the freshly Holy-Communioned congregation with announcements — lots and lots of announcements. No sooner has the purification rite finished, and often while the people are standing for the last blessing, even the most devoted pastor cannot resist launching into the contents of the bulletin as if they… are not printed in the bulletin and readily available at the door and online. 

Said congregation has been performatively deprived of its sacred meditation and thanksgiving after reception, and absolutely will not think to regain any sort of reverent posture (that is, they will not kneel in thanksgiving for the Eucharist still present in their bodies) once the procession has left the building. Our Lord is forgotten from, so to speak, the get-go.

I wonder if bishops even know why, in the Traditional Latin Mass, the announcements are given before the homily (and indeed comprise part of the homily time in the congregation’s mind, thus functionally curtailing it, and I guess I’m answering my own question here). 

I wonder if they consider that the Mass itself offers built-in time after Holy Communion for reverent prayer, amounting to close to the ten minutes that the Host remains under the accidents of bread within the body — that is to say, the time that the Real Presence dwells within us and we might, if given half a chance, be with Him. 

I wonder if they even consider that the time thus built in spills over naturally — and this can be observed in Traditional Latin Masses which have preserved custom — to additional time voluntarily, without any haranguing from paid consultants,spent in prayer as the organist perhaps plays a postlude and even beyond. 

Can our bishops know these things, and consider them? If they did, would they not insist that the time from the Canon to the final blessing be kept in reverence, unspoiled by rigid monitors in the aisles or cheery directives from the sanctuary as to the church bazaar, special collection, or even pro-life activity? Would they not, in their stated quest for a eucharistic revival, form the pastors to form the people to remain in prayer and thanksgiving even after the final hymn? Would the bishops themselves not resist the urge to jolly up the folks before reluctantly turning to the final blessing?

Just wondering about these things, these two little things, and how their (at this point, venerable and immovable) inclusion in the Mass makes me doubt the bishops’ commitment to this renewal. That is all.

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