a gaffe at Mass

There’s a threat of rain all day today in Boston, so rather than bike out to the parish which hosts the Extraordinary Form Mass in my area, I attended the nearby parish church. Those of you who live near where I do know that you have to brace yourself before going to Sunday Mass at this parish, just in case some zany liturgical dance breaks out, or the lights dim and random noises begin playing during the homily. For the most part, it’s a safe place, but one never knows.

Today we made it all the way to communion before something illegitimate enough occurred to get me a little riled up. (Perfect place to get riled up, just before receiving our Lord.) A woman two places in front of me in line for communion devoutly kneeled at the feet of the alter Christus distributing communion. Rather than distribute the Eucharist to this woman, as is her “right” (relatively speaking. I’m tempted to call it a duty to receive this way. Tempted.), the priest motioned for her to stand. It looked like it took a moment or two for this to register in the mind of the communicant, but once it did, she sheepishly stood and received nonetheless, genuflecting afterwards, clearly discombobulated.

After the dismissal, I searched for the woman, who was kneeling with her husband consoling her, clearly upset or embarrassed after the encounter at communion (note to priests: one should not be crying tears of embarrassment but tears of joy after the encounter with the Lord at communion). After waiting a few minutes for the husband to calm her down and then find the priest to talk to him about this problem, I spoke with the woman myself, just to see what happened from her perspective. She related basically what I saw, adding that the priest said “wake up” while motioning for her to rise to receive. I’m suspicious if this is actually what the priest said. The woman’s first language was not English, though she spoke it quite well, but nonetheless she might have misspoken about what the priest said. However, if that is what the priest said, how rude of him! It’s embarrassing enough to be essentially called out in front of the rest of the congregation right at the front of the communion line – why would one do this? – but also to be told to “wake up,” as if one were living in the past by receiving kneeling? Tsk tsk.

I have attended Mass with this priest before, in fact many times, and have been both delighted and frustrated with him. Hey, we’re all human here, so I understand. However, there’s really no excuse for denying a member of the faithful one of her fundamental rights as a baptized Christian in a state of grace. It’s even harder to get away with this monkey business now, considering the Holy Father has been promoting the distribution of communion kneeling and on the tongue for a few years now by himself only distributing it to people receiving in this way. Hello! Wake up! Get with the times – communion kneeling and on the tongue is in!

Anyways, the point here is, first, that a priest should not embarrass one of the faithful at perhaps the culminating point of the Mass, the glorious moment when man and God become one, and second, that a priest cannot deny a communicant the right to receive kneeling or standing, on the tongue or in the hand. If you see this happen yourself, I would try to talk to the priest after Mass and, if he is not compliant, write a letter to the pastor. If the priest in question is the pastor, then write the bishop. If, God forbid, the bishop is also of no help, one may write the Holy See, who I am sure will take care of the matter well, though perhaps not until 2020.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

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5 Responses to a gaffe at Mass

  1. James P. Cahill says:

    A gaffe indeed, Mr. Williams. The priest had no right to deny the woman communion. Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving communion in the U.S. (ordinary form, of course) but the padre in question handled this quite poorly. You give the lady communion regardless of posture, and then maybe tell her she should stand to receive after mass. Since this lady sounds like a foreigner, this would most likely not have been necessary. Or, you can simply have all the old-schoolers sit in the front row and receive kneeling over the pew – discretely avoiding any interruptions or surprises. We did this at Holy Name Cathedral back in my sacristan days. What you mention is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. On the flipside, I think the Pope’s current demand that anyone receiving from him (ordinary or extraordinary) do so kneeling and on the tongue is equally ridiculous for the same reasons. This policy is also doubly problematic in that it begs the question, both in the mind of the communicant and of the observer, “Is the communicant kneeling before Christ or His Vicar?” Let me put it this way – I’ve received communion probably thousands of times, always standing and in the hand unless I was at a Tridentine Mass or else holding a bishop’s crozier or miter with one of those mini-copes. If I were to receive communion from the Pope, I’d be kneeling for Benedict, not for Jesus. That’s an issue.

    • Michael Williams says:

      JPC, can you give me a link to the USCCB document that says standing is the norm for dioceses in the good ole’ U.S .of A.? I looked at the document concerning norms for the distribution of Holy Communion on the website and couldn’t find anything specific saying standing was the norm. I wouldn’t want to be practicing or promoting a practice that is against the wisdom of the bishops of this region. However, without getting into the theology of the Eucharist here, which to me would suggest kneeling to be a more proper posture, I will say the fact that communicants kneeled for the past 1,500 years or so, at least, is decent evidence that kneeling is the norm, standing the indult. I could be wrong.

      On the other hand (pun not intended), as regards communion on tongue vs. in hand, I know that communion on the tongue is the norm for the universal Church, and that communion on the hand has been granted as an indult to the norm, albeit the indult has in effect become the norm. It is, however, well known that if you’re going to receive from the Pope, you’re going to be kneeling, so there’s no chance for embarrassment or argument in the communion line. Thus, I don’t see anything wrong with his practice of only distributing to those receiving kneeling and on the tongue.

      As for the idea that you’d be kneeling for Benedict and not for Jesus, it’s an interesting point. Perhaps he should be open to both. However, since again, on the tongue and probably kneeling are the norms for the universal Church, and certainly at least the church in the city of Rome, I don’t see why, for “pastoral reasons” (what the same parish priest here in Boston might have cited to prevent one from kneeling), he can’t do this. In any case, begging the question is another thing completely, and you might have been doing it with that last statement. 🙂

      Glad to see that we can still carry on our liturgical debates remotely!

  2. James P. Cahill says:


    “Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States of America unless the bishop of a particular diocese has derogated from this norm in an individual and extraordinary circumstance.”

    This would appear to be the norm rather than the indult.
    This is also 8 years old (before all U.S. bishops had spines surgically removed)- but haven’t found anything that negates this.

    Back to the Pope – Receiving communion is such a personal experience that I feel once you let your cat out of the bag with an indult, you can’t get it back in, especially not using the old “When in Rome do as the Romans do” reasoning. If we have granted the indult, then it should be respected across the board. If receiving standing and on the hand is good enough in the U.S, it should be good enough in Rome. Also, I’ve been to a papal mass at St. Pete’s and this was not a problem. This is more of an opinion, obviously.

    • Michael Williams says:

      Thank you for what is in effect some fraternal correction, kind sir. The link is much appreciated.

      As for the comments about bishops and their removed spines, and the cat being out of the bag, not sure I agree (or, for the former, really understand), but here and now is not the place to discuss that.

  3. Pingback: 2010 in review | Ad te levavi animam meam

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