Friday, May 15, 2009

An Interesting Development

We are back from our friend's Confirmation! It was lovely, and we were glad to be able to be there with her to celebrate this special occasion.

Because the bishop was there (Bishop Vann, Fort Worth Diocese) we were intrigued by the fact that the swine flu precuations weren't observed. We went ahead and received communion on the tongue, since we saw others doing so, and after Mass the pastor of the parish confirmed that yes, the precautions had been lifted just this week, as the threat of a serious pandemic seems to have subsided for now.

I went out to the diocesan website, where I found, on this page, a link to a memo (.pdf format) released by Bishop Vann. The file appears to be an image file that I can't copy, so I'm typing the memo below; any discrepancies between this version and the one you can see at the link above should be assumed to be my own typographical errors.
(Text of Bishop Vann's Memo Follows)

After careful consultation, I have concluded that we may immediately withdraw the liturgical adaptations in response to the Swine Flu concerns. All parishes in the diocese are asked to return to the practice of serving Communion under both species and to re-institute the Sign of Peace.

While the holding of hands during the Our Father has evolved into a practice in many of our parishes, this is not required or encouraged by the Roman Rite. You may all remember this point from the presentation by Msgr. James Moroney.

I have come to this decision because national and local public health officials over the last few days have concluded that the N1H1 Influenza (Swine Flu) is subsiding and that the influenza is not as viral as public health officials initially feared.

Public health officials continue to advise that everyone should use good hygiene as long as this Influenza Type A is present and they recommend that persons who are ill stay home from work, school, and other activities until they are well. As in the past, pastors are permitted to make liturgical adaptations in their local setting if local health conditions warrant. Each pastor needs to be prudent and use common sense regarding this matter.

Likewise, the Diocese of Fort Worth Catholic schools will continue to operate under normal conditions, but they will continue to take actions to mitigate the spread of Influenza Type A and will respond to confirmed Influenza Type A cases in accordance with guidelines laid down by public health officials.

I wish to offer my gratitude and thanks to pastors, parishioners, and ministers for cooperating and understanding the need for the liturgical adaptations that we followed the last few weeks. I realize that the adaptations were an inconvenience.

I ask that we continue to pray for all involved.
There are two things I note about this memo; one, that the original document's statement, "The faithful should be encouraged to receive Communion in their hands and not on their tongue," is not mentioned at all in this memo; it should, in my opinion, be. That is, that having specifically encouraged (not required, note) people to receive in the hand, it would be wise to make sure that it is now specifically stated that it is all right to return to the practice of receiving on the tongue; otherwise, the very real risk that some rather liberal pastors may insist that communicants receive in the hand henceforth is present, and this could lead to problems in the future.

But the second part is more interesting to me (as I believe that the only reason Communion on the tongue wasn't mentioned is because Communion in the hand wasn't required, only encouraged; that is, people were never forbidden to receive on the tongue during these past weeks). I refer, of course, to the second paragraph, the one about holding hands during the Our Father.

Bishop Vann is not being heavy-handed at all, here. He simply states what should be clear to anybody: holding hands during the Our Father isn't part of the Roman Rite, and shouldn't be done. I'm intrigued by the mention of a presentation by Msgr. James Moroney, the former chairman of the USCCB's liturgy committee, which from Bishop Vann's mention must also have touched on why holding hands during the Our Father isn't part of the liturgy's approved postures; I don't, of course, know when this presentation took place or what exactly was said.

Our parish, among many, read the "Swine Flu" guidelines and adopted them--but as I mentioned before, the "grab hands during the Our Father" bit was something people just couldn't seem to stop doing--and some of them seemed to be doing it with conscious defiance (though, of course, that's a mere observation, not a judgment on anybody's spirit). It will be extremely interesting to see what happens next, whether any pastor or parish even mentions what the bishop had to say about the Our Father hand-holding, and whether or not people will even be open to the truth that they've been doing something that was never allowed all this time.


Dawn said...

Hi Erin,

Could you link me to a good site that discusses these two policies (receiving on the tongue, holding hands during Our Father)? Or maybe to some informational posts you've written yourself?

Actually, I almost hesitate to ask because I don't want to mentally be at odds with the practices of my parish. I'm guessing that would be too distracting at a time when I'm trying to be reverent during Mass.

Thanks for your time,

Red Cardigan said...

Dawn, Communion on the hand is allowed, certainly; but some perspective may be had here:

From that article:
"It is necessary not to forget," he added, "that the distribution of Communion on the hand continues to remain, from the juridical standpoint, an exception (indult) to the universal law, conceded by the Holy See to those bishops' conferences who have requested it."

The "he" in the quote is Monsignor Guido Marini, the master of papal liturgies.

As for the hand-holding, it has arisen as a custom, but is nowhere to be found in the Rubrics that govern the Mass, and should be discouraged for that reason. It's not as though it's "wrong" to wish to be in a state of unity with each other, but our unity at Mass so much depends on everyone doing what is laid out in the approved prayers, postures, etc.

It's kind of how I feel when a priest ad-libs his way through the prayers of the Mass--he most likely thinks he is "adding" to our worship, but in reality he is causing a distraction, centering attention on himself instead of God, and failing to set the example of humility and obedience which the congregation is expected to follow. Sometimes this can be inadvertently comical--there's nothing like hearing a priest say something like "May the Lord be with each and every one of us to help us lift ourselves out of our inner self-centeredness so that we can be His children and learn in good times and bad to love and bear with and put up with each other!" and the congregation replies, as the book says, "And also with you."

Similarly, the Our Father hand-grabbing holds everybody hostage, even those who aren't really comfortable holding hands (some cultures are more reserved than ours, for instance). The focus is taken off the prayer as we make a show of our unity--and heaven help the person who doesn't want to show unity by holding hands!

That said, I've learned to take a prayerful and patient approach to these things. It's not a good idea for people in the congregation to start storming out at the Our Father, either, or to glare at those who want to hold hands, etc. There's a real temptation to think one is "better" because one knows the rules and will follow them even if that means dropping to one's knees the minute the Our Father begins and remaining there, eyes closed, until Communion. Far better to support these sorts of statements from one's bishop, and to be prepared for the message to take a long time to filter to the congregation, especially if one's pastor doesn't happen to notice the message in the first place.

Dawn said...

Thanks so much for your time. I do think I agree with your approaches in the last paragraph.