Fr Clifford Howell SJ (right) a pioneer in the early days of liturgical reform, explains why some priests seem to be debarring the faithful from full sharing in the sacrifice of Mass.
A CORRESPONDEM to the Catholic Herald complained recently that he (or she?) was seldom able to receive in Communion a host consecrated at the Mass actually being celebrated. Yet two and a hall centuries ago Pope Benedict XIV, in his encyclical Cerliores effect( (n. 3) said the people ought to be given in Communion hosts consecrated at the very Mass they are helping to offer.
Pius XII reminded us of this principle in 1947, it would seem that there is still a widespread neglect.
Mediator Dei(n. 126) restates it and says that "the Church encourages and approves of this practice, and would blame any priest through whose fault or negligence such sharing in the sacrifice should be denied to the faithful': (The Latin says "volt ne id ontittatur-. but Canon Smith to whom the Catholic Truth Society entrusted the translation softened it down to "approves". Vety feeble!) This statement is just about as strong as it could be short of making the practice compulsory something that cannot he done because there are undoubtedly occasions when it would be impossible.
The point has been raised again and again in subsequent documents from the Holy See: Liturgy Constitution art. 55 (1963); Instruction Ritus Aervandus n. 7 (1 9 6 7 ) ; Instruction Eucharisticum Mrsterium (1967) General
Instruction on the Roman Missal n. 56 (1969). Why is it that so many priests persist in "denying to the faithful" this form ol "sharing in the sacrifice"? Are they all truly "blameworthy" (Med. Dei I26)? or is it perhaps that "they know not what they do?"
Possibly many of the laity do not appreciate the reasons why the Church "approves of this practice and desires that it be not omitted". It may well he useful to examine at least the main reasons.
"In the liturgy the sanctification of man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds to those signs" (Lit. Cons'. art 70). "Texts and rites should he drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things they signify" (ibid. art 2 i ). What is the "holy thing" which Communion is intended to signify? Surely it is what St Paul expounded to the Corinthians: "The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread. we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (I Cur. x,16). The unity of the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is the specific grace of the Eucharist in which "the faithful are nourished and fortified at a common banquet, and by an ineffable and divine bond are united with each other and with the divine head of the whole Body" (Mystic( Corporis n. I I ). If only the "fraction" (breaking of one loaf to he shared by many) were fully restored, this meaning would be absolutely clear to everybody. The people would sec the one loaf carried to the iiltar; they would see the priest "take" it: they would hear him give thanks over it and consecrate it by stating that it becomes the Body of Christ; they would see him break it into pieces and distribute them from the altar.
This. of course, is the ideal, and it was always done at every Mass in St Paul's day and for several centuries afterwards. It can sometimes be done even now when the number of communicants is small and a suitable large host is specially prepared. It must be admitted, however, that in modern conditions it is usually impossible to share just one loaf. On the other hand, it certainly is possible to share the contents of one communion-howl (ciborium) which presents a much better symbolism than a cup-like ciborium (from cups we are accustomed to drink, but we eat from dishes or plates).
This symbolism is not destroyed even if this bowl contains many already separate small hosts. For it remains obvious that priest and people are together sharing one batch of the divine food consecrated before their very eyes. And, as Pius XII pointed out in Mediator Dei n. 128, the words of the Roman Canon about "partaking of this altar" are thereby fulfilled. The priest and people are truly receiving Christ "from this altar."
By contrast, if preconsecrated hosts are given out from a tabernacle, the people have no symbolism to help their understanding. They know, of course, that the hosts they receive have been consecrated. It may be that some realise they are in fact sharing in the sacrifice. But it is not from the liturgy that they know this; it is from instructions they have heard or books they have read. This is the point at issue: even if they do know the truth. it is not from the liturgy that they know it.
For with tabernacle communion, the liturgy (the things they see and hear) is such as to obscure the truth — even to lead their minds away from it and imply falsehood. For that which tabernacle communion implies (the lesson to be drawn from its sights and sounds) is that their Communion is not a sharing in this sacrificial meal but is something on its own, inserted into the mass as an interruption. It implies only that Communion is the transference of the Real Presence from the tabernacle to the individual and that the Mass is sometimes connected with it only as including the ritual by which the ciborium is replenished when necessary.
That is the lesson to be drawn from what they see and hear the lesson they did in fact learn from it and which they held for several centuries until recent times when the liturgical movement began to be felt. Indeed nowadays they arc constantly being told that Communion is a sacred meal whereby they share
in the sacrifice, and no doubt they all believe this truth in some notional way. But the lesson has not really gone home to many because it is contrary to what they see and hear. Wherever they receive from the tabernacle (not from the altar) the truth preached to them is not borne out by their eyes and ears.
For tabernacle communion looks like an interruption to the Mass. The priest leaves the altar at which he consecrated: `he goes away to some other altar on which stands the tabernacle.
There should, of/course, be a tabernacle in the church, and there should be consecrated hosts therein — to be adored, and to be available for sick calls. But they ought only to be used when unavoidable.
At every Mass some hosts should be consecrated for them. Before Mass the priest should guess how many to put into the communion-bowl, Especially at Sunday Masses the celebrant is likely to need the assistance of some other minister to help with the distribution. He should bring an empty dish to the altar, so that the people may see the celebrant transfer to him about half the hosts just consecrated.
Finally, see what is said in Eucharisticum Mysterium n. 49: "It would he well to recall that the primary and original purpose of the reserving of the sacred species in church outside Mass is the administration of Viaticum..Secondary ends are the distribution of Communion outside Mass and the adoration of our Lord Jesus Christ concealed beneath these same species". So the tabernacle is not meant to be the source of hosts for Communion within the Mass.