Ministry of the Eyes

When you approach the front of the communion line and step forward toward the Priest, Deacon, or Extraordinary Minister of Communion, does the minister take the time to look you in the eye as they distribute the Body and Blood of Christ to you? As you enter the church and are greeted by a Hospitality Minister, does that person go out of their way to greet you with smiling eyes? When the Psalmist is singing the Responsorial Psalm, is their head buried in their music or are they communicating with not only with their voice but with their eyes?

Our eyes are powerful. A simple glance with a smile can show warmth and welcome. A downcast eye can do just the opposite. When is the last time you prayed grace at a meal with family or friends, not with heads bowed, but by looking up and outward at each other?

It’s not always easy to look someone in the eye.

I offer this challenge.  The next time you are at Mass, use your eyes to communicate with others.  If you serve in any type of ministry, do your best to make eye contact with those you minister to.  If you are a parishioner in the pews, look someone in the eye when you share the sign of peace.

If you accept my challenge, I would love to know the result.

Nina Lasceski is a postulant at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.  Originally from Michigan, and a Commissioned Lay Minister for the Diocese of Saginaw, she is now enrolled at St. John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville in “Modern Liturgical Movements'”with Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB.  She has served as a cantor and handbell choir director.

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46 comments

  1. “When you approach the front of the communion line and step forward toward the Priest, Deacon, or Extraordinary Minister of Communion, does the minister take the time to look you in the eye as they distribute the Body and Blood of Christ to you?”

    I have no idea. After bowing my head in reverence, I am looking at the Host, or at the chalice.

    1. Dear Rose,

      Of course I respect your piety. And I expected comments such as yours.

      I would only note – not that your practice is wrong – that other practices are also laudable. Keep in mind that the mystery we’re celebrating, in the eyes of the Church and in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, is NOT simply the sacramental sign (the host or the chalice), but also and even more so the Mystical Body of Christ – ie, the Church. According to Aquinas, the sacramental sign is the middle term, the res et sacramentum, but the higher term, the res tantum, is the Church, the Body of Christ, which is built up by the celebration of the Eucharist.

      By temperament I’m drawn to your practice. But I’ve actually pushed myself in recent years to make human contact with the minister – since my orthodox theology compels me to do so!

      I don’t read this into your comment, but some folks making similar comments have had an air of “more correct orthodoxy” or “better piety” around them. I would caution our readers against such an attitude.

      To be clear: when the minister says “The Body/Blood of Christ,” this refers to the host/chalice, but not only. It refers also to the assembled church. As St. Augustine said to the church, “Become what you receive.”

      Pax,
      Fr. Anthony

  2. I’ve previously encouraged ministers in my parish to engage in eye contact. At one workshop for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, one person said they couldn’t possibly do it; they had to remain focused on the host or chalice. The general response from others was they had to focus on both the host/chalice and the person, for Christ is to be found in both.

  3. Simple but profound. I was inspired by a priest I knew who would always look people in the eye when he gave them the Eucharist, and by doing so he seemed to be saying at the same time, “This is the body of Christ,” and “You are the body of Christ.” I was on the verge of being Catholic at that time, and seeing the double meaning implicit in his “the body of Christ” increased my hunger for the Eucharist.

  4. Whenever I am reading during the liturgy of the word, I try to scan ahead to gather a group of words to memory and then to look at the congregation whilst I deliver them.That way a contact is made and it is valuable. You just have to make certain you don’t lose your place in the text when you return to it…eye contact is a vital part of human relationships, it is unspoken and there is no physical contact, but it is real and significant.

  5. This is making me flash back to the Sunday the priest looked me in the eye and said “You came to heal the contrite.” Talk about pressure! (That’s what I get for taking a front pew.)

    Sometimes discerning when eye contact is and isn’t advisable is good ministry too …

  6. Nina, I deeply respect what you have to say. I recognize that perhaps the majority of individuals appreciate the contact which you describe. Yet, as an extreme introvert who has been born into a very extroverted world, I must say that for some people what you propose is not feasible. Some enjoy socialization. For others, pleasantries are a cross to bear.

    I have had to learn how to shake hands and make eye contact in a manner similar to the way in which others learn how to play piano or study a foreign language. Even into my early thirties I must consciously practice social behaviors. People who know me well let me relax and do not require me to offer these gestures. Yet, for most of my life I have to pretend as if I am extroverted to superiors and acquaintances.

    The parishioner who avoids a hospitality minister’s or pastor’s greeting at the door, or even declines to give more than one or two handshakes at the pax, might simply wish to avoid the studied extroversion they must practice during the workweek. Sunday Mass for many is a time for rest and reflection. Persons who are introverted by nature or persons with an autism spectrum disorder often are eager to make friends. Often these friendships take a longer time to develop, and often do not contain the expected social cues.

    The parishioner who does not smile or glance at a minister during Mass might be very glad to talk with a fellow parishioner over coffee after the Mass.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #7:
      Jordan, although I am considered the extroverts extrovert by those who know me today, I often self-define as a “recovering shy person.” I say that because I am aware of my own and others needs around energy, modulation and connection.

      The autism spectrum is another matter and yes, it must be noted that for some, contact is highly charged.

      That said, I find myself stopping when I read your words about “Sunday Mass for many is a time for rest and reflection.” How do we all modulate, with more or less energy, in the communal posture of Sunday Mass? This is not a challenge, but an earnest question.

      1. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #28:

        Fran: That said, I find myself stopping when I read your words about “Sunday Mass for many is a time for rest and reflection.” How do we all modulate, with more or less energy, in the communal posture of Sunday Mass? This is not a challenge, but an earnest question.

        First Fran, I am not offended in the least. Also, the points that you have made in this thread are very perceptive.
        .
        I agree that reverence requires the One Body. Still, I do not perceive this Body through pleasantries and body gestures such as eye contact. The grace of the sacrament, as understood through the spoken and read liturgy, binds the assembly together. All who hear Mass together are bound in common by the sacramental and theological reality realized before them in the prayers of the liturgy. Even if the peace is never exchanged, all are united by a liturgical reality greater than an individual. This is, in my view, vastly more important than commonplace social gestures.

        However I realize that for many persons interpersonal contact through response as well as social gesture, and not necessarily abstract thought, demonstrate the One Body and the unity of the worshiping assembly. Because my understanding of liturgical unity is likely in the minority, I must adapt to social expectations without giving up the mental life I treasure.

        Since I am barely able to decipher the social activity in my midst, I am swept along by the social expectations of the assembly. It is a blessing and a rest to find time for mental contemplation at Mass. I should be quite glad for these still moments, but not avoid others for the sake of my silent reverie.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #33:
        Thank you Jordan Zarembo, for this thoughtful reply. I am grateful for the communal nourishment that comes through this blog, the ability to learn and consider others in varied ways.

        Your words about that liturgical reality will stay on my heart for a long, long time.

  7. The priest at my church did look in my eyes during communion, and during the time when people shook hands, he would come down and shake hands with the people in the first rows. I liked that 🙂

  8. I always look directly at each communicant and smile as I say: The Body of Christ. A long time ago, I mostly thought of the moment of receiving Holy Communion as a personal act of piety. Despite my unworthiness, my Lord and my God was coming to dwell in me. But I am grateful for my growth in true reverence not just for the Real Presence but for all who are united with Christ in Holy Communion–living and deceased. At the end of daily Mass after a reverential bow to Christ in the altar, I turn around and bow reverentially to the people and say “thanks be to you”. After all they have been newly filled with the Body and Blood of Christ.

  9. All ministry is about relationship, so eye contact is rather essential, even for those who are intravert (in the Myers-Briggs spelling). I personally appreciate all the eye contact I can get from liturgical ministers of every kind.

    On the subject of “The Body of Christ”, I have always remembered an (U.S.) priest who used to say that your Amen response also means “Yes, we are”.

  10. Jordan’s comment should not be skipped over. If we are to meet people where they are, we must not valorize the habits of extroversion as essentially better than the habits of introversion, or vice versa. Instead, we must be alert to cues about how best to approach strangers, and modulate our approaches accordingly. In my experience, introverts tend to be somewhat better at this than extroverts (it may be one of the reasons it’s more tiring to be introverted, in the Myers-Briggs sense of that category).

  11. Eye contact is fine, but being overly touchy feely in the liturgical setting is a rather recent phenomenon and something not altogether good IMO. Violations of people’s physical and psychological boundaries should not be trivialized especially in the liturgical setting where we have many people who are quite fragile in this regard. I can remember as a layperson receiving the chalice for an EMC and as I took the chalice he caressed the tops of my hands with his palms. I could have done without this warm, extroverted and friendly gesture which evidently he needed so I refrained from his chalice in the future.

  12. I was taught, way back in the 70’s – the good(?)/bad(?) old days – that when the priest showed the host and said, “The Body of Christ”, the response, “Amen” was a confession of faith. In such a situation looking at the receipient – eyes meeting – seems very natural.
    Thank you Fr Anthony for you first and very sensitively worded comment.
    In my early years in parish work I used to say the name of the parishioner – it was “fashionable”(??) back then. On one occasion I’d been away on home leave, and though I was in transition to a new parish, I dropped into my previous parish and helped out at Communion time. When I gave Communion to one parishioner, adding their name, the response that came back was not “Amen”, but “Welcome back” – it’s shorter in Japanese. I stopped the custom soon after that.
    One further point, in a country like Japan, where particularly at Christmas, we have a lot of non-Christians attending Mass, eye-contact and a quiet, discreet, “Have you been baptized?” can avoid awkward situations later. We have had non-Christians receive communion, carry it back to their seat, then having carefully wrapped it in a tissue, popped it in their pocket or handbag. On occasion, our watchful parishioners have retrieved and then discreetly consumed the Host. All part of life for us here, and in a culture where eye-contact, particularly among the older generation, would be considered impolite.

    1. @Brendan Kelleher svd – comment #13:
      The cultures of people should certainly be taken into account in our multicultural parishes. Then boundaries of formal communication and familiar communication even with the eyes and facial greetings along with formal or familiar greetings depending on how well one is known have implications for our liturgy which by nature is formal although familiar too.

  13. It seems to me that if the minister looks the person in the eyes, this still leaves the recipient free to either make contact or not, as he or she is inclined. But if the minister refuses to make eye contact, the option is taken away from the recipient.

  14. In general, I believe in eye contact during liturgical celebrations. However, with the intrusion of TV screens where, in my parish, the words of ALL liturgical readings as well as RESPONSES are flashed – like a prompter for all to see – I cringe and pity the lectors as they are seemingly taken for granted. Somehow, the lectors become a dis-embodied voice when almost everyone’s eyes are fixed on the screens. I live in Florida, and the pastor’s “pastoral reason” was most of the retirees are ‘hard of hearing.’ Huh? 🙂

  15. I cantor sometimes. At a recent meeting, the music director encouraged us to look up and smile and “engage” the congregation. Some though it was a good idea. I am not one of those people. The one time I tried doing that I lost my place and screwed up the psalm. Better for me to keep my nose buried in the music, IMO.

    The music director is a gifted singer and she likes to smile and emote a little and she uses a hand held mike and occasionally even gestures. She sings well, but I find that whole business a little off-putting. I do not fancy myself as a lounge singer at Mass and I don’t think it is a good idea for anyone to do that.

    I get the idea of eye contact being a good thing in human interaction. And I get that we are humans. But, our focus at Mass should not be about us. So I will choose to not accept the challenge Nina poses.

    1. @Charles Day – comment #17:
      Charles, you don’t have to grab a mike and gesture to make eye contact with the congregation. You might reconsider Nina’s challenge in the context of the very ancient tradition of memorizing the psalms. As a cantor I understand the need to not mangle the psalm’s melody or text, and therefore to remain glued to the text, but my goal (not always achieved) is to commit the week’s psalm to memory. I can make eye contact, let my voice move outward in proclamation and I’m “armed with prayer”….

      “Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris, suggests at the very outset of his book, First Steps in Prayer, that the first thing one ought to do is memorize not the usual prayers, but the psalms. He admits it seems daunting, even outrageous in these days when the psalter can be so easily obtained, but encourages his readers to start with the shortest of the psalms, 117, and slowly stretch the memory to longer psalms.

      Long ago, the desert fathers recognized the connection between mind and soul that memorizing the psalms required — even in the selection of the psalms to memorize, God is speaking to you. More recently, the 19th century Russian Orthodox bishop and monk Theophan the Recluse suggested starting with the psalms that strike your heart, ‘After you have considered and felt the prayers, work at memorizing them. Then you will not have to fumble about for your prayer book and light when it is time to pray… you will always be fully armed with prayer.'”

  16. Nina writes:
    “It’s not always easy to look someone in the eye.”

    Some years ago, I was visiting an old family friend, an elderly priest in New York City. As we walked from his office in the Chancery towards his apartment, several street people greeted him, and he would always look straight at them and greet them in return. He remarked to me that at his age and state of health, the temptations of the flesh were a non-issue, but hardness of the heart–particularly towards the bums on the street–was all too easy to fall into.

    “It’s not always easy to look someone in the eye.”

    It isn’t easy. Walking along the street and being civil to the street people, as my friend did, that’s tough. You may not want to put yourself in the position of possibly striking up a conversation with a deranged person who will tell you all about the Martians infiltrating the Electoral College–and who would blame you? But at Mass, where the people surrounding you are the Mystical Body of Christ, if you cannot make eye contact with even the one or two people you might greet at the Pax–then with whom, and when?

  17. Some priests and Sp Ministers of the Eucharist in my experience will use one’s Christian name when giving Holy Communion – “Mary, the Body of Christ.” I like this, but don’t feel deprived if receiving where I’m not known.

    But surely most folk could do better at the Sign of Peace? All too many people seem anxious about this “new” practice and limply shake one’s hand while worriedly looking out to see who’s next. I value this moment to express physically and mentally a prayer for the individual whom I am greeting. So it’s “Peace, Martina.” “Peace Jake.” Or to a stranger, “Peace be with you.” And of course I look at him/her and smile.

    And this is so important for children as they can take part in this moment on equal terms with everyone else. They love it.

  18. I think there is a nuance to eye contact that can be difficult; are you staring, challenging, questioning. Despite this I do try to make eye contact not only in church ministry but in ministry that comes from that. Jesus is present in every moment of experience – was it Augustine that used to give communion saying ‘receive what you are’? Making eye contact with the Body of Christ seems a grace-ful gesture to make.

  19. His Eminence Cardinal Godfried Danneels gave a very positive almost pre-Vatican II triumphalism evaluation of Vatican II in a recent lecture. However he offered some sober comments concerning the state of the liturgy today similar to Pope Benedict’s concerns and the following concern perhaps reflects part of the eye contact of this post and it seems the Cardinal may not object to the liturgy celebrated ad orientem even in its reformed model:

    “A similar problem is that of balance between horizontality and verticality. There is sometimes a danger that the Eucharist gets reduced to just the meal dimension. But it is also a sacrificial meal. Of this there are no more examples in our current culture. The celebration facing the people suggests in the first place the local community and puts less focus on God. But the Eucharist is both: a convivial meal and an act of worship and sacrifice. Much depends on the attitude of the celebrant. Eye contact should be there for the celebrating community, but first to God.”

    You can read the very optimistic evaluation the Cardinal has of Vatican II and its pastoral theology, somewhat dogmatized in a triumphant way, at the following link. Could this triumphalism be a carry over from the pre-Vatican II triumphalism but now applied to pastoral theology rather than dogma?

    http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=21284

  20. This is a very nice post, and I agree with Fritz.

    Losing one’s place when reading or singing is a legitimate concern. I use my finger along the margin of the book to keep track of where I am.

    FWIW, I once received some (very helpful and welcome) training on public speaking from a parishioner who coaches people in secular professions to speak in stressful situations, e.g. business executives speaking to financial analysts. His view is that, when you have a prepared text, it’s okay to keep your focus on the text, and that the head-bobbing involved in trying to make eye contact and then retrieve the next set of words can be an annoyance to some people. I found this advice freeing, and believe that my proclamation has been improved by being released from the burden of trying to make constant eye contact. If I were to compile a Top 5 List of tips for lectors and psalmists, it’s possible that maintaining eye contact wouldn’t make the list.

    Then, too, I’ve heard the theological argument made that, when we read from scripture or sing a psalm, they are not our words; they are words from a sacred book – a venerable inheritance that we are stewarding – and it is okay to present the visual cue that the words are coming from the book. From this point of view, proclaiming a memorized reading or psalm, without referring to the sacred written text, is counter-productive. Food for thought?

  21. I do not wish to belabor my point about introversion unduly. Even so, I have long been convinced that some of the liturgical reforms after the Council, even if not explicitly called for in the conciliar texts, place a noticeable stress on demonstrative behavior and eye contact in particular. I am not sure if this focus has evolved over the past few decades, or if the scholars of the successive waves of the liturgical movement intended for more extroversion in liturgy.

    In the EF, the celebrant customarily should not lift his eyes to the congregation after he turns from the altar and pronounces Dominus vobiscum. Certainly, many priests even today disregard this custom. I am quite agnostic on the importance or value of this rubric. Even so, I suspect that a priest’s custody of the eyes during the greetings has served as a reminder of the first priority of his priestly duties.

    An EF celebrant’s glance downward and away from the congregation contrasts sharply with the highly demonstrative celebration style of some priests who celebrate Mass versus populum. Again, I recognize that many value eye contact and similar social cues from celebrants/presiders. And yet, for centuries Mass has been celebrated facing the altar (ad orientem) in many places. Why, then, the much more pronounced emphasis on social performance in the liturgy, and especially in liturgy celebrated facing the people? Is this new emphasis a consequence of a greater prevalence of visual media in the cinema, television, and now internet age? Or, does the overwhelming adoption of versus populum celebration in many places reflect a long-unmet need for greater social interaction in liturgy?

    The EF and Divine Liturgy, though often celebrated for the most part facing the altar or behind an iconostasis, nevertheless attract persons of diverse temperaments. Why, then, has the modern Roman rite placed a great emphasis on social interaction while older rites of the church place less stress on the interpersonal?

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #23:
      Jordan I think in part this emphasis on eye contact, the personality of the priest, his warmth exuding through liturgical style really goes back to Father Eugene Walsh SS and others in his school of thought. It really is of the school of thought that the horizontal needs to be emphasized in the liturgy and that the demeanor of the various actors of the liturgy (apart from the congregation, i.e. priest, deacon, lector, EMC) was meant to pull the congregation into the liturigcal rites and elicit from them a sense of “buy-in” to the Liturgy. This was especially true in training lectors, that they would proclaim the scripture in a way that would naturally force congregants to put down any worship aid they had containing the words of Scripture and have eye-contact with the lector whose abilities so stunned them that they couldn’t help but look at the lector and listen rather than to a printed page. I don’t think this “affectivity” that evolved in the 1970’s has any actual backing in the GIRM or rubrics, but is really feel good stuff foisted on us from a particular school of liturgical thought.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #24:

        Thank you Fr. Allan for your observations. I would say that the school of thought which you describe is not fundamentally inadvisable. A moderate degree of social engagement is necessary even when a priest does not celebrate in the direct view of the assembly. Mumbled prayers or the appearance of haste in any rite certainly alienates many people. Social gestures not only include others in the liturgy but also perhaps, consciously or not, slows the speed of celebration down to a more understandable pace. Clearly understood liturgy need not at all be overly dramatic or touchy-feely.

        At #2 in this thread, Fr. Ruff cites Aquinas’ notion of “res tantum” and the assembly. He also cautions against the possible sentiment of some Catholics that the “res et sacramentum” trumps the assembled Church. Might I add another caveat from personal experience. Participation in the responses, singing, and bodily gesture are also participation in the unity of the assembly. Even so, those like me who struggle with visual contact must strive to meet the assembly at its social equilibrium. The action of one Church in liturgical assembly requires both the talents and personal sacrifices of all gathered.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #26:
        Thanks, Jordan….to dismiss some of the above comments that stress relationship, communal nature of liturgy, that liturgy is both/and (horizontal and vertical), that folks such as Walsh did a great service to achieving the balance underlined in SC/VII and encouraged *active participation* by building community and communal relationships – examples of grace building on nature.

        Sorry, the skew on lectors really underlines the issue – lectors *proclaim* the word of God – they don’t just read it. As some have insightfully said about their own experience, *proclaiming* is hard work; it means engaging folks and yes, if done well, folks will not need to depend upon or use missalettes that have no place in today’s liturgy. (except for those who can’t hear well). Good liturgies have order of the mass listing music, speical parts of the liturgy, readings but do not print everything out as do missalettes. PTB has often addressed issues around communities that are tied to a missalette in terms of the communion procession, receiving body and blood, etc. Eucharist is not just an individual reading along – that could be a library.
        Found the comment above to be biased, opinionated, and inaccurate esp. in its judgment of a priest such as Walsh.

  22. I was just in a conversation with someone about this… Regarding a priest that she knows who will only look at the Eucharist, and never the person to whom he is offering the Eucharist. She was saying how off-putting that was.

    When I am a minister of communion, I do make sure that I make eye contact with people, although many do not do this in return. As Fritz Bauerschmidt noted, the person has the option to not do so.

    My reverence, at least as I understand it, is very much bound up into the many members of the One Body. Thus eye contact from lectors, cantors, ministers and other parishioners is welcome. I also respect that others may not feel this way, but I am focused on the communal nature of the liturgy.

    I wish that I had the eloquence of Fr. Anthony in his comment above, and I do hope that my comment to Jordan is not insensitive or is perceived as unkind in any way.

  23. I am an introvert and my preference is for a quiet, meditative Mass but, having read Fr Ronald Rolheiser’s book on the Mass and even more since I read his emailed thought two weeks ago, I accept what I already knew but preferred not to admit, which is that the Mass is not about me and my prayer, it is about the world and Jesus’s prayer, not mine. It is also about relationship in Jesus. We don’t gather around someone’s table and ignore the presence of each other. We engage with each other. My introversion has never stopped me from looking at the person the whom I am giving the Eucharist when I am a Minister and I feel that our encounter is a sacred one and a gift from the Jesus we share. Similarly the warmth of our Sign of Peace is a celebration of being a community with Jesus at the centre. At Mass I am called to come out of myself to find Jesus in others.

  24. I think the way I see eye contact expressed at the moment before Communion is often unnatural. The rubric directs the minister to “show” the Host to the communicant. It is at this moment in time that I take people to be advising (and have seen ministers apparently consciously practicing) eye contact. But this seems to me to somewhat violate the nature of the act of showing. When I think about showing something to a friend, we are typically both looking at the thing being shown, not at each other. (C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves discusses how friends stand “side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”)

    Interestingly, the 1962 ritual for giving Communion has more of the nature of a personal encounter. The priest does not “show” the communicant the Host, but blesses him or her with it offering a specific prayer for his or her salvation. A bishop is instructed by the Ceremoniale to offer his hand to be kissed after the reception of Communion.

    So perhaps that’s why “eye-contact” here sometimes doesn’t work… it’s not exactly congruent with what’s set out in the reformed rite, which has demphasized the encounter with the minister aspect of the moment.

  25. Samuel J. Howard : When I think about showing something to a friend, we are typically both looking at the thing being shown, not at each other.

    Yes to the first, Samuel, but not necessarily the second.

    The minister can both show the host, while looking at it, and make eye contact with the communicant. And the communicant can both behold the host and make eye contact with the minister, if

    the minister holds the host on the plane between the two sets of eyes.

    1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #36:
      Precisely Fr Ron!

      As a communicant, even when kneeling to receive, I feel drawn to look both at the Host and at the minister — Christ giving himself to me.

      And when I serve as an extraordinary minister, it comes very naturally to make eye contact with the communicant, then lift the Host until it is between our eyes — and then, into the palm of the communicant’s hand or onto the tongue.

  26. ” folks will not need to depend upon or use missalettes that have no place in today’s liturgy. (except for those who can’t hear well). ”

    … or children, who may not be familiar yet with the Bible and biblical language, or the mass and the language of liturgy

    … or adults being initiated into Christianity, who may not be familiar yet with the Bible and biblical language, or the mass and the language of liturgy

    … or those for whom the language in which the readings are proclaimed is not a first language

    … or those who worship in a less-than-ideal acoustic environment

    … or those who worship at a mass with lectors who haven’t yet achieved the desired level of perfection of their craft

    … or those who, for whatever reason, whether it strikes us as reasonable or not, prefer to follow along with the text before them.

    (Also, the set of people who do not hear well is a rather large set, in my observation).

    I understand the ideal, but we still need to live and worship on this side of heaven, and in my opinion, parishes that chuck their worship aids in obeisance to the dictum that, if only our lectors do their job, no worship aids are necessary, are not serving their communities well.

  27. Agreed, Jim…that is why, in my experience, we use order of the mass leaflets (specific to each week-end liturgy) and the music, readings are listed and direct folks to Worship (which has the Sunday readings for those who need them in print – hearing, second language).

    Don’t agree with children – but would leave it to parents. Again, in many of our week-end liturgies, children proceed to another part of the church for the readings/homily period.

    Agreed that acoustics is an issue – but that can be addressed if you want good liturgy. Guess it has to do with your priorities.

    Don’t agree with some of your last points – again, purpose is not to *force* folks but to invite and give them an experience so that they will no longer need to depend upon something like a missalette.

    Read my comment again – I clearly mentioned an order of mass card versus missalettes. (never said – NO worship aids but qualified the type of worship aid) Now I will sound like Allan – missalettes were part of the unfortunate experiences in the 1960s/1970s that should have had a *short live span*. Too often, have seen parishes spend a good deal of money on missalettes which, IMO and experience, have kept parishes at a certain level in terms of liturgical/musical participation, advancement, and understanding. That expense is then used to justify not ordering substantial hymnals, etc. How often have you seen presiders use missalettes instead of the sacramentary for presider prayers, etc. (a sign of laziness and disrespect or misunderstanding of liturgical signs, etc.)

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #39:
      Jim – my point about engaging folks beyond just communal reading of the missalette (exaggeration but my point is there) is actually best articulated by the *new* post of Diana’s – *Four Alternatives to Killing your Pipe Organ*

      She quotes from an excellent article about music but you can replace music with liturgy or pipe organ with liturgy. Allow me to revise:

      “We are bodies, living in a world we can touch, feel, see, smell, hear. The sonic experience of LITURGY forces in a live setting is incomparable, a fact of which I am reminded on every trip to the CHURCH. The magic of skill and intention forming sound waves that surround us is a perfect example of the blessings of our physical world. Add to that the power of a perfectly calibrated human voice – an example of every part of the human body working together perfectly, art truly incarnate – and you have a recipe for transformation…

      A rich human voice, a CHURCH, an emotive LITURGICAL setting of sensual poetry created the perfect storm, tearing me away from the elite intellectualism honed over many years in the ivory tower (OR READING FROM A MISALETTE). My brain was ripped out and I was only body, heart and blood and guts and skin.

      This doesn’t happen every time you hear GOOD LITRUGY. But it can’t happen when you don’t. GOOD LITURGY can produce hits and misses, moments of catastrophe and moments of grace. But when it’s done right we come alive, together, surrounded by other people, truly in a moment that will never exist again.

  28. I want to be clear that I’m not opposed to eye-contact to convey liturgical meaning during Mass, although for some people it could be misconstrued and this is not good in any liturgical setting. But I think the point that some are making is that those in leadership roles in the liturgy which in the Ordinary Form is expanded from the priest only to a variety of liturgical leaders are joining in a new clericalism. In the EF some would say this priestly clericalism was benign neglect of the congregation’s role, after all the priest didn’t face them for the most part and had eyes downcast when facing them. The priest was unoccupied by what the laity was doing or not doing and the laity had a great deal of flexibility in terms of their actual participation or not–it was their business.
    Today’s Ordinary Form clericalism that goes way beyond just the priest to other liturgical leaders is a malignant preoccupation with what the congregation is or isn’t doing. It is about control, removing missalettes to make them look at those who are “acting” in the sanctuary, getting angry when they don’t do what they are suppose to do, like speak, sing, be silent, etc and forcing them into eye-contact and feel good affectivity. All this seems foreign to the true prayer experience and eye contact we should have with God which only God can bring about or judge.

  29. Jonathan Day : @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #36: Precisely Fr Ron! As a communicant, even when kneeling to receive, I feel drawn to look both at the Host and at the minister — Christ giving himself to me. And when I serve as an extraordinary minister, it comes very naturally to make eye contact with the communicant, then lift the Host until it is between our eyes — and then, into the palm of the communicant’s hand or onto the tongue.

    May I say that this practice — of holding the consecrated host directly between the eyes of minister and receipient so that they cannot see each other’s eyes — is extraordinarily dangerous and has been the cause of numerous accidents and dropped hosts. In my diocese, this is specifically discouraged. Both minister and communicant need to be able to see where each other’s eyes are looking, so that the transfer of host to hand or tongue can take place in complete safety.

    The practice seems to have grown up because ministers were told “not to get in the way of” the sacrament. But a welcoming and even smiling face is surely what we want to see when we approach the Lord’s table.

    The underlying principle here is that all ministry consists of acts of service to another. It is simply not possible to minister effectively to another person if you (deliberately) don’t look at them. In fact it dehumanizes the act of service, and the relationship is entirely different.

    I believe I previously mentioned in another thread the example of organists, many of whom are literally marginalized in our communities because they are often placed with their backs to the people they are ministering to, at the edge of the room, or even out of sight of them altogether, and thus their only point of contact with them is via a “driving mirror” or a CCTV monitor. We have had the technology to deal with this for many years, but the spirit is not yet willing.

  30. In the distribution of the bread, my practice is generally to hold it between myself and the one receiving it as I say “The body of Christ, given for you,” then place it in the communicant’s hand. The effect, if the communicant’s eyes are open and not closed, is often that the communicant and I make eye contact over the bread. It is a conversation in which first they hear the gift announced, they see the gift before their eyes, then they receive it, and finally eat it. It is a dance, of sorts, that we share.

    The response to this — the communicant’s part in the dance — takes various forms. Physically, there are somber nods from some, smiles and occasionally twinkling in the eyes from others. Verbally, some receive in silence, while others respond with “Amen” or “Thanks be to God” or a fine Easter “Alleluia”.

    It’s important, too, that I note my own reactions to how this gift I am offering is received by those who come forward. It is hard sometimes for me to see someone kneeling at the rail with their head down, eyes (presumably) closed, and hands held up. “Don’t mind me,” I hear this posture saying, “Just give me the bread.” How am I to connect with someone who is doing their best to shut me and the world out?

    This is a preference on my part, I realize. But for me, it is a preference born in the incarnation, which did not shut the world out but embraced it.

  31. Peter Rehwaldt : It is hard sometimes for me to see someone kneeling at the rail with their head down, eyes (presumably) closed, and hands held up. “Don’t mind me,” I hear this posture saying, “Just give me the bread.” How am I to connect with someone who is doing their best to shut me and the world out?

    This seems like a major case of projection on your part. How can you know this is what the person is “saying”? They might instead be very focused on what God is doing for them at that moment. Expecting particular interactions is not what is needed right then.

    1. @Scott Knitter – comment #44:
      It’s not projection, but a recognition on my part that the two of us have different pieties around the Eucharist. I was quite clear in relating that this is what I am hearing by this posture, and did not say anything about what was intended by the communicant.

  32. I am reading this discussion over two years after it took place and I want to thank all the participants for their thoughts. I had a very unnerving experience this past Sunday when a priest I had never met before subbed for our regular celebrant. Since Vatican II it’s been my habit to look at the host with reverence as it is placed in my hand. A this mass I gazed at the host, then closed my eyes. No bread was put into my outstretched hands. When I opened my eyes the priest, still holding the host in mid-air, said, “You have to look me in the eye.” I am 67 years old and I have never been taught that eye contact is a requirement for respectful reception of Our Lord. I was embarrassed but as I looked up he did at last give me the bread. I am quite shaken by this experience and the notion that communion would be withheld from me unless and until I met the priest’s standard of behavior. Reading the comments above I gather that people approach communion and the host after carefully considering what is most meaningful to them. I feel that this priest interrupted a sacred moment and disrespected me.

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