Public Catholicism or private faith: What’s on the line in the communion procession?

Fr. Bruce Morrill, SJ, in SJU Magazine, the alum publication of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia:

Public Catholicism or private faith: What’s on the line in the communion procession?”


  1. Since the sexual abuse scandal, many of us have a lot of doubts as to whether our bishops and priests are in a state of grace when they celebrate the sacraments.

    Indeed sometimes their behavior seems to inconsistent with the possiblity they remain believers.

    Certainly this seemed to be the case with Maciel.

    1. Well, Jack, at least where you are in the Cleveland Diocese all of the known abusers have been removed from ministry, so although I think I get your point there is no reason to assume that presiders at the altar are sexual abusers of minors.

      That being said, the behavior of presiders as well as members of the assembly does give one pause with respect to the extent of their commitment to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

      The fact that all believers are imperfect human beings has been a reality since the beginning. It has not just recently come about as a result of the scandal.

      1. Like many others I am very skeptical that all known abusers have been removed from ministry whether in Philadelphia, here or elsewhere.

        And of course the sinfulness and possible covert apostasy of church leaders has been very evident in prior centuries since they led not only to the Reformation but even earlier to the Gregorian Reform.

        While I am sure we are all imperfect, the article seemed to be raising the issue of whether or not our Catholic toleration of imperfection (which is not something particularly new, only evident in a different form) might be leading us to be more tolerant than we should.

        I am just saying that that applies to the clergy and the bishops as well as the laity, i.e. that we have very seriously compromised people among them.

      2. Sorry, Fr. Blue – you really do not know if all “known” abusers have been removed from ministry? You have been told that by your bishop – that is Jack’s point. You might want to study the three grand jury reports from Philadelphia. Priests in Philadelphi as recently as Christmas, 2010 made the same statement that you just did. Now, the bishop has suspended 29 of them in the past two months.

      3. The following is a critique of the Dallas Charter

        Secular Blessing of a Cover-Up

        “In 2002, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops rolled out a plan: they were going to reach out to survivors, remove abusive priests, allow independent lay people to review abuse, and miraculously transform the church into a safe haven for children and vulnerable people. They were going to do it all through self-reporting, self-auditing and transparency.

        Little did we know how calculated the sham really was.

        In short, the Bishops have used and continue to use their lay people as political and public pawns to protect the clerical power structure. How do they do this?”

        Whether in Boston, Philadelphia or Ireland, etc when legal entities become involved we see that bishops have not done a good job of investigating and removing sexual offenders.

  2. Genuine scandal and controversy occurred when Jesus told the Pharisees, “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice'”, as they tried to tell him with whom he should eat and drink.

    The people on the Communion line don’t consider themselves worthy of regular communion. But they believe the Lord does.

    We are a resurrection people. We hear Jesus say. “Shalom” : Be whole! All has been restored! This is a “new Jerusalem”.
    What in the world is wrong with that? All God’s children should be grasping at that.

    Wanting to be one with Him, as He commanded, is not flaunting oneself. It is being obedient. It comes from a humble desire of flawed human beings to do better and trusting in God’s love.

    So while bishops are asserting their role as teachers, a little moral self examination might be in order there, also.

    “Since 1973, the U.S. Catholic bishops have made abortion
    the singular, nonnegotiable moral issue taking precedence over all others in society.” Why is that? Why do they seem so silent and fearful to speak out about all the other “evils” in our society?

    “A vital sign of a living tradition building on Scripture” – sounds like a good definition of church. Particularly, in the absence of real courage among church leadership.

    1. “Why is that”? Because there is not a single uterus among all the graying hierarchs! Nor is there any ear willing to hear the obvious sensum fidelium on choice issues.

      1. There are plenty of ears that “hear” the sensus fidelium. Call your local (D) Congressional Rep.

        And if you’re attempting to suggest that one need have a uterus to understand the abortion issue, then I would suggest that one may need to have other features to understand the all-male priesthood issue….

  3. Let’s not get side-tracked. Interesting article – will give it that and it does raise a question. But, his starting point and added statements throughout the article do not resonate with me; in fact, his foundational question assumes a specific theology on eucharist, scripture, and ecclesiology (an approach with a brief lifetime in the history of the church).

    Simply, he sees “communion” as earned, meeting a certain set of regulations, level of non-sinfulness and he encompasses this list in a type of US sociological language. That may be one historical tradition but it is not the whole story and would suggest that it is a partial and more recent story.

    In an earlier blog, a few of you made an excellent point that for centuries the church saw the eucharist as a sacrament of reconciliation (without adding any US sociological terms to this). In fact – what resonates with me is his line (Eileen hit the nail on the head in her excellent comment) that the three year scripture cycle has increased biblical perspective; gospel imperatives; while at the same time decreasing an older, Jansenist idea.

    Would suggest that eucharist is both/and – not just either/or. That is why I find certain episcopal moves to banish catholic politicians to be insulting – and am not sure I would term their decisions to be a “teaching” moment. Again, on other posts some of you have done an excellent job of showing that “teaching” is so much more than passing judgment or that “teaching” has anything to do with that. We teach best by example and by persuasion; not by decree.

    1. “that the three year scripture cycle has increased biblical perspective; gospel imperatives; while at the same time decreasing an older, Jansenist idea.”

      Your comment reminds me of something I see more and more often; priests in the pulpit lamenting that people don’t feeling as guilty as they used to or not doing “X” like they used to. I want to ask, have any of these priests ever looked up the word “change” in the dictionary? Why did the bishops who gathered at Vatican II, each and every one appointed by Pius XII or Pius XI, if the Church was going to continue doing what we’ve always done before?

  4. And he does seem to be making a case to encourage discussion of the responsibility of bishops to bar catholic politicians, lest they not be fulfilling their teaching mandate. Who in our society doesn’t know what the bishops teach regarding abortion? At that, they certainly have done an excellent job. It’s just not that simple for many people.

    It would seem to me that receiving Eucharist is akin to having God in your life. Even if you ignore it, God is still there. But when you turn to God…! It is never about the way one does so. Why would anyone take it on themselves to want to refuse the presence of God to anyone? I don’t think there is justification for that except in, perhaps, extremely extraordinary circumstances. Certainly not for people who see themselves as committed to working to make the world a better place. We are all guilty, at one time or another, of taking the love of God for granted.

  5. Is the article correct that abortion is the “singular, nonnegotiable issue”? I suspect that euthanasia would be regarded as equally unacceptable. Perhaps it is not an issue in the USA. In the Netherlands and Switzerland things are different.

  6. Contrary to a talking point of the new translation defenders, the faithful DO hear and listen to what is spoken in the sanctuary, as is shown by this article. Exposure to the full breadth of the Gospels — something no longer possible for those who have reverted to the Extraordinary Form — has greatly changed Catholic ways of thinking.

    1. So, I guess one who attends the Extraordinary Form is somehow proscribed from opening his Bible at home, or taking a Bible study course at his parish?

      1. But the primary locus of the proclamation and reception of Scripture is the communal assembly — this has been so since the origins of the Church.

  7. Going off a tangent, one sentence struck me because it describes a reality that is so clear that it’s odd to think that it was not always like that.

    When I find myself in conversations with the faithful about access to Holy Communion, I hear them readily
    referring to those stories and images of their Lord with great conviction.

    That matches my experience although it is so natural that I had never given it a thought. In addition, I also hear people referring to the prayers that they say at Mass: the Our Father, the Creed, the Lamb of God, the I-am-not-worthy-to-receive-you. Once in a while, they also refer to the words of a hymn that they sing. Also, once in a blue moon, the words of consecration.

    What I never hear is people referring to the words of the priest in the rest of the Eucharistic prayer. Why not? Because, as a friend once told me, the Eucharistic prayer “is a closed book” for the congregation. They do not internalize that prayer, and they do not make the words their own.

    Case in point: for the new missal implementation, in practice the people around me (regular people, not liturgy fans) are mostly worried about the changes in the parts that they say, as if the rest was secondary or at least not directly their business. So much for full participation!

    I would like it if the Catechism curriculum asked the youth to learn one of the Eucharistic prayers by heart. Maybe 40 years later it would have the same far-reaching impact that the lectionary apparently did.

    1. In teaching and catechesis, I have often used Eucharistic Prayer IV (and certainly not to the detriment of the other eucharistic canons or anaphoras) as a model text for our understanding the Eucharistic mystery, from creation to incarnation to sacrifice to communion to resurrection. When I was a child and youth, our parish had a priest who used this prayer whenever possible, and it perhaps as much as any other text formed me in the mystery and meaning of the Eucharist, and in the beautiful principle of “lex orandi, lex credendi”. If one really wishes to know what we believe essentially about the Eucharist, it is all there, synthesized in the liturgical text.

      1. I had a pastor years ago who used EP IV whenever he could for the same reasons you’ve given. He even borrowed from other anaphoras, usually the liturgy of St.James, to provide and even fuller presentation of salvation history.

        If you heard it, you’d never want to use the Roman or any other of the EPs. Certainly not that rubbish for children and for “special” occasions.

  8. An experience: A few weeks ago, a woman in crisis (years in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage with, now, adolescent children, impending separation, economic issues) confided that in the recent past she has attended mass sporatically. Yet, she said, “When I do, I feel like I’ve always been there. I remember even the priests words. You know, I know all the words – even those the priests say.”

    I can’t say how representative she is. That’s the problem of asking for input from only a select few. But it seems odd that there is now realization that making the scriptures readily available to people for half a decade might change them. And have we imagined how a youth, who learned one of the Eucharistic Prayers by heart last year, will feel this coming Advent?

  9. The Eucharistic Prayer is a  ”closed book” for me too, spiritually, with a slight exception for the Roman Canon. I never feel I am praying it; just proclaiming it. It’s slightly more prayable in French and of course the Roman Canon in Latin is thoroughly prayable — not the other 3. This is a serious problem which I think many priests have. If the Church were an honest institution we would have faced it long ago and recomposed prayers accordingly.

    1. Joe,

      I’d be interested in hearing what it is about EP I that makes it more “prayable” for you. FWIW, I love EP I, though I rarely get to hear it, so I’m interested to know how you think it differs from the others.

  10. The text had a familiar rhythm and movement to the translators and they captured it in the English. The other three prayers do not have the same rootedness. I love the evocations of the saints by name and of Abel, Abraham, Melchizedek, and the bowing for the “altar on high” part; also the diction of “light, happiness and peace” for the prayer for the dead.

  11. On the other hand, do people is the liturgy supposed to be at the service of Scripture? Or is the Liturgy itself a “Book” of which Scripture is a part? I think the latter is the true Catholic view.
    It’s not popular to say, but the 3 year cycle is a misguided attempt to do what Catholics should be doing outside the liturgy – reading and studying Scripture as a lectio continua. It was imprudent to introduce the lectio continua into the Mass.
    Even the fact that we can use Year A readings in Lent when preparing catechumens shows that the cycle does not work and the value of having the same specific readings repeated each year.
    Hearing a particular Gospel once every 3 years, and that after 2 readings and a psalm does not mean Catholics are appropriating Scripture.
    We often hear what we want to hear (especially from Scripture) based on our mood or the lens of our culture, especially when too much is thrown at us.

    1. Of course our scriptural culture is far inferior to that of other churches. Nonetheless the exposure to a wider range of Scripture, with preaching thereon, has had a HUGE impact on Catholic thinking and attitudes. The variety on offer does not conduce to subjectivity as much as the very narrow selection of the EF does, since the variety of emphases allow the people to realize the pluralistic and self-corrective nature of the Bible.

      1. For all the noted concerns over the new translation, the improved scriptural references (eg “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”) seem to me reason enough to embrace it.

      2. The preces are better in the new translation; they could hardly be worse; but they were so much better, it seems, in the jettisoned 1998 translation. The fact that defenders of the new translation so regularly quote as evidence of its biblical richness the devotional “Lord I am not worthy” and the clumsy “dewfall” suggests that they have not a clue as to what the power and greatness of Scripture consists in for a believing community nourished richly thereby.

    2. Of course a number of Catholic rites outside of the Latin west have traditionally used more scripture in the liturgy than in the one-year cycle of the traditional Latin rite, and some have used a similar portion. I do think one crucial factor in the success or failure of the scriptural appropriation of any liturgical form lies with the homily, which is designed to turn the ears of the faithful away from hearing simply what they want to hear and towards what the scriptures truly mean in the context of our everyday lives. I suppose the risk of “selective hearing” potentially exists in any form of the sacred liturgy. The importance of a good homily to guide the heart and mind cannot be underscored enough.

      1. Where the Byzantine and Anglican churches have the office closely linked to the eucharist, the Roman mass without a preparatory office ends up suffering from limited psalmody and even less scripture, particularly in the EF form. Unless one attends mass in a Benedictine or other parish where there is a celebration of the offices publicly before mass or in some other way in conjunction with the liturgy, most Catholics miss out from having this much richer enhancement of their prayer life.
        They can always make up for this by celebrating morning prayer (perhaps linked to the Office of Readings) before the principle Sunday liturgy and vespers with compline before an evening or the Saturday vigil mass.

  12. What I find difficult in the teaching about going to Communion is the inconsistency of teaching that one must act in accord with one’s conscience after informing oneself of the teachings of the magisterium, then having a bishop say that he will publicly proclaim that one person could not possibly have acted according to one’s own conscience and that the bishop decides that the person may not receive communion. This is excommunication by personal judgment at a distance based on external judgment of the internal forum and from a distance and only the public record, at that.

  13. Tom, it’s the issue of public scandal. Paul VI would recognize that the behavior of a contraceptive or same-sex couple could be “diminished in guilt, inculpable, or subjectively defensible” yet would maintain its objective immorality and therefore would not approve of any public act that contradicted that objective matter (which is probably why he lambasted the legalization of the sale of contraceptives in Ireland when he met Irish taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald).

    1. There is only scandal if the bishop teaches some version of “my way or the hiway” applies to negotiating legislation in a democratic republic. There are very few things in life in which there is a single right way to do them. Sausage making and politics are prominent examples of multiple ingredients and techniques being applicable.

      Trying to reduce the number of abortions when it is politically infeasible to outlaw all abortions does not mean that one favors abortion, only that one favors getting re-elected, which might help one be effective in reducing abortions.

      Two very political points.
      [1] Catholic politicians have to fight abortion one-handed because bishops equate all contraception to abortion. Direct, intentional murder of visible fetuses could be greatly reduced if contraception could be widely promoted and people could then see less need for fetal removal.

      [2] Why have the bishops not directly taken on the feminist logic of “my body, my decision”? Much stronger teaching about the faulty logic they perceive there, more willingness to engage in logical debate at all, would put Catholic politicians in a much stronger position.

      As it is, the public scandal given is that of the bishops giving public judgment in a private matter which they need not publicly address. If John Kerry comes to Cdl. Burke for Communion, the Cardinal may in good conscience need to deny it to him. There is no need to apply this when the case is neither at hand nor even likely to come up in his diocese when he made it a public issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *