Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Refrain from "biting and devouring one another"

Daily engagement with the Scriptures is an indispensable part of Christian life. It was St. Jerome who said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. On the one hand, this is a challenge for many. On the other, there is a reason we call those practices necessary for life in Christ "disciplines." One cannot emphasize too strongly that the spiritual disciplines are not ends in themselves (i.e., they are not magic and do not absolve you of your responsibility for living), but means to the end of being ever more conformed to the image of Christ.

There are many different ways of engaging Scripture and for anyone who does it over the long haul, a variety of approaches is needed. The way most recommended for reading Scripture is the ancient practice of lectio divina, a practice I personally recommend. Another way, one that requires even less effort, is what might be termed "tolle, lege", the very words that brought about the conversion of St. Augustine (Confessions Book VIII, paras. 28-29). These words, spoken by a voice Augustine could hear, simply mean "take up and read."

I try to read three chapters of Scripture per. There is nothing mystical about the number three. I just read one in the morning, one at lunchtime, and one in the evening. I also read the same of book of Scripture several times over, which is a practice I find most fruitful. Currently I am cycling through St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians. The occasion for the apostle's missive is the Judaizers, that is, Jewish Christians from Jerusalem who insisted that Gentiles who become Christians first must become Jews, meaning that males must be circumcised and that all must adhere to certain prescripts of the Mosaic law. All of this took place after the so-called Council of Jerusalem, which is chronicled in Acts 15, where it was decided that Gentiles did not first have to become Jews in order to become Christians, but that Christians were "to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage" (verse 29).

Paul makes the point that if you undertake to observe the law, you will be judged by the law; the take away being that anyone who goes this route will ultimately be condemned because it is not possible to observe the law perfectly. This is the context for one of the most frequently quoted passages from Galatians, "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (2:20). Paul actually writes that Christ lives in him only insofar as he lives "by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (2:20). Paul lives this way only by grace, "for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing" (2:21). In fact, later in his ministry, Paul even permitted Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols as long as they did not cause scandal to those weak in faith (1 Cor. 8).

I can't help but apply this to the incomprehensible flap about how to receive communion. For Roman Catholics in the United States there are clear Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds. These norms were approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2001, which included some indults, which are approved deviations from legal norms. One indult included in these norms is the option of the communicant to receive Holy Communion under bread either in the hand or on the tongue. The U.S Bishops were informed in 2006, after Benedict XVI was named Supreme Pontiff, by the then-Prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship, Francis Cardinal Arinze, that the indult granted in 2001 would not be renewed. However, to date, these norms have not been superseded and no new guidance has been received from the Holy See. So, these norms remain in place authoritatively as a matter of particular law.

It is wholly un-Christian to demagogue about this issue! Frank Weathers, over at Why I Am Catholic, demonstrated that it is not beneath some (Michael Voris in particular) to grossly distort Church history to serve their own divisive and self-righteous ends, apparently having no problem with leading others astray. Voris insisted that receiving communion in the hand is what led to the excommunication (and worse) of Priscillian and his heretical followers. But Frank concludes rightly, on the basis of solid research, that the Priscillianist heresy had nothing whatever to do with receiving communion in the hand, but with things like denial of the Trinity, docetism (which denies Christ's humanity), forbidding people from entering into lawful marriages, the eating of meat, and sexual licentiousness. Franks sums all of this up succinctly by stating that Voris' propaganda film "is much ado about nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zippo."

In charity I will give Voris the benefit of the doubt and write that he must not have thought through the implications of the erroneous point he tried to make, according to which logic successive popes and the bishops of all countries who requested the indult permitting the faithful to receive Holy Communion under bread in the hand are either materially or formally heretics. Might inaccurate and intemperate productions like this be the reason why WYD organizers went of their way to point out that Voris' presentations in Madrid, ironically marketed as No Bull in Madrid, were not approved? To wit: receiving Holy Communion under bread in the hand was not unknown in the Church prior to Vatican II. The USCCB norms cite a catchetical lecture of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, himself a bishop and certainly no heretic: "When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost."

It is safe to say that it is the lifelong experience of most Catholics in the United States to receive communion under the form of bread in the hand while standing, which indult was first approved by Pope Paul VI on 29 May 1969. It is also the lifelong experience of most U.S. Catholics to receive communion under both species and to receive from the chalice while standing. So, this in and of itself does not demonstrate a lack of reverence. As one who is privileged to serve as an ordinary minister of Holy Communion almost each and every Sunday, I see many beautiful gestures of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, both before and after reception by my sisters and brothers young, old, and, like me, somewhere in between. Similar obstacles exist with regard to restoring the Sacraments of Initiation to their proper order (i.e., Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist), something else the Holy Father has encouraged bishops throughout the world to undertake. To my mind, it is the right thing to do, but not in a ham-fisted, pastorally inept manner that fails to take into account proper catechesis that challenges the predominant understanding of just what the Sacrament of Confirmation is, as well as the burdens such a change imposes on parishes, not to mention how it would change our approach to Youth Ministry.

We live in liturgically interesting times. In the Roman Church we currently have two distinct rites for celebrating Mass, the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms. We have non-standard ways of receiving communion, despite having a clear and ancient norm. Such circumstances should facilitate understanding and charity. In May of this year, Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, during a conference in Rome that dealt with the Holy Father's 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which liberalized the celebration of the Mass according to the Missale Romanum of 1962, the last edition approved prior to the Second Vatican Council, observed that "Pope Benedict knows well that, in the long term, we cannot stop at a coexistence between the ordinary form and the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, but that in the future the church naturally will once again need a common rite." He wisely noted, that "because a new liturgical reform cannot be decided theoretically, but requires a process of growth and purification, the pope for the moment is underlining above all that the two forms of the Roman rite can and should enrich each other."

I expect that after the implementation of the new English translation of Missale Romanum is well underway, clarifications will follow, which may well include the revocation of the indult to receive communion in the hand, but this is just speculation on my part. In the meantime, as I have done since becoming Roman Catholic in 1990, I will continue to receive communion in my hand. I will also continue to be in awe as I do so. As an ordinary minister of communion, I will continue to practice eucharistic hospitality by distributing communion to my brothers and sisters in Christ who, out of reverence and genuine piety, choose to receive Holy Communion on their tongues, both kneeling and standing.

We are to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, which makes the Church and is the source of our unity. It seems that some are more intent to "go on biting and devouring one another" (Gal. 5:15). St. Paul warns the Christians of ancient Galatia to "beware" lest you consume one another (Gal. 5:15).

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