I have wanted since my arrival to communicate something about Communion services. Before my arrival, Communion services were a regular occurrence in our parish. After I arrived they stopped. Why not Communion services?
In the post-Vatican II years, with the decline in the number of priests, but more so – by my observation in parishes I have experienced – because of a desire to get lay people and sisters to do more clerical things, Communion services became the answer to almost any desire parishioners had to have an occasion of prayer. Instead of having just a liturgy of the Word of some sort, distribution of Communion was added. Communion services certainly became common as a way to fill in for the lack of a Mass on a day the pastor would be away. In many parishes, for example, a Monday Communion service became the norm, since pastors often take Monday off at the end of always-busy weekends. Or if the pastor would be gone during the weekdays for his canonical five-day retreat, the parish would schedule Communion services.
The Church guidelines allowing Communion services was really meant to meet the need of those places where access to Communion otherwise would be very rare. Regularly scheduled Sunday Masses are not even available in some places. In a situation like ours, with four Sunday Masses each weekend, and then four more – at least – during the week, there really is no argument for a Communion service. Weekday Masses are not an obligation (although it is a fine practice to attend Mass on weekdays if you are able.) Imagine missionary situations, for example, where the priest is not able to visit a village for six months; so a catechist gets trained to teach doctrine and lead weekend or monthly Communion services with consecrated Hosts carried from the nearest city. Or there might be the rare Sunday where a priest suddenly gets sick, and no substitute can be found in time. If there are Hosts in the tabernacle, a deacon or layperson could lead a Communion service, since the whole parish arrived to fulfill their Sunday obligation.
To treat the reserved Hosts so casually, however, that we plan regularly scheduled Communion services, when people have weekend Masses in abundance available to them, is perhaps not to appreciate fully enough the Mass. The Mass is where the miracle of Transubstantiation happens. No Communion service can compare to this awesome wonder!
Also, I wonder if making the Hosts in the tabernacle so casually available outside of Mass masks a necessary spiritual suffering in our times – allowing ourselves to feel the pain from the lack of priestly vocations. We ought to experience a longing for more priests as part of our longing for the Eucharist. I have a hunch that ready access to Hosts in the tabernacle for casual Communion services over the last number of decades has led some people to think “we can get by without so many priests”. In fact, I have heard this explicitly stated. On the contrary, however, we ought to feel the discomfort of not having the Eucharist available to us at every turn, since the reality is that we do not have enough priests. Are we on our knees enough about our need for priestly vocations? Are we raising our sons seriously to ask the Lord if priesthood is their call? Are we cultivating a holy family culture that will lead a young man to ask about priesthood? How much do we really believe in the world’s need for the Eucharist?
When I realized the parish was used to Communion services, I spoke with Monsignor Charles Singler, leader of the Diocesan Worship Office, who sent me the attached article he wrote on Communion services. He told me I could publish it in my bulletin. I hope it is enlightening.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Marie,