Thursday, February 4, 2010


Recently I received a letter stating that a recent action of mine had been perceived as insensitive, unnecessary, and thoughtless. Actually I can see how my actions might have been thought so. Except thoughtless. I do not accept that one. It had actually been given quite a bit of thought over the past eleven and a half years.

Here is the situation: There are often Catholic ceremonies that are attended by a good number of non-Catholics. The most frequently reoccurring of these is weddings and funerals. It is often not difficult for the celebrant to notice these persons. Sometimes they remain seated with arms folded across their chests while those around them are invited to kneel or stand. Then it comes time for Communion. We as Catholics have a very distinct belief in what the Eucharist is. This action is central and sacred to our covenant with God and with each other much as the marital act is to marriage. It is our com (with or co-) union. We believe that the Eucharist is a person. To share our most intimate action – indeed to entrust a person to another who does not recognize the Eucharist as such or at least not in the same way is dishonest at best. (If a person believe as we do then they should be in union with us. No?)

At Communion time I make an announcement. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as Canon law only Catholics (and Orthodox under certain circumstances) who are in a “state of grace” are permitted to partake in Communion. This means not only should non-Catholics refrain from coming up the aisle but non-practicing Catholics, or Catholics in serious sin as well.

So I give the following statement just before distributing. “Out of respect for those who may be here today who are not Catholic and out of respect for your beliefs, I can only offer communion today to those Catholics who are in a state of grace. If you are unable to receive today I ask that you pray for the unification of the Christian Church, and made a spiritual communion with us.”

It seems to me that this statement is honest. It has spurred fruitful conversations with non-Catholics over the years. Quite often when priests get together we run by our little speeches with each other. “What do you say?” to see what might be a better way to handle it.

It has been suggested that we have people read the hymnal statements but until we have our pews refinished (please patron saint of pews soon) congregants do not have access to them. And programs (which are really quite unnecessary) are often not printed.

So I guess I am asking you what you think. Something needs to be declared. Whatever is said should in a perfect world be honest, brief, and inoffensive. I am open to your input. Leave a comment and or vote in the poll in the right column.


Cracked Pot said...

Hang tough, Father. You didn't create this situation, so try not to be bothered by negative reactions. You are not guilty of wrongdoing, even if people take offense.

Anonymous said...

Father, before I became Catholic years ago, I was bothered by the fact I could not participate in communion. When I learned what it meant to the people sharing it (Catholics) I understood, and respected it. I never found the statement before hand offensive, it just let me know that I could hang back and pray. Guess the prayers brought be home! Don't change anything, people will always find a reason to be offended.

Anonymous said...

Before I was Catholic I refrained from receiving the Eucharist out of respect for the teachings of the Church. A few Catholics told me to "ignore" the rules and just receive.

For me it was a matter of respect. For those who told me to disobay it was a matter of ego - I want therefore I should.

Keep it up father. You explained it in a loving, kind manner as you should. I do have one question. How about inviting the non-Catholics to come up for a blessing? One priest I know does that at weddings. He invites them to come up with their arms crossed so that he knows to give them a blessing. It's very effective.

Anonymous said...

A change you could make is in the last line where you say "...I ask that you pray..." Maybe instead of "asking," you could "invite" so it sounds more like an invitation than a command.

Charlotte said...

Sounds good to me. I wouldn't change it all.

MJ said...

The only thing that I might change is when you say "out of respect for your beliefs" add "and our beliefs". What you are saying needs to be said otherwise you have the incident that I told you about with the non Catholic young man who was a pallbearer at his grandfathers funeral. After Mass he pulled the Host out of his pocket and asked his Catholic cousin what he was supposed to do with it. At school Masses we also do what anon said about asking non Catholics to come up for a blessing. That works well too.

frival said...

Believe it or not I've run into people who get offended at the idea of visible corporate unity among Christians. They literally believe the 30-some-odd-thousand Protestant denominations were willed by Jesus. There's not much you can do with that I don't think.

Aside from that, I think what you say is just fine. There will always be someone who is offended at something, such is the way of this fallen world it seems. *sigh*

4Knight said...

I agree with the previous post observation on inviting the non-Catholics to come up for a blessing? I too have witnessed this I know it has been done at weddings. He invites them to come up with their arms crossed so that he knows to give them a blessing.

Carol said...

Well, this is America, and Americans aren't over-fragile, so at weddings one could announce: "Anyone who isn't in a catechetically-defined state of grace with God should not come up for Holy Communion with Christ's Body and Blood lest I sense it clearly and have you gaffed off to the side by Walter over there, to do dishes in the rectory later." (Well, that would work for me.)

But it wouldn't work at funerals--that's when it most needs to be addressed tenderly, even in America, but also strongly and surely. Back in 93 and then in 94 when I was shaky on my own faith, my away-cousin first, and then my away-aunt second, each got hauled up by me to receive right along with me, because they were so devastated by this death and that one, there was only One Who could ease them in this blatant display of satan-orchestrated exile, and they knew it. (You must try to see their faces to understand my actions; they were at their human lowest, and the guilt and longing in their eyes was too much..) I suspected it was wrong of me to do, but I also suspected this moment might be the one that brought them back to the(ir) Sacraments. I know now that I was wrong on the first thing, and perhaps on the other as well, though nothing shall be impossible for God.

It's a sticky wicket, but I think you did just fine, Father.

Odysseus said...

I think you did great, Father V. I'm not sure why someone would be upset. If they want the eucharist, why don't they become Catholic? If they don't beleive it's that important, why do they want it?

MJ said...

Well said Rob!!

Rev. Daren J. Zehnle, J.C.L., K.C.H.S. said...

I always say something very similar, Father. You're doing what needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of adding "our beliefs" and I guess an invitation to pray would be OK. It is very difficult for non-catholics (and unfortunately some catholics) to truly understand the consecration but is certainly is one of the wonderful beliefs in our faith.

Anonymous said...

yes Father this is an "issue" for many prot. and cath.--i see this as a profoundly teachable moment--and what better place to read from than the church's catechism and cannon law---tone is probably important as well---and since i tend towards the dramatic side--if you could suddenly sound like the voice of GOD that would be all the better--however, all kidding aside and down to hard sometimes uncomfortable TRUTH--i pray for us to stop assimilating and worrying about a few who would be confused and or offended at this time in the sacrifice of the holy mass--they can be delt with individually----but believing in the REAL PRESENCE is what we are all about--and as the kids would say "HELLO"

bill7tx said...

I think your statement is fine, Father. It's very similar to what our priest says. He does, however, invite Catholics who are not in a state of grace or who are otherwise not properly disposed for communion, as well as members of other faiths, to come up for a blessing if they wish. And he tells them how to cross their arms if they want the blessing.

I serve as sacristan/lector/EMoHC/altar server (when and as needed) at funerals in our parish. Some who attend are offended by anything Father has to say, some are offended by some of the readings (anything out of Wisdom, for example), and there's nothing any of us can do about that. At my mother's funeral, a number of doctors who work in my wife's hospital attended (which we very much appreciated), and many of them are Jewish -- some of the Catholic nurses who came spent a bit of time explaining things to them! I guess some had never been to a Catholic Mass, let alone a funeral, and I think they were surprised by how much our rites and our sanctuary look like what they are used to in their synagogues. All good, as far as I'm concerned. :)

Mike said...

When you said those words at my sister's wedding last fall, it was the first time I'd heard such a pronuoncement. It was well said, and necessary. I fear that this is a topic where while a few words MIGHT not be enough, no sermon/lecture/class/lifetime would EVER be enough either. You have a few words, then the Holy Ghost and people's hearts must do the hard work.

Thank you for your humble defense of our greatest treasure.

ck said...

If your survey had a choice that said "perfect" I think almost everyone would have checked that.

Fr. Larry said...

At times like these we are blessed to have people of many different faith traditions with us. The question arises at Communion, "What should I do?" As Catholics, we believe that this is no longer bread and wine but the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Receiving Holy Communion, therefore, means not only that you believe this is truly the Body of Christ but it also means that you believe everything else that the Catholic believes and teaches to be revealed by God. Therefore, it is the normal practice that only practicing Catholic in a state of grace should receive Communion. If you are Christian, but not Catholic, please pray for Christian unity. If you are not Christian, please pray for world peace.

Nan said...

Today at the end of Mass, the priest chased down the last person in line for Communion, who had not consumed.
That's an argument for your statement right there; cuts down on the sprinting after people.

Anonymous said...

Dear Reverend Father,
I know of a traditional Catholic priest who does not distribute Communion at weddings/funerals lest even one person who is not in communion with the Church receive the Real Presence. Awfully extreme, but that is how he handles that particular situation. I prefer your solution, which is straightforward and common-sensical. Ron

Anonymous said...

Father, I think your statement is just fine. I appreciate the fact that you are actually announcing it, rather than leaving it to be read by the congregation. The fact is, many people may not take the time to read the statement and may go to receive Jesus anyway.

Jennifer Fitz said...

From the back page of the program from my mother's funeral:

On the reception of Holy Communion

For Cathoics: As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. Catholics are encouraged to receive the Body and Blood of Christ devoutly and frequently. A person in the state of grave sin should co to sacramental confession before receiving Holy Communion. Catholics married outside the Catholic Church should see a priest about remedying their situation before receiving Communion.

For non-Catholics:
We regret that we are unable to extend a general invitation to all to receive Holy Communion. As Catholics, we believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of our oneness in faith. All those who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to join their hearts with us in prayer. We appreciate your respect for our customs.


All typos mine. In addition to the notice on the program, the cantor made a shorter announcement that was along similar lines, before she directed people to the communion hymn.

Seemed to be well received. You could print generic programs if it isn't customary to have a program at most funerals / weddings. Quite useful for helping non-catholics follow along.

Anonymous said...

If you state your are sincerely open to input and you are truly asking what people think, then I will attempt to say this in a honest, brief, and inoffensive way.
You are not a receptive conduit of faith.
Last year I attended a Mass in which you announced your somewhat terse “state of grace” stance concerning Communion and I'll have to admit, it came across as smug and your delivery seemed almost prideful. In short, what you said effectively kept me (and perhaps others) frozen in the pew and worse; any fleeting notions I had had at that time concerning reconciliation with the
Body of Christ became cold and crystal clear... it was and forever will be a fallacious dream.
After many years away from the "good news" the message I received that day from an earthly representative of flesh and blood was not one of rejuvenation, rather one of rejection. The hand I saw before me, the supposed hand of God was not reaching out to reclaim, it was extending to repulse.
It was a sad, sad day to say the least; however, all of my years away from the "grace" of God somehow did not prevent me from losing my equanimity and in short order, I once again made my stand without postponing dignity, turned, and walked away.

Fr. V said...

Dear anon.

One of the problems with asking this question on this site is that most people (I assume) are already with me on this - I assumed not many people reading would be rejecting the Catholic faith or not happy with what they see here.

So despite your turning away you still read. Coll & thanks. What would be helpful now is for you to give me a better thing to say or do or . . . for others who are in your position that is still honest to the what I am asked to do as a Catholic clergyman.

God bless and thanks to all who have written.

Anonymous said...

can we vote early and often--"the chicago way"i did succomb and choose one of those mamby pandy choices--i wanted and inequovocal choice of YES!!YES!!Yes!!p.s.Father--you are a fabulous priest, pastor, and sheepard--we are your little flock---point---you hardly need the flock's counsel.p.s.s.i wish i cluld spell shepard.n.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with your expressing the reservation that those not in union with the Catholic Church should refrain from approaching the Eucharist. The issue is to announce that those not "in the state of grace" should refrain. Non-Catholics could well be "in the state of grace," and not "in union with the Church."

Fr. V said...

Anon -

I think I get your drift - here's what I need help with. It is not addressed to non-Catholics but Catholics (per the CCC.) Just being Catholic does not open you to recieveing the Blessed Sacrament - it is "Catholics in a state of grace." So if you've not been to Mass in 10 years - you don't just go to Communion. So how can I say that without having to make lengthy distinctions such as, "I realize that non-Catholics can be in a state of grace, but I am only addressing Catholics who want to recieve Communion - you must be Catholic AND in a state of grace."

HELP would be appreciated.