Sunday, January 16, 2005

That's precisely the point
I had an odd happening at Holy Mass this morning during the distribution of Holy Communion. A lady I did not recognize as a parishioner approached in the line and had that slightly uncertain look on her face that is usually a sign that the person is not Catholic and so ought not be coming forward in the line for Holy Communion. That uncertain look on the face, however, is no certain guarantee and is in no way sufficient evidence for denying Holy Communion. So, I presented the Sacred Host and said, "The Body of Christ." At this point, she reached out her hand as if to grab the Host with her thumb and forefinger. When this happens I always draw the Host back a bit and say, "No. Open your hand flat or stick out your tongue" [to briefly teach the two acceptable modes of reception]. After I told her this, she opened her hand flat and I again presented her the Host, placing it on her hand. This time after I said, "The Body of Christ," she responded, "Thank you." At this point, I put my hand back on the Host in her hand and asked, "Are you Catholic." "No," she said. I said, "Okay, please move on. You have to be Catholic to receive Holy Communion," and I removed the Host from her hand. She stepped to my side and continued the conversation, responding to my previous question ("Are you Catholic?"), by adding, "Does it matter? [Pause] It is still Holy Communion." With this going on in my ear as I had moved on to other communicants, I wanted to stop again, look at her, and say "Yes, it is still Holy Communion and that's precisely the point."

Keep in mind, none of the quotes I report above had a nasty, ugly tone about them. There was nothing vindictive about the exchange, but it was something that needed further explanation. It really irks me when things like this happen in the midst of Mass because there is no time at such points for finesse. I have to be direct and to the point. In the line for Holy Communion is not the time to enter a discussion and I cannot explain the finer points of Church teaching. I am certain that this lady probably left the church feeling hurt and rejected and will forever associate this episode (though it wasn't particularly ugly) with her notion of Catholicism. Was she considering learning more about Catholicism, perhaps to join? If so, will this dissuade her? Or, if so, will this awkward episode reinforce for her that there is something different about Holy Communion in the Catholic Church -- perhaps this will be a catalyst for further conversion and study. However, given the "I'm okay; you're okay" sentimentalism of our modern times, I bet she leaves with a bad taste in her mouth about Catholicism.

As I greeted people after Mass, I made a point to search for this woman (and she was still there as I recessed out of Mass), however, she must have exited through a side door. I really wanted to offer to spend some time with her explaining what had happened in the line and why I couldn't give her Holy Communion. Alas, I didn't get that opportunity. I suppose the only way to avoid such things (though I am sure it won't be fullproof) is to inform my parishioners and to put signs in the back of church that declare that the line for Holy Communion is only for those actually receiving Holy Communion (together with an explanation of who may receive Holy Communion). In other words, the line for Holy Communion is not for blessings of kids or RCIA people or non-Catholic visitors, but only for the reception of Holy Communion.

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