Communion outside Mass

I have received several enquiries about a letter on the liturgical life of the Archdiocese that Archbishop Mark recently sent to the clergy. One part of the letter that has troubled some people is the statement that, while Services of the Word and Holy Communion without a priest are at times necessary (in the case of an emergency, for example), they should never become normative. “In a very mobile society such as ours, it is not unreasonable to ask people to travel modest distances to Mass elsewhere when it is not available in their own parish or community.”

The reason for this caution is the same as that behind the admonition against feeding people from the tabernacle at Mass which I dealt with in the last two columns – the blurring of the distinction between Eucharist and communion.

Some parishes choose to celebrate a Liturgy of the Word with communion when Mass is not available.  There are real dangers here.  Often the form and words are almost identical to those of the Mass.  Even the title “eucharistic service” which is sometimes used can cloud the fact that this is not Mass.  We’ve all heard stories of people saying: “I like going to Sister’s Mass on Monday when Father has his day off!”

Of course there are areas where the Eucharist can seldom be celebrated and communion from the reserved sacrament is the only option available. In many parts of Australia, however, parishes are automatically replacing weekday Mass with “Communion Services” and tacking communion on to all sorts of liturgical celebrations even when Eucharist is available nearby on weekdays and every Sunday in the parish.

Interestingly, it is often those who seldom received communion at Mass before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council who now demand it every time they go to church. An attitude seems to have developed that worship is about “getting” rather than “giving”.

This emphasis on frequent communion is somewhat puzzling in light of history.  The “Easter duty” was introduced to compel people to receive communion annually.  Sodalities were established in the early nineteenth century to encourage monthly communion.  Novenas and Benediction were always well attended although they did not include the reception of communion.

While a case might be made for a communion service on Sunday when Eucharist is not possible, a communion service on a weekday should be extremely rare.  The different approach to Sundays and weekdays is because of the special relationship between Sunday and Eucharist.

Weekday Masses can be organised cooperatively on a regional basis to ensure a wide availability of Mass on weekdays. For communities who wish to gather for weekday worship, there is an alternative to a Liturgy of the Word with communion.  The 1988 Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest recommends celebrating some part of the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly morning or evening prayer.

If Communion from the tabernacle is no different from receiving Holy Communion at a celebration of Eucharist, the Archdiocese could save millions of dollars by closing down the seminary. Who needs more priests when just a handful could say Mass regularly, consecrate sufficient hosts to cover the requirements of the whole Archdiocese consecrated and have them sent out to parishes?

Elizabeth Harrington