Communion: Participation in Sacrifice or a Commodity?

I had a call recently from someone checking if there was anything in the Missal or the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that gives permission for the faithful to stand with arms raised and palms turned upwards during the Lord’s Prayer at Mass. If not, my caller said, she intended to demand that the parish priest stop the practice immediately.

I replied that, despite historical evidence concerning the orans position, nothing was set down in the official liturgical books. I then asked my enquirer if Communion was ever distributed from the tabernacle at Mass in her parish and when she replied in the affirmative, I suggested that she might start with efforts to eliminate that abnormal practice which also is not officially sanctioned but has far more serious theological implications.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the “driver’s manual” as it were for the Roman Missal, a revised version of which was implemented in Australia in 2008. As explained then, while the overall content of the GIRM has not changed, there are several key aspects which are yet to be fully implemented. Communion from the altar only at Mass is one of those aspects.

Nowhere in the General Instruction or other documents regulating eucharistic practice is permission given to distribute hosts from the tabernacle during Mass. The presupposition is that hosts in the tabernacle are used for Communion to the housebound and that the normal practice during Mass is to distribute to those present what has been consecrated at that Mass.

The GIRM spells it out quite clearly: “It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass … so that even by means of the signs Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.” (# 85)
Despite this, it is not uncommon to see a minister go to the tabernacle during the “Lamb of God” and place on the altar a ciborium of hosts which are distributed during Communion.

The dynamic of the Eucharist is one continuous movement. In the procession of gifts, the faithful present the bread and wine for the sacrifice, along with the gift of their lives, to be blessed by God and then received back as the Body and Blood of Christ when they come forward in procession for Holy Communion.

To be fed with the Body of Christ from the tabernacle and not from what was consecrated at the Mass being celebrated breaks the connection between sacrifice and Communion. There can be no Communion without sacrifice, and this is symbolised most clearly when we receive Communion from what we ourselves have offered.

I agree with what eminent liturgical scholar, Kevin Seasoltz, said in his 2007 book, God’s Gift Giving: In Christ and Through the Spirit:
“Unfortunately, many Christians, perhaps especially Roman Catholics, give the impression that the Eucharist is simply a commodity to be consumed, one that is readily available in Communion services or in the Tabernacle, but without any responsibility of involvement in the whole Eucharistic action and in living out the demands of the Eucharist in daily life.”

Elizabeth Harrington