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Religious and Liturgy
Religious and Liturgy
The August edition of AD 2000 includes an article about a homily delivered by the papal nuncio Archbishop Francesco Canalini during Mass at a gathering of leaders of Australian religious congregations held in Brisbane in June.
The article expresses concern that several of those present reacted negatively, even angrily, to the Archbishop’s remarks and makes the remarkable conclusion that “This negative response highlights the challenge facing Australia’s bishops, given that religious men and women play prominent roles in many liturgy bodies”.
Such a sweeping generalisation is completely unjustified and quite unfair to religious women and men who work in parish liturgy preparation.
There is no mafia of religious controlling ‘liturgy bodies’. In a list of diocesan contact people in liturgy issued last year by the National Liturgical Commission, only a dozen of the 60 names are religious. Those figures hardly substantiate the claim by AD 2000 that members of religious congregations exert undue influence on liturgical affairs in Australia.
My experience of working with members of religious communities in the area of liturgy has been overwhelmingly positive and we are the poorer for the fact that there are not more of them involved in the area of liturgy. Religious women and men are imbued with the tradition and life of prayer and spirituality, which are foundational to, and the proper context for, public worship. It is this spirit, not a merely external observation of the norms and rubrics of the Mass, which lies at the heart of liturgical celebrations that are vibrant and meaningful.
Perhaps all Catholics – lay, religious, clerical and even episcopal – experience a sense of frustration when confronted by long lists of ‘abuses’ which they do not recognise and which, in any case, they would be powerless to correct.
For example, the Nuncio referred to abuses in relation to lay ministers of communion. These ministers sometimes distribute Holy Communion even when priest are available and remain seated. This practice as a way of manifesting an active role of lay people in the Eucharistic celebration can unfortunately direct attention more and more to the merely human and ‘social’ dimension.
I attend Mass in many parts of the Brisbane Archdiocese and in other parts of the country in the course of my work. I have yet to see a case where priests have remained seated while lay people distributed communion.
On the other hand, I attended Mass in another State last month where no extraordinary ministers were used to distribute Holy Communion. Communion was given under one kind only and with a large crowd, the communion rite took a disproportionate length of time, much longer than the readings from scripture. There was no sense of the assembly eating and drinking together as the body of Christ gathered around the table of the Lord. I found this to be an abuse of the spirit and nature of the liturgy.
Is it an abuse to use an extraordinary minister of communion or not to use one? How do we decide? The rules cannot foresee every circumstance. It requires a sense of how communal prayer works and an understanding of the liturgy. Those who live in religious communities have just this spirituality and background to contribute to the life of our parishes.