Phoenix Goes Dry; I Weep

In a Bill Mauldin cartoon that ran in Stars and Stripes during World War Two, two officers are standing on a peak somewhere in the Apennines or Vosges, gazing at a breathtaking sunset. Turning toward the other, one asks, “Beautiful view! Is there one for enlisted men?”

This image, I’m afraid, is exactly what comes to mind when I consider the news that, beginning at some nearby but unspecified date, the Diocese of Phoenix will distribute the Precious Blood to laypeople only on very special occasions.

Keep your powder dry, liturgy geeks. I know this decision isn’t arbitrary. In a press release isssued September 22nd — two days before I heard the news at Vigil Mass — the diocese explained it’s only holding to the norms laid out in General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd Edition. Reception of both species was granted in 1975, on an experimental basis, and only in the U.S., the U.K. and Oceania. The experiment ended in 2005. It could be argued without too much difficulty that we’ve been receiving the wetter specie for six years longer than we’d a right to do.

What bothers me, though, is an aside that appears toward the end of the press release, when the diocese mentions that “when both forms of Communion are used frequently, ‘extraordinary’ ministers of Holy Communion are disproportionately multiplied.” No one can deny it — those EMs do clutter up the sacred space some. Their very title gives them away as extraordinary, or to get ugly about it, superfluous. But they’re also a fact. To downsize them, as it were, smacks of the kind of efficiency and practicality for which the Church is completely — and wonderfully — unknown.

For a while, I spent every Wednesday evening working in the kitchen at a homeless shelter called Andre House. So did about 30 other people from my parish. If the place depended on paid employees, the work we did would have been divided among ten people, tops. But since we were volunteers, getting the job done cost-effectively was beside the point. Rather, the point was to give as many people as possible a chance to connect with the apostolate, to feel involved. As it happened, the fact that an army was sharing such a small space meant a lot of us caught unexpected elbows to the gut. But it also meant that the work got done with astonishing speed. Those homeless got served so many helpings so quickly, they must have thought we were fattening them up for the slaughter.

Serving as an EM, like manning a soup kitchen, is an enriching experience. But the enrichment is of a very different type. I’ve only done it a few times — at my old parish, I was a second-stringer, called up when one of the regulars flaked — but on each of those occasions, I was struck by how transformed all the recipients looked. Awe and anticipation had erased everything petty or silly from their faces, and teased out everything good and fine and noble. Even the people I knew well looked like strangers — strangers I was sorry I hadn’t met.

I gather it’s become conventional wisdom to say the opposite — that most communicants behave on the receiving line like barbarous Unitarians, clipping their nails, sending text messages, or changing their tampons. Maybe they look that way from the side, to someone studiously comparing their conduct to his own (which is above reproach, natch). Faced head-on, the picture is very different.

At most of the other parishes I’ve attended, the EMs tend to be senior citizens. This is good for two reasons. First, once they reach a certain age, most people develop a grandfatherly or -motherly touch; they won’t thrust the Sacrament at a communicant like they’re stamping his hand in front of a club. Second, EM-ing is low-intensity work. It’s something of the greatest importance that elderly people can do without straining themselves. Not all people were blessed with the constitution required to catechize the !Kung or take dives in front of Israeli bulldozers.

Adoration sounds like a fair substitute, does it? It’s certainly a wonderful practice in its own right — one that I enjoy myself, despite my blooming youth. But it doesn’t have much in common with EM-ing at all. One’s a spectator sport, the other a hands-on experience. Implicit in the old joke, “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter,” is that rounding the bases, storming the pitch, crowding the goalie’s crease, is everyone’s natural first choice.

Not the point? Well, Sir or Madam, I happen to be the writer here, and I’m making it the point. Part of what drove me through the Church’s gates was the promise of transcendence on the cheap. At a certain point, I realized I’d spend my life in cubicles, permitted only an hour-long lunch and two fifteen-minute breaks during which to slip the noose of corporate scrutiny from my chafed neck. I’d never make enough money to take vacations to great cultural capitals or scenic spots, or to fill my house with any objets rarer or more beautiful than Ikea sells. In the Church, I believed, I could at least take part in the divine liturgy, if not quite as an equal to the priest, then as…somebody .

Well, so much for that. Now it’s more of “This is your seat. Sit quietly. Please do not talk to your neighbor.”

Quote me all the learned writings going all the way back to Trent and beyond. It’ll still seem to me like a lousy bait-and-switch.

  • Melody

    “…I was struck by how transformed all the recipients looked. Awe and anticipation had erased everything petty or silly from their faces, and teased out everything good and fine and noble.” That’s beautiful, Max. And it pretty much echos my experiences with being an EMHC, I am humbled by the faith of the people who approach the Sacrament.
    This topic has been rattling around the blogosphere a bit, provoking lively discussion. I have seen some comments that the Phoenix archdiocese is a mess, that the changes we have read about are just corrective actions. I’ve never been there, I would be interested in someone’s take who actually is there. From what I’ve read, it sounds like the problems were up the ladder; leadership problems. But lay people seem to be getting the smackdown.

  • Anonymous

    So far, Phoenix is the only place where the new rule is are going into effect, but that could change. I imagine some will be tempted to impute some maverick agenda to Bishop Olmsted, but really, I’d prefer not to. He’s my bishop; I want to think well of him. And in many ways, he makes that easy. His personal integrity is beyond question. If my credit cards weren’t maxed out, I’d think nothing of calling him up and giving him all the information. When I met him onretreat, I was struck by his unassuming airs. If I had his discretionary power, I’d suck every last bit of oxygen out of every room I entered.

    We’re not an archdiocese, but last year we got our first auxiliary bishop, so we’re definitely coming up in the world.

  • Michael

    Don’t forget Lincoln, Nebraska, Alexandria, Virginia, and the rest of the world.

  • jkm

    If Jesus wanted us to reserve reception of both Sacred Species for special occasions, wouldn’t he have said, “Do half of this in memory of Me?”

    I understand about rubrics and expired experimental permissions. But it still comes down to the renewal of the underlying Jansenist heresy that Communion is for the holy few, whether they be clerics or the rare perfect layman (gender intentional). The comboxes on this story are full of smug rejoicing that this is one more step to cut down on the thundering herds of undeserving recipients, not to mention all those women pretending to be priests and administering the Cup. I guess this is one more giant step for vocations in Phoenix, where men apparently won’t do anything they’ve seen a woman do.

    Sigh. It maketh me weep. St Pius X, pray for us!

  • Anonymous

    “But it still comes down to the renewal of the underlying Jansenist heresy that Communion is for the holy few, whether they be clerics or the rare perfect layman (gender intentional).”

    jkm: Basically what you have said in essence here is that one does not receive the entire Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Host alone, but only under both species. This is heretical. I don’t think you meant it to be heretical, but nonetheless, it is. The constant teaching of the Church for 2,000 years has always been that we receive the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Consecrated Bread–the Host. Laypeople for centuries have not had the privilege of receiving under both species. This privilege was reserved for the ordained priest alone. It is only recently, since 1975, that this has been allowed. As with the allowing of altar girls, this was brought about via abuse. Altar girls were forbidden, yet parish priests succumbed to the pressure of radical feminists to allow girls to serve at Mass. Finally, after years of gentle scoulding and reminders that altar girls were not allowed, Bl. John Paul II finally gave in. Like so many things in the Catholic Church today, once an innovation is introduced, it is most difficult to eradicate, especially after it has become commonly accepted as “the rule”.

    I have seen children and adults approach Holy Communion as though they were in a line for free ice cream, and I cannot describe to you some of the attitudes and demeanors of those children and adults after receiving Our Lord as they return to their pews. I often wonder how they would behave (and DRESS!) if they had been invited to dine with the Queen of England. EM were to be used only in cases where there were so many communicants that it would unduly lengthen the time of the Mass. Today, the EMs in many of the parishes I have attended almost outnumber the communicants. They march up to the Sancturary, many of them dressed as if they were at a baseball game, in such a fashion as they would had they been chosen to play on a TV gameshow. This is the behavior of humans who have been given the ultimate gift of helping distribute the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Blessed Lord?? These practices HAVE to be eradicated if we are ever to return to the sacredness of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I have attended “liturgies” at parishes where one would have thought they were at a broadway show. I say this in all sad seriousness.

  • Anonymous

    One more thing, I agree wholeheartedly with you, “ST. PIUS X, PRAY FOR US!!”

  • Melody

    Geez Louise, where do you go to church, maybe it’s time to find a new parish? I lived in a pretty liberal diocese back in the bad ol’ 1980′s, and people didn’t “..approach Holy Communion as though they were in a line for free ice cream.” As to their demeanor after receiving; if you received yourself, are you supposed to be looking around at other people, and can you really read their hearts?
    One nice thing about having the EF available, if peoples’ sensibilities are too offended and disturbed by their neighborhood parish, they can look up one of the parishes dedicated to the EF where only like-minded people go.

  • Anonymous

    Great Scott, woman, not HIM! Of all the Popes Pius, he ranks about thirteenth in my estimation.

  • Anonymous

    “In the Church, I believed, I could at least take part in the divine liturgy, if not quite as an equal to the priest, then as…somebody ”

    So as a non-EMHC, who am I … nobody? … chopped liver? Max, you’re misunderstanding what it means to participate in the Mass and you’re tilting into clericalism.

  • Anonymous

    “In the Church, I believed, I could at least take part in the divine liturgy, if not quite as an equal to the priest, then as…somebody ”

    So as a non-EMHC, who am I … nobody? … chopped liver? Max, you’re misunderstanding what it means to participate in the Mass and you’re tilting into clericalism.

  • Margo

    Dear Mr. Lindeman:

    I have been a ECHM for over twenty years in the Tucson Diocese, which covers the southern half of the state of Arizona. I have considered this to be an honor and a privilege to serve God. I do not consider myself , in any way, competeing with the priest or any other liturgist participating in The Mass.. It is not my job to judge those who are receiving the Body of Christ-it is my greatest gift, as a layperson to participate in the Mass.This EM privilege is available wo anyone who choose to serve God in this manner.
    Margo

  • jkm

    I’m sorry–I confused two issues. Of course I recognize and believe that the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lord is truly present in the Host alone. I was commenting on the fact that many of those who rejoice in the restriction instituted in Phoenix appear to do so out of the belief, which you yourself express, that too many people are receiving Communion unworthily, and this will be one more step toward restricting reception to the holy few.

    We are all receiving “unworthily,” which is why we pray the centurion’s prayer of humility before Communion. If I spend my time before and after inviting the Lord into my heart judging the state of others’ souls (especially by the apparel of their bodies!) and finding them wanting, I am as much a sinner as I imagine them to be. Instead, I take profound joy in the fact that so many come “under the roof” of the Sacrament, and leave it to Jesus to “speak but the word” that heals souls.

    I invoked St Pius X because of his dedication to encouraging wider reception of Communion, a state of things that cannot ever be to the detriment of Christ and His Church.

  • kenneth

    Lindenman is far and away the best writer in the English-speaking Catholic blogosphere that I’ve come across, and he’s also about the only one who strikes me as an inherently decent fellow. The only one I’d make time to have a beer with (or these days, a coffee, for both our sakes.) His use of imagery and brutally honest but sympathetic look at his subjects shows that Hunter S. Thompson’s work was not in vain. Speaking from the perspective of the pagan world, Lindenman is the Brandon Cathbad Meyers of Catholicism. (That’s damn high praise for the 99.99% of you who won’t grasp that reference.)

  • Jamespvaughn

    As a friar having served e Africa I would take the bodY or blood only any time!

    Friar Jaime, OSF

  • Fred

    I don’t think it is there for anyone who “choose”s.

  • Anonymous

    Like some things I don’t like that change in the church (e.g., mass texts, esp. “Lord, I am not worthy…” to the more verbose albeit closer to scripture version, “Lord … that you should come under my roof…” etc.), I realize I am not in charge, and they may have very good theological reasons for changing things. Frankly, you sound just a bit whiny.

  • Walter

    I concur that we will weep here in Phoenix. Our Pastor told us that the priests were not even consulted on the decision. I realize that the Church is not a democracy, but this is a really big change. Our parish is very vibrant has has more than 80 lay ministries. This change makes it seem that the Bishop is trying to push the laity out.

    Feel free to leave your comments at facebook.com/keepthecup as well.


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