Mass changes in Phoenix or not?

Yes, gentle readers, you know you might be in a bit of trouble when you open up a story about the intricate details of Catholic liturgy and there is a photo showing a priest saying prayers at the altar and the caption says:

The Rev. Rob Clements leads Communion at Mass on Thursday at All Saints Newman Center in Tempe.

So, is that supposed to be that he is leading the Mass? That he’s saying the consecration prayers in the Mass? Just about the only words that don’t work are that he is “leading Communion at Mass.”

A puzzlement. And a sign of things to come, according to several GetReligion readers who sent me the URL for and Arizona Republic story that ran under this headline: “Phoenix Diocese’s limit on wine a major change in Mass.”

This is a case in which, if one reads the whole story, it’s possible to figure out some of what is going on — kind of. For some reason, this diocese has decided that a revised, more traditional (I think both sides of this fight would agree that the intent was to get closer to older and more literal language translated from the post-Vatican II Latin source texts) version of the liturgy requires priests to stop serving consecrated wine to members of the congregation, offering them only the consecrated bread instead.

The story explains that serving the consecrated bread alone is the normal practice for most Catholics around the world. However, receiving both elements has been common in the United States.

OK, with all of that as a background, try to make sense out of this lede:

The Phoenix Diocese will stop offering consecrated wine for Communion at most Masses, a change considered one of the most fundamental to Roman Catholic Church customs in decades.

A diocesan statement said the change was being made based on Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s understanding of the church’s new translation of the Mass, called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and other church documents.

However, no other diocese in the country is known to be following suit, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told The Arizona Republic.

You could read the lede as saying that priests in this diocese will only offer unconsecrated wine, etc., etc. Some readers, briefly, thought wine would no longer be consecrated at all.

It’s possible that the lede merely needs this addition (marked in italics):

Priests in the Phoenix Diocese will stop offering consecrated wine to members of their congregations during most Masses, a change considered one of the most fundamental to Roman Catholic Church customs in decades.

OK, Catholic readers, would that fix the problem right up top?

I know that there are other issues in the story, as well. Take this, for example.

Communion, a sacrament that symbolizes a spiritual union with Christ, is a widespread practice among Christian churches, following the commands of Jesus in the Gospels. But the Catholic Church believes the bread and wine used during the service actually are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

The word “symbolizes” is problematic for any reference in a sentence that supposedly address life in “Christian churches” — period. Obviously, the Eucharistic elements are more than symbolic for the Orthodox, for Anglicans and some others. The precise doctrines may be slightly different, but the bread and the wine are much more than “symbols” (especially for the Catholics and the Orthodox).

I could go on and on (and I urge readers to do so).

But I think it’s crucial, for other reporters covering this story, to know the best way to express the concepts combined in that lede.

The other obvious question: What change is actually mandated in the documents with this revised translation? I have to admit that I am completely confused.

The diocese issued a statement and a question-and-answer sheet to explain the move. New norms, or guidelines, that came out this year, the statement said, expanded the offering of Communion under the form of wine for most of the world, “but in the Diocese of Phoenix, the new norms call for the practice of less frequent distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds than the faithful may have been accustomed.”

Uh, say what? A little help here?

This story is over my head or under it or beside it or something. I think the story, more than anything else, needed some clear commentary from an expert on the revised translation and the orders released with it — a true, national and global level voice of authority.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael Clancy

    You are darn right that the story needed an expert. As a less-than-part-time religion reporter, I did not have one immediately at hand. It was not for lack of trying. A lot of these experts do not want to be put in the position of criticizing a Catholic bishop. By the way,we posted the diocesan documents about this change on our website, I suspect you will find those even more confusing than my article, which tried to make some sense for general readers of a deeply complex Catholic belief.

  • Patrick Krisak

    The “new norms, or guidelines” or “orders released with [the new translation]” refer to a new translation of a document called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). The last edition is from 2003. I have yet to see, let alone read, the new translation myself, so I am not able to comment on it. Here’s a link to the 2003 translation:

    The GIRM, as its name implies, is a document meant to explain further the norms associated with the use of the Roman Missal. The Roman Missal, basically, is “the ritual text containing prayers and instructions for the celebration of the Mass,” according to the USCCB website:

    There is a new Roman Missal, so there is a new translation of the Roman Missal in English, so it makes sense that there is a new translation of the GIRM to accompany it.

    Now for what I’d like to mention about this post:

    The Catholic Church does not serve “consecrated bread” or “consecrated wine” at Mass. The Church teaches that, at the consecration, the substance of the bread transubstantiates (changes substance) into the substance of Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity and the substance of wine transubstantiates into the substance of Christ’s blood, body, soul, and divinity.

    The point is that, after the consecration, there is no more bread and wine, so it is not correct to refer to the body and blood as consecrated bread and consecrated wine. The Church teaches that it is true that the substance of body and blood have the appearance of bread and wine, but are in no way any longer actual bread and wine.

    One of the important issues behind the change, which I haven’t seen explained anywhere very well yet (I may very well have missed it), is the proliferation of what are called Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Only ordained ministers (bishops, priests, deacons) are the proper and ordinary ministers of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.

    In exceptional circumstances, it is permissible to have lay people serve as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. The practice of using Extraordinary Ministers at every Mass is not unusual in most Catholic parishes in the United States. I couldn’t speak for elsewhere.

    So, eliminating distribution of Communion under both kinds means, hopefully, eliminating or at least limiting the need for Extraordinary Ministers.

    A little more explanation about numbers 281-287 of the GIRM would be helpful in explaining this issue further but I’m not sure how much I can contribute here since I can only refer to the 2003 GIRM:

  • Patrick Krisak

    Here is an excellent resource when it comes to Catholic Liturgical Norms:

    I understand that reporters using this resource might not always know for what they are looking.

    Three articles from this collection which strike me as relevant to this story include the following:

  • Julia

    If you watched the Papal Mass in Berlin you would notice that it was only consecrated hosts that were distributed to the people present. [Ignore the awful music] In the olden days, the laity almost never partook of wine.

    After Vatican II, that was officially loosened up a bit for special occasions, but parishes in the US and probably other places in the world, started offering wine at all Masses. At the same time, there was a provision for lay people to help in distributing Communion when the number of clerics wasn’t sufficient. Parishes started doing that at all Masses on a regular basis in order to involve more lay people.

    The bishop in Phoenix is trying to return the practice to what had actually been intended by the post Vatican II options for special situation – both species at weddings for the bride & groom, at First Communions for the first communicant and family, etc. etc., and assistance in distribution from the laity when really necessary.

  • Martha

    Oh, dear. That’s a bad sentence, right enough: “leads Communion at Mass”? Though the one usage that makes me grind my teeth is the “Father So-and-So was the presider” or “Father X presided over the Mass”. Mass is celebrated by the celebrant; a judge presides over a trial. However, that’s nit-picking.

    Receiving under both species is an interesting topic, with plenty of back-and-forth on it – it used to be done until roughly the Middle Ages (yes, that favourite ‘blame the era for abuses’) and so the re-introduction of it was put forward as going back to the early Church and a more authentic Eucharist.

    I can’t speak for anywhere other than Ireland, but my impression is that routine and widespread Communion under both species is an American thing. I don’t know why the bishop of Phoenix is reining it in, but I imagine it’s for reasons of discipline and possible abuse and to restore a sense of reverence and contemplation instead of distraction when receiving (maybe too many Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist needed to distribute under both species, and as the name implies, they’re supposed to be Extraordinary, that is, occasional and special, not ‘routinely having a football team of laymen and laywomen in every parish fussing around the altar during and after Communion’).

  • Martha

    Okay, addressing the journalistic and not the theological elements in the story, as you asked:

    The “leads communion at Mass” language is clumsy and does show that the reporter is covering something he or she is not familiar with and does not understand.

    How it could be improved? Perhaps simply saying “From now on in the diocese of Phoenix, the older practice of receiving Communion will be followed. This means that members of the congregation will receive only the consecrated bread, rather than both the consecrated bread and wine.” The “Diocese of Phoenix” doesn’t offer anyone anything, either bread or wine, and I’d prefer to use the term “host” rather than “consecrated bread” but that would need another line to explain what the host is and that’s probably too technical for the purposes of the story.

    A short bit about why the bishop is doing this, any reaction from the disgruntled (there must be some lay ministers who feel this is all a sinister Vatican plot to roll back Vatican II and disempower the laity) for the sake of balance, a bit of history cribbed from Wikipedia (about when receiving under both species ended and started up again) and there you have it.

  • Martha

    I hate to argue with Mr. Clancy as above, but I have to disagree on this point.

    I clicked on the link he mentions, and right there is a paragraph in the statement which explains why they’re doing this:

    “From 1975 on, the United States, United Kingdom and Oceania were given experimental privileges for the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds. These privileges expired in 2005 and were not renewed by the Holy See. The new norms issued in June 2011 are what
    guide the liturgical practice today and in the future.”

    So the Americans giving out both bread and wine was a trial permission; it expired in 2005 and wasn’t renewed, which means the parishes should have stopped doing it since then, and the bishop of Phoenix is only implementing the rules. I don’t see any huge difficulty in understanding that reasoning.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Interesting that some Catholics think that if fewer “Extraordinary Ministers” were used it would be going backward to pre-Vatican II. However, that takes for granted no mistakes were made in the implementation of Vatican II that need to be corrected.
    However many experts on the liturgy consider the gross overuse of EMs one of the worst abuses to be engendered by the “Spirit of Vatican II” and something that needs to be corrected.
    Another aspect of the problem not mentioned in media accounts is the large number of Catholics who spurn taking the Lord’s Blood in the form of wine at Mass. In many parishes 80-90% of those who take the Lord’s Body in the form of bread then walk right by the Blood offerred to them
    It strikes me that this public (but unintended) “dissing” of the Lord is an indication that there is no demand from the pews for receiving under both forms.

  • Kunoichi

    “The Rev. Rob Clements leads Communion at Mass …”

    If this is a Catholic priest, shouldn’t it be “Father” not “Rev.”? Or have I missed something?

  • Will E.

    “If this is a Catholic priest, shouldn’t it be “Father” not “Rev.”?”

    AP style calls for clergymen to be referred to as “the Rev.” on first reference.

  • Ryan

    … Come on tmatt you know Lutherans would be those ‘some others’, and that the body and blood are way more than ‘symbos’ for us.

    This could be a really interesting story since the with holding of the cup from the laity was one of the Refrmation issues (and we are creeping up on the 500th anniversary), besides are reversal of Vatican II. What do thev laity think, what is the reasoning behind this, is there arecrubric or how has this change been introduced? Lots of grist for good journalism.

  • Ryan

    Typing on the new iPad did not go well, sorry..

  • Rocco Palmo

    For starters, it’s worth noting that this story isn’t necessarily occurring in a vacuum — it feeds a meme that, rightly or wrongly, roughly works out to “Olmsted = Controversy.” At least, that’s the case for a diocese whose dominant streak was long progressive… and even that’s leaving the founder of LifeTeen aside.

    To be sure, the storyline’s run big in Phoenix these last years, but has likewise gone national at certain points: e.g. the bishop’s declaration in late 2010 that an abortion in a Catholic hospital approved by its nun in charge of Catholic medical ethics was (as no less than canon law would have it) an automatically-excommunicable offense for anyone directly involved in the decision, then the recent decision of the Cathedral rector to limit altar service to boys alone, which was and is perfectly within any pastor’s rights per Rome.

    Second, this isn’t the lone tweaking of the rules on Communion under both Species to have taken place recently in the US: Iowa’s diocese of Sioux City issued new, fairly similar norms on the practice (and, accordingly, the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Communion) in June:

    Considering that Olmsted and Sioux City’s bishop are among six members of a bishops’ support group that includes two cardinal-level appointees of Pope Benedict’s to US posts, we can reasonably presume that the confluence of “changes” isn’t an accident. But does it portend anything more widely?

    That’s not the kind of thing I’d expect any local religion writer to know, much less find it feasible to write about in limited space… still, looking beyond a single market, it’s an intriguing angle. Then again, for most Northeastern Catholics — much like our ecclesiology’s Irish model (as cited above) — the option of the cup for the assembly would already be far more the rarity than the rule.

  • Terry

    Pope John Paul II presided over a mass in Phoenix in September of 1987 at ASU Sun Devil Stadium. The more than 70,000 people present for this received BOTH species; I know, because my wife and I were honored to serve as Eucharistic Ministers at this event. I guess that even beatified popes can preside over masses where “liturgical abuses” run rampant, huh?

  • Jack Swan

    Re: Mr. Clancy’s defense of his piece (#1).

    You say you needed an expert to explain to you what was going on, but you couldn’t find one (nobody in the office at UCCCB or your diocesan seminary, I guess). You didn’t understand the documents posted by the diocese, and couldn’t find a clearer explanation of Catholic belief about the Eucharist(the online versions of the Catechism were all down, presumably).

    And you went ahead and printed the story anyway?

    Would your newspaper have done that with a story about, say, solar power?

  • Gabriel Austin

    Mary McCarthy said to Flannery O’Connor that the Eucharist was a symbol. To which, Flannery replied “If it’s a symbol, I say to hell with it”.

  • Joel

    Would your newspaper have done that with a story about, say, solar power?

    Mine probably would have. We would have consulted the people at the company, and probably someone at the public utility district. The esoterica we would have left in the documents for those to read who understood them.

    Mr. Clancy cites five fairly authoritative sources who certainly know more than he does about it. I think he did fine with what he had.

  • Norman

    The only time in my life that I received wine at communion was at my First Communion (I’m in Detroit. PS, forgive my sloppy writing Mr. Krisak, but it’s just easier this way). In my minimal travels to see I’ve never been offered the consecrated wine; I was not even aware that this had been provisionally allowed until very recently, so this article was a head-scratcher for me, and, hey, I learned something. I learned that Phoenix must have been a very “right on” place and all of the places I have been are not, and boy, I really don’t feel deprived. So Bishop Olmstead has simply returned Phoenix to liturgical norms that have been mandated liturgical norms (per Martha since 2005).

    This being the case, the main problem with the piece is its parochial outlook (!) and its imprecision, as TMatt says, but not any animus. Given that, Mr. Clancy should reconsider the idea that any expert who commented on this issue would ipso facto be critical of Bishop Olmstead- that isn’t true here and it is a false assumption that he should drop. I understand his frustration with getting prominent Catholics on the record, though. Catholics are awful at press relations. They have reason to be gun-shy, but where they can- and a minor story like this was certainly an occasion- they should at least try to accommodate. Not talking and then complaining about not being represented is a tired game, and Mr. Clancy has my very real sympathy. This should have been a pretty straight-forward story for a well-informed Catholic to explain to him, and somebody really should have done so.

    Maybe there is more to the press relations story in Phoenix than I know; maybe the bias is that Bp. Olmstead is a heavy and needs to be kicked at every opportunity. Barring that, I think the diocese missed an opportunity here. Maybe this story would have even been too trivial to go to print if they had talked to Mr. Clancy. No news is not always a bad thing.

  • Norman

    Wow, editing on the fly in this little box is a bad idea. Oh well.

  • Norman

    “So Bishop Olmstead has simply returned Phoenix to liturgical norms that have been mandated liturgical norms (per Martha since 2005)”

    I was originally going to say “has simply returned to what have been the liturgical norms in the broader US, and norms which have been made mandatory since 2005″, but decided to drop the part about the US and failed to delete everything and. . . oh, bag it.

  • Bill P.

    Because I usually wince at how such stories end—often with a zinger from someone critical of a Church teaching or decision—I have to give praise to the ending of this story.

    According to the diocesan statement, the United States is one of only a few countries where offering wine became common at Masses, often distributed with the help of non-ordained parishioners.

    The Rev. John Muir, a priest at the Newman Center in Tempe who is part of the diocese Office for Worship, said the change actually is a return to general practice of the church worldwide.

    The use of consecrated wine for Communion “is a beautiful gift,” he said, “to be given the right way, at the right time, with the right sacramental power.”

    He added, “Nothing in reality is being taken away. Catholics believe they receive the Precious Blood (the consecrated wine) under the species of bread.”

    This does seem, to me anyway, to be the authoritative voice that really explains what’s going on. Or maybe it makes sense to me because, as a part-time catechist, I was reading between the lines.

    I do have to say that the uproar seemed odd to me, because here in Rhode Island you rarely see the dual offering of the Eucharistic body and blood—especially in larger parishes. And come to think of it, I haven’t come across it much in my travels.

  • Norman

    “I can’t speak for anywhere other than Ireland, but my impression is that routine and widespread Communion under both species is an American thing.”

    “I do have to say that the uproar seemed odd to me, because here in Rhode Island you rarely see the dual offering of the Eucharistic body and blood—especially in larger parishes. And come to think of it, I haven’t come across it much in my travels.”

    So, Bill P. and Martha, the headline should read “Diocese of Phoenix Ends Unusual Practice Rarely Seen in Catholic World.” Worth printing?

  • Bill P.

    Norman, perhaps the addition of the word local (to modify Mass) would have helped the headline. But I think “Phoenix Diocese’s limit on wine a major change in Mass” was okay for an Arizona paper. (Although they’re not limiting wine.)

    I do agree with tmatt that the opening graph could be better clarified as well.

  • Norman

    I like your headline, Bill, and, when I think of it, even mine would front a good story that was written differently, one that focused on why Phoenix has been such an outlier all these years. That’s one that I would like to read, anyway.

    I think Martha is right about the the changes resulting in less EM’s, which would explain whatever limited squawking is going on. But then, We Are Church, and they are People of God, so I’m sure they will adjust to the affront to their Unique Dignity with forbearing equanimity ere long. They are much more exalted than this limited hardship- one of God’s inscrutable trials and all that.

  • Norman

    Not all New Ways of Being Church were meant to last. . . help me out if I missed a slogan.

  • Julia

    Re: “presiding” and “Presider”.

    This new term came into use some time after the New Mass was instituted. It puzzled me, too.

    But it turns out this teminology was coined to describe the lead priest in a concelebrated Mass where many priests jointly do the consecration. This concelebration of Mass was also a new thing post Vatican II.

    So when the term is used, it means the lead priest among the concelebrating group of priests. However, the normal parish Mass has only the one priest. It would seem to be more appropriate not to use “Presider” in those circumstances when there is only the one priest, but us pew sitters who put together the bulletin didn’t understand what the term was meant to describe.

    However, I have also heard from some progressive Catholics that it is meant to indicate that we are all part of the priesthood, and the “Presider” is just the officially ordained priest in charge. That concept might be where the reporter got the idea of a priest “leading” the Mass.

  • Ivan

    “Unconsecrated win” may be one of my favorite typographical errors in some time. Very internet-culture-savvy.

  • tmatt


    Ugh. Thanks for the correction.

  • Martha

    Norman, pretty much. Or you know, they could have gone with “Diocese of Phoenix leads way in harmonising practice with rest of world” :-)

    I have to disagree with Joel; Mr McCathy said he couldn’t understand the documents issued by the diocese and couldn’t find any expert to explain the change to him, while right there in one of the statements was the reason: permission for the U.S. to distribute Communion under both species in normal Masses lapsed in 2005 and so as bishop he’s just implementing the new, clarified, rules of 2011.

    Norman, I’ve only received under both species twice in my entire life, and the documents that were too hard for Mr. McCarthy’s paper to comprehend finally explained to me why that was so (emphasis mine):

    Communion under both species “may be offered to a Catholic couple at their wedding Mass, to first communicants and their family members, confirmation candidates and their sponsors, as well as deacons, non-concelebrating priests, servers and seminarians at any Mass, as well as community members at a conventual Mass or those on a retreat or at a spiritual gathering.”

    Seeing as how both those occasions were on retreats organised by my convent school when we were having class retreats, this explains it! ;-)