Mass confusion in Phoenix 2.0

There they go again.

It seems that the recent Arizona Republic news feature about Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s decision to require priests in his diocese to stop offering consecrated wine to the laity during most Masses stirred up so much debate that the newspaper decided to produce a sequel.

Alas, this story ran under the headline:

Phoenix Diocese wine-less Mass criticized

Phoenix Diocese’s new policy sparks online chatter

No, no, no, no, no.

This is one of those classic cases in which it helps to know that reporters do not get to write the headlines that run with their stories.

The Mass is not going to be “wine-less.” The issue is whether it will be normal for priests to serve the consecrated wine to members of the congregation.

Meanwhile, the lede this time around said:

The Phoenix Diocese decision to restrict wine in Communion rituals received criticism nationwide on Friday.

The decision received only criticism? Really? I doubt that is the case.

So what’s up here? Veteran observers of Catholic worship wars will quickly be able to figure out what is going on by noting some of the names and identities of the critics of the bishop’s move and those of the few defenders who are quoted.

Clearly, what we have here is a clash between two schools of liturgists and, unless I am mistaken, this is yet another skirmish related to the “Spirit of Vatican II” camp’s opposition to the pro-Vatican camp’s support of the new, and some say old-fashioned, English translation of the Roman Missal (and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that goes with it).

It appears that the critics of the new materials from the Vatican (symbolized by this change in the common American practice of almost always serving parishioners consecrated wine as well as bread) have reacted strongly to this bishop’s action and have — logically — provided Arizona Republic staff with links to quite a few national level critics and authorities to back their case (plus views available online in blogs).

Meanwhile, it appears that the bishop and his local supporters have chosen to remain silent. The Arizona Republic, thus, has no bridge to the many, many national and global level voices who would defend this action.

The result? Readers get coverage suggesting that this is a battle between a strange local bishop and the rest of Catholic America. This often happens when Catholic leaders choose to be silent. Unless the reporter and his or her editors have a solid file of numbers from across the spectrum, the resulting story automatically tilts totally toward the critics. This is not always the reporter’s fault.

I did find it interesting that this second story on the issue talks about widespread Internet fallout, yet does not mention some of the excellent information in the comments section for the first GetReligion post on this topic. A mere glance at materials from our readers would have revealed some solid information and hints and places to gain pro-Vatican perspectives (here’s another good source for some balance).

Meanwhile, this whole conflict reminds me of a joke often told by Catholics who become ensnared in post-Vatican II worship wars. It goes like this.

Question: What’s the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist?

Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Meanwhile, Phoenix readers, help we watch for Mass confusion 3.0.

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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.

  • Martha

    “the pro-Vatican camp’s support of the new, and some say old-fashioned, English translation of the Roman Missal”

    I’m old enough to (just about) remember the Old Mass (the Latin one), the New translation into English which then became the Old New translation when the New New translation – which we’re finally seeing the back of now – was instituted, and this version makes it the New Old New translation :-D

  • Martha

    What the above means to say is that I remember it when:

    (a) The prayer before Communion was “Domine, non sum dignus” (I didn’t understand it in Latin, but that’s how it used to go when I was four years old and starting to take notice)

    (b) I learned it for my First Communion as “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed”

    (c) Then it was “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”

    (d) Now we’re going back to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”

    Any betting but that I’ll live to see it go back to “Domine, non sum dignus?” ;-)

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A more fair headline in the second Republic story would have been”..criticized by some–praised by some.”
    Also nowhere in the stories did I see the full simple statement of what the Church teaches and believes–that Christ is wholly present in the Holy Eucharist Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity under one form or both forms since Christ cannot be divided.
    The articles read as if the reporters really did not understand what they were reporting on and couldn’t be bothered doing some serious “homework” to get things right and use proper terminology.
    Which makes me wonder about the accuracy of information we get on politics, business, medicine, etc. from the mainstream media.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Here in the Philippines, so many receive communion that we don’t give out the wine to the public at Mass. It’s practical.

    The common way to give out wine is for everyone to line up and sip from the same cup. As a doctor, that makes me shudder in flu season.

    I have no problem either way…

    But it seems to be a PR disaster to fight over trivia…

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: The common way to give out wine is for everyone to line up and sip from the same cup. As a doctor, that makes me shudder in flu season.

    Just curious….has there been any study of disease transmission from the Chalice? It seems to me that the fact you’re dealing with 15% alcohol would tend to kill most bacteria, of course the flu is spread by a virus so I don’t know how effective the wine would be as a disinfectant.

    Anglicans (at least in broad-church and high-church parishes) are accustomed to receive both bread and wine, and I suspect there would be quite an uproar if they started distributing bread only.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: I learned it for my First Communion as “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed”

    Yeah, the old form is much, much better. It’s closer to scripture, for one thing (it’s almost a word for word quotation of the Centurion’s plea on behalf of his servant, and for scripturally aware readers is going to remind them of that beautiful healing miracle).

    “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed” is what I’m used to.

  • Karen

    The Mass is not going to be “wine-less.” The issue is whether it will be normal for priests to serve the consecrated wine to members of the consecration.

    Uh, members of the congregation?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Karen,

    I’m going to assume that’s what Tmatt meant — fixed the typo. Thank you!

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Major, major hole in both stories: it isn’t as though the Catholic practice of communion in one kind hasn’t been criticized from pretty much the very beginnings of Protestantism. It isn’t just some “dissident” (meaning, not with the traditionalizing program) Catholics who object to this: it’s all the rest of Christendom outside the Catholic Church. This is vital to the background of the story, because a lot of the Vat-II-era liturgical changes have to do with ecumenical efforts of the time (e.g. adoption of the ICET texts) and common reference to the same liturgical scholarship. How much are the current translational and rubrical changes the manifestation of a repudiation of those ecumenical efforts?

  • Ryan

    I agree with Wingate, this story has broader implications with an ongoing debate dating to pre-reformation times.

  • Will

    I find it simply weird that a recent innovation made well within memory (and which, as noted above, Those Awful Papists have incessantly been criticized for NOT doing) is being depicted as the “standard”.

    Of course, suggesting that the press are distorting this in pursuit of their own agenda would be PARANOID.

  • friscoeddie

    Another example of the media driving out pious Catholics from practicing their faith.. It’s the media doing the damage and driving the flock from the sanctuary..and not the bumbling hierarchy.People are always coming up to me saying it’s the dumb reporters that are making me not go to Mass anymore.

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    It’s much easier for copy editors (like me) to write accurate headlines when reporters don’t write crappy stories.

  • Asshur

    The fact is that the Arizona Republic journalist affects to Know-Nothing about Catholicism (not even at 101 level) and for a second time in a row leaves any pretence of objectivity …
    On the other hand, as an European, i always wonder why “american catholicism” has become to attached to a -recent- custom ignored everywhere else in the Catholic world of the Latin Rite, as is the “Communion under both Kinds”.

    And especially I deeply distrust of any cleric which pretends to ignore that the questions around “utraque species” were definitively dealt -for a Catholic- at the Council of Trent

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    For the person who raised the issue of germs in the communion cup, it has been extensively studied by Episcopalians and Lutherans (ELCA) and maybe some other folks. The overall risk is very very small. However the Lutherans were concerned enough that they went to an option of having people go forward with individual cups, and someone pours wine into them from a spouted chalice. The Episcopalians favor intinction, although someone did a study indicating that the wine is far more likely to pick up dangerous bacteria from people’s fingers when they intinct than from their lips when they sip.
    Personally, I’ve been sipping from a common chalice for more than 40 years (except when I think I might be coming down with something). I’ve never gotten sick from it.

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Re: The Episcopalians favor intinction, although someone did a study indicating that the wine is far more likely to pick up dangerous bacteria from people’s fingers when they intinct than from their lips when they sip.

    To be precise, this is a problem with self-intinction. The way intinction is supposed to be done, is that the priest and/or his assistant takes the bread from your hand, dips it in the wine, and then places it in your mouth. As long as the priest/deacon/assistant sanitizes their hand beforehand, I wouldn’t think that would be a major disease risk. Self-intinction is more of a problem.

  • Passing By

    Time precluded a comment on the first story, which I thought was fairly good, decently balanced and some exploration of the issues. This second story, not so much. The shrieking hysteria about the “rights” of the laity to the cup was just silly. If nothing else, the reporter should have gotten from the comments under the first post that Phoenix is not doing anything unusual.

    A follow-up story on the ecumenical implications of the practice, as suggested above, would be interesting, but given the innovations in Protestant churches in the decades since Vatican II, it’s hard to see the relevance. Ordination of women by most Protestant bodies, acceptance of same-sex relationships by many, divorce and re-marriage among the Orthodox, almost universal acceptance of artificial contraception : in the face of these innovations among non-catholic churches, why is Catholic Communion practice of concern?

  • http://www.devinetoursrome.com Charles Collins

    I think the international aspect is one which was a stark omission, especially given the fact there was originally a tie to the new translation. One of the issues of the new translation was how “off” the English was compared to others (“with your spirit”, the triple mea culpa, etc.) The English was out-of-whack with other languages. Now, communion under two kinds. It just not done anywhere else that much, so all of the theological arguments against the bishop’s decision from the “usual suspects” leaves one question hanging – why is this “right of the baptized” only available in the good ‘ol USA.

    But I think the major problem is the refusal of the diocese to comment. Changing a long-time practice, which has a certain significance to those “usual suspects” without having someone available to give reasons and answer objections (that someone could even be the Bishop) is just stupid and not helpful. The bishop holds a teaching office, and that does not just mean put a Q&A on a website. If you don’t want stories like this in the local press, then answer the reporters phone calls.

  • Roberto

    You learn something new every day: until I read this, I had no idea that any parish in the USA, or elsewhere for that matter, offered communion under both kinds. I can’t recall ever having it.

    Any betting but that I’ll live to see it go back to “Domine, non sum dignus?”

    Martha: if you “live long enough” to visit my parish, St. Lawrence the Martyr in Alexandria, VA, on a Sunday at 12:30, that’s exactly what you will hear.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Trying to keep this focused on journalism.

    I am not winning the battle.

    This is not the site for battles between Catholics (and Protestants) over the liturgical issue itself.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Spiking away. Take the arguments elsewhere, unless they are about the journalism issues in the post.


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