And the priest said to the boy: "Tarcisius, remember that a heavenly treasure has been entrusted to your weak hands. Avoid crowded streets and do not forget that holy things must never be thrown to dogs nor pearls to pigs. Will you guard the Sacred Mysteries faithfully and safely?". "I would die", Tarcisio answered with determination, "rather than let go of them". (Pope Benedict, re-telling the story of St. Tarcisius to 55,000 altar servers in Rome in August of 2010)
In the third century, St. Tarcisius - an acolyte of about 12, died a brutal death, by beating and stoning, protecting the Eucharist that hung in a small linen bag around his neck as he took Communion to prisoners. It was in the third century - a period of intense persecution of Christians and the pagan boys who beat him to death, his friends, discovered he was Christian.
Do we believe in Our Eucharistic Lord enough to die for Him like St. Tarcisius, rather than allow Him to fall into the wrong hands or to even be handled inappropriately by those whose intentions are more benign?
Even less, are we willing to abstain from Holy Communion, and make a spiritual communion, when the sheer number of people at a Mass increases the likelihood of accidents, irreverent handling out of ignorance, and intentional profanation? Abstaining in such a way would surely be painful, but it is not without graces, especially under such circumstances. St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out one benefit of abstention.
If someone knows from experience that daily Communion increases fervor without lessening reverence, then let him go every day. But if someone finds that reverence is lessened and devotion not much increased, then let him sometimes abstain, so as to draw near afterwards with better dispositions.Even if we do have the fervor Aquinas speaks of, I wonder if he would think it reasonable for a one-time abstention at an event so extraordinary, it makes distribution of Holy Communion difficult without risks to the Sacred Species already mentioned?
There have been outcries over distribution of Communion since these large Masses began, but with regards to authentic dialogue with our hierarchy, it is largely an "un-discussible." At least, that is how I feel about it. Many acknowledge it's a problem, but nothing ever happens to mitigate it. There are no shortage of stories of people finding the Eucharist on the ground after Mass ends, or of sources trying to sell the Consecrated Hosts online. "Black Masses" are cropping up with increasing frequency, and in public ways. Since it is a mockery of the Catholic Mass, it is not a "Black Mass" without the Body of Christ in the Host because they desecrate it as part of the ritual.
It's not just the Hosts we should be concerned with, but the fragments, each of which are no less the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ than the whole. The Church still requires Communion-plates but this is largely ignored (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 93). I've seen particles on the Communion-plates used during Masses at my own parish. Just think, most priests carefully sweep any remaining fragments from their own paten into the Chalice, and then drink what is left; yet, they don't use the plates when distributing. There are fragments of the Body of Christ all over our parish floors. How can we not expect that a lot of handling of the Sacred Species during large open air Masses won't do the same?
If you think this is trivial, read the saints on it. These teachings don't change because we are in the "modern world." They are timeless; it is we who need to change our thinking about Eucharistic reverence.
Here is St. Ephrem:
One particle from its crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands, and is sufficient to afford life to those who eat of it.
And, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, after discussing just how delicately we would treat gold-dust:
How much more carefully, then, will you guard against losing as much as a crumb of that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?
A video US Bishops should study ahead of papal visit in 2015
What prompts my reflection is a situation you may already have learned about through other blogs or in social media. I wanted to pray and reflect on it before deciding to post on it. When Pope Francis was in the Philippines, someone recorded part of Holy Communion where a chaotic situation resulted in people passing along the Eucharist over the heads of other people who could not reach the priest distributing, sometimes seemingly in stacks. These are not bad people; they are badly informed people who are trying to be helpful without realizing the dangers of what they are doing with the Holy Eucharist. I think by-and-large, many would agree, that the Filipinos are among the most devout and faithful Catholics. So, this is not about them. It's a bigger issue that has been bubbling for decades.
We have time to act, here in the US, and find better ways to handle extremely large crowds with regards to Holy Communion.
Here is the video, originally provided in a Facebook post by 100% KATOLIKONG PINOY! It was then subsequently uploaded by One Peter Five to YouTube.
There was also an eye-witness account by a young Filipino blogger who was otherwise very enthusiastic by the visit of Pope Francis. He writes:
Some of the crowd — who were at least two meters away from the ministers — cried for Holy Communion. Two or three soon called out, “Pasa-pasa nalang! (Just pass Them [the Sacred Hosts] around!)”
At first the ministers did not hear them, or probably ignored it. But the people were beginning to be noisy. Some of crowd, fortunately, said, “Uy, hindi pwedeng pasa-pasa! Komunyon yan!”
But the ministers were rather oblivious to the “debate.” Soon they DID pass around — from one grubby hand to another — the Sacred Hosts to the people who were asking for Communion. I saw one broken Host being handed on. Did the minister break It, or was It broken as It was being passed around? Worse, even the ciborium containing the Hosts was soon passed around!
Too distressed to bear the sight, I looked away…..
Other reports I've read said Communion fell to the ground and was found in mud.
Can you imagine seeing the Infant Jesus laying in the mud? That is not bread; it is Jesus. And how we treat the Eucharist is how we witness our belief in the Real Presence to others. What kind of witness does this give to non-Catholics in attendance, and there always some.
Archbishop Villegas Responds
A major Filipino news outlet got a response from Archbishop Villegas on what is seen in the video. I'm going to quote from the One Peter Five post, which has a translation of what was partially in Tagalog. He addresses the criticism saying:
“Under normal circumstances, this should not have happened, but the situation in the Luneta was extraordinary, six million people.” He added: “On this occasion, it was necessary to help each other receive communion.”We read further:
Fr. Francis Lucas, executive secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Social Communication and Mass Media, echoed this, telling GMA News Online: “For pastoral reasons since people can’t move during communion, mass passing of the host is okay.”I'd like to know if the Congregation for Divine Worship would agree to these special "pastoral" situations and allow "mass passing of the Host" in large, papal Masses.
On what Archbishop Villegas said, as was pointed out at One Peter Five, we have to stop and reflect on the word, "necessary." We would infer from this that receiving Holy Communion at all in a gathering of six to seven million is necessary. Maybe that is what we need to discuss. Is it really necessary for everyone to receive Communion at an extraordinarily large gathering for Mass? We learn from the CCC:
1389: The Church obliges the faithful to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season. But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily.
At most we might be strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion at a Papal Mass, if we were properly disposed, but it is not a requirement. I return back to my original question: Are we willing to protect the Body of Christ, unto forgoing Holy Communion, if it was the most practical way to prevent what is seen in that video? Or worse, in the case of someone carrying It off for some other purpose?
What is "spiritual communion?" Simply put, it is an interior movement in which we unite ourselves to the Eucharistic Lord when we are unable to receive. This is something that can be done at any time and any place, but can also be done during Mass when we cannot receive for one reason or another. Perhaps the Eucharistic fast isn't up, or you didn't make it to Confession and are aware of grave sin. You don't skip Mass; you hear the Word of God, and when others go to Holy Communion, you make a spiritual communion. There was an excellent article in the National Catholic Register back in 2011 called, Follow the Saints: Make a Spiritual Communion. Do read it to understand it better.
Spiritual communion is not the same as Holy Communion, but it can still bring us graces when circumstances do not allow us to receive Our Eucharistic Lord. I would think the graces would be in abundance if people accepted this on the basis that the risk was too great for accidents or profanation to distribute to such a large crowd.
Some have been outright opposed to any kind of large outdoor papal Masses. I don't think it's necessary to go that far. All we need to do is limit Communion to those seated in certain areas (and ensure people of all classes have access, not just big donors and dignitaries); and, ask the rest to make a spiritual communion for that day. If the Pope could hold Mass in a major Cathedral on a Sunday when traveling, and do any outdoor Masses on weekdays or Saturday mornings, it makes it all the more easier to ask people to make a spiritual communion since these Masses are not obligatory.
Offering up spiritual communion with the sacramentally famished
Until I read the book, Dominus Est It Is the Lord! Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion, I had not given much thought to the plight of persecuted Christians who sometimes go for weeks, months, and even many years or decades without seeing a priest or having access to the Sacraments. These are clandestine Catholics who risk life, liberty, and other things in order to continue practicing their faith under ground as Catholics did in the days of St. Tarcisius. Bishop Athanasius Schneider, ORC, grew up in such a climate after his family was exiled to Kazakhstan from Germany. In the beginning of the book he explains how Catholics kept their faith during those long periods without a priest behind the Iron Curtain and the risks taken by priests and lay people alike. This was the case for about two decades after World War II. That gripped me at the beginning of his first book on the subject. In the image here, we see the final moments of Blessed Miguel Pro of Mexico before he was shot for just being a priest, serving Catholics practicing clandestinely. He is famous for shouting out before a hail of bullets hit him, "Viva Cristo Rey!" (Long Live Christ the King).
There are also people in prisons around the world without access to the sacraments, as well as in places like nursing homes. I saw first hand when my mother was in one of those places in rehab. Faithful Catholics whose children left the faith or became lukewarm don't always think to have a priest visit their loved ones. I saw some extraordinary faith in there, and even more suffering from this spiritual neglect. If you think life is hard when you can go to Mass every Sunday, try being laid up in a nursing home for many months or years in the midst of this priest shortage.
This had me thinking that the bishops, the Holy Father, and others could invite people to make a spiritual communion at these large Masses begging also for graces for these people who suffer in the midst of a sacramental famine. To go without Holy Communion for one Mass would certainly cause some suffering, but it would make us mindful of those around the world who suffer for long periods of time without the Eucharist, Confession, and other sacraments. This too has graces.
I'll close with a quote from Bishop Schneider's latest book, Corpus Christi, which is published by Gracewing in the UK and sold through the Opus Angelorum site here in the US. I've modified the English from UK to US and added white space.
Bishop Schneider makes the point earlier in the book how defenseless Jesus is in the Eucharist. When you consider the Infant Jesus, who was also defenseless, He is even more defenseless under the appearance of the more lowly bread and wine. It is up to us to protect Him, and to come to his defense against mishandling and profanation. We need to pray that our bishops will see the role they play in His defense.
A new Eucharistic star is indeed, urgently needed, for the Eucharistic Body of Christ is the weakest and most defenseless being in the midst of the life of the Church. Bravely defending this Divine Poor Body surely would not receive the eulogy and the applause of world, but undoubtedly it would be applauded by the Saints, and in particular th holy "Poverello" - or poor man of Assisi, attracting abundant Divine blessings. Indeed, the restoration of the visible honor due to the Eucharistic Body of Christ would be one of the most efficacious means for the renewal of His Mystical Body, the Church. May God grant that the hearts and minds of the Shepherds of the Church in our days may be pierced by these words of Saint Francis of Assisi:
"I conjure all of you, brethren, with all the love of which I am capable and kissing your feet: give as much as you can of all reverence and all honor to the most holy Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ!".
Indeed, there is nothing else and no one else greater than the Sacred Host and each of even Its most minute fragments, for the Body of Christ is the Lord Himself: "Corpus Christi enim Dominus est!"
UPDATE 1: I see Kat at the Crescat just posted on this today too. She writes:
And then you got some Catholics, who treat the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist like… well, like this.
Lookit. The only person that has to receive the Eucharist during mass is the priest. And the only time we, as lay people, are required to receive the Eucharist is once a year at Easter.
There’s nothing in the GIRM or CCC or anywhere else that says, “Hey, lets distribute the Eucharist to thousands of people all at once. What could possibly go wrong?”
Abuses, that’s what.
We really need to get over this idea that we deserve to receive the Eucharist at every mass, whether it’s out of a sense of entitlement or belief that we aren’t “actively participating” if we don’t.
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