This article first appeared in The New Wine Press of November 25, 2004. A small addition follows.
Imagine that you’ve been invited over to spend a Sunday afternoon to the house of someone that you’d really like to get to know better for the Holy Grail of Real Man activities, watching the NFL. The room is a little crowded and you might have to sit in the back and off to the side, but you’re willing to put up with seeing the screen sideways at a distance just to be there. Someone passes the hat to collect for the delivery and you put in a couple of dollars or so.
Then the pizza delivery guy shows up with a small pizza. Your host gets out some paper plates and dishes up huge chunks for himself and his cronies. He then goes into the kitchen and passes over to you a soggy box with a few icy slices of indeterminate age.
Are you ever going to that place again?
I have encountered in my travels several instances where there was only one host consecrated at a Eucharist and communion for the Faithful was given from the Tabernacle. The reason given was that there were too many hosts in the Tabernacle and they needed to be disposed of. My question is whether this is reasonable practicality or a serious abuse that goes unnoticed.
The distribution of hosts from the tabernacle to the laity comes from pre-Vatican II practice. It was not uncommon for communion to be distributed after Mass to the faithful, and the tabernacle was the only source for that. The practice was discontinued with the Vatican II revision of the liturgy, however the practice of going to the tabernacle for hosts continued and persists to today.
The General Instruction to the Roman Missal is very clear on the issue. Paragraph 85 states: “It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass. . .” This is not an innovation instituted with the 2003 Instruction: the roots of it go back to Instructions Eucharisticum mysterium (1967) and Immensae caritatis (1973). The desirability of receiving hosts from the same mass where they are consecrated goes back to 1742 in papal documents.
The value of this is connecting the action of the Eucharist Prayer just prayed together with the reception of the Eucharist, and it an action that everyone present participates in, not only the priest who confects it. The most obvious example of this are the sung acclamations which run throughout the Eucharist Prayer and the emphasis on singing these acclamations even when nothing else is sung. Receiving the fruits of the Mass is quite literally consuming the Body and Blood that particular celebration produces. Communion isn’t just what we get; communion is what we take, bless, break and share together. Going to the tabernacle divorces part of the assembly from the action that has just taken place. Those receiving from the tabernacle are cut off from what has just taken place, and are cut off from something their prayer has made a contribution.
Going to the tabernacle also places the communion focus on what the individual gets. When we focus on what we get, the focus narrows from the community celebration to the individual. The “Me and Jesus” attitude is common in American Christianity, but it is not Catholic and it is not Eucharist in the broader term. It also reinforces the dangerous attitude that the Church is a service provider whose main mission is pleasing customers.
It seems as though the practice of diving into the Tabernacle at mass is derived from a lack of attention to significant detail. Figuring out how much bread and wine are needed for a particular mass is never an exact science, however failing to count at all and relying on the Tabernacle to even things out is like serving leftover pizza to guests or driving on a undersized spare tire for any length of time. If there are significant details of celebrating the Eucharist that we are not going to bother with, why should be expect people to bother with coming at all?
It’s been over 11 years since I wrote this, and not much has changed. There’s as line from the song Little Drummer Boy that comes to mind: “…I played my best for Him…” Any response to God’s love should be about giving our best, while not being obsessive about it. We know we aren’t perfect, but one old tradition of the Church (Ecclesia supplet) is that God will make up for our shortcomings. Whatever we do in liturgy or life should be about doing our best, realizing that Christ makes up for whatever we don’t get right. Laziness isn’t something we shouldn’t expect God to make up for. Why we should intentionally do something for God or our fellow human beings in a half-assed way is something I’ll never understand. It doesn’t have to be fancy, fussy or extravagant, but it does need to be good and sufficient.
The phrase “It’s good enough for them” is one I’ve heard too often, and used to justify this practice I’ve described. This is a line the privileged use to justify giving their inferiors crumbs. If you can tell me where Jesus endorses this attitude, I’m all ears although they’ll be skeptical. I also don’t understand why we settle for doing the minimum, this is something else I’d love to see if Jesus endorsed.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says the mass is the “summit and source” of every the Church does. This means it’s the culmination of everything the Church is, the high point of its community, and the starting point for its mission in the world. This document also says that full, active participation of all present is also the goal, which leads me to wonder how you get to participate fully if you’re getting leftovers from the tabernacle. If Mass is the most important thing that happens in the Catholic church, then any superficial attitude toward it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Following Christ is about giving our all because He gave His all. Yeah, we fall short, we don’t have to beat ourselves up over it, but we shouldn’t let that assume doing the least is a virtue. Providing enough for communion for isn’t rocket science or impossible. Trying to do our best should be normal, even if we aren’t perfect. At least, we are people of honesty and integrity with this attitude.
Sorry about giving you leftovers today.