New Liturgical Norms

Dear friends in Christ,

As you may be aware, several years ago the American bishops called for a Eucharistic Revival in our country in the hopes of instilling greater devotion to this most precious gift, the Body of Blood of Jesus Christ, which we receive at every Mass.  It is a three-year initiative; the first year was the diocesan phase; this year is the parish phase; and next year, beginning with the feast of Corpus Christi in June, will be the national phase, which will include a National Eucharistic Congress to be held in Indianapolis, about which there will be more information in the coming months. 

As part of this, the bishops have asked parishes to offer more time for Eucharistic adoration and confession, solemn holy hours, and additional catechesis on the Eucharist and our Catholic faith. 

In our diocese, Bishop Walkowiak recently issued some updated liturgical norms which we are going to implement starting this weekend (Nov 11-12).  The purpose of these new norms is hopefully to ensure that all parishes of the diocese are celebrating Mass according to the same guidelines, and ideally, with a greater sense of reverence for the great mystery of the Blessed Sacrament: Jesus himself, who becomes present to us at each Mass. 

The main change you will notice here is when the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist approach the altar.  Before they would approach during the Lamb of God, but starting this week, they will remain kneeling with the rest of the congregation until after the priest has himself received the Body and Blood of Christ, and after he raises the Eucharist and says to the congregation, “Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world; blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb,” to which everyone responds, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 

After this, the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist will approach the sanctuary to receive communion themselves, and then will enter the sanctuary and come to the altar to receive the Body or the Blood of Christ to distribute. 

(I’ve decided to have one fewer person distributing the Body of Christ and one additional person to distribute the Blood of Christ: it seems that there’s a need for another chalice.  The additional chalice will be over by the chapel for now and we will see how that goes.  I will be the only one distributing communion at the center aisle; it is the shortest aisle and I almost always finish early and move to another station anyway.)

Priests and deacons are considered Ordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and with the permission of the bishop, lay people can serve as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist.  Our Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist have all gone through training at both the diocesan and the parish levels in the last few months.  One thing that has been taught is that they are custodians of the Eucharist, meaning that they have to ensure that the Eucharist is received and treated with reverence.  What this means in practical terms is that they have to ensure that the person who receives communion actually consumes it.  For those of you old enough to remember, communion was always received on the tongue up until about 40 or so years ago.  Then, the bishops gave permission for communion to be received into the hand, which quickly became the most common way people receive communion.  However, this has had a perhaps unforeseen consequence.  It is very rare, but I have seen it both here and at other parishes: sometimes people come up for communion and receive without knowing what they are doing.  And they don’t always put the host in their mouth.  I have found hosts on the floor and in hymnals.  This is extremely rare, and I would say 99.9% of people who come up for communion know what they are doing, but we have to ensure that these rare exceptions simply don’t happen.  I remember once some years ago at a big cathedral in another city seeing three people leaving church, all with their hands clasped.  I think the Holy Spirit must have prompted me to go up to them and ask them what they had in their hands, something I would normally never have done.  They all opened their hands, and each one was carrying a host!  I quickly took it from them, found a nun who conveniently happened to be nearby, and then she took care of returning the hosts to the tabernacle.  Who knows what would have happened to the Blessed Sacrament otherwise.  I got the sense that those people were acting out of ignorance, but since the Lord has entrusted this incredible gift of His Body and Blood to us, we have a responsibility to ensure that the Blessed Sacrament is never profaned, whether intentionally or accidentally. 

So, what I am basically asking you to do is this: if you receive communion in the hand, please put it in your mouth immediately.  I ask that you not walk away with the Eucharist in your hand – you may get followed back to your seat!  This is awkward, but that is what we have to do.  If you are with someone who cannot come forward to receive communion, please let an usher know, and they will ask me or one of the EM’s to bring communion back to that person. 

I hope that all of this makes sense and that the changes go smoothly. 

Eucharist means thanksgiving: let’s give thanks to the Lord for this most precious gift He has given us. 

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Bill

The Decree by Bishop Walkowiak through the Office for Worship can be found here.