Benedictions: The Pope in America

Benedictions: The Pope in America

No priests, no Eucharist?

Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Center on Long Island released a pastoral letter today [PDF file] ending the fairly common practice of communion services in the absence of a priest–an “extraordinary” form that came into being because of the priest shortage. According to this Newsday story the pastoral letter seems to have been pegged to the too-common recourse to these services at some diocesan schools. But barring them altogther will also mean more work for already overburdened priests, as well as fewer masses for Catholics who the pope wants to be nourished by the Eucharist. So no priests, no eucharist. No eucharist–no church? There seems to be an effort to “tighten up” on liturgical practices in keeping with Vatican wishes. But there is also no discussion of the larger problem behind this pastoral provision–the decline in vocations. Where is this going? No one wants to say.

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posted May 9, 2008 at 2:47 pm

I believe it appropriate for Bishop Murry to issue such a pastoral letter in what may appear to some as an administrative action. Throughout the Church’s history there has been much confusion between the celebration of Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion. The shortage of priests has brought this theological confusion to the surface for closer inspection. In this society it is all too easy to fall into a consumerist spirituality as opposed to a truly Catholic liturgical spirituality. As Ed Foley, Capuchin has pointed out, “When we allow thetabernacle to displace the table as the sending point of communion, weweaken the linkage between communion and the sacrifice of Christ which is so central to the celebration of the Eucharist. By consequence, we can oftenturn communion into a private act of reception, rather than a public act of missioning to become the body of Christ in the world.”
I believe that Bishop Murry is correctly employing his role as chief liturgist in his diocese by using this administrative action of curtailing the proliferation of Communion services as a catechetical moment. I also think it appropriate that this pastoral letter be distributed during the Novena of Pentecost insofar as it seems likely that thos participating in these weekday communion services have forgotten the role of the Holy Spirit’s role in the celebration of Eucharist.
I only wish that Bishop Murry had spent time catechizing on the forgotten liturgy of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, which could nourish and sustain those throughout the week until they are able to fully celebrate the Paschal Mystery in their Sunday celebration of Eucharist. It is my understanding that the Diocese of Rockville shortage of priests has not affected parishes to the extent that they would need to resort to Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.
No priests – no eucharist. No eucharist – no Church? The answer is yes, but why are people settling for communion services when so much is at stake?!

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posted May 9, 2008 at 3:07 pm

I appologize the many typos in my previous post. In particular misidentifying Bishop Murphy.

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