Crossing arms at Communion.
In part of my preparation for a funeral this week, I was asked about a practice that has come to exist at many parishes: people approaching the Communion line with their arms crossed for a blessing. What is this about?
In the past, it was quite common for people to remain at their pews when Communion began at Mass. More conscious of their spiritual state than many of the faithful today, they knew that they should not receive Communion without adequate preparation; in particular, if they were conscious of having committed a sin that necessitated going to Confession, they would refrain from receiving the Blessed Sacrament until they did so. Others around them, knowing that they also at times struggled with sin, quietly filed past them in an understanding silence.
Due to changing attitudes over the past decades, most disturbingly the belief that receiving the Blessed Sacrament is required every time one attends Mass, it is quite rare to see people sitting in the pews while Communion is taking place and many are overly-conscious that there is something "different" about them. It has caused me to reflect more than once on how our Communion lines are so long while our Confession lines are so short!
As a response, and particularly at Masses attended by a significant number of non-Catholics (such as weddings and funerals), several pastors - myself included - now extend an invitation for all to approach but for those who should not receive the Eucharist to come forward with arms crossed for a blessing. Priests and people who take advantage of this opportunity see several good points to recommend it. It has been a practice that I have found bring people towards appreciating a better understanding many more times than those criticizing the Church's "exclusion" of people from taking Communion. Perhaps most of all it gives Christians of many faiths, who normally cannot receive Communion at a Catholic Eucharist, a way of sharing in the Communion part of the Mass in some way.
It is true that this practice is not formally approved by the Catholic Church. Hopefully it is something that will be addressed by the Holy See before long. Approached properly, it can allow us to do more than ignore people who are not in full union with the Church and those who are struggling with some weakness in their lives at a high point in our worship. In doing so, we can share some expression of our care and common Christian identity during this most personal (Jesus entering us so that we can draw closer to him) part of our celebration.
Two main criticisms have been raised about this practice. It is suggested that having people come forward for a blessing confuses the sign of the reception of the Eucharist and, in some cases, reducing the importance of receiving the Eucharist itself. But that has not been my experience. If anything, it increases the awareness of the privilege and reality of receiving the Blessed Sacrament. A more practical objection is that people who become accustomed to the practice in one parish may be confused or embarrassed if they come forward for a blessing at another parish and are not recognized. This is one that involves pastoral judgement and care. If it occurs, it might be helpful to approach the pastor afterwards - maybe even with a copy of this article in hand - to ask and to help clarify. If he does not agree, it would be helpful for his parishioners to receive clarification and understanding of that parish's approach to the practice.
It might be interesting to note that Pope St. John Paul II himself would offer such a blessing when the circumstances called for it. In
a 1989 visit to Sweden
he gave the blessing to Lutheran archbishop when he joined the Communion line during the Pope's Mass in Stockholm, even commenting on it and its significance at a general audience more than a year later.
While the perfect solution would be -
to diminish the importance of the Eucharistic gift by simply opening it up to all comers - but to reconcile the differences that divide the Body of Christ so that "all may be one" (Jn. 17:21) as Jesus and his Father are one and restore the Eucharist to the communion - the
- that Jesus has always intended us to have. Until then, we are called to work towards - through proper education of the meaning and practices such as Communion blessing and by working together as reconciling brothers and sisters in Christ - restoring the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that once existed and, through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, can exist again!
On the one hand, faith is a profoundly personal contact with God, which touches me in my innermost being and places me in front of the living God in absolute immediacy in such a way that I can speak with Him, love Him, and enter into communion with Him.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Interview October 2015
Our FORMED Recommendation for the Week
Video (41 minutes) -
Jesus and His Church
In this presentation from the Napa Institute, Timothy Cardinal Dolan speaks with great clarity and pastoral care about one of the greatest challenges facing the Church today: protecting the spousal oneness of Jesus Christ and his Church. He describes our current times as a post-ecclesial world, in which individuals accept “spirituality,” but not “religion,” and want to “believe,” but not to “belong.” Cardinal Dolan proposes a need to revive the perspective of the Church as family—a communion of people which we belong to, rather than choose. He states that to be baptized into the Catholic faith is to have a birthmark we cannot erase. “What God has joined, man must not divide” (Mark 10:9).
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Sent by Fr. Ed Blanchett on Friday, April 27 at 3:00PM