Communion is Meant to Change Us - Part 2
Apr 10, 2018
Pope Francis: Communion is Meant to Change Us;
Receive it On the Tongue or in the Hand
The pope reiterated the Church’s teaching that “the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is expressed with greater fullness if Holy Communion is made in the two forms, even though Catholic doctrine teaches that one whole Christ is received in one form.” (Reception in both forms, which is the more traditional practice, was again made possible by the liturgical reform.) And while the pope reaffirmed the current discipline that the priest or deacon is the “ordinary minister of the distribution,” in practice it almost always requires “extraordinary” lay eucharistic ministers if the Church’s wish for distribution under both forms is to be fulfilled.
This statement from the pope is also significant: “The Church strongly desires that the faithful also receive the Body of the Lord with consecrated hosts in the same Mass.” The practice of distributing Communion at Mass from the tabernacle with hosts consecrated at another Mass remains all too common – though popes and councils and synods have repeatedly advised against this practice down the centuries.
Pope Francis’s manner of reaffirming the Real Presence is also telling. He simply affirms it (as I would hope every Catholic does!) and then moves on to larger spiritual issue of transformation of individuals and communities for the sake of the Church’s mission in the world. In this, he is a good Thomist. Thomas Aquinas, the father of the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation, taught that the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharistic species is a means, not an end in itself, and it is meant for the larger end of the mystical union of the church.
By simply affirming the Real Presence without dwelling on it, Pope Francis seems to be guiding Catholics away from an unhelpful distortion of emphasis that set in in the late Middle Ages and became enshrined in Catholic liturgy and piety since the Council of Trent. In this (mis)understanding, Mass becomes above all a means to get on the altar a consecrated Host, which is venerated and adored rather like a physical relic, at the expense of other aspects of the Blessed Eucharist. Unfortunately, all this was tied to very infrequent lay reception of Communion, loss of Communion under both forms, and loss of a sense that the entire community participates in (and understands!) the liturgy. In placing the emphasis where he does, Francis is also following the logic of the reformed liturgy, which quite consistently pruned away from the Tridentine liturgy later medieval developments and returned to a form more like the practice of the Church’s first five or six centuries.
And while a blog post such as this attempts to draw out the full significance of what the pope is implicitly and explicitly saying, it bears emphasizing that the pope simply puts forth his positive vision. He does not critique other understandings or signal judgment of those who think differently. He simply leads by expounding the meaning of the Church’s liturgy.
Pope Francis has given us much to ponder: Christ among us, our being nourished by Christ, our transformation, our call to be Eucharistic people. May we heed and follow!
The full text of the pope’s general audience is found <PrayTellblog.com>