Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Communion under both kinds and EMHC (3): the ordinary parishioner

By way of an introduction. Libera me, citing Leutgeb, just wonders:
.... Catholicism does not rest with these people (the Tina Beatties of the world), but with the old ladies who go to Mass every day and for all I know probably have done all their lives, and I entirely agree with her : it’s not the thinkers, ultimately, who make the Church (although they may unmake it); but the honest, simple, faithful people of God.
An interesting aspect of Cardinal Newman's famous university sermon on the development of Christian doctrine is how it presents the relationship between the idea that is Christian revelation and the articulation of that revelation in specific propositions of Christian doctrine.

10. Theological dogmas are propositions expressive of the judgments which the mind forms, or the impressions which it receives, of Revealed Truth. Revelation sets before it certain supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles; these make a certain impression or image upon it; and this impression spontaneously, or even necessarily, becomes the subject of reflection on the part of the mind itself, which proceeds to investigate it, and to draw it forth in successive and distinct sentences. ....

11. Now, here I observe, first of all, that, naturally as the inward idea of divine truth, such as has been described, passes into explicit form by the activity of our reflective powers, still such an actual delineation is not essential to its genuineness and perfection. A peasant may have such a true impression, yet be unable to give any intelligible account of it, as will easily be understood.
In thinking about questions like those of the two previous posts in this series (here and here), I expect that most ordinary parishioners do not actually think about them at all, and certainly not in the detail considered in my earlier posts. Following Newman and Libera me, this does not mean that those ordinary parishioners do not have a true impression of the realities of revelation concerned. Indeed, it is often possible to seriously underestimate how strong, perceptive and faithful is the adhesion of the ordinary parishioner to their Catholic faith. One can also point out that many parish priests are "ordinary" parish priests in the same sense. I am not arguing that the ordinary parishioner should become an academic theologian.
Not thinking about things can be a strength; but it also masks a weakness. It leads to a practice of just "going along" with things. The ordinary parish priest is "going along" with what he thinks is the thing to do - taking a lead, perhaps, from those of his colleagues who are a bit more vociferous, from "the experts" or from the Catholic media; and the lay faithful then find themselves "going along" with the same things, on the basis of "what Father says". It is a kind of clericalism.
So most lay people probably go along with Communion under both kinds with little or no appreciation of its meaning.
And most lay people probably go along with lay ministers of Holy Communion thinking that it is all about lay involvement in the life of the Church.
In this context, I think it is vital to get the "sign value" of things right. The ordinary parishioner, who quite rightly thinks about things a little less than the likes of me, lives their faith through the visible signs in which it is expressed and so it is important that those signs are true, so that, in turn, what they live is also true.

At a first level, this means obedience to the legislative provisions made for the Liturgy, provisions which, by and large, seek to ensure that the "sign value" of different things is accurately presented to the faithful. At a second level, it means catechesis about the meanings of the different signs involved because the better the lay faithful know these signs the more truly they will be able to live them. The obedience to the rubrics needs to be an intelligent obedience, an informed obedience.

Of course this all begins with the clergy, who might themselves need to think a bit more about what they are doing ....

1 comment:

Matthew Hewitt said...

The "ordinary" parishioner's take on this is will be, as you say, be heavily dependent on catechesis, and also ingrained habit. I have also noticed a tendency for many people not to want to upset things they have been comfortable with for many years, particularly as this can be seen, not unreasonably, as an attack on how they have viewed and been prectising their faith for a long time - it is important that we are never in a position where we are saying to someone else "I am a better Catholic than you", and this is a tendency that can come through sometimes (by implication if not in intent). I think there is a real challenge in how you enhance the reverence around the Eucharist whilst being practical when there are significant numbers of people at Mass; however, I think having only a Priest distribute the host, with as few EM's distributing the precious blood is an acceptable compromise in most situations - this means that those who would prefer not to receive from an EM can elect to only receive in one kind, and by receiving on the tongue can ensure that the host has only been touched by an ordained hand.

Receiving in the hand, rather than on the tongue, also plays a part in this, I believe, as why would you logically have an issue with receiving from an EM if you are then also handling the host. But we do have a generation who regard receiving in the hand as the "norm".