Monday, May 12, 2008


"Bishop William F Murphy of Rockville Centre, NY, has ordered an end to weekday Communion services outside the context of Mass by July 1."

For what it's worth, I am told that this has also been the standing policy of my home archdiocese of Cincinnati for years, but that it is blissfully ignored, presumably by a generation of pastors who never grew up.

As far as I'm concerned, "communion services" are less a matter of the faithful's right of access to the sacraments, than they are an ideological tool for rebellious and misinformed laity. To that end, it must invariably be a woman who "presides." Otherwise, what would be the point? Having never endeared myself to the status quo in a parish so inclined, I have never officiated at such an event myself, and I'm not sure I would accept if asked.

Here in the DC area, it is difficult to appreciate that only one resident priest per parish is the norm, and in some cases, a luxury. So what happens when a pastor takes a reasonable break of one day per workweek? (It's a lot more than forty hours, by the way.)

Bishop Murphy recommends the Liturgy of the Hours, no less a part of the official prayer of the Church than the Divine Liturgy. But as with many things, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Last night, we had Vespers of Pentecost at St John the Beloved. It was according to the traditional form, in which case one must be a priest to officiate, at least within the confines of a parish church. There is no such restriction in the reformed liturgy.

In the absence of a priest, I would think that the officiant should be a deacon. In the absence of a deacon, it should be a seminarian doing his pastoral internship, or a male or female Religious, or as a last resort, a catechist. The reason for this is to reinforce the presence of the whole Church at official prayer, which takes into account its hierarchical nature.

Were I a bishop, I might be inclined to publish an annual daily office, authorized for use in all parishes of the diocese, regardless of the time of day -- whether morning, midday, or evening. It would include an introduction ("God come to my assistance..."), an opening hymn tuned to whatever time of day it is being celebrated, a psalm of the liturgical season or day of the week, a reading from scripture or reflection from the Office of Readings, a morning or evening canticle (Benedictus or Magnificat), a designated sequence of intercessions or versicle/responses, the Lord's Prayer, and ending with the Collect of the Day, and final blessing or benediction. Provision would be made for a chanted or spoken setting, as well as the option for certain fixed prayers (the canticle or the Lord's Prayer) in Latin. If not ordained, the officiant would not be allowed to act from the sedilia (the priest's chair), but would use a bench and/or prie dieu off to the side.

As I said, I might be inclined... then again, I might not. Even as a bishop, in replacing the official text with one of my own, I must ask myself if I am leaving the situation better than I found it? Can I trust those responsible for compiling such a magnum opus to be on "the same page" as I? Will those who are lay officiants be competent to perform this task with optimum devotion and a minimum of improvisation? But most important, am I denying the faithful the opportunity to learn to pray as the Church prays, in favor of my own designs?

But hey, that's just me.

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