Blessings during Communion

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 28C

One thing that all my classmates in Rome noticed about going to Mass in Italy is that the Italians don’t go up for Communion the same way as Americans. I don’t think it even occurred to most of us that there could be any other way but to proceed up, row by row, in an orderly fashion.

In many parts of Italy, as the priest consumes the host, people start to make their way to the front from any and all parts of the church. So whether the person was seated in the front, back, somewhere in between, or if they had just been walking around in the church until Communion time, everyone proceeds up for Communion pretty much whenever they feel like it, and if you’re not proactive, you might be the last one to receive even though you sat in the front row. Some people are more critical of this method, but I appreciate that it makes it less obvious for those who choose to abstain from Holy Communion, and it doesn’t pressure people into going forward when they would rather stay in their seat.

This past weekend, I had training for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in Hoven, and the question always comes up of what is supposed to happen for those who come forward at Communion time but can’t receive or don’t want to receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion at that Mass. In the Roman Rite, blessings are not given while the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, except in formal Benediction by a priest or deacon with his own hands covered by a humeral veil. So while Communion is being distributed, any words or gestures resembling a blessing should be avoided. This also avoids duplicating the blessing that is conferred on all who are gathered as part of the Concluding Rites of the Mass.

I realize this is different from the customs that both you and I have witnessed in many places. I also know that many young children come up and don’t know quite what to do and can just sort of freeze at the front of the line. Even adults expect something to happen as a sort of cue to let them know to move along. So for those who come forward without receiving, I’ve instructed the Extraordinary Ministers to try and make eye contact and to say something in the form of a greeting (such as “God be with you,” “Peace be with you,” or “The Spirit of Christ be with you”) without touching the person and without making the Sign of the Cross. I tried this out last Sunday, and both kids and adults seemed to catch on really quickly. I thank you for your patience as we try something different and work towards greater consistency.

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