Holy Mass is no place to fight about liturgical form

Katrina Fernandez wrote a blog post at Patheos.com about her experience at Mass visiting a liberal parish: Denied Communion on the Tongue at My Grandmother’s Funeral… She writes a number of criticisms of the liturgical form used in this particular Mass. She also adds some criticisms about a conversation with the parish secretary. But her main point, mentioned in the title, is that the priest would only give Communion in the hand.

First, let me say that priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers are required to give out Communion on the tongue or in the hand, as the communicant chooses. The norms of the GIRM state: “The communicant may choose whether to receive the Body of Christ in the hand or on the tongue.”

So the priest erred by refusing to give Communion on the tongue. I suspect he was trying to impose a liberal agenda for liturgical form. This point seems clear from the rest of the description of the Mass in that blog post. But Fernandez is trying to impose a conservative agenda for liturgical form. And the fact that the priest has erred in some matters of liturgical form does not justify the terrible rant in the post by Katrina Fernandez.

For her own behavior when receiving Communion was also wrong. It is just as inexcusable to pick a fight with a priest over a point of liturgical form during Mass as it is for him to misuse liturgical form. He was wrong to refuse to give Communion on the tongue. But she was wrong to stand before the priest in Communion line and adamantly refuse to take Communion in the hand. She picked a fight with a priest during the funeral Mass of her grandmother. She writes about this priest: “And at my grandmother’s funeral is where you decide to make your little anti-trad point?” But the truth is that she decided to make her own little anti-liberal point her grandmother’s funeral.

She complains that the priest “was hap-happily giving out consecrated wheat pita to the rest of my non-Catholic family without a moment of instruction or notice in the program on why they shouldn’t receive.” But if her family is mostly non-Catholic, she could have taken a few moments to talk with them about not receiving Communion.

Based on her description, there seems to be some cause for valid criticism of this priest and his parish. But what is called for is a correction in moderate language with Christian charity. Instead, Fernandez lets loose a written rant expressing contempt, ridicule, rash judgment, and unrestrained condemnation. Her post is not a sound Catholic critique of problems with liturgical form. It is not an article of theology, nor a discussion of Christian belief and practice. It is sinful. This type of rant reflects badly on its author, and is contrary to Christ’s words and example in the Gospel:

[Matthew]
{5:39} But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil, but if anyone will have struck you on your right cheek, offer to him the other also.
{5:40} And anyone who wishes to contend with you in judgment, and to take away your tunic, release to him your cloak also.
{5:41} And whoever will have compelled you for one thousand steps, go with him even for two thousand steps.
{5:42} Whoever asks of you, give to him. And if anyone would borrow from you, do not turn away from him.
{5:43} You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and you shall have hatred for your enemy.’
{5:44} But I say to you: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. And pray for those who persecute and slander you.
{5:45} In this way, you shall be sons of your Father, who is in heaven. He causes his sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and he causes it to rain upon the just and the unjust.
{5:46} For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Do not even tax collectors behave this way?
{5:47} And if you greet only your brothers, what more have you done? Do not even the pagans behave this way?
{5:48} Therefore, be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

But Fernandez sees herself as a conservative Catholic and this priest was clearly a liberal Catholic. So she feels justified in judging him harshly, condemning him publicly, making exaggerated complaints against him, and essentially condemning the whole parish: “just drive right by St. Therese in Chesapeake. Simply make the sign of the cross and keep on driving. Don’t look back. Trust me.”

Unfortunately, in the Church today, on the controversy about liturgical form, some commentators speaks as if they were the secular participants of a hotly-contested political election. Mudslinging is the term used in political commentary for this type of rhetoric about the other party and their point of view. Far too many Catholics treat religious controversy in the same way that secular society treats political controversy. The other side is fair game for all manner of intemperate accusations and exaggerated complaints, without charity or mercy or love or humility or even a concern for accuracy and honesty.

This type of attitude is increasingly found among some conservative and many traditionalist Catholics, especially in the controversy on liturgical form. They decide what is and is not correct form. If a Bishop, or Bishops’ Conference, or the Pope decides in a way contrary to their own judgment, they assume their own view to be correct. Who decides what is and is not best about every detail of the Mass? Does not the Church have authority in the area? But some Catholics have decided that their own judgment on liturgical form is inerrant. They are self-righteous on matters of discipline. Whosoever disagrees will be subject to all manner of ridicule and contempt. And every possible exaggerated accusation is leveled at the perceived opposition. Some quotes of this type from Fernandez’ post:

“the absolute worst experience ever during mass”
“if sacrilege is your cup tea, boy oh boy, is this parish just for you”
“Sacrilege schmacrilege.”
“This parish has absolutely no understanding of the sacraments.”
“I blame the pastor of this parish for so miserably failing his congregation and not teaching them about the sacraments.”

This priest seems to deserve a mild criticism for his misuse of liturgical form. He does not deserve utter condemnation, nor contempt and ridicule. The entire tenor of Fernandez’ post is uncharitable, and her words are hypocritical:

“My hopeful outcome to this whole miserable situation would be that this parish receives a greater respect for the Eucharist…. And of course, that this priest never, ever publicly shame and humiliate another Catholic for wanting to kneel during the consecration or receive on the tongue.”

She herself showed disrespect for the Eucharist by picking a fight with the priest when offered Communion. The priest did err by not giving her Communion on the tongue. But it should have been an opportunity for her to go the extra mile and turn the other cheek. She should have simply received in the hand; to do so is not immoral in the least. Instead, she chose to contend with the priest, while he was handing out Communion, in order to make the point that she understands liturgical form better than he does, to make the point that the conservative version of liturgical form is right and the liberal version is wrong.

She herself publicly shamed and humiliated another Catholic, specifically a priest, for preferring a liberal version of liturgical form over a conservative version. The hypocrisy and lack of self-examination is stunning. She is like the Pharisee berating the publican before God in the temple:

[Luke]
{18:10} “Two men ascended to the temple, in order to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.
{18:11} Standing, the Pharisee prayed within himself in this way: ‘O God, I give thanks to you that I am not like the rest of men: robbers, unjust, adulterers, even as this tax collector chooses to be.
{18:12} I fast twice between Sabbaths. I give tithes from all that I possess.’
{18:13} And the tax collector, standing at a distance, was not willing to even lift up his eyes to heaven. But he struck his chest, saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
{18:14} I say to you, this one descended to his house justified, but not the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee who complains to God about the sins of others is not justified. The tax collector who admits his sins and repents is justified before God. Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees, repeatedly, in the Gospels for their excessive emphasis on exterior discipline over love of God and neighbor. These little battles among Catholics on liturgical form are not pleasing to God. In Christian charity and obedience to the Church, we should accept whatever disciplines the Pope and the Bishops decide, without contentiousness.

May God have mercy on us poor sinners, in need of repentance, conversion, and healing.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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