Thursday, April 02, 2009

The date of Easter ...

We had a meeting of Eucharistic ministers this evening. Well, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, as we are supposed to call them, though this is rather a mouthful. They renew their commitment next week, on Maundy Thursday, and we will also be admitting some new ministers.

But we have a problem. Several of the ministers, very well established members of the parish, cannot be here. It is not because they are working, or can't get transport, or because they have to look after children or an elderly relative. No, the reason they won't be here on Maundy Thursday is because they will be on holiday. In Holy Week. I have already been told by several altar servers that they will not be here in Holy Week - we will struggle with some of the ceremonies because of this. Another parishioner tells me that though she will be with us on Good Friday she won't be here for Easter because she too will be on holiday. In Turkey. Not much chance of her finding a Catholic Church there.

What can we do? The odd raised eyebrow and even the sarastic commdent has little impact. We are trying hard to recruit altar servers and ministers of the Eucharist, so striking them off because they are on holiday in Holy Week is not likely to be a fruitful course of action. Too late now, but I wondered whether way back at the end of last year I should have made a point of telling people not to plan to go away for Holy Week, or at least to make sure that they will going somewhere where they can be sure of finding a Catholic Church on Easter Day. Something to try and remember for the autumn.

Of course we do need some perspective and proportion in all this. Easter has always been a holiday time, and aren't holidays and holy days much the same thing? Should we begrudge the worker his or her break from toil?

Then I had another thought. In modern society - secularised and secularising society - there is often renewed consideration of the date of Easter, and in particular the unsettling effect which the variable date has on the routine or working life. In particular, schools often find an early or late Easter can make very long or very short spring and summer terms, and in the secondary school this can be very disruptive to the timetable of exam preparation. Every couple of years  we hear of local authorities making proposals for fixed length terms, the Easter weekend being only that, with the statutory days off for Good Friday and Easter Monday only.

And I have always been one of those who wailed in protest at this. It relegates the importance of Easter ... it is advanced secularisation ... it neglects the importance of Easter for the Catholic school.

But now I am beginning to wonder. If schools were usually working in Holy Week, there would be much less pressure for workplaces to have this as a holiday time too. People would not be naturally led to take holidays away over this holy season. And actually it may allow us to rediscover the Triduum, as the Long Easter Weekend, which would be given far greater precedence. And perhaps in this Catholic Schools could take a lead - at the very least by never allowing Holy Week to be a holiday week.

Otherwise, I am left only with the raised eyebrow, the sarcastic comment and the hopeless resolution to remember to mention something in the autumn.


Anonymous said...
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Paul said...

You're quite right, everyone is entitled to holidays, and maybe it's the only time they can get away. Nonetheless, it would be good to promote the importance of the Triduum from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Decided to repost this as there was a typo which made nonsense of it.

I thought we were supposed to call them 'Extraordinary Ministers of Holy communion' rather than 'Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist' as it is only the priest or Bishop who is the minister of the Eucharist?

tina said...

I lived in Turkey for two years and up the road from a Catholic Church, granted they are few and far between. Perhaps this parishioner is visiting Ephesus, which i highly recomend. Mary's house, which is also a church, is full of aw and wonder not to be missed. I would also recomend the Sofia Mosq. When you enter you don't feel that you are in a Mosq but transported back in time to when it was Christian. It still has all its frecos. Amazing to see!

Fr Peter said...

Elizabeth - oops, I think you are probably correct. I will have to check on this. In my defence I was at a meeting of priests recently at which the Bishop referred to 'Eucharistic Ministers' ... and that bishop is about to become Archbishop of Westminster ...

Tina - you are right - and I asked her if she will be anywhere near Ephesus ... she has no idea ..

Anonymous said...

GIRM 284 "When Communion is distributed under both kinds,

"a. The chalice is usually administered by a deacon or, when no deacon is present, by a priest, or even by a duly instituted acolyte or another extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or by a member of the faithful who in case of necessity has been entrusted with this duty for a single occasion."

§ 1. The canonical discipline concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must be correctly applied so as to avoid generating confusion. The same discipline establishes that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the Bishop, the Priest and the the Deacon.(96) Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are those instituted as acolytes and the faithful so deputed in accordance with Canon 230, § 3.(97)

Gopher MPH said...

re: Elizabeth's post

>>Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are those instituted as acolytes and the faithful so deputed

That does mean 2 different groups of people, yes? The deputed faithful (i.e., me) and the acolytes (i.e., not me) - right?

Although everyone in my last 3 parishes all just calls them "eucharistic ministers".

Sticking to "extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion" sounds odd. At least the bishops over here on this side of the Atlantic, have gotten on us about calling "Mass" the "Celebration of the Eucharist" and "Communion" is the "Eucharist". (No success on the former; minor success on the latter.) I'm surprised that, if they want to eliminate"communion" and install "eucharist", that they don't do it across the board.

Of course, if the other efforts have been successful, perhaps it's not worth the bother.

The US schools have "spring break" which I believe was originally supposed to coincide with Easter. It doesn't anymore. I'm at a large university, and the only Easter day we have off is Easter Sunday. :-)

Anonymous said...

Can't see why you need EMs anyway?

Agree about the holiday thing..some I know fly out to Tenerife every Good Friday!

Joe said...

But should Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (i) be considered as having made a "commitment" in the first place, since their role is "extroardinary", ie it is not a part of the vocation proper to them as lay people and (ii), if one grants that they have a "commitment" to renew or to make in the first instant, is the evening Mass of Maundy Thursday - primarily a celebration of the ordained ministry of the priest, and not of lay ministry - the right time to do it? A day of recollection, perhaps at about the time of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, seems to me to provide a more appropriate context.

This is not to say that there aren't situations where Extraordinary Ministers are needed, but it is to try to say something about how their status in the Church, and in their own spiritual lives, is understood.

Fr Peter said...
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Fr Peter said...

I've never had so many comments!

Elizabeth and GopherMPH: It seems to me there is a distinction between "Eucharist" and "Communion", as the former terms refers to the entire celebration and the latter perhaps more specifically to an aspect of it, but even this is not a secure distinction because we generally refer to the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (and of course to the Rite of Communion). Perhasp sometimes we can try and force too great a precision on terms that cannot (and perhaps don't need to) bear it.

Joe (and Jackie):
1. I do think that EMHC/EMs are often necessary and in any case important. For one thing using them at Mass means that the time for communion does not become disproportionately long. For another (he says with a little hesitation) I think they can affirm the importance of the laity in the entire celebration (though I concede there is a danger of them getting 'above their station'). I also think if we have EMs at all, the more people who do it the better - if it is just one or two people then it does appear to be something only for those who are specially worthy.

2. Commitment is not restricted to a vocation, and I really do need EMs who are not casual about this role but see it as a commitment - who turn up when they are on the rota, approach the role with reverence, attend training and days of recollection etc etc. This is not easy to achieve.

3. I must admit I've not reflected very much on the day for the EMs to renew their commitment. I've inherited a custom which I have been familiar with in two previous parishes. I don't think it is entirely inappropriate, I'm not quite convinced about that, but even so there are good reasons to consider alternatives. Holy Week is busy with lots of things and it may not be a bad idea to move the training and commitment thing to another time. Corpus Christi doesn't really present a viable alternative as this is our First Communion time. So, something to think about.

Gopher MPH said...

just a short story about the effect of using the laity as Eucharistic Ministers:

A cousin asked me to help with communion at her wedding, as she knew I already did this for my own parish. I agreed. I was taught that, when doing this, one ought to make it not only solemn, but also personal. So, if you know the person, include their name in offering them the Eucharist. "Julie, this is the body of Christ". Needless to say, I knew quite a few people; it was nice being able to do this. My mom comes up, and it was the only time in 43 years I have ever addressed her directly by her given name. "Mary Beth, this is the body of Christ". She later told me it was a very moving experience for her.

There can be benefits beyond the obvious 'avoid dragging Mass on'.

Anonymous said...

Oh my life! To mention their names! How unbearable! & as for time..' what on earth is the rush?'Thanks be to God haven't been to a EM ( even I was trained as one!) ever!

Fr Peter said...

I too am not altogether enthusiastic about using names, though can see that it could have purpose: in a mass with a small group, on a retreat or at the bedside of the sick or for a first communion, and perhaps a wedding ... but I think there are some problems. One is entirely practical: what if you get a name wrong, or don't know someone's name? It could be an excluding practice. Other reasons are perhaps more theological/liturgical: it seems to suggest that what is happening is a personal matter between the (ext) minister and the communicant, a bit like exchanging the peace - but it is Christ who is giving himself here, and the role of the minister, whoever that may be, is a matter of practical exigency. In other words, I think here the personal greeting might get in the way.

As for Jackie's point about using Eucharistic ministers to avoid prolonging the celebration - its not a matter of 'rushing' at all, but is all about proportion. There is no good reason I can see why the time of communion should be as long or longer than, say, the Liturgy of the Word or the Eucharistic prayer. That also would be - in a rather different way - to over individualise the celebration of the mass for giving undue focus to the reception of communion. I have to add that in many circumstances too it would lead to some members of the assembly becoming restless and foster chatting and other rather poor participation in the Mass.

Joe said...

Fr Peter,

I'v got a little list.

1. Is exchanging the sign of peace a personal matter between those concerned? If the sign of peace is associated with the penitential rite, or perhaps occurs just before the offertory, then it has the sense of putting things right with your neighbour before coming to make your offering at the altar. But as part of the Communion rite the meaning is precisely that of "the peace of Christ" being offered from one person and recieved by the other - from priest to ministers in the sanctuary, from one person to another in the congregation. It has an objectivity, and to introduce a sense of "personal" (in the sense of subjective) derogates from the meaning of the sign of peace when it is located in the Communion rite.

2. Similarly, for the use of names when giving Holy Communion. This event has an objectivity, and the priest should not impose his own personality/subjectivity onto it by using people's names (which is the reality of what mostly happens when this is done). That extraordinary ministers were taught to do this suprises me. My question about the possibility of it being movingly appreciated by the person receiving Communion is: what is being appreciated, the reception of the Lord, or the friendliness of the minister? Clergy beware - I have been very, very close to "accidentally" kicking the shins of a priest who once did this to me. (And I did stand firmly on the toes of a priest once in my former capacity as an MC, so this is not an idle threat!)

3. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion affirming the importance of the laity in the entire celebration ... These ministers are "extraordinary" because what they do is not "proper" - ie it does not arise from their lay character, and from the lay character of their participation in the liturgy. In very principle, their use cannot affirm the importance of the laity in the celebration; quite the contrary, it fails to affirm it because they are taking on a role that is "proper" to the ordained minister, not to the laity. I would argue that it is the offertory that most clearly affirms the lay, specifically lay, participation of the congregation. This is where the lay mission of "making all things new in Christ" is represented. My own view is that the number of extraordinary ministers should be the smallest required to meet necessity.

4. The "commitment" to turn up when on the rota is not the sort of "commitment" (eg vows of marriage or religious profession) that defines a vocation in the Church. I think I would much prefer the idea of a blessing rather than a commitment and renewal of commitment.

Is this enough to keep the comments going?

Fr Peter said...

Wow! Amazing how a few words can generate so much comment.

To reply to Joe.

1. OK. This is a fair point. A subjective personal greeting is not what is meant at the peace, I agree. I was trying to make a distinction between the giving and receiving of communion and the exchange of the peace, when a name is often (and not improperly) used.

2. I agree - though I don't think my reaction against this is quite so strong!

3. Mmm I need to think about this more. Some first thoughts: number of ministers - there is a distinction to be drawn between the number of parishioners who are ministers and the number of ministers used in a particular celebration. I think the fewer people "allowed" to be EMHC the more select that group may feel - the more clericalised they become. I've supplied in parishes where only 'Bob' is allowed to assist with communion ... not good.
As for the distinction between extraodinary and proper which I follow, I'm afraid I remain to be fully convinced by the argument which follows from this ... but I'm reflecting.

4. Now here I disagree entirely. Why limit the use of the word 'commitment' only to refer to a vocation in the strictest sense? And surely the principal liturgical feature of a marriage is the nuptial blessing. So how is 'blessing' EMHCs somehow lesser than asking them to make a commitment?

A lot of commenting - but I wonder how many people are actually reading this debate. Is it a bit arcane? Please comment (!)

Anonymous said...

Fr Peter..' undue focus to the reception of Holy Communion '..err isn't that the point of the Mass?

Fr Peter said...

Reception of Communion - No I don't think that is the point of the Mass.
The Mass is the 'sacrifice of [Christ's] Body and Blood ... to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross through the ages till he should come again ...' (CCC 1323)

Let's not forget that in the practice of old rite non-communication was often the norm rather than the exception, and undoubtedly one reason for the development of EHMCs has been because now there is so much more emphasis on receiving communion - too much I think (though this is matter for another post). A lot of current issues - Eucharistic services, the decline in devotions and worship of the Eucharist outside Mass, the casuality which many approach communion, lack of preparation for the sacrament etc etc all have at their root an assumption that the point of the Mass is to receive communion, therefore it is 'my right' to do so. In fact, the Church requires us to attend Mass on days of obligation, but requires us to receive communion only once a year (CCC 1389). Indeed, we are 'warmly recommended' to prepare ourselves for Mass in such a way that we are able to receive each time we participate - it is 'in keeping' with the meaning of the Eucharist - but not 'the point' of it. (CCC 1388).

Anonymous said...

Oh I see Fr Peter...but even more so the point that Holy Communion is best administered by the sacred ministers ie our Priests & not EMs.

We are reminded often that only those in a state of grace should receive Our Lord & we have various helps for devotion by being able to kneel & receive on the tongue.