Nil by mouth – the controversy over Communion on the tongue: a compromise?

A couple of weeks ago Elizabeth Harrington, writing as the Education Officer for the Liturgical Commission of the archdiocese of Brisbane, penned an article in the diocesan tabloid, The Catholic Leader, on the issue of the reception of Holy Communion in the hand. It ignited a small bushfire of controversy. Kate at Australia Incognita was tersely unimpressed, and the brethren at Cooees in the Cloister were roused out of a relatively lethargic summer to fisk vigorously Ms Harrington’s article in some detail. And just recently Rorate Caeli has stepped into the fray to take issue with a particular assertion made by Ms Harrington.

Now that the dust is settling, we might look afresh at the issue. To be sure, Ms Harrington’s article, being from someone in an official ecclesiastical position, was unfortunate to say the least, and largely unhelpful to the cause she was championing. It was a reactive article, prompted by her clear displeasure at an online petition started by two Victorian priests, which asks the Holy Father to abolish Communion in the hand, and restore Communion on the tongue as the sole proper means for receiving the Host. The heat of outrage rarely produces the best, clearest or most coherent arguments, as she proves with her article.

Ms Harrington’s case for Communion on the hand

Early in her article she quotes the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM, to wit, #161), that the choice of how to receive the Host is the communicant’s alone, and that “(n)o minister may dictate whether communicants receive in the hand or on the tongue”.

Two problems arise immediately. First, in the very next sentence she declares that

Receiving Communion on the tongue when the majority receive in the hand disrupts the unity that uniformity of posture and practice at Communion symbolises and builds.

Communion on the handThis rather stunningly contradicts her previous approving reference to GIRM by effectively dictating that communicants ought not to receive on the tongue when others are receiving in the hand. But apart from this logical flaw, there is another problem, less obvious if one does not read the paragraph in GIRM she refers to, namely #161. If you do read it you will see that it makes no assertive declarations about a minister having no right to dictate how a communicant receives. It does say that a communicant should receive the Host “either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand”. The tone of this section is not as Ms Harrington would make it out to be. Yes, it does allow a communicant to decide to receive in the hand, but there is a caveat of sorts – “where this is allowed”. Here is a clue to something we will return to in the next blog entry: Communion in the hand is a concession, an exception to the general and centuries-old rule that the Host is received normally on the tongue, and it is an exception granted rather unwillingly by Pope Paul VI to bishops’ conferences which requested it. Ms Harrington would seemingly wish to make this exception the rule.

As the article goes on, things do not improve. She asserts that Communion on the tongue is “unhygenic”, because it is difficult for ministers to avoid passing on to communicants others’ saliva. Rorate Caeli took exception to this un-substantiated assertion, and quoted a response made by the American Society of St Pius X. They make the valid point that in the pre-conciliar liturgy there were clear and specific rubrics on how to receive the Host on the tongue, which if followed would ensure no physical contact between the priest’s hand and the communicant’s mouth. Indeed, they point out, there is more physical contact in the process of giving the Host in the hand. We have seen the priest purify his fingers; but has the extraordinary minister of the Eucharist (if there is one) done so? they ask (and in some places, they do, deo gratias). Moreover, if saliva is the issue, then surely (they state with good reason) the shared chalice provides far more opportunity for the faithful to share in each other’s saliva; this is especially so if the chalice is not purified adequately after each communicant.

If she makes an argument for anything, Ms Harrington is providing one for restricting the use of Extraordinary Minsters of the Eucharist (“Extraordinary” clearly implying they are meant to be an exception allowed in time of pressing, extraordinary, need, another exception that has become a rule in too many places). If they are not trained to distribute Communion properly, then they should not be allowed to do so. One woman has decided now that if she is forced to receive from an extraordinary minister, she will receive on the hand given the obvious confusion of the ministers at her parish when faced with administering the Host in the tongue.

And if communicants do not know how to receive the Host on the tongue properly, then they should be instructed how to do so. It is not hard. Even Ms Harrington makes the same point. Perhaps those who make a meal of it (no pun intended) have been made nervous by the palpable opprobrium of those around them, who (like Ms Harrington) feel they are “disrupt(ing) the unity that uniformity of posture and practice at Communion symbolises and builds”. Which begs the question, is the unity of the congregation really built just on uniformity of posture and practice; or is the paramount constituent of unity not rather faith in Christ into whose death we are baptized and whose Body and Blood we receive and so continue more and more to become?

Real Presence(s)!

If faith is the prime building block of a congregation’s unity, a baptismal faith communally proclaimed and renewed in the Creed, then we cannot ignore faith in the real presence of Christ in the sacred species of the Host and the Chalice. Ms Harrington has thought of this point and has sought to muddy the issue by asserting that

Christ is present in several special ways at Mass apart from in the consecrated elements, for example in the assembly which gathers. We “touch” Christ in these other manifestations, so it would be inconsistent not to be able to take Christ under the form of bread in our hands. The bread which becomes the body of Christ is described in the liturgical texts as “work of human hands”. There is nothing unworthy about our hands. After all, we use them to do Christ’s work. As St Teresa said, “Christ has no other hands but yours”.

This is an old chestnut, and one really that is so dis-credited it is embarrassing to see it employed yet again. The four modes of the presence of Christ in the Mass (the priest, the people, the scriptural Word and the sacred species) are here simplistically, and erroneously, equated. In enumerating this four-fold presence of Christ the Second Vatican Council stated clearly though briefly (considering it to be so well-established in the the Church’s understanding that it needed no elaboration) that Christ is present “especially under the Eucharistic species” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #7 – emphasis mine). To clear up any doubt about the primacy of the Real Presence, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does elaborate:

The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

Could it be clearer? The presence of Christ in the scriptural Word, the priest and the congregation is a spiritual and intangible presence. In the Host and Chalice it is a real presence in the proper sense of the word – it is a substantial presence, a physical presence. The sacred species are Christ “himself wholly and entirely present”.

So the issue is not, as Ms Harrington alleges, the supposed unworthiness of our hands. We are all ultimately unworthy of the Mystery, even the priest. If we were already worthy then there would be no need for the Eucharist in the first place. St Paul was clear about the righteousness that comes only from God to those who have faith in him:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

The Eucharist is a crucial part of the process by which the Christ, through his Church and its sacraments, is making us worthy of him, of allowing us to obtain the righteousness that only he can give. This is grace, and we can do or merit nothing without it.

Rather, at the heart of this issue is faith. If we truly believe that Christ is wholly, entirely and substantially present in the Host and the Chalice, then surely that faith must find expression in our behaviour. As human persons our bodies must express what our minds hold to be true and important; our interior conviction must be mirrored in our exterior disposition. Otherwise our faith is lacking integrity.

Ms Harrington blithely, and distressingly, asserts that “(i)t was only later that over-emphasis on Christ’s divinity and on human sinfulness led to a ban on people receiving Communion in the hand”. The only possible “over-emphasis on Christ’s divinity” would be to deny his humanity. But there would be no Eucharist without his humanity; it is only because he first took a human body that he can make that body sacramentally and substantially present in the Eucharist. Faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist is itself faith in his humanity. It is more likely that the Host came to be received kneeling and on the tongue out of a strengthened faith in the real presence of Christ in the Host, a result of the development of our understanding of the mystery. Moreover, the practice of the early Church is hardly ipso facto a template for practice now. If so, the light penances of modern confession would have to yield to the years-long public penances of the early Church, and the solemn and public rituals of reconciliation she employed.

The practice of the early Church

The last Communion of St JeromeSo indeed Communion was administered into the hands of the faithful in the early Church. But earlier than is often claimed today, the practice of Communion on the tongue was introduced. Pope St Leo the Great (in his commentary on John’s gospel) and Pope St Gregory the Great (in his Dialogues), popes of the 5th and 6th centuries, give clear indications that they administered Communion on the tongue. But given that Communion was for a time given on the hand, do we take it that the modern practice reflects that of the early Church? A little research makes it all too obvious that, on the whole, it does not reflect the early Church’s practice when receiving Communion on the hand.

One of the more distressing sights at Mass now is to see people coming up and receiving the Host as if it were a corn chip (and grasping and swilling from the Chalice as if it were a beer after work). What sort of faith does that sort of body language betray? Yet in the early Church it was not like this. Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his book, Dominus Est!, provides some telling examples. St Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) exhorted his flock to

take care not to lose part of It [the Body of the Lord]. Such a loss would be a mutilation of your own body. Why, if you had been given gold-dust, would you not take the utmost care to hold it fast, not letting a grain slip through your fingers, lest you be so much the poorer? How much more carefully, then, will you guard against losing so much as a crumb of that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?

His point is clear. If you have faith that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church’s most precious possession, then surely you should treat it as such. He goes on to cite examples of an equally strong concern for the least particle of the Host in the writings of Tertullian, Origen, and St Jerome. Moreover he quotes a particularly eastern Father, St Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD), who wrote

That which I have now given you, says Jesus, do not consider bread, do not trample underfoot even the fragments. The smallest fragment of this Bread can sanctify millions of men and is enough to give life to all who eat It.

In the same vein Schneider quotes the rubrics of the Coptic Liturgy, which evince a zeal for protecting the sacred species from falling to the ground and profanation.

Indeed this clear concern of the Fathers of the Church for the protection of the sacred species down to the least fragment, lest it be trod underfoot (a common specific fear), rather suggests that this, in fact, was an occurrence that was more common than was desirable. Thus the need for exhortations and reminders to be careful with the Lord’s Body. Could this have been a major factor in the transition to Communion on the tongue in both the eastern and western branches of the Church? Perhaps receiving in the hand was soon seen as more dangerous for the sacred species, and more conducive to a laxity in faith.

This is all the more worrying for us today when it is remembered that these early Christians did not simply stand in line as in a bread queue, receive the Host and head back to their places. Schneider gives clear evidence that the faithful washed their hands both before and after receiving Communion, and bowed in adoration before receiving it. Theodore of Mopsuestia even exhorts his flock to kiss the Host before consuming it. St John Damascene in his De Fide Orthodoxa, instructed Christians to compose their hands in the form of a cross to receive “the body of the Crucified One”.

A Happy Compromise?

In the next blog entry we will briefly look at the process by which Communion in the hand came to pass in so many countries (though not all). For now, perhaps we might adopt a compromise that would allow those who are committed to receiving in the hand to do so peacefully and without risking scandal to those who have found the practice disturbing thus far.

Ms Harrington herself gives the clue to the compromise when she refers approvingly to St Cyril of Jerusalem’s instruction to his catechumens:

When you come forward for Communion, do not draw near with your hands wide open or with fingers spread apart; instead, with you left hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King. Receive the body of Christ in the hollow of your hand and give the response: Amen.

The unwary miss it the first time reading this passage. St Cyril tells his flock to make a “throne” with their hands. It is clearly a deliberate and careful posture, meant to show great reverence. But there is more. Schneider (p.38) quotes the ancient canons of the Chaldean Church which, strikingly, forbade the priest from using his fingers to put the Host in his mouth. He was directed to consume it straight from his palm, to signify clearly that the Host was not ordinary but “heavenly food”.

That this unusual and striking canon was included clearly implies that in the early Church the laity did not use their fingers to place the Host in their mouths: they consumed it straight form the palm. Many Anglican converts still receive this way, and it is most edifying. Usually they will also lick or gently suck on their palms to ensure that no fragment of the Host is left behind.

So might it not be a good and charitable thing to do for Christians who are committed for whatever reason to receiving Communion on the hand:

  1. To bow or genuflect before approaching the priest or deacon distributing Communion (when I was at my Jesuit school in the late 1970s/early 80s, we were taught to genuflect when we reached number three in line);
  2. To place the left hand over the right in the form of a cross, cupping them slightly to make a throne, or for the Christmas-hearted, a crib;
  3. To bring the Host on the palm straight up to one’s mouth, licking or gently sucking on the palm to ensure no fragment is left;
  4. Before walking off, to make a sign of reverence for the holy food just received, the sign of the cross being the obvious one. Any appearance of rushing at Communion time is to be avoided at all costs. We can spare the Lord a few more minutes, surely.

If all who did not receive on the tongue were to do this then perhaps we might find that faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist might be the stronger, and the more obvious. Such a witness could only benefit us all. I suspect it is only when we pay due reverence to his Real Presence in the Eucharist that we might be able to pay the proper reverence to Christ’s spiritual presence in our neighbour.

As mentioned above, next time we will look at the introduction of the modern concession for reception of Communion on the hand.

And do not forget to read the Catechism!

Table Manners: distributing & receiving Holy Communion

As many have suggested, the revised English translation of the Roman Missal is about more than a change in words. Pope Benedict himself confirmed this when he addressed the bishops of England and Wales at Oscott College during his state visit last year:

I encourage you now to seize the opportunity that the new translation offers for in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist and renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration.

His logic is clear: the more we understand about the changes in the translation of the Mass, and indeed the more we understand about the Eucharistic Sacrifice and its celebration, the more able we are to renew and further enrich our celebration of the Mass, the greatest mission of the Church on earth. Some of us, both priests and laity, have been working away to the best of our ability to promote this catechesis the Pope has encouraged. In the course of that catechesis it is no surprise then that questions arise as to the manner of our celebration of the Mass. Last Saturday I gave a day workshop on the Missal to a group of about 25 people who came for the day from several counties. Several of them asked what the changes might entail for the role of Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

This question proved to be very timely. On 21 September, the Diocese of Phoenix (USA) announced that it intended to implement new norms for receiving and distributing Holy Communion “in keeping with new universal Church standards for the distribution of Communion”. The announcement makes reference to the experimental privileges granted in 1975 to the Church in the UK, USA and Oceania, allowing for distribution of Holy Communion under both forms, that is the Host and the Chalice. These privileges expired in 2005 and have not been renewed. The US bishops’ new norms of June 2011, in line with the General Instruction on the Roman Missal – 2002 (GIRM), restrict the reception of the chalice even though it has become a de facto norm in many parts of the Church in America.

So far, finding an online version of the new norms of June 2011 per se has proved impossible. The US bishops’ website has a page on the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds. In its section on when Holy Communion may be distributed under both kinds it states:

23. The revised Missale Romanum, third typical edition, significantly expands those opportunities when Holy Communion may be offered under both kinds. In addition to those instances specified by individual ritual books, the General Instruction states that Communion under both kinds may be permitted as follows:
(a) for priests who are not able to celebrate or concelebrate
(b) for the deacon and others who perform some role at Mass
(c) for community members at their conventual Mass or what in some places is known as the “community” Mass, for seminarians, [and] for all who are on retreat or are participating in a spiritual or pastoral gathering

24. The General Instruction then indicates that

“the diocesan Bishop may lay down norms for the distribution of Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which must be observed. . . . The diocesan Bishop also has the faculty to allow Communion under both kinds, whenever it seems appropriate to the priest to whom charge of a given community has been entrusted as [its] own pastor, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of the profanation of the Sacrament or that the rite would be difficult to carry out on account of the number of participants or for some other reason.

In practice, the need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary ministers might in some circumstances constitute a reason either for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species or for using intinction instead of distributing the Precious Blood from the chalice.”

So the US bishops are saying that, experimental privileges having now expired, they are implementing the norms contained in GIRM, and thus acting in concert with the rest of the universal Church. GIRM limits the reception of the chalice (GIRM #283) to the three instances listed above and to those listed in the “ritual books”. Since those instances are not listed it might be helpful to note them here. The ritual books state that both forms of Holy Communion may be offered at:

  1. the Chrism Mass and the Mass of Corpus Christi
  2. to a Catholic couple at their nuptial Mass
  3. to first communicants and their Catholic family members at the First Communion Mass
  4. to confirmation candidates and their sponsors at the Confirmation Mass
A parish priest may also, but does not have to, offer both species of Holy Communion on the parish’s patronal feast day and on the anniversary of the parish church’s dedication, and on other major solemnities as long as the conditions are met, namely that

1) The faithful have been well instructed (especially on the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist), and
2) There is no danger of the profanation of the Sacrament or that the rite would be difficult to carry out on account of the number of participants, or for some other reason.

Given that we are looking specifically at the United States, though the US bishops base themselves squarely on GIRM, two universally-relevant issues can be discerned, namely (1) the reverent reception of Holy Communion, and (2) the role of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

Probably most churches are not logistically suited to distributing Holy Communion under both species to large numbers of people. Usually we find a bottleneck forming around the ministers of the chalice given that the Host is received more quickly than the chalice. Then there usually follows awkward shuffling as communicants try to find somewhere to stand so as not to block the return to their pews of those not wishing to receive the chalice. It is hard to be recollected and reverent in such a situation.

This is not even to begin to consider the actual way in which Extraordinary Ministers (EMHC) distribute Holy Communion and the way in which individuals receive it. Last Saturday we discussed such deplorable actions as the EMHC using the name of the communicant when distributing Holy Communion. This is expressly forbidden for two very good reasons. The first is that using names reduces the act of receiving Holy Communion to a special moment between two individual people, when it is in fact a special moment between the communicant and the Lord. The second is that, given that the EMHC will not know the name of every communicant in the vast majority of cases, the use of names for those who are known to the EMHC acts to exclude, at least psychologically, those who are not known, such as visitors. This is precisely what must be avoided at Holy Communion: any arbitrary distinction between the special and the ordinary, the local and the outsider, whether it is intended or not. All are equal before the Sacrament of Unity.

Which brings us to the role of the EMHC, the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. As commonplace as it has become to see several EMHCs at many a Sunday Mass, such a development is problematic. As noted by the US bishops above, an excessive use of EMHCs tends to blur the distinction between priest/deacon and the people. The priest and deacon (if there is one) are the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion. That is, they are the normal and usual ministers of Holy Communion in the normal run of parish life. EMHCs are by their very title, extraordinary. They assist in the extraordinary situations envisaged by GIRM. The use of EHMCs every Sunday renders them effectively the ordinary ministers along with the ordained. It used to be that only those whose hands were consecrated for the purpose could touch the Sacred Host. Since the Church envisaged that the modern large parish would, on occasion, have need to distribute Holy Communion under both kinds on special days, an exception was made to allow properly trained and commissioned people to distribute Holy Communion along with the clergy. As so often happens, the exception has become the norm in many places.

This is not to disparage individual EMHCs. Most of them are edifying Catholics. They perform invaluable assistance outside the Mass by bringing Holy Communion to the sick and housebound. In a parish with only one priest (or for some parishes now, no priest) they do meet an extraordinary need which is of great consolation to so many faithful. This extra-liturgical function of the EMHC needs to be more acknowledged and promoted.

There are other issues of concern. One lady at the workshop last Saturday raised the case of a young female EMHC at her parish who was clothed (or unclothed!) in way unsuitable for Mass itself, let alone the distribution of Holy Communion. I suspect this young lady has no real idea of her role and how to perform it properly. It certainly weakens the sacred impact of receiving Holy Communion, providing at the very least a distraction, and for many I suspect a moment of temptation. Then there is also the issue of those places, most often in the USA, where EHMCs don little capes or tippets, or even albs, to advert to the role they are about to perform. While this may promote the EMHC’s preparation and sense of recollection, it has the unnecessary side effect of almost clericalising the laity. No special clothing is needed for the EMHC, only reverent secular clothing. There is, however, much to be said for some rite of washing the hands of EMHCs as a preparation for their duty.

Another live issue is whether the EMHC can give a blessing. Certainly at the abbey we have a number of those who cannot or wish not to receive Holy Communion, and when they come up they are blessed by the priest or deacon (there being sufficient we have no need for EHMCs). So when such a person comes to a lay EMHC, the temptation is strong for the extraordinary minister to offer a blessing as does the ordained minister. Such situations are so common that in the Diocese of Madison (USA) the issue of lay EMHCs giving blessings was addressed. Needless to say, it is forbidden. The offering of a sacramental blessing is reserved to the ordained minister. EMHCs are not quasi-clergy. That said, the EMHC is allowed to make a prayer for blessing, though the gestures used by ordained ministers are not to be used. As the Madison article makes clear, one does not need to come forward to receive Holy Communion or a blessing to be participating in the Mass.

Some points for Reflection

Given that the revised translation of the Roman Missal is not just a matter of the words we speak, but also the way we celebrate our Masses and our understanding of that celebration, we might give special consideration to the manner in which we receive and, indeed, distribute Holy Communion.

Pope Benedict gives CommunionThe Holy Father now distributes Holy Communion to communicants who are kneeling and receive on the tongue. As with his use of the altar crucifix (as liturgical east) he is intending, among other things, to set an example to all the Church. In receiving Christ’s Body and Blood, we are most definitely not receiving bread and wine. We receive Christ himself, our Lord and Creator. That truth should be reflected not only in our words but in our bodies, since we worship as full human persons, body and soul. One of the great marks of its authenticity is that the worship of the Catholic Church (as well as that of the Orthodox and Orientals) engages the whole human person: the intellect, the soul, the bodily senses. Christian life is centred on becoming a new creation in Christ, putting on Christ in our minds and in our bodies. The sacrifice of praise that every Christian is called to make is not one merely of mind and words, but also our bodies, which is, as St Paul says, our spiritual worship (cf Romans 12:1-2).

So our bodies should reflect the truth grasped by our minds, that Christ is present before us in the Sacrament. As our God, we adore him, we kneel before him. Dare we even handle such a Mystery unless we have to? I have heard some object to receiving on the tongue that it is infantile, reducing mature Christians to children. I am not sure that worshipping and reverencing God can be infantile, but even if it is, did not our Lord address his disciples as “little children” (eg John 13:33), and taught that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we must become as little children (Matthew 18:3-4). Yet it is possible to receive on the hand reverently, though it is more difficult. Some, especially Anglican converts, make, as it were, a kind of cradle of their hands, and they press the Host laid therein to their mouths without fingering the Host. That offers due respect to the Host and is thoroughly edifying. So it would be no bad thing if all of us were to renew the way we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, and so renew our faith in that Mystery.

A convert from Lutheranism has made a proposal about the way we approach to receive Holy Communion. He finds the shop-queue approach unhelpful and indeed disruptive. Since a return to altar rails is not widely practical, he makes another suggestion as to how we might approach to receive, one that avoids the queue and the rush associated with it, and fosters recollection and reverence. It is worth the read. Very often converts to Catholicism have insights that would enrich all the Church.

As the American bishops have highlighted, especially the Bishop of Phoenix, the revised Missal has ramifications in other areas of our worship, and for those who perform liturgical roles. Music is one example; the role of the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion is another. Now that the experimental privileges of frequent Communion under both kinds have expired, we are called not only to renew our understanding of the Sacrament (in particular that the whole Christ, Body and Blood, is contained in the Host), but to renew also our understanding of those ministries involved in it till now. Since the GIRM limits those occasions when Communion under both kinds can be offered to solemn and significant occasions, the liturgical role of EMHCs will now be much reduced. It will be sad if some protest this as in infringement of their rights, for there is no right to any ministry in the Church. All ministry is service, and thus a privilege, not a right. And with privilege comes responsibility. In the case of EHMCs, they are called to serve as and when the Church’s law and the parish priest’s need determine.

That said, a true and invaluable service EMHCs perform is to bring Holy Communion to the sick and the housebound. With so few priests, and so many Catholics, few priests could perform this service without sacrificing some other aspect of their ministry. EMHCs are almost indispensable here. Of course it is a less visible service, less noticed by the majority. But it is a service highly valued by those who are thereby enabled to receive the Lord’s Body, and so strengthened in their communion with both Christ and his Church. Here, one suspects, in this extra-liturgical role lies the future of the EMHC.

The new Missal is more than a renewal of words; it invites a renewal of the attitude with which we celebrate the sacred mysteries. With a renewed attitude we will find the changes in the Mass a source of blessing and consolation rather than confusion or consternation.