Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Receptionism Roman Style

(Below this top post you will find a piece for Ash Wednesday)

Upon reading the most recent analysis of Hooker's Eucharistic theology on this blog, my brother who is a Roman Catholic priest, and who was an Episcopal priest until 1996, pointed out a fact that is worth remembering. The teaching of Rome has its own form of what may be called Receptionism, because the consecration of the sacrament is not completed before the celebrant (at least) eats and drinks the communion. What Cranmer did, and what Hooker a generation later elucidated further, extends that to the members of the Body of Christ who are present and able to receive.

His response was interesting when I pointed out that, recently, one Church of England priest argued for the restoration of "non-communicating Masses" (which means, when the laity are not invited to receive) to emphasize sacrifice as, in that priest's opinion, the most important thing about the sacrament. "In that case," my brother replied, "he has offered no sacrifice."

With which I can only agree without reservation.


Anonymous said...

The habit of non-communicating Masses (that is the laity not communicating) hails from the days when there was a surplus of priests and they had masses to say in the side chapels. Since these were masses to fulfill obligations for Masses for the Dead or whatnot, no one really was around to attend and the priest kept his voice low so as not to disturb priests in other side chapels. On Sunday or holy days there was also the chance of a side chapel Mass interrupting or interfering with the main Mass. It would be an error for Romans to think that this is an ordinary or traditional practice that's worth reviving.
One of few positive things to say about the Novus Ordo is that it clears away some of the unnecessary "mysterious" practices that over the years were mistaken as being essential (e.g. silent recitation, if that's not an oxymoron) Unfortunately, the RCs threw the baby out with the bathwater and they've managed to gut the Mass of the genuine Mystery that is more than mere practice.
The Anglican priest's wires are crossed. Excluding the laity is not the way to emphasize the sacrificial nature of the Mass, a clear and obedient recitation of the text is. The sermon is a good occasion to teach about the sacrament. But deny laity communion? He's all wet.
Having said that, I don't think it is -necessary- to have the laity present or receive communion in order for the sacrament to be validly confected. It is -strongly preferred- since the nature of the prayer of the Church is public.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Right. I'm only critical of any refusal to give the sacrament to all present who are able to receive in a worthy manner.

Anglican priests are not supposed to celebrate if no one else is present, because the sacrifice is that of the whole Church, the entire Body of Christ being a priestly community (Rev. 1:6, 5:10 ἱερεύς), among whom specific men are ordained to represent the whole Body.

poetreader said...

Back in the '50s, when I was still a Lutheran, I attended a Solemn High Mass in a flagship AngloCatholic parish (I won't specify). It was intended to be a noncommunicating Mass. One lonely person came up to the rail at Communion time, and was being ignored until he shouted (so as to be heard over loud organ music, "Father!" The priest, rather reluctantly, opened the tabernacle to get one Host for him (he'd only consecrated his own). As a Lutheran I was scandalized that such a thing was possible. Today I'd sadly shake my head and think how much teaching that priest needed.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

That priest probably needed a secular job, and shirts made for ties instead of collars. If only an indelible laying off of hands were possible.

By the way, when I speak disparagingly about Ritual Notes, it is because it gives instructions on how to do non-communicating masses and "dumb massings." That is, it includes instructions on how to shut up the Kingdom of heaven against men, with stylish choreography.

The man who yelled and refused to be turned away without cause, was entirely right. The violent take the Kingdom of God by force. I think of blind Bartimaeus not letting the crowd silence him. He wanted Jesus Christ to heal him, and the Lord was pleased to do so.

Anonymous said...

I believe that solitary Masses, although widely practiced, were never really legal in the Roman Church. The canonical phrase was "prohibitum strictissime." I have heard a story (from a Roman profesor of liturgics, no less) of a Dominican priest who was scrupulous on the point and made an inquiry of the Congregation of Rites (predecessor of the Congregation of Divine Worship). Their response was that as long as someone else was present in or near the building (the janitor, secretary in the office, kids shooting baskets in the school-yard), the priest was not really alone and not breaking the law.

When RC priests were on retreat, they would sometimes pair off and take turns celebrating and serving deach other's Masses, back to back. It was rubrically expected that someone would be there to make the responses.

The Novus Ordo Sacramentary gives two forms of celebration, one with a congregation, one without. But even in the latter instance, the rubrics require the assistance of a "minister."

It is necessary to remember the distinction between a "private Mass" (called Missa Privata, which is only the rubrical name for a Mass Deprived of full ceremonial, in other words, a Low Mass) and a solitary mass, which is the correct name for a strictly solo celebration. As M pointed out, this dubious practice hardly shows a sound doctrine of sacrifice. I agree with M that the Anglo-Papalist writer is confused. Anglo-papalists generally yearn for a "Rome" which exists only in their teeming imagination. That's probably why they never go there.

Anonymous said...

Poetreader: The despicable behaviour you were forced to witness is the reason our Prayer Book has the "sufficient opportunity" rubric on page 82--a rubric not found in the English Prayer Book of 1662 but in our American Prayer Book at least as early as 1892. Cannot say about the 1789 book.

poetreader said...

Fr. Wells.

You are correct, that rubric was introduced for the 1892 book and did not occur in 1789. I just checked.

On your observations about the RCC practice. It is required that there be someone to give the responses, unless special faculties have been obtained for a solitary celebration. St. Charles de Foucald (sp?) went, as a priest, to a remote spot in the Sahara, with not another Christian for hundreds of miles. He went some years without being able to celebrate Mass until he finally (apparently with difficulty) obtained such permission.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post and comments.

The Lord said "eat" and "drink." Surely these are an integral part of the "do this in 're-memberance' of me."

Anonymous said...

I believe that, before my time, in some spiky parishes, it was normal to commnicate at 8 a.m., and then come back after breakfast for Mattins and High Mass, at which the congregation did not communicate because:

1. those who wanted to had had sufficient opportunity at 8; and
2. all had by that time probably had breakfast.

No value judgement intended here: as I say, it's before my time and I wasn't brought up with it. I'm a Low Mass type myself, anyway.

As to Roman 'Receptionism': surely the difference is that when the priest consumes his portion, the consecration of the whole batch is completed, whereas with real 'Receptionism' the reception completes the consecration of the individual portion. In the former, reception by the priest is an essential part of the ritual; in the latter, one is left wondering whether, if one offers any adoration to what is left over, one is adoring our Lord present in the Sacrament, or merely something that has the capacity to become the body and blood of our Lord when rightly consumed. I'm not making any value judgments and I'm not being an apologist for Rome. Just suggesting that the 'receptionist' label may not be appropriate.

poetreader said...


1/ I also was a bit uncomfortable with the 'receptionist label here, for the reasons you bring up. I didn't so comment as I felt Fr. Hart's main points, which were the meat of the posting, were what deserved attention.

2/ Your observation about AC practice and the reasons advanced for it is quite accurate. I have to make a value judgment, however, as I did 'back in the day'. If everyone has already received, or, it is asserted, should have so done at 8, then the celebrant either has or should have as well. What then is the purpose of this Mass? Everyone present has already offered the Holy Sacrifice. Unless one puts a value upon the endless multiplication of Masses, the noncommunicating High Mass is merely an elaborate show - not actually much different from the entertainment based 'worship' of the megachurches - though with the added complication that this could be seen as a misuse of the Body and Blood of Christ - no small matter. The other point of having had breakfast - well, fasting communion is an excellent discipline, but it is just that, discipline, NOT doctrine, and the priest is doing some prejudging he is not entitled to do. Are there prospective communicants who have ibserved the fast from midnight in order to receive at High Mass? Is this something that can be rightly forbidden? Are there those, like me, who prefer fasting communion, but, for medical reasons, cannot practice it? What right does a priest have to refuse the Sacrament simply because he thinks someone may not have followed the disciplinary rules?


Anonymous said...

Indeed, Ed, if you get up late enough you can go fasting even to 11.

I am highly in sympathy with you: it looks High Camp rather than High Church, as Canon Tallis (I think) would put it. (Love that; I've taken it on board.) It is also part of the demise of public Mattins. The High Camp brigade, for whom 'the Mass is the centre of parish life', soon make the Mass 'the only thing the parish need do by way of public worship', and the public office gets chucked. There, value judgments creeping in . . .

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Is a solitary Mass theologically justifiable or licit?

Taking the second aspect first, Rome has effectively said yes for cases of relative necessity (i.e., a mass should be said and it quite impossible to get any congregants, assistants or communicants) for over a millenium. The East has allowed isolated monk-priests in certain circumstances to do the same, as I understand it, though this is rare. Despite the Prayer Books' requirements for other communicants, faculties have been given officially or unofficially by Anglican Bishops to over-rule this local regulation with the broader tradition.

As for theology, Mascall makes an argument for these Masses which is worth looking at. My own view is that while "communion" both with Christ and His mystical Body, the Church, are indispensable and indivisible parts of the Mass, the physical presence of other living communicants, while a much better sign of this, is not absolutely essential to this double dimension of communion. Why? Because the One Bread of which we partake is in fact already one with all other "Hosts" at every Eucharist throughout the world, past and present, so that we are never really communicating alone if we are priests saying a solitary Mass, nor even only communicating in fellowship with the One Body physically present when there are other communicants. 1 Corinthians 10.17 must have this translocal, deeper meaning as well as the more obvious one, if we take its language seriously. Similarly, we partake of Christ (and worship through His intercessory self-offering) in communion with the Church Expectant and Triumphant at every Eucharist, though via different means, quite apart from our common sharing with those physically around us.

In a situation where circumstances prevent the assembling of a congregation at a scheduled Mass, I do still say Mass (for the Parish intentions primarily), and have being doing so with permission for years.

I realise this may upset many of you, but I felt it would not be honest of me, as a blog co-author, to let this thread go without placing on the record that I hold a different position to the majority of commentators so far and have acted in accordance with it.

Having said this, I agree with all that has been said about the wrongness of deliberately organising non-communicating Masses and the fact that Masses should ordinarily be for "communicating" both the Pastor and his flock together.

Anonymous said...

We have been discussing two rather distinct issues on this thread:
(1) solitary Masses and (2) non-communicating Masses. Obviously, they are not the same.

I can acccept Fr Kirby's reasoning in favor of solitary Masses, in extreme situations and with appropriate ecclesiastical permission. This is a kind of sacramental anomaly but defensible in certain situations. I am far less sanguine of non- communicating Masses. However, there is much to be said for the older practice of communicating only the family at Requiems and the couple and immediate families at Nuptials. Those two situations nowadays bring in "Jews, Turks, and Infidels" and all manner of unbaptized people who have no business at the rail.

I was recently present at a Neo-Anglican wedding, at which the "president of the assembly" made a lengthy and impassioned appeal for all present to show their support of the happy couple by receiving communion together with them. Most of those present were probably non-Christians, or non-sacramental Protestants. These folks had the good taste not to accept the invitation. Their sacramental theology was than the D.Min. cleric who "solemnised" this abomination.

poetreader said...

I basically agree with Fr. Kirby, though to a probably more restrictive degree than he. I mentioned above, as an extreme case, Charles de Foucald. What reasonable theology would require a faithful, if nonsuccessful, missionary to go for years without the Sacrament?

However, Fr. Wells, I am uncomfortable about having Requiem or Nuptual Masses in which all legitmate communicants are not invited to receive. I do realize the pastoral difficulties, but feel these need to be answered by what the Scots Presbyterians called "fencing the Table" - an explicit announcement of who actually is invited.

My funeral instructions, as posted with my priest, in consideration of the fact that my family are not Anglicans, asks that the Prayer Book Office be said at the funeral itself, when the family is present, and that a Mass be said at a later time, because I truly want one, and believe there should be one.