So you’re standing around before Mass and the priest says to you, “Listen, I’m busy. So I’ve decided to draw a line. I know you’re properly prepared to receive Holy Communion, and there’s absolutely nothing in Church teaching or discipline to pose any kind of impediment. You’re the very model of a faithful Catholic, and there’s no reason whatsoever that I can’t administer Communion to you. But people like you don’t matter to me. Go find another church.”
It’s an unthinkable scenario. No priest would ever say or do something like that. No parish would ever be so callous. That’s not how Catholics are.
My experience is that, for example, most parishes — though I’ve heard the odd horror story — are quite good about making sure that those who are physically unable to approach the altar to receive Communion are served nonetheless. The ushers, clergy, and other ministers of Holy Communion have a system worked out, and thus it’s not particularly complicated to make arrangements to have Communion delivered to the pew if the recipient can’t come forward. We’re good at this.
Except when we’re not.
Jennifer Gregory Miller writes:
Our oldest son is allergic to wheat and the only alternative form of reception is receiving the Eucharist under the sacred species of wine in a separate chalice. My husband and I have to prepare for every Mass how our older son is going to receive Holy Communion. . . . Unfortunately most people are either unfamiliar or don’t grasp the entire picture.
It’s really a very simple situation: There is a small group of Catholics who need, for serious medical reasons, to receive Holy Communion in the form of the Precious Blood only, and to receive from a chalice that does not contain any traces of wheat in it. This is not a complicated need to meet. It is well known that this situation exists. There are parishes that create reliable, easy-to-implement plans for making sure that those who need accommodation are served.
And then there are parishes that can’t be bothered. Jennifer continues:
How my son will receive Communion is forefront in our minds for every Mass. . . .
Visiting in other parishes is a headache. We have to find out how Holy Communion is distributed. If he has to receive from the communal chalice, we need to sit up front so he can be first. We have to ask for some kind of help if there is no Precious Blood being distributed. When dioceses stopped having the chalices because of flu season, this made it particularly hard to visit other parishes.
And even with all this preparation, we always need to be aware of the situation. There always seems to be some little snafu: someone forgot to bring the chalice from the sacristy; an altar server didn’t bring the chalice to the altar; the EM or priest didn’t remember to distribute the Precious Blood.
As Church history is reckoned, our understanding of allergies and related disorders are relatively new to the pews. There was a time not so long ago when one simply suffered and died, and no one knew why. But we are not living in those times.
That the Millers would every now and then encounter the odd mix-up? Sure, no one’s perfect. But when your situation is one that some parishes manage to address with no difficulty at all, it’s inexcusable that your overall experience of the Mass be one of constant tension and chaos.
When I read about the Miller’s difficulties in making arrangements for their son to receive Holy Communion, my thoughts run on two levels. The most obvious lesson is that our parishes need to do better, much better, at accommodating the needs of those who have medical reasons to receive from the sacred chalice alone.
But there’s something more disturbing under the surface: If the parish can’t be bothered to come up with a reliable, no-fuss way to deal with this one simple situation, who else is it we can’t be bothered with? The Millers are “insiders.” Families who come to Mass regularly, whose children are duly prepared for Holy Communion, and who take the time to learn what their options are in the face of a difficult medical situation, if these families are facing barriers of hostile indifference, what’s it like for outsiders?
The reality is that families with special needs of any kind — the people who don’t fit in, the people who pose the least little inconvenience — often just disappear from the Church. If we mean to evangelize, we need to put an end to our can’t-be-bothered attitude.
Copyright Jennifer Fitz 2015
Artwork: Marco Pino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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