Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Clericalist Superstition

Some of you may have seen this Fr Z post.

Fr. Z is claiming that, "What the ordained do when they bless and what lay people do when they 'bless' are different. There. I’ve said it. I am sure you are shocked."

While I may support the old discipline of delegating the power to bless only to priests, the truth is that, absolutely speaking, "blessings, in the sense in which they are being considered, are entirely of ecclesiastical institution, the Church has the power to determine who shall have the right and duty to confer them" (from Catholic Encyclopedia on "Blessings").

Now, he's probably thinking about the distinction, which does exist, between a blessing of the Church (which must thus be preformed by a validly delegated public representative of the Church) and the "blessing" of an individual, which is basically just a prayer invoking God and which depends, thus, on that individual's merits. That is not a lay/clerical distinction, however, but a private/public distinction. From the same article:

As has been said, the value of a blessing given by a private person in his own name will be commensurate with his acceptableness before God by reason of his individual merits and sanctity. A blessing, on the other hand, imparted with the sanction of the Church has all the weight of authority that reaches to the voice of her who is the well-beloved spouse of Christ, pleading on behalf of her children. The whole efficacy, therefore, of these benedictions, in so far as they are liturgical and ecclesiastical, is derived from the prayers and invocations of the Church made in her name by her ministers.
However, that's not what lay people giving the public St. Blaise blessing are equivalent to. As the current Code of Canon Law says:

Can. 1168 The minister of sacramentals is a cleric who has been provided with the requisite power. According to the norm of the liturgical books and to the judgment of the local ordinary, lay persons who possess the appropriate qualities can also administer some sacramentals.
[In terms of what "some" means, the Code goes on to specifically limit only consecrations, dedications, and exorcisms to presbyters or bishops.]

If these requirements have been met for an actual official sacramental, then there is NO DIFFERENCE between that lay person’s administration of that sacramental, a deacon’s, and a priest’s, except under the assumptions of a sort of clericalist superstition.

I don’t know if the lay version of the blessing for St. Blaise invokes this or falls under this principle, if its existence in the {shudder} Book of Blessings constitutes a “norm of the liturgical books” or if a specific dispensation by the Ordinary would be needed in each case, but these public lay blessings very well could be the “same thing” as a priest’s.

Fr. Z is promoting a superstition whereby a cleric's blessing is "different" (and, it's implied "better") when, canonically and theologically, a lay person's blessing (all else being equal in terms of subjective factors) may well be entirely the same if they have been validly delegated (either specifically or habitually) by the Church.


sortacatholic said...

I get what you're saying RT. You aren't wrong from a rubrical and theological perspective. Look at it from this practical perspective.

The creation of (Extraordinary) lay "Eucharistic Ministers" has created huge problems for the Church. This we traditional Catholics know all too well. The shortage of priests and deacons to minister Holy Communion could have been averted by instituting more adult men as acolytes after thorough catechesis.

Nevertheless, we are where we are. Many EMHC's participate in the ministration of Holy Communion out of subjective and personal sentiment rather than an understanding of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Often they'll refer to the Host and Precious Blood as "bread and wine" after the consecration of the species and handle our Lord in a blasphemous manner. e.g. My father heard a Mass where an EMHC picked up handfuls of Hosts and flung them into her pottery ciborium ::cringe:: Some EMHC's will make a blessing with the Host similar to what is done at the custodiat in the Traditional Rite or bless babies. Both of these blessings are strictly reserved for priests and deacons. From what I've read, some priests are reluctant to forbid the laity from performing the clerical blessings lest the lay EMHC's complain. NO layperson has a right to minister the Communion. If I were a parist priest I would eventually phase out EMHC's altogether. During the phase-out I would sternly instruct the laypeople NOT to ape the clergy. I don't give a crap about their "feelings" -- this is the concrete reality of Calvary in the midst of our mortal frailty, not a 12-step hug fest.

I can't say for certain, but I suspect that Fr. Z disapproves of lay blessings simply because permitting this practice "empowers" laity to simulate other blessings that are strictly sacerdotal or diaconal. I completely agree with him. We can't turn back the Novus Ordo clock and forbid the laity from handling the Eucharist (as much as I would earnestly desire this.) However, what is possible is not always prudent.

A Sinner said...

Oh, I understand the sentiment. I said in the post, I "support the old discipline of delegating the power to bless only to priests." But claiming that, "What the ordained do when they bless and what lay people do when they 'bless' are different," as if a priest's blessing is somehow different merely because he's a just clericalism. Advocate restoring the older stricture, fine. But don't lie or mislead people in order to accomplish it.

[I also don't see why we can't turn back the clock regarding EMHCs. Why is the Church so lacking in will-power?]

sortacatholic said...

We can't get rid of EMHC's because diocesan "liturgical ministry offices" (another thing we don't need, can't liberals RTF rubrics?) are convinced that the laity must minister Holy Communion in order to "actively participate" in the Mass. This is utter crap. "Active participation" is also (if not more so) meditation and silence before the Sacrifice.

Also, certain laypeople become disturbed when they are told that the ministration of Holy Communion is properly reserved to the major orders or (in extremis) subdeacons and acolytes. The current pastor of my parish in the States forbade EMHC's as soon as he took over the parish. The town newspaper actually wrote an editorial condemning his decision! Now it's a thriving reform of the reform/EF parish. Did hurt him any when the progressive types took flight.

Re: not being progressive: Today I told my advisor (who is also an Anglican priest) that the Novus Ordo is a mistake. I should've added that I think Eucharistic Prayer 2 is theologically defective, but then I'd really be a heretic! Need to hold back there on my "intrinsically disordered" love of the Roman Canon. ;-)

cor ad cor loquitur said...

I really don’t get the traditionalist furore over EMHCs.

In our parish the EMHCs have been carefully trained, by a very holy and very learned Jesuit, not only in the practicalities of administering Holy Communion but also in the theology and spirituality of this ministry. They have a (short) Ignatian retreat once a year, as a group, to pray and to reflect on what they are doing. They do their work with reverence and recollected attention. They are given spiritual reading material during and after their training. They are commissioned before the congregation, by the parish priest, who explains why they are being delegated this ministry.

Training and commissioning EMHCs means that (1) we can offer Holy Communion in both species at every Mass – we have 23 Masses in an ordinary week; (2) we can bring Communion to the sick and housebound; (3) we have more time when priests are available in the confessional.

When additional priests are available at a Mass, the EMHCs stand down.

If someone asks for a blessing, the EMHC has been instructed by the parish priest to offer it in a deprecative form: may God bless you, just as any layperson might fittingly say to another, without making the sign of the Cross. The OED’s first definition of deprecative is “intercessory”.

I would guess that just over half of our congregants receive the Host in their hands, the rest on the tongue. The number receiving the Precious Blood varies by Mass.

There’s no fussing over whether the priest’s hands are “more consecrated” than those of the laypeople.

It’s practical, it solves a number of pastoral problems, it’s done carefully and within the rules set down by the Church and by our Parish Priest.

A Sinner said...

It's also simply untraditional. For 1700 years the idea of lay people (lay women even!) touching the Eucharist with their own hands was considered sacrilege.

The REAL solution is simply to ordain many men in the parish as volunteer priests or deacons. But, of course, if you want to continue a clerical regime of salaried celibate can't do that. So, instead of making more priests, they just profane the Eucharist. Oh yeah, THAT'S having their priorities straight...

cor ad cor loquitur said...

I don't think for a moment that they are profaning the Eucharist, or that the tradition has been univocal on this for 1700 years. And as Jaroslav Pelikan wrote: tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.

In any event: if a blessing can be delegated, why not administration of the Eucharist?

sortacatholic said...

Cor ad cor: the issue of lay ministration of the Eucharist stretches far beyond the question of who holds the right to bless. The extensive use of EHMC's even in the presence of capable clerical service undermines eucharistic piety and the significance of Sacrificial symbolism.

Part of the EMHC problem has nothing to do with EMHC's: the Novus Ordo (in one of its many fits of ritual self-destruction) removed the denotative priestly blessings during the Mass and especially the Canon. This, combined with the removal of the junction of the canonical digits during the Canon, destroyed the notion of the priest as alter Christus and the normative minister of Holy Communion. Consequently, much of the laity has not been taught the Aquinan-Tridentine definition of the Sacrifice of the Mass either by word or example. Some have even been taught heresy by priests. Lay people cannot profitably minister He whom they do not even understand. Your EMHC's might be well educated, but the vast majority have absolutely no theological clue.

The steep decline in confession and eucharisitic piety, combined with lay clericalization, has also contributed to a notion that the laity have a right to commune at every single Mass. The use of the laity as faux-ministers cheapens the idea that Holy Communion is a profound encounter with the Sacrifice mediated through the hand a person that re-presents this sacrifice or holds a ministerial office. As a child I was taught that Saturday confession MUST occur before Sunday communion. My father and I still often communicate only once a month and on feasts, if that. How many of us are pious enough to receive Holy Communion at every Mass? Maybe the laity would not take their Communions so lightly if rails were reinstituted and one did not receive Our Lord from Jim the backyard neighbor.

Heck, even the local Anglo-Catholic parish here reserves the ministration of Communion to the priest-celebrant and deacon only. Many A-C's also interpret the confiteor and even the Prayer Book absolution as for the remission of venial sin only! We can't show the same reverence? The A-C's would revolt if a layperson even touched a ciborium or merely walked past the altar rail doors! It never fails to amaze me how those the Vatican considers in schism-heresy are in fact more confessionally Catholic than most in communion with the Church! Amazing, maddening, and pathetic all at once.

When will the Latin Rite finally have a "My God! What have I done!" moment? Will we have to lose everything? (sorry, Talking Heads moment)

sortacatholic said...

I apologize, but let me also add this: if the laity were properly educated on confession and eucharistic piety there would never be a need for EMHC's. Most people would know to commune less frequently for the better profit of their soul. Also it wouldn't hurt anyone to have to wait an extra fifteen minutes during High Mass for the clergy to distribute Communion. Say a rosary or read a prayerbook. Those who must work on Sundays can hear an early low Mass.

A Sinner said...


I'm not saying it's invalid or sinful or anything, just a really bad idea. There is a fine line between, on the one hand, believing that receiving communion or blessing from a priest is somehow magically better...and believing that, even if lay people can be validly delegated by the Church for these things, it's still a really bad idea.

I'm not saying it's sacrilege, but it is profanation in the broader sense of making it seem common or perfunctory, cheapening something sacred by removing the ritual (and physical) barriers surrounding it.

sortacatholic, your comment about receiving the eucharist from "Jim the backyard neighbor" is spot-on.

Though, I think if we had married or volunteer clergy, we'd have a pool of men who could come up (appropriately vested) during communion and help distribute rather than relying on old lay women.

That their priorities were such that they thought keeping a salaried celibate clergy was more important than maintaining the traditional signs of reverence surrounding the eucharist...just shows where their heads are.

cor ad cor loquitur said...

RT, if you are speaking of your personal apprehension of the use of EMHCs -- that the sacredness is cheapened, etc. -- then obviously I can't argue with that. Nor can you argue with my sense that it need not be.

I wish that traddies -- whether renegade or not -- would drop this canard about older people. Fr Z (no spring chicken himself) loves this trope, and his horrid line of "the biological solution", which has leaked into the language of the many traditionalist blogs.

Most of our EMHCs are married couples in their 30s and early 40s. We just commissioned a single male university student, 22 years old.

The "old lay women" business is factually inaccurate, not to mention uncharitable.

There is LOTS of grey and white hair at celebrations of the Tridentine Mass here. So what? There are better ways to shed light on this issue than to claim the prerogatives of youth.

A Sinner said...

"Old lay woman" is just the most extreme example of someone who shouldn't be doing this because she is lay, a woman (at least a man COULD be a cleric), and old (if a woman has to, I'd rather she be young, seeing as Catholics from a certain generation tend to carry certain ideological baggage).

The idea of EMHC's would have been simply unimaginable before the Council. It would have offended pious sensibilities to even think about it. And now suddenly it's okay?

There are young EMHC's, but they're usually people just trying to help out somehow, who have been misled into thinking it's good. They don't know any better; how could they, they were never alive when the prior practice exist. Whereas the older generation had a revolutionary axe to grind, and I'm more suspicious of them, because they DID know the older ways, they SHOULD know better.

A young EMHC is simply misguided but probably well-meaning. A woman in her 60's, on the other hand, is probably living out an ideology.

If the church is so eager to start commissioning lay people to handle the Eucharist...there is no reason not to ordain the men at least deacons to do so.

A Sinner said...

And the "biological solution" is simply a reality.

It's just so ironic that Catholics of a certain generation were all for youth-power and liberalization when they were younger...and are now offended that the young Catholics of my generation (at least the ones still interested in religion) are no liberal enough!

They're swallowing their own words when it comes to "Don't trust anyone over 30!" And now these young punks from the 60's and 70's dare try to pull the "respect your elders, we know better!" card?!? Absurd.

No, a certain generation does need to die off. How sad for a whole generation to be the laughingstock of history, their "cutting edge" proposals already seeming so dated, their revolution ultimately impotent and irrelevant.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

A Sinner: so let me see if I got this straight - if a lay person blesses, and is in a state of grace, then their blessing is just like that of a priest's? But apart from that, the priest always confers grace with a blessing while the layperson can only do so depending on their state of grace?

Another question.
Supposedly one has to have consecrated hands to touch consecrated vessels, correct? Then how is it that EMC's are always touch the ciborium with their bare hands?

cor ad cor loquitur said...

RT, you were not at your best in that last post. Did anyone say "respect your elders, we know better?" You are creating a straw man and burning it in the worst style of Fr Z.

I don't know anyone of the generation you rubbish who berates the young for being insufficiently liberal -- though some of the trad seminarians I have met come across as incredibly affected.

I object to the Bulverism, first of all: "you only believe that because you are older." And second, to the rank uncharity of "the biological solution". This is not about respecting the old, it's about respecting neighbours of whatever age.

The many thoughtful posts elsewhere on this blog prove that you can do much better than this. Don't let down the side, please.

A Sinner said...

"so let me see if I got this straight - if a lay person blesses, and is in a state of grace, then their blessing is just like that of a priest's?"

No, only if they have been delegated to preform a certain blessing.

"But apart from that, the priest always confers grace with a blessing while the layperson can only do so depending on their state of grace?"

No, you're confusing public and private blessings here.

When a priest OR other validly delegated person preforms a public blessing/sacramental from the approved liturgical has the prayers of the entire Church behind it. The worthiness of the minister is then largely unimportant, albeit sacramentals work ex opere operantis [Ecclesiae] (rather than ex opere operato like the Sacraments) meaning that the subjective dispositions of the recipient will effect the actual graces received. But there is no difference between priest and validly delegated lay person when it comes to public blessings.

On the other hand, merely private blessings (of either a priest or lay person) depend on that person's own holiness, they are not accounted Public Prayer of the whole Church, they are merely the person invoking God in a deprecatory manner.

A Sinner said...

"Did anyone say 'respect your elders, we know better?'[...]I don't know anyone of the generation you rubbish who berates the young for being insufficiently liberal"

I wasn't just talking about you, cor. I have seen this very attitude on blogs from liberal Catholics of that generation, which I consider support of EMHC's to be symptomatic of. Bemoaning the fact that "young fogeys" are reversing their hard-won Revolution. And I do find it very ironic and hypocritical.

Is the whole generation really so bad? Of course not. But usually the ones who are involved enough ideologically to fight for the existence of EMHC's against a growing tide of disdain for them among the committed younger generations.

And certainly, if St. Peter in the Bible feels comfortable saying things like, "Be saved from this corrupt generation!" even though some people in every generation are obviously good, I certainly have no problem condemning THAT generation, which is the most decadent that we've seen so far.

"though some of the trad seminarians I have met come across as incredibly affected."

Well, at least we don't disagree here!

"you only believe that because you are older."

I don't know why you personally believe anything, but I do know there is a generational correlation between defensively clinging to EMHC's ideologically vs merely accepting them in a naive well-meaning manner because one doesn't know any better.

"And second, to the rank uncharity of 'the biological solution'. This is not about respecting the old, it's about respecting neighbours of whatever age."

There is nothing uncharitable about saying that people are going to die. They are. Mortality is a fact. Furthermore, one generation, as a whole, is going to be gone before another generation, as a whole. That's how time works.

And the truth is, we probably DO have to wait for that generation to die off or at least retire from positions of power before substantial change can start to be seen.

I'm not saying I wish immediate death on them or anything like that. But they simply WILL die eventually, and the situation in the Church will probably be rid of a lot of nonsense and more favorable to tradition when they finally do. It's sad to say, but it's true. There's nothing uncharitable about that. It's just the demographic truth.

They swept in sometime in the 70's (or even 60's) and have clung to that control over 40 years (twice as long as any one generation should have that sort of influence!) I don't mean hierarchal power (in fact, I'd hope we'd skip right to an Xer without EVER having a Boomer pope). But I mean that in the 60's and 70's the Church changed to try to please the Boomers and now, in most parishes at least, they're STILL the demographic that the priests try to please or appease. It's time for them to let go and fade away pathetically. They've had their chance, and blew it spectacularly.

"The many thoughtful posts elsewhere on this blog prove that you can do much better than this. Don't let down the side, please."

This blog may be "Renegade," cor, but it is also "Trad"...and, as a Trad, I simply cannot stand EMHC's or communion on the hand. I mean, to me that's like the sine qua non of tradition.

That anyone here, in a Trad blog, is seriously arguing for this horrible practice...baffles me given that if I were Pope, I would declare a year of penance at the beginning of my papacy for the practice of communion in the hand, maybe even make people go through some elaborate reparation ceremony for having received in the hand in the past, just to hammer home how bad it is. (If there's one things trad understand, it's the power of symbolism and dramatic gestures).

cor ad cor loquitur said...

RT, in case it isn't clear, I have no disrespect for the Trad point of view or for yours. Our views on liturgy probably overlap a great deal.

My objection is not to your conclusions but to flabby argument and language. The demographic truth is one thing, and of course death is a reality to be faced and discussed with candour.

It is something very different to view anyone's death as a "solution", a way of solving an intractable problem, a good to be anticipated. I've ranted on this "biological solution" trope (tripe?) enough already, so I'll shut up about it from henceforth.

Equally, attributing motive to a whole generation, let alone an individual, seems to me a futile exercise in group mind-reading.

Statements like this:

A young EMHC is simply misguided but probably well-meaning. A woman in her 60's, on the other hand, is probably living out an ideology.

are far too broad to of any use in the argument. What do you know about any individual's formation, or intellectual or spiritual state? Leave it to Fr Z to flame about "tambourines and big-hair perms." I agree that it is utterly wrong to promote EMHCs as a matter of ideology, or as a way of clericalising the laity. My advocacy is on practical grounds: can we get the confessionals open another hour per day? Can we get Communion to the sick and housebound? I also agree that if we could get more priests -- married would be fine, as in the Eastern Church -- or deacons, the EMHCs should be stood down. If all were as it should be, EMHCs would be extraordinary: rare, special ... like the extraordinary form of the Mass ... ;)

I take the point that you and other Trads see EMHCs and Communion in the hand as crucial issues, almost dispositive of soneone's grip on tradition (tradditude?). I need to reflect on whether I'm missing something vital -- you mention the power of symbolism -- in not seeing them as such powerful issues. I may be. I will think and pray on this.

Is it possible, though, that these issues could become shibboleths? or bugbears? Are they really the sine qua non?

A Sinner said...

The biological solution doesn't just mean death, though. Even the fact of getting OLD enough to have to retire or step out of public life is a "solution" enough for me. Yes, sometimes you have to wait until certain people "move on" from an organization before things change. This is true in schools, in business, in government, and in the Church. No one has to die, necessarily, they just have to stop having influence.

I don't really attribute motive to a whole generation. But, as I said, if St. Peter could call a whole generation "corrupt"...I see it as a valid rhetorical device for fighting the over-extended regime of the Boomers. The good ones won't care, I'm sure. Sometimes a group needs to be "burnt in effigy" just to hammer home to everyone else (again, the power of symbolism) NOT to be like them (ie, the traits commonly associated WITH them).

I agree with you about needing more ministry. I just think EMHC's are a terrible solution. That the hierarchy would rather keep the celibate salaried clerical structure and let lay people handle the Blessed Sacrament...rather than starting to extend the priesthood part-time to married men in the parishes...shows just where their priorities lay.

As for becoming a shibboleth, I think the whole point of the Old Liturgy was reverence towards the Sacrament. All other sacramentals surrounding it, while beautiful and symbolically valuable, were ultimately about protecting and enshrining the Eucharist Itself. If you have lay people, lay women even, just touching It...then all the other adornments "surrounding" it are absurd. Then we might as well just have a Mass that is only the words of consecration as, at that point, its all already been breached. No point in keeping the outer walls and defenses if they've already broken through to the inner-sanctum.

Andrew said...

This is also why much of the demarcations that still exist in the NO are laughable. They can touch It, yet cannot purify the vessels. That doesn't make any sense, even though I've heard the arguments why this was done.

I've seen far too many examples of EMHCs doing the potato chip grab to fill up their little bowls (ciboria?) or waltzing up to the tabernacle, cracking it open and shaking the ciborium to check if they "have enough". Such things would have been absolutely scandalous in pre-conciliar days, let alone hundreds of years ago.

However, this was basically the idea behind the original "restoration" of communion in the hand by the Protestants-to get rid of the "superstitious" awe that the Faithful held the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, what Protestants gave out was only bread but they had to break the laity of their (properly) Catholic notions of the sacredness of what was before the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord.

In our own time, some geniuses thought we Catholics had to break free of our Tridentine/Medieval "reverence" of the transignificated Bread. I do not doubt the original architects of the immediate post-conciliar craziness knew what they were doing and got what they (basically) wanted. What is really funny (in that sad way) is to see folks try to argue that the destruction of the traditional bulwarks of respect and reverence for the Mass and the Eucharist (i.e. the canonical digits, communion rails, the more detailed purifications, reservation to major clerics of the distribution of Communion, etc.) really have nothing to do with the obvious loss of Eucharistic piety amongst the rank and file Catholic and that they can somehow "restore" the pre-conciliar mindset with some window-dressing on the post-conciliar tools.

Maybe it was good for St. Pius X to encourage frequent (daily) Communion at his time, but now we really need to start doing something to encourage fewer but better Communions. I would agree along the lines of sortacatholic, people need to commune less often.