Episcopalian Eucharist

And More on a Deacon's Duties

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ROME, MAY 30, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: My cousin will be ordained this summer as a priest in the Episcopal Church (High Church). At her first mass, may I receive communion from her? -- J.L., Silver Spring, Maryland

A: Pope John Paul II answered this question in his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," No. 30:

"The Catholic Church's teaching on the relationship between priestly ministry and the Eucharist and her teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice have both been the subject in recent decades of a fruitful dialogue in the area of ecumenism. We must give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the significant progress and convergence achieved in this regard, which lead us to hope one day for a full sharing of faith. Nonetheless, the observations of the Council concerning the Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church remain fully pertinent: 'The Ecclesial Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await his coming in glory' (Vatican II, 'Unitatis Redintegratio,' No. 22).

"The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth. This would result in slowing the progress being made towards full visible unity. Similarly, it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday Mass ecumenical celebrations of the word or services of common prayer with Christians from the aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own liturgical services. Such celebrations and services, however praiseworthy in certain situations, prepare for the goal of full communion, including Eucharistic communion, but they cannot replace it.

"The fact that the power of consecrating the Eucharist has been entrusted only to bishops and priests does not represent any kind of belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for in the communion of the one body of Christ which is the Church this gift redounds to the benefit of all."

From this it is clear that while one may attend a relative's ordination as an Episcopal minister, a Catholic should refrain from receiving communion. If this ceremony were to take place on a Sunday, it would not substitute for Sunday Mass.

For a Catholic, participating at Mass and receiving Communion should be the zenith of life in the Church toward which all other activities are ordained and from which they receive their strength.

Receiving Communion expresses the Catholic's union of heart, mind and soul to Christ and his Church.

Our "Amen" before receiving Christ's Body affirms our belief in all that the Church teaches with respect to this sublime mystery. It also affirms our belief in Christ's incarnation, passion, death and resurrection which is the Eucharist's foundation. Christ's Church makes the Eucharist.

Because it is such a strong statement of faith, we could say that a Catholic is never more Catholic than when receiving the Lord. And this is why we can never partake of the Eucharist in another ecclesial community which does not have the fullness of the Eucharist and the priesthood.

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Follow-up: Deacon's Duties and Gestures

After our column on the duties of deacons (May 16) a reader gently upbraided me saying: "I don't mean to be picky, but I believe it is important to point out that the deacon is not an ordinary minister of 'the Eucharist.' Instead, he is an ordinary minister of 'Holy Communion.'"

He then quotes "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 154:

"As has already been recalled, 'the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist "in persona Christi" is a validly ordained Priest.' Hence the name 'minister of the Eucharist' belongs properly to the Priest alone. Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ's faithful during the celebration of Mass. In this way their ministerial Office in the Church is fully and accurately brought to light, and the sign value of the Sacrament is made complete."

Sometimes "being picky" is the best way of keeping us on our toes. Our reader is correct as to this terminological imprecision.

All the same, it does not appear that the expression "ordinary minister of Communion" sufficiently expresses the full range of diaconal ministry which goes well beyond distributing Communion to the faithful and includes several acts of Eucharistic worship reserved to the ordained.

Perhaps we need to coin a new expression such as "ordinary minister of communion and Eucharistic worship" to cover these distinct roles.

Another reader, a permanent deacon from Florida, asked: "Nearly 30 years ago when I was ordained a permanent deacon, the deacon either said or sang the instruction 'Let us proclaim the mystery of faith' during Mass after the elevation of the cup. This action by the deacon continued for many years but it was then changed to the priest-presider proclaiming the instruction -- with the reason given that it was considered a presbyteral function. Yet, it is said that deacons in some countries are still the ones giving the instruction.

"Could you please give some background as to why the proclamation was allowed for deacons in the first place, why it was changed, and why it is still be done by some deacons in some countries?"

As far as I can ascertain there was never any official permission for deacons to sing or say this instruction. The rubric in the missal, following the second genuflection of the consecration, simply indicates that the priest sings or says, "Mysterium fidei." The deacon is never mentioned at all.

I presume that the earlier practice was an error stemming from unfamiliarity with both the new rite and the relative novelty of having a deacon present at every Mass. It is possible that the error persists in some countries.

It is also probable that the present English translation compounded the mistake. Saying "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith" triggered a parallelism with the diaconal invitation "Let us offer each other the sign of peace" and probably led some to assume that both formulas belonged to the deacon.

More accurate translations in other languages have avoided this parallelism. Spanish, for example, has the priest say, "This is the sacrament of our Faith," while Italian translates literally "The mystery of Faith." In both cases it is logical for the priest to proclaim this text as it refers to the action he has just performed in the consecration.

The words "Mysterium fidei," although not found in the New Testament institution narratives, formed part of the formula of consecration in the earlier rite. It is probable that they were inserted by Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) to combat the Manicheans who denied the goodness of material things.

After the Second Vatican Council, with the introduction of new Eucharistic Prayers, Pope Paul VI decided to remove the words from the formula of consecration and gave them their present function as an introduction to an acclamation of the faithful. This practice was traditional in some Eastern Churches but constituted a novelty in the Roman rite.

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