“What’s so wrong with…?”

Just the other day I had occasion to correct an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion as to the manner of his distribution of Holy Communion. I had earlier made the point below at a general meeting of E.M.’s and I thought perhaps it had not registered. In any case, I had to make the point personally and simply.

As I had expected he came to me a few days later to ask why I had corrected his usual form of words: THIS IS the Body of Christ. That good man asked the question that I think goes to the heart of a common attitude to the Liturgy today.  His assertion after I simply informed him that the Church prescribes the simple phrase “The Body of Christ” without any trimmings was “”Well, what’s so wrong with saying “THIS IS the Body of Christ”? Nothing really, except it’s NOT the Liturgy of the Church. There may not be anything much “wrong” with saying what he says; but is it GOOD? 

The Church in her Liturgy specifies the dialogue that is to take place at the moment of reception of Holy Communion between the priest/deacon/ or Extraordinary Minister. He/she is to simply say The Body of Christ. The communicant is to respond with Amen.

It’s all rather short and sweet, isn’t it?

The Church tells her clergy and ministers that none of us has the right to alter that formula with additions of our own, no matter how seemingly meaningful to oneself or others.  The priest, deacon, or “EM” is at that moment a means of Communion, not the originator. We are the servants of the Church and her Liturgy,  not its masters. The addition of personal names, or added specifications or phrases, however well meant ultimately create division and what the moral theologians used to call admiratio (literally “wonderment”.)

While each priest, deacon or EM is an individual and there are times in the Mass where a priest celebrant or a deacon can exercise some options this is not one of them.

People come away wondering “Well, how come he doesn’t know MY name?…or

( with a bit of humor here, folks) “How come Father Rambertus says ‘The Body of Christ’ while Father Amphilocius says “The Body of the  Risen Lord Son of Mary Grandson of Joachim and Anne”? While indeed Jesus IS the Risen Lord, Son of Mary and ( logically) the grandson in the flesh of Sts. Joachim and Anne; that is NOT what the Church has sanctified as IT’s ( not MY) Formula of Holy Communion.

The laity too has their expected response: simply Amen. The same arguments above apply to the Communicant. It is not correct, or even, polite to not make your response when the Minister holds the Sacred Host before you and announces The Body of Christ or to make some other response of one’s own devising It is not for me to alter that formula as a priest, or for a layman to refuse to reply on the grounds of a purely personal piety.


We are soon to embark on the most significant liturgical changes in 4 decades: the new vernacular texts of the Roman Missal that will replace the words with which we have all grown familiar since the 60’s. I might even say that these changes will be more significant than even the change from Latin to English and the production of a new Rite of Mass in 1970 to replace the “old Mass” in either Latin or English. Then, it was all new. The Latin texts of the Mass were not commonly spoken aloud by the laity and the new English texts and prayers had no force of custom behind them. Now we will ALL be expected to learn different prayers and ways of expression. Leaving aside the texts themselves, I foresee the greatest challenge for many will be one of simply adhering to normative texts and words after 4 decades of wide-spread personal variations, preferences, and “improvements” on the part of both priests and laity.

The attitude of “What’s so wrong if I….etc…etc..?” has led to situations where there seems to be no part of the Mass that escapes “improvement”. Recently I attempted to concelebrate a Mass presided over by another priest whose “personal improvements” on the Eucharistic Prayer made it nearly impossible to follow. He wasn’t doing this to be disobedient, but a habit he had gotten into over decades that he didn’t even notice anymore.

Yet, it was NOT the Liturgy as the Catholic Church gives to us, but as “Father” gives it to us.

Another example is the many variations on the simple Dismissal “ The Mass is ended, go in peace” and its options have led to seemingly limitless variations and an unintentionally humorous confusion as to when am I supposed to say “Thanks be to God”?


I will have more to write on this here and in the bulletin; but be prepared.

The answer to this dilemma and confusion (and even willfulness) is summed in the motto that the Bl. Pope John XXIII chose as his motto: Obedientia et Pax.

If I could be said to have a “program” for the “implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal” that would be it !


March 28, 2011


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