From the outset, I want to state that I do not write this out of any personal animus against the Fr. Bednar. As the saying goes, I don’t know him from Adam. Nor do I think the arguments presented in his article are particularly unusual or egregious. To the contrary, the arguments presented in favor of the rubrics for standing to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist are quite common in my experience. Nor can I profess to have the theological training to hold a candle to Fr. Bednar’s. But one does not need extensive training in theology to see the current state of the Church clearly. I write this because what is obvious to this ordinary lay Catholic apparently still needs to be pointed out.
If current polls are to be believed, somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of those who call themselves Catholics do not accept the teaching of the Church that Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
If current polls are to be believed, somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of those who call themselves Catholics do not accept the teaching of the Church that Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. While the polls typically divide up these diverging thoughts on the Eucharist further, masking the full scope of the rejection of Church teaching, the fact remains that most of those who consider themselves to be Catholic do not actually profess what the Church teaches regarding the Eucharist. This fact should horrify us all, cleric and lay alike. I maintain that this widespread apostasy in the Church is a direct demonstration of “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” loosely translated, “As we worship, so we believe.” The current “norms” are a major factor in this loss of acceptance.
Father Bednar provides laudatory descriptions for these current “norms,” stating that standing and bowing are signs of respect. That may be true, but there are different degrees of respect. Yes, one stands when a civil judge enters his or her own courtroom. Is that sufficient when we physically receive the just Judge we will all face at our own particular judgement? Are the two even remotely comparable? When I took karate classes, I bowed to my instructor. Is that a sufficient sign of respect for receiving the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Or do we fail to give Our Lord what He is due when we provide Him with signs of ordinary human respect and say “good enough?”
Fr. Bednar takes an unnecessarily restrictive view of adoration of Our Lord in the Eucharist:
“Jesus did not pronounce the words of the institution over the bread and wine at the Last Supper so that later generations could have a consecrated host to place in a monstrance for adoration. He celebrated the Last Supper to interpret his coming crucifixion, and to draw the faithful to participate in his death and resurrection (the ‘pascal mystery’).”
I suppose that adoration during Benediction was likely not the primary purpose of Our Lord in instituting the Eucharist. But keeping in mind again that our Lord is present in the Eucharist - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – is adoration of our Lord in this way somehow opposed to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass bringing us all to the foot of the cross at Calvary? Perhaps I am insufficiently schooled in theology, but what is it supposed to mean that Christ was ‘interpreting’ his crucifixion at the Last Supper? To this simple layman, that just appears to be a word salad provided in an attempt at obfuscation. While Fr. Bednar acknowledges “the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist should be adored,” he tries to limit that adoration to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in tabernacles. He seems to claim that adoration is somehow inconsistent with our actual reception of the Eucharist. The reason for this false distinction is an apparent tunnel vision regarding the various aspects of prayer during the Mass, as discussed further below.
In actual fact, the Traditional Latin or “Tridentine” Mass was largely unchanged for over a millennia and included numerous “gestures” whose meaning and symbolism is now denied or obscured by those who falsely claim that the Novus Ordo somehow “restored” the Mass.
In Fr. Bednar’s view, “movement” associated with reception of Our Lord in the Eucharist is viewed as not only inherently good (“The Communion procession illustrates a Church on the move”) but as superior to adoration. Somehow, the allowance for kneeling to receive Holy Communion “is not part of the norm but an acknowledgement that some individuals will feel overwhelmed and inclined to express adoration rather than the movement of the pascal mystery. This concession to the occasional act of private adoration does not constitute part of the norm; it is a deviation from it and should not be encouraged.” I am not sure how, why or when “movement” became a theological virtue at all, much less why it supersedes love of Our Lord expressed as adoration. But Fr. Bednar’s argument here is a tacit admission that current “norms” are not compatible with adoration of Our Lord in the Eucharist. It also completely ignores an obvious question – why shouldn’t adoration of Him be the norm?
Fr. Bednar continues, taking aim at Communion rails:
“The placement of kneelers in front of the sanctuary, for example invites a deviation from the norm, tending to conceal the true purpose of the Mass. It introduces a moment of awkwardness. As more people express private adoration, the community’s expression of their commitment to the pascal mystery becomes compromised.”
There is much to unpack here. First, how is it even remotely possible that adoration of Our Lord “conceal(s) the true purpose of the Mass,” which Father acknowledges is to provide us all with “the very body and blood of Christ”? Standing may be the current “norm” for receiving Communion, but only because the bishops say so now. For many years, even after Vatican II, and for centuries before it, kneeling to receive Holy Communion was the norm. It should be made the norm again. As for “awkwardness,” I would hope that the actual reception of Our Lord (again, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) would not be so casual that it would be without a certain amount of “awkwardness.” Our thoughts on receiving Our Lord can and should encompass any number of aspects – adoration, love, joy, and confusion, to name a handful. If reception of Our Lord and God isn’t awkward, at least in some sense, something is wrong with our approach to receiving Him. Finally, adoration of Our Lord does not need to be considered private or contrary to any “expression of commitment to the pascal mystery.” Nor should adoration be pigeon-holed into only select portions of the Mass or outside of it. As the supreme prayer of the Church, the Mass can and does have different aspects traditionally associated with prayer – adoration, contrition, supplication and thanksgiving. Why should any of these aspects be considered to conflict with any other?
Fr. Bednar also takes a gratuitous swipe at the Traditional Latin Mass, claiming that prior to Vatican II:
“The Mass became cluttered with extraneous gestures and prayers, such as numerous signs of the cross over the chalice at various times and the so-called Last Gospel proclaimed at the end of the Mass. The Fathers at Vatican II pared back those accretions to restore the clarity of what should be happening at Mass.”
In actual fact, the Traditional Latin or “Tridentine” Mass was largely unchanged for over a millennia and included numerous “gestures” whose meaning and symbolism is now denied or obscured by those who falsely claim that the Novus Ordo somehow “restored” the Mass. These gestures were actually refined over time to mirror every aspect of Christ’s Passion, from his prayer in the Garden of Olives (the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar) to his being preached and worshipped throughout the world by his Church (the Last Gospel, which Fr. Bednar specifically cites as “extraneous.”) This statement is ironic, given Fr. Bednar’s previous emphasis on “movement,” because it implies that the Church’s missionary commission is “extraneous.” Furthermore, the statements of the council Fathers were often disregarded in the creation of the Novus Ordo Mass.
If we hope to reverse the current trends in the abandonment of the teachings of the Church, each of us will need to act in a way that demonstrates that we actually believe those teachings ourselves, particularly the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
It would certainly surprise many Catholics (including the ones who still actually fulfill their Sunday obligation every week) to learn that the Novus Ordo Mass was created long after the close of Vatican II, and that the documents of Vatican II actually called for maintaining the use of Latin in the liturgy and primacy of place of Gregorian chant. If we look at the result of this removal of supposedly “extraneous gestures and prayers,” as well as changes that were never called for by the Council Fathers (such as Communion in the hand or lay distributors of Communion, for example), we see a devastation of the faith, particularly belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As a former Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, I can tell you from firsthand observation that an evident casual, distracted or even disinterested attitude toward reception of Our Lord is not rare on the part of the laity. (I resigned from that position when I realized that I was definitely part of the problem, not part of the solution.)
Fr. Bednar closes his article stating, “At Communion time, we pick up our crosses with our Lord to follow him. At that time, the original point of the Eucharist should receive our full attention.” On this, we agree, but it would seem that we have a drastically different view of what that point truly is. That point should be for us to unite our prayers with the propitiatory sacrifice of Our Lord on Calvary for the forgiveness of our sins.
If we hope to reverse the current trends in the abandonment of the teachings of the Church, each of us will need to act in a way that demonstrates that we actually believe those teachings ourselves, particularly the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. One way we lay people can do that is by giving our Lord the adoration and reverence He is due, such as by kneeling to receive Him, regardless of whether it is considered to be the “norm” or not, and regardless of any human disapproval. “Lex orandi, lex credendi” begins with each of us.
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