|How Traditional is Your Traditionalism, Part Two.
The original "How Traditional is Your Traditionalism" can be found here.
4:46 PM 8/16/2016 — This little essay is a continuation of a previous post entitled “How Traditional is Your Traditionalism?” In that essay, I had enumerated a few liturgical practices done by priests who believe themselves to be “traditional” or “conservative,” however you want to define those terms, but which have no basis in history or authentic tradition; practices such as exclusive use of the Roman Canon and ending the Bidding Prayers with the Hail Mary. Had I really been on my game, I would have added a couple more nick-picky things like inserting the name of the saint of the day into a Eucharistic Canon that does not offer that opportunity, or inserting the name of a saint who is neither the saint of the day nor the patron of the church just because we like him, and so forth.
But today I add to the list two more nefarious diseases that have crept into American liturgical praxis, and with which I am finding myself becoming increasingly impatient: to wit, the blessing of children and/or non-communicants during the distribution of Holy Communion, sometimes even by means of “mini-benedictions” with the Sacred Host; and, the reciprocal extension of the hands by the laity when they give the response, “And with your spirit.”
With regard to the latter, I had specifically addressed this issue once in a homily and, from the reaction I got, you'd think I had denied the Divinity of Christ. I had merely explained how the extension of the hands by the priest at certain points in the sacred liturgy symbolizes the priest collecting the prayers of the congregation and sending them upward toward heaven, and that it is a specifically priestly gesture. You will notice—I hope, unless you’ve got poorly formed deacons serving your parish—that when a deacon says, “The Lord be with you,” he does not extend his hands; he's not allowed to, because he's not a priest. Deacons can do a lot of things: they can baptize people, they can perform weddings, they can bless religious articles, they can even give Eucharistic Benediction, but they can't extend their hands in public prayer because they are not priests. That's one of the reasons I like celebrating ad orientem: because it spares me from seeing people holding up their hands during the Our Father; that belongs to the priest alone because he is collecting up the prayer of the faithful and sending it heavenward. What we do when we pray on our own is our own business; but, when we're celebrating the sacred liturgy, we don't do what's meaningful to us, we do what has been handed down to us over the centuries. I should like very much to find the priest who first advised his congregation to respond to him in kind with a physical gesture similar to his own, and take him to the woodshed. My guess is it has its roots in that post-Conciliar blurring of the distinction between the baptismal priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial Priesthood of Holy Orders that latched onto the warm fuzzy that we’re all basically equal, just with different jobs.
The other “pragmatic heresy,” blessings during Holy Communion, is even more problematic, and will no doubt generate even more sturm und drang among those who think they’re being traditionalist by doing it. When I first returned to service in the Latin Church after serving most of my priesthood in the Ruthenian Church, this one threw me for a loop for quite some time, as I couldn’t figure out why some people were coming up for Holy Communion with their hands crossed in front of their breasts and then shaking their heads “no” when I tried to give them the Sacred Host. It seems that, somewhere along the way, someone had taught them that, if they were unworthy to receive on that occasion, they could come up in this fashion and receive a blessing rather than Communion. It confused me because the posture of crossing one’s hands against one’s breast is the traditional posture for receiving in many Churches of the Byzantine Rite, especially those in union with Rome. I was similarly confused when someone first came up with a child in tow obviously too young to have made his or her First Holy Communion, pushed the child in front of me, then stood there waiting for me to do something.
Of course, I’ve since learned that these practices are very common among those who believe themselves “traditional,” but that doesn’t make me any more comfortable with them, and I still can’t find my way to regarding them as anything but what I had described in the previous essay on this topic as “junk traditionalism”: practices that everyone thinks bode of tradition, but completely devoid of any sense of liturgical history or authentic sacramental theology.
The Blessed Eucharist is Jesus. Not a symbol of Jesus. Not a sign of Jesus. Jesus is not somehow present “in the bread.” It is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ! To simply be in the presence of the Eucharist is awesome enough; to receive Him even more so. The idea that one could even be thinking of something else while in His sacramental presence is disturbing all by itself; the idea that one should interrupt the distribution of Holy Communion to give a simple, clearly inferior blessing—even a priestly blessing—in the midst of that great moment is inconceivable to me. Those who are unable to receive Holy Communion at Mass, for whatever reason, would do better to simply stay in their pews; and, while parents of small children certainly can’t leave them unattended, they can surely keep hold of them while they receive without seeking some sort of blessing for them which—let’s face it—is probably motivated by some kind of superstition that getting a priest’s blessing on that occasion will protect them from strep throat or something. Think about it: a child not yet admitted to Holy Communion has to watch in silence as his or her parent partakes of something he or she can’t yet. With what longing and awe will that child approach the sacrament when the time finally comes?
My guess is that some of this stems from the notion, addressed in another post, “Do Sacraments Really Exist?” that it’s all based on a defective appreciation of what Holy Communion is all about: not communal unity but sacramental Communion. As for those not in the State of Grace—assuming that concept survives the papacy of Francis—by allowing them to come up for “something” along with everyone else, we accomplish nothing more than to numb the pain of being separated from Eucharistic Communion; but, should that pain be anesthetized? Those who read my homilies regularly know that I’ve been fond of late of quoting Pope Saint John Paul II: “There is no such thing as love separated from truth.” In the long run, what’s better for the soul separated from Christ? To numb the pain to affirm them in their separation, or to “twist the knife,” so to speak, to motivate a change?
So, go ahead and be angry with me, low info Trad. At my age, I’m not going to be doing much changing. Anyway, at least I can be thankful that I don't have to bear the cross of knowing everything, only the slightly lighter one of thinking I do.