Father Cory Sticha of Malta, Montana in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings wrote a post on his blog Omne Quod Spirat, Laudet Dominum titled “Why I refuse to bless children at Communion“.
Father Z of What Does the Prayer Really Say fame picked up his post and made some comments on it in a post of his own titled “A priest on giving blessings at Communion time“. This opened up Fr. Sticha’s post to a vast, opinionated audience.
Another priest, Father Ryan Erlenbush, writing at The New Theological Movement, picked up the topic and wrote a rebuttal to Fr. Sticha’s article in which he addressed Fr. Z as well, titled “What’s wrong with blessing children in the Communion line?”
After you get done slogging through all of that, don’t forget to come back here. :)
One of my friends posted Fr. Erlenbush’s article in a Catholic Facebook group to which I belong in hopes of sparking a good discussion. I read the post and, well, was not favorably impressed with its contents. I didn’t feel up to doing a point by point fisking of the post, so I limited myself to saying, “Wow. That article is very poorly reasoned.” My friend replied with “No, it’s not.” Ok. All right. I asserted something without backup; it’s perfectly acceptable to reply with a flat contradiction and no backup. So I went back to the article, opened up Notepad, and wrote a point by point fisking of the post in order to support my assertion. It turned out far too long to post as a comment, and I didn’t want to deluge the post or break up what I said because people tend to balk at doing more than skimming at that point, and breaking up a comment tends to lead to someone missing one or several points of argument, and that usually makes discussions spiral around the drain as frustrations rise. So I decided to put it here, to be read in its entirety, and if people want to engage in discussion I welcome it, but there’s no intimidating wall o’ text; just a little link that can be ignored if it suits them.
I apologize for the terse writing style. It does not imply any particular emotional context to the text; it’s just a consequence of desiring a briefer result. Here is why I think the post is poorly reasoned: it relies on irrelevancies, red herrings, false choices, making issues out of non-issues, and spurious and scurrilous assertions.
1. A blessing for children in the Communion line is not in the rubrics. Writer’s objection: Neither are maniples.
Maniples are neither liturgical words nor liturgical actions. They are vestments. There is no injunction disallowing appropriate clergy from wearing maniples during Mass. There is an injunction against extra-rubrical words and actions during Mass. A blessing during Mass counts as both word and action, thereby falling under the “say the black, do the red” protocol. There are blessings after Communion (and in various other places, such as the blessing of rings or catechumens) which are permitted. There is no blessing during Communion permitted. This is the only essential part of this discussion. Everything else is irrelevant. I find it telling that the writer cannot refute Sacrosanctum Concilium and so finds some spurious and inapplicable counter-example in order to call Fr. Z “disingenuous” instead, thereby more attacking the man than his evidence.
2. Frequent reception of the Eucharist has increased, thereby increasing the instances where both father and mother present themselves for Communion. Writer’s assertion: children necessarily go with their parents; therefore priests should “handle” them somehow. Irrelevant. First, children can indeed stay in the pew. All five of us non-angels were frequently left in the pew and the world did not end. If the parents do not want to leave their children in the pew for whatever reason, that is acceptable of course. The parents are going up to receive Communion. The Communion line is for receiving Communion. Why should someone who does not receive Communion, who is in the Communion line, receive anything else? From whence did this expectation that everyone needs to “get something” come from? Just because a mother is holding her wiggly baby when she receives Communion does not mean the priest “needs” to do anything with the baby. The writer is creating a false need.
3. Blessings do not “disrupt the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament.” Irrelevant. An action does not need to be disruptive to be not permitted.
4. Norm: “a priest is not to give a blessing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.” Writer’s objection: During Holy Thursday Mass, the priest blesses incense “even though he is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.” Irrelevant. That is an explicitly permitted blessing. Blessing children in the Communion line is not explicitly permitted. Revisit Sacrosanctum Concilium 22, §3.
5. Spiritual Communion. Writer’s objection: Children cannot make spiritual communions (otherwise they could also receive the Blessed Sacrament), and the act of the priest holding up the Host for the child to bow to is more of a disruption than a blessing. Red herring. The practice proposed by the writer is not permitted; however, substituting another action is not necessary or permitted either. Spiritual communion is for anyone who cannot receive the Eucharist for whatever reason, not merely negative reasons (e.g. state of mortal sin). If a child cannot make a spiritual communion, the child does not have to. If the child is able to make a spiritual communion, the child is free to do so. The priest is still not free to bless that child during the distribution of Communion. The writer is creating a false dichotomy.
6. Reason for blessing children in the Communion line. The writer brings up the blessing as a sign of unity in the Mystical Body. Irrelevant and misleading. Reception of the Eucharist is the principal sign of unity in the Mystical Body, and in fact is the action proper to that particular place in the Mass (namely distribution of Communion). A blessing is not the principle sign of unity in the Mystical Body and is not the action proper to that particular place in the Mass. Do it at another time. Blessing children in the Communion line is not permitted by the Church. Anyone can think of all sorts of reasons for doing things which the Church does not permit. If it is a good reason, petition the proper office of the Vatican and see if a change can be made. Until then, disobedience is still a bad thing. Be obedient. Then when/if the rule changes, freedom to engage in the action is granted, and there is no longer the issue of disobedience.
7. “If a priest does give blessings to children, a few things should be avoided.” Irrelevant. Giving blessings to children in the Communion line is itself to be avoided because it is not permitted. The suggestion that children’s non-reception of the Eucharist with no substituting blessing during the distribution of Communion lumps them in as somehow “bad” along with non-Catholics (which is insulting; a non-Catholic is not necessarily in a state of mortal sin) and Catholics who are not disposed to receive the Blessed Sacrament for WHATEVER reason (the author ignores non-negative reasons such as not keeping the required fast, presumably in an attempt to appeal to the emotional argument of “but my child isn’t a SINNER!”) is spurious at best. Reception of First Holy Communion is a sacrament of initiation. If a child has not been fully initiated, then the child lacks some level of unity (and this is not a negative thing; merely a reality). There is no need to substitute reception of the Blessed Sacrament with a blessing.
8. Matthew 19:14. Writer’s implied assertion: not giving a child a blessing during the distribution of Communion is tantamount to shooing that child away from Jesus. This is both spurious AND scurrilous, since the writer implies that Frs. Sticha and Z are guilty of either this action or this attitude. No one is forbidding children from attending Mass. No one is forbidding children from accompanying their parents in the Communion line. No one is forbidding a child from a receiving a blessing at an appropriate, licit time. The Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church has put into place certain protocols and requirements for children to receive Communion. The Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church has also not permitted the priest or anyone else to offer any congregant a blessing instead of the Blessed Sacrament during the distribution of Communion. If the writer wishes to attack the rubrics and Vatican documents themselves, he is free to do so. However, to accuse (however passive-aggressively) priests obedient to the rubrics and instructions of the Mass, which are imposed and interpreted by the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, of violating the precept of Jesus to let the little children come unto Him, is a low and vile thing to do.
9. The writer’s update regarding Father Z’s view that concelebration ought to be “safe, legal, and rare” is equal parts irrelevant red herring and scurrilous accusation. Safe, legal, and rare are perfectly acceptable words with perfectly acceptable definitions in the English language. Unfortunately, the pro-abortion crowd has strung them together in an aesthetically pleasing arrangement and has applied that phrase to their description of their nominally preferred availability of abortion. To accuse Fr. Z of making a joke about murdering unborn babies by using those words in that order is libelous. To assert that Fr. Z has “long ago abandoned a dignified and priestly approach to discussing the Sacred Liturgy” because of this false interpretation and subsequent lie is at best disingenuous considering the body of Fr. Z’s discussion of the Sacred Liturgy.
10. The writer asserts that there is some “issue of what to do with young children when both parents wish to come forward for Communion.” This is a red herring. There is no issue. Nothing need be “done” with them. Their parents are receiving Communion. The children happen to be there as well. The parent receives Communion and goes on his or her way with Junior in tow. There are plenty of examples in the secular world where parents receive something and the child does not. If the parent is withdrawing money from the bank, no one expects the teller to hand the child a dollar. If the parent receives a gift for her birthday, no one expects the giver to hand a trinket to the child as well. If the parent borrows a wrench from the next-door neighbor, no one expects the neighbor to present the child with a wing nut. If the child is upset that he did not receive something as well, the parent ought to teach the child not to expect things from people who are not offering (or who are not permitted to offer) anything to the child. If the parent is upset that the child did not receive something as well, the parent ought to examine a possible attitude of entitlement on his own part.
11. The writer states that he is “not convinced that either Fr. Sticha or Fr. Zulhsdorf realize that the whole issue is only one part of the much bigger question of ensuring that, as often as possible, as many people as possible are well disposed and able to receive Communion worthily at Mass.” This is pure ignorance. As far as Fr. Z is concerned, he has states NUMEROUS times on his blog that this is minuscule in comparison to the bigger issues – the latest example being “On the scale of ‘Catholic Things We Really Need To Fix’, this [blessings in the Communion line] is not one of the very most pressing.” He also begins a recent post about a priest in India who was beaten and threatened with death by saying, “While we concern ourselves with the monumental question of blessings during Communion (which, yes, it is wrong to do though it is not a matter of maximum weight in our scales of liturgical abuses), this is what is going on elsewhere.” Obviously he is aware that there are far more important things going on, but he acknowledges that its smallness does not mean it can or should be completely ignored. The writer has created a false dichotomy of addressing the small issue OR addressing the large issue. Fr. Z does both, and it is blatantly apparent with even a cursory glance at the content of his blog. Just for one example, hundreds of people have given testimony that his writings have helped them approach the sacrament of Confession, which is likely the most important step on the road to “ensuring… as many people as possible are well disposed and able to receive Communion worthily at Mass.” Insofar as Fr. Sticha is concerned, he has not outright stated his acknowledgement that this is not a #1 issue, but neither can it be inferred that he does not realize that, either. If a pastor fixes the leaky holy water dispenser, is does not mean he is ignoring the broken air conditioning.
Bottom-line words to live by: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” Luke 16:10.