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Liturgy: Non-Catholics Distributing the Precious Blood

ROME, DEC. 2, 2003 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: I went to a Mass once on a retreat at a religious house where one Protestant read the epistle and a Protestant minister helped to distribute the Precious Blood. Is that allowed? -- K.D., Warren, Michigan

A: In most cases, no. Any formal participation in the liturgy, whether as reader, server or eucharistic minister is a sign of communion of faith in all that is implied in the celebration.

Therefore in most cases only a Catholic in good standing should serve in any liturgical role. Likewise, before serving, each individual Catholic should be reasonably sure that he or she is in the state of grace.

There may be some rare exceptions. The Holy See's 1993 Ecumenical Directory states that the proclamation of sacred Scripture at Mass is done by Catholics. In exceptional circumstances and for a just cause, the diocesan bishop may permit a member of another church or ecclesial community to carry out the function of reader (see No. 133). The homily, however, is always reserved to the priest or deacon.

The reason should be fairly clear: because of the intimate relationship between the table of the Word and the Eucharist during the celebration. Reading the Word in this context is acting as a (sub-delegated) minister of the Church and normally only a Catholic may serve this function.

Indeed, many theologically aware Protestants would not choose to read in a Catholic Mass, even if it were allowed, as it would naturally imply acceptance of the ecclesial theology behind the selection of readings and, hence, be in contradiction with the (Protestant) principle of private interpretation.

In fact, after the publication of the revised Catholic Lectionary, some Protestants desired to adopt it for their services because of the rich selection of texts. Others, however, entertained serious doubts as to the wisdom of this proposal because of the "risk" of surreptitiously accepting the Catholic theology implied in the Church's collation of certain scriptural passages from the Old and New Testament, especially those underlying doctrines such as the sacraments.

If this is the case for reading Scripture, which at least is something we largely have in common with Protestants, then with even more reason is it the case with respect to participating and administrating the Eucharist. John Paul II has reminded us in his recent encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" that sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist can only be the culmination, never the starting point, of our search for unity.

This does not exclude Catholics and other Christians from sharing God's Word in other circumstances, especially those of a specifically ecumenical nature. The Ecumenical Directory provides ample indications and norms regarding non-Catholic assistance at Catholic celebrations and the possibilities and limits of Catholic participation in non- Catholic services.

While Christian unity is a very desirable goal, it can never be achieved by papering over the very real differences between us, but only by honestly facing up to them.

Excessive zeal in facilitating intercommunion not only constitutes a grave lack of respect for our most sacred things but, in a way, also slights our non-Catholic interlocutors by saying that we ourselves don't take seriously what for them are crucial and essential points of doctrine. This procedure probably does far more harm than good to the ongoing ecumenical dialogue.


Follow-up: Hand-Holding at the Our Father

Judging from the response to our reply regarding holding hands during the Our Father (see Nov. 18), it would appear that the world is divided into hand-holders and arm-folders with the occasional hand-upholder wedged in the middle.

If anything, the widespread division of opinion seems to show that holding hands does not occur spontaneously, at least not in large groups. Several readers made very interesting comments and I will try to address some of their concerns.

A correspondent from British Columbia suggested that the origin of hand-holding might stem from an interpretation of the liturgical norms themselves, particularly: the Ceremonial of Bishops No. 159: "After the doxology of the Eucharistic prayer, the bishop, with hands joined, introduces the Lord's Prayer, which all then sing or say; the bishop and the concelebrants hold their hands outstretched" and No. 237 of the New General Instruction of the Roman Missal: "(the priest) with hands outstretched and with the congregation ... pray the Lord's Prayer."

First, for the sake of precision, may I point out that our correspondent seems to be quoting from the earlier study ...

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