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Liturgy: Communion for Homebound Moms

5/19/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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And More on Crowded Altars

ROME, MAY 19, 2004 - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Would canon law allow for a ministry for homebound young mothers to receive Holy Communion in their homes during the week for spiritual strength? Difficult pregnancies, sick infants, lack of transportation, etc., could prevent a young, overly stressed mother, much in need of spiritual strength to live her vocation, from attending weekday Masses. Several young mothers have approached me for this answer. -- B.W., Dayton, Ohio

A: Such a ministry would fall under the more general concept of ministry to the sick and so there should be no canonical objections to bringing Communion to these mothers.

Certainly, pregnancy is not an illness but a blessing. However, it is certain that, especially in the later stages, many mothers are unable to leave home.

Their situation would be analogous to that of otherwise healthy elderly people who normally attend Mass, even on a daily basis, but may find the winter cold or summer heat too much to bear.

Such a ministry could be carried out on the parish level by the priests or other authorized ministers who usually attend the sick and shut-ins by simply adding another call to their rounds.

A specific ministry, especially dedicated to bringing the Eucharist to young mothers, would require greater coordination.

If this ministry were to be carried out within the confines of a parish, then the pastor could coordinate the initiative, although if the minister is not a priest, he or she would require the usual authorization from the bishop to act as an extraordinary minister.

If such a ministry were to be promoted on a diocesan level, then the details would have to be worked out with the bishop. He could grant the necessary authorization and suggest ways to coordinate this initiative so that it harmonizes with the usual pastoral services carried out on the parish level.

Pregnant mothers or mothers with infants should not underestimate the importance of the positive testimony conveyed by their presence at Mass as a sign of hope and joy for many Catholics, and so should always strive to attend.

However, when circumstances prevent this, the initiative proposed by our correspondent would respond to a real need and impart many spiritual benefits.

* * *

Follow-up: Crowded Altars

Several questions arose regarding our comments on crowded altars (May 4). One reader observed that often it is not so much the number of people in the sanctuary as their behavior that causes distraction. He has a valid point.

Acolytes, readers and especially priests should strive to maintain a general ambiance of reverence and recollection while within the precincts of the sanctuary. They should avoid surveying the assembly, waving, nodding and smiling to people they know, commenting among themselves -- or even falling asleep during the homily.

In other words, they should avoid any gestures that draw attention to themselves and away from the sacred action.

A correspondent from San Diego, California, asked about the practice of "Life Teen Masses." She wrote: "At my parish they are called up to the altar just before the Our Father and don't leave until after they receive Communion. Is this not in line with GIRM?"

Other readers had previously sent in questions about similar practices although referring to gathering around the altar during the entire Eucharistic Prayer.

I must admit to having very little experience regarding Life Teen. I have encountered some excellent priestly vocations that have sprung from their midst. But this does not mean that all of their liturgical practices are commendable. From the point of view of liturgical law the practice described would not be correct.

While it is true that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or other recent documents do not specifically forbid the faithful from surrounding the altar, this is understood by the general context and by the documents determining the location of the ministers and the faithful.

With respect to the proper place for the faithful, GIRM No. 311 says:

"Places should be arranged with appropriate care for the faithful so that they are able to participate in the sacred celebrations visually and spiritually, in the proper manner. It is expedient for benches or seats usually to be provided for their use. The custom of reserving seats for private persons, however, is reprehensible. Moreover, benches or chairs should be arranged, especially in newly built churches, in such a way that the people can easily take up the postures required for the different parts of the celebration and ...

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