Q: Would you comment, please, on some of the “activities” which have gone on in the course of the current pandemic and quarantine. I think I can handle “eucharistic processions,” with a priest and monstrance in the back of a pickup truck. But what about priests going for helicopter rides with the monstrance? Or blessing drive-by crowds, with the monstrance, while another priest stands by with a dog on a leash, sipping a cup of coffee. Just today there was a report – a glowing report – about a nun who was going to a recent protest, and decided to take the Blessed Sacrament with her, hidden under her scapular. The reasoning given was that she was a Special Minister of Holy Communion, and St. Clare had done something similar. These, to me, are serious offenses against the Eucharist. Well-intentioned, perhaps, but serious offenses. The Eucharist is no one’s “sole possession” to take out for a ride or walk when they want to. The laity would never get away with pulling such a stunt, how do clergy and religious think it is alright for them?
A: Catholics love the eucharist so much that devotions come with strong opinions and eccentric ideas. In recent years Catholic piety has been tipping away from the Vatican Council’s stress on the celebration of the mass as sacrifice and communion to viewing the mass as a framework for devotional practices. I’ve treated this theme in Whose Mass Is It? and My Sacrifice and Yours.
Consequently, some well-intentioned devotional practices have become unmoored from the eucharist that they mean to honor.
ICEL has been at work on a revised translation of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass. The first translation has been around for decades, but I discover again and again that many parish churches do not even own a copy of it. They are conducting communion services and benediction from memory or custom, without referring to the liturgical book. Perhaps a new translation will call attention to this particular fruit of the Second Vatican Council.
Eucharistic processions are treated in paragraphs 101-108. These call upon the diocesan bishop to supervise the practices to ensure that they are conducted with dignity. The book says that it is desirable that the procession follow a mass in which the host to be carried was just consecrated. This draws a connection between the mass and the period of adoration, and explains why the title of the book calls this “worship of the eucharistic mystery.” It’s not worship of holy communion or of the Blessed Sacrament, but of the sacrament of the eucharist just consecrated at mass. Eucharistic adoration apart from mass is nonetheless permitted.
A procession is not a parade. It envisions people piously walking from one station to another. The minister for the rite is called “the priest” – not a deacon or communion minister. He wears sacred vestments. Candles and incense accompany the procession, and the priest walks – not rides – beneath a canopy according to local custom. At stations he may bless the people with the Sacrament. Near the end he imparts a final benediction and reposes the Blessed Sacrament.
No procession should take place apart from a period of adoration, which presumes options such as the reading of scripture, silent prayer, and the singing of hymns.
Because of this, I cannot justify carrying a monstrance in a truck or a helicopter, or support a communion minister who decides to carry the eucharist for adoration apart from the proper liturgical context. People mean well, but the church has a liturgy for these processions, and we owe it to one another – and to the eucharist – to observe the dignity that that liturgy offers.