When zeal for orthodoxy overcomes charity

by Alicia Hernon

There is a growing academic arrogance at this University that says “I have read the documents and I know how the Church should be run.” Students are treating gray issues as if they were black or white, thus giving themselves authority they do not have. How are we going to go into the world to be ambassadors for Christ and His Church if we have such an ungenerous, legalistic mindset? The goal of our theological studies here is not to organize a liturgical police force, but to form men and women who can communicate the Truth in love. Too many times I’ve seen zeal for orthodoxy overcome charity towards and respect for fellow Catholics. Knowledge of the Church’s teachings and of correct liturgical practice cannot be used to produce change unless it is rooted in an attitude of humility, reverence and charity.

Noelle Hiester’s article on extraordinary ministers in the last issue of the Concourse is a good example of what I mean. I respect her desire to see the Eucharist treated rightly, but, in her effort to correct “abuses,” she makes the Church teachings seem stricter than they are, and unjustly condemns those who interpret them differently as either ignorant of the teachings or consciously “disobedient to the Church.”

She begins by stressing that the priest is the ordinary minister of Communion, and that the Holy Father sees the distribution of the Eucharist as one of the priest’s primary tasks. I doubt anyone on our campus would dispute that statement. But she is in error when she jumps to the conclusion that the regular use of lay ministers by itself implies that priests are abdicating a sacred responsibility. This cannot be true if the laity are commissioned and serve according to the Church’s guidelines, as at this University. I see no place where the Church says extraordinary ministers cannot be used regularly; thus I see no abuse.

The exaggeration becomes even clearer and more destructive when she implies that the practice at our University is indicative of the sort of “reprehensible attitude” on the part of priests which is condemned in the documents. The line she is quoting from is this: “Accordingly, a reprehensible attitude is shown by those priests who, though present at the celebration, refrain from distributing Communion and leave this task to the laity.” Please note that the “reprehensible attitude” described here is not simply when extraordinary ministers are allowed in the presence of a priest, but when a priest is present at the liturgy and does not distribute Communion himself, but remains seated while the lay ministers distribute Communion alone. This point is reiterated in Inestibum Donum #10 which says: “But these encouraging and positive aspects cannot suppress concern at the varied and frequent abuses being reported from different parts of the Catholic world: the confusion of roles, especially regarding the priestly ministry and the role of the laity (indiscriminate shared recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer, homilies given by lay people, lay people distributing Communion while the priests refrain from doing so)...” I have never seen any of these things happen at Franciscan University.

The use of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist is permitted, as Miss Hiester herself pointed out, “when the number of the faithful going to communion is so large as to make the Mass excessively long.” The Church gives no specific time increment, so who is to make the decision about how long is “excessively long”? An observer? a participant? or someone with pastoral responsibility for the congregation, who can look at the needs of all present? I firmly believe that it should be the latter, for only the pastor sees the whole picture. He has the duty, and therefore the right, to determine how the general directives can be best applied for the good of his particular congregation.

Take, for example, the 12:05 Mass on our campus, which is offered mainly for staff members. This Mass generally ends at 12:45, giving the staff only fifteen minutes to get out of the chapel, eat lunch and return to work. Without lay ministers of the Eucharist, it would easily be extended by ten to fifteen minutes, making it virtually impossible for staff to attend Mass on campus regularly. The evening Mass has an even larger attendance and typically lasts longer than the noon Mass; if only one priest were available to distribute Communion, it could last an hour and a half—and these are daily Masses.

Some might suggest that if more people are needed to distribute Communion, the other priests on campus could come to help, even if they are not concelebrating the Mass. But this would clearly put a huge, undue burden on our priests, who are over-worked as it is. Besides their regular priestly duties (which on our campus are extremely demanding), many hold full-time positions as professors, staff members or students. In addition, the friars are living in a religious community with its own time commitments. And although the priests who serve on this campus are generally very devout, I haven’t heard that any of them has yet been gifted with bilocation. When the Church decided to allow its lay members to distribute communion I know she did it as a way of relieving her priests of impossible burdens.

But it is not simply a matter of convenience for priests. Having lay ministers of the Eucharist helps us all to celebrate the Mass with the full expression encouraged by the Church, because it allows us to receive Jesus under both species, and to make a proper thanksgiving afterwards, all within a reasonable amount of time.

I hope that this fuller picture is making clear why the University has the policies it does.

There is one fact that people easily forget when discussing the appropriateness of eucharistic ministers: that these ministers are commissioned by the pastors of our University, and ultimately by Bishop Sheldon. To question the legitimacy of eucharistic ministers is to question the authority of these men. Now, I’m not saying that we should never raise concerns or criticize our pastors’ policies or practices, for then the laity would be forsaking an important role that they are given in the Church. The Catechism says: “In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they posses, lay people have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons” CCC#908. But note that it says “in accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence they posses”. Reading one or two documents that the Church has promulgated in regard to the Eucharist is not enough to make a student a liturgist. The use of Eucharistic ministers is not a black and white “legal” issue, it is instead a pastoral one, left (within the given limits) to the prudence of pastors and bishops. Without proper training, and a pastoral perspective, students are not in a position to make judgments about the practical application of Church directives. Further, the Catechism says that opinions are to be made known “with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors”. It seems to me that a proper reverence for our pastors should make us very reluctant to criticize their decisions in matters like these, much less to accuse them publicly of ignorance or religious disobedience or causing scandal.

Noelle Hiester’s article is just one example of a widespread problem on our campus. There is a lack of humility, a lack of respect, and a legalistic attitude in many of our students that will disable them from ministering in our world. As I said earlier, we need to have the ability to communicate the truth in love. Give nothing but the truth—don’t water it down, but don’t add to it either; and do it in love—without judgment; trying to see from someone else’s perspective. If our students are unable to proclaim the truth in this manner, then the education they have received here at Franciscan University will have been practically worthless.

Alicia (Doman) Hernon graduated from FUS in 1994. She and her husband, Michael (class of ‘94) live in Steubenville where Michael is an admissions counselor at the University.