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The Case in Phoenix

It has been pretty much the talk of the liturgical town that Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona, is withdrawing permission to give communion under both forms to the laity except under certain limited conditions. Communion from the cup will no longer be offered in Phoenix on ordinary Sundays or weekdays.His decision is unusual for the great American West and puzzling on a number of levels. Many observers have wondered if Bishop Olmsted isa bellwether, a leader in liturgical trends. Will others surely follow in this path? Or, one might ask, is he merely copying the fashions in Rome without deep thought, whereas other bishops would think twice about restricting a well-established andbenign practice such as this.It helps to know some history.

The Second Vatican Council opened the door to a broader use of communion under both forms for the laity. It did so cautiously, because the measure was controversial at the time. Some of the fathers were adamantly opposed to it. They were persuaded to support the measure because the instances named in Sacrosanctum Concilium were few. Others favored a broader implementation. They were persuaded to vote for the measure because there would be the possibility of extending the practice through local permissions.

We've inherited in our documents the tension that existed at that time. A sort of "Yes, but" refrain runs through official literature on the subject. And, as everyone knows, there has been a rush lately to revisit and revive the minority opinions on almost everything the Council decided, especially in the area of liturgy.

Nevertheless, I think it is safe to say that on balance, since the Council, the Church has moved firmly in the direction of the fuller use of the sign by offering easier access to communion under both forms. In fact, it is a signal accomplishment that the 2002 General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) actually broadened the permission and made it easier to achieve for the worldwide church.

The issue is an important one. The driving force behind the restoration of the cup to the laity is two-fold. The reason most often cited is the fullness of the sign. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal has this to say:

281. Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father.

The second value implicit in this restored practice is ecumenisma central theme of the Council. Although not at the front of many Catholics consciousness in this connection, ecumenism is an important reason for movement in the direction of sharing the cup more broadly. By giving the cup to the laity, the Roman Catholic Church removed what had been a cause for reproach during the Reformation, and drew closer to Christians of both the East and the West who have long held communion under both forms as their normal practice. It was quite a neat move, actually. We never gave up Trent'saffirmation that one species is good enough, but we graciously moved toward visible unity with those who offered both.

Offering communion under both forms to the laity is not new. Rather, it is a return to the practice of the Catholic Church of the first millennium. As the Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America (2002) notes:

From the first days of the Churchs celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion consisted of the reception of both species in fulfillment of the Lords command to take and eattake and drink. The distribution of Holy Communion to the faithful under both kinds was thus the norm for more than a millennium of Catholic liturgical practice. (no. 17).

So, whats going on in Phoenix in 2011? Based on the FAQs from the diocese [pdf], a whole basketful of rationales, some quite dubious, have been put forward to support this change.


The FAQs that the Diocese posted on their website claim, erroneously, that restricting the cup to certain specific occasions (thus prohibiting it on ordinary Sundays and weekdays) stems from recent changes in the GIRM (FAQ2).The GIRM, revised in 2002, has indeed been retranslated and recently re-released. The 2011 version rewords quite a bit of the 2002 text. But none of the items concerning Communion from the Cup have been changed in their substance. The text is on line. Anyone can read it. The provisions are the same.


The FAQs also mystifyingly state that the United States had a 25 year special permission to experiment with Holy Communion under both forms (FAQ13). This implies that the time is up, and the experiment failed.

Not so. Our national document was updated and confirmed by the Vatican in 2002. If anything, the success of the experiment is reflected in the relaxation of the rules in the GIRM 2002 to make it easier for bishops to grant permission to their pastors for sharing the cuprules that are replicated in the 2011 edition.The U.S. bishops Web site says that in 2006 Pope Benedict did not renew a special permission for the United States. But when a special permission is not renewed, the default setting is universal legislation, which brings us back to the GIRM 2011.


The FAQs also assert that the need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon by excessive use of extraordinary (lay) ministers might in some circumstances constitute a reason for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species. This is explained in the GIRM, paragraph 24. (FAQ12).

Here is GIRM 24:

24. These adaptations consist, for the most part, in the choice of certain rites or texts, that is, of the chants, readings, prayers, explanatory interventions, and gestures capable of responding better to the needs, the preparation, and the culture of the participants and which are entrusted to the Priest Celebrant. However, the Priest will remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.

If you can find the explanation here, you are doing better than I am.

Well, we could talk more about documents, but lets just leave it at that. The FAQs are lacking documentary evidence for why this move is either necessary or helpful at this time. Restricting the cup may be the personal preference of the bishop, but its not at all clear that this is something other bishops will want to do or that the pope and our official documents are demanding.


How about philosophical or practical grounds? In other words, can we tell whats at stake in Bishop Olmsted's decision by reading the explanations given in the FAQs? I do see several arguments being presented.

One is a least-common-denominator form of solidarity with countries that dont offer communion under both forms because of poverty.In response to this, however, I think we need to ask some hard questions. Like, should Phoenix turn off its air conditioners in solidarity with poor churches around the world that cant afford air conditioning. Or, should we refuse to accept priests from Africa and India to serve in American parishes when their own dioceses have a lower ratio of priests to people. I don't understand why communion under both forms is the place where sacrifices must be made so that we will feel closer to the poor of the world. How about if we fund the expansion of the practice in poorer communities?

Another is the danger of profanation. This seems to be a big concern, and the forms of it are even listed: careless treatment, spillage, swilling, etc. (FAQ4). Is the Eucharist being profaned in Phoenix? I have no evidence in support of this whatsoever. But just for argument's sake, lets say that it is. Wouldn't a better response be to take a moratorium for a specified period of time, during which catechesis and pastoral guidance could be offered as well as renewed training for all who minister Communion from the cup?

Strangely, whenever profanation is brought forward it seems that those who espouse it believe there is always risk of profaning the sacrament by offering the cup, no matter what measures are taken. Here is where I begin to smell a phony argument. If the risk of profanation is perennial for the Eucharist under the species of wine, it is also true for the Eucharist under the species of bread.

Finally, there is the specialness argument for having communion from the cup only on special occasions. The assumption is that it becomes mundane to have it all the time. The trouble with this argument is that it assigns a decorative function to communion from the cup that paradoxically trivializes it.

The Eucharistic signs aren't like flowers or brass instruments, something you add to the liturgy on festive occasions. The fullness of the sign in the Eucharist points to our redemption, not to the festivity of the day. Saving the cup for special days is also the same sort of argument given for having communion once a month in certain Protestant churchesnot a way of thinking that we want to replicate.

In short, from the information shared publicly to date, I do not think Bishop Olmsted has presented any kind of solid, credible case for his decision. In the absence of a good case, unfortunately, observers are free to speculate that this is a matter of fashion, of pleasing people in Rome, or part of a greater scheme of which the new translation of the Roman Missal is a part (Bishop Olmsted is a member of Vox Clara) of turning the clock back on what I daresay may be classed as organic liturgical developments which have occurred since the Council.

As the diocesan bishop, he certainly can decide what to do in his diocese, but the sheer exercise of power without persuasion is an ineffective means of governing. If other bishops are watching, I hope they realize that what they are seeing is a bad example.


Commenting Guidelines

I am sorry to see the discussion take this turn, for to be concerned about the restriction of the ministry of the cup to only some limited occasions is quite a separate question from challenging diversity of ministries in the liturgy, or suggesting that the existence of "order" in the liturgy as a whole is the problem. Lisa, I suspect your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek when you suggest that "Maybe Olmsted is helping us to envision a post-Eucharistic church," but let me respond for the sake of argument. I am quite sure he desires nothing of the sort. From my reading and conversations with numerous people who are critical of the liberalizing reforms that came after the Council, I can say with confidence: they are firmly convinced that their program is the "cure" for what ails the church in our time. By renouncing such practices as communion from the cup, altar girls, women allowed in the sanctuary, and all the rest, they believe we will usher in a new springtime for the Catholic church and attract a great number of young men to the priesthood.I believe they are wrong and that the attempt to go in this direction will backfire and prove extremely damaging over the long run. But I wouldn't for a moment suggest that they are anti-Eucharist or willfully planning the downfall of the liturgy.

My question----why are people like Bishop Olmsted permitted to crucify the Church without the people even having the courage to stand up for themselves?All of the discussion above has been nothing BUT a discussion. In the actual reality of the situation in Phoenix----it doesn't mean one IOTA. From all that is happening in the world and in America, obviously the Church belongs to the Hierarchy, they believe it and so does every one else.In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of American Catholics that they were the most democratic of all the Americans, and also the most submissive. He was right then, and he is right today.

Little Bear - Good question. Who would hear the people if they stood up? In the case of St. Joseph's Hospital, Bp. Olmsted decreed that it could not be considered Catholic and prohibited celebration of Mass there and reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel. The building is presumably adequately chastened while the sick and those who struggle to heal them do without. rector of Bishop Olmsted's cathedral decided to abolish altar girls based on "a proper understanding of theological anthropology, sacramental theology, and ecclesiology", and, "naturally", consultation with his bishop. He explicitly ignored his parish council since it "is not comprised of members formally trained in theology and liturgy ". Finding out from and through them what actually moves real boys and girls vocationally, his alleged concern, was apparently not of much interest. (#7 in ) Rita's bottom line applies -- "If other bishops are watching, I hope they realize that what they are seeing isa bad example" -- but signs of it happening are not evident.

Lisa, with all due respect and charity, how can we be a post-Eucharistic people and remain Catholic? The Church throughout its history has gathered around the Table/Altar (regardless of where you stand on that subject) and has entered into a deeper understanding of the Paschal Mystery through the celebration of the Sacraments and those Sacraments form us and give us life. No sacraments - no life. I appreciate your spirit of generosity to Bishop Olmsted, but that conclusion does not stand the test of Catholic teachings or practices whatsoever. If we do away with the Eucharist as a post-Eucharistic label would imply, we might as well become Quakers or Baptists, or any thing else. Our identity is totally enmeshed within the Eucharist.

The rector of the cathedral in Madison. WI has announced that they will no longer distribute communion under both forms except on a few limited occasions explanation is simply that the Indult expired in 2005. No indication that the bishop could have authorized continuing the existing practice."Almost no one realized that until very recently. Maybe we can beforgiven for forgetting that we were operating under a temporaryindult. After thirty years, something can seem pretty permanent. Butit wasnt. The bishops of our country did apply for an extension ofthe 1975 in-dult, but that was denied.So, all over the United States, we now find ourselves needing to bringour practice into conformity with current regulations (and with therest of the world). In his comments at Chula Vista, Bishop Morlinomentioned a few instances in which Communion under both kinds isstill permitted: the Chrism Mass, the Feast of Corpus Christi, for thebride and groom at a Nuptial Mass, and for those so allergic to wheatthat they cannot tolerate even low-gluten hosts. Beyond thoseoccasions and circumstances, Communion can be offered under bothspecies at celebrations of special importance. But it is clear thatwe will not be seeing Communion under both species as a weeklypractice."

The Madison cathedral's pastor is already a monsignor.What's the next reward for this sycophantic behavior?Rules.Rules.Glorious Rules.(and their interpretation)And the ecclesial crap continues.Unabated.

The FAQ have been updated, and a question has been added about celiac disease: there will be special provisions for those with celiac disease.

Indeed, i was speaking ironically about a post-Eucharistic Church. I believe the RC Church is intrinsically sacramental, with Eucharist centrally important to Catholic worship. (I have written, e.g., about the pastoral and theological problems when a shortage of priests leads to a substitution of "Communion Services" in which laypeople present to the people of God hosts consecrated at another service. A good practice for the sick, a bad practice to be the liturgical norm for whole communities several weekends a month.) To say "receiving the cup as well as the host is not necessary for salvation" (one of Olmsted's "reasons" for denying the cup to the laity,) is like saying "eucharist more than annually (the canonical minimum, yes?) is not necessary for salvation. True, but not the point. Lovers don't ration their signs of affection by asking "how often must I kiss my beloved in order to sustain our love?" Nor do they ration kissing against hugging. Lovers seek the beloved. If it's true in human relationships, isn't it even more true when what we seek is Communion--oneness--with the Lord?I will make more generous use of the appropriate emoticons in the future, and I apologize for the ambiguity.

Rita,I agree- I suspect that Olmsted thinks that reserving the cup to the ordained will attract more men to the priesthood. I think there are at least two flaws with his reasoning, if this is the case:1. Doesn't it undercut his point that the people should be content with the host? if a man is moved to devote his whole life to the service of the Church as a celibate (or a permanent deacon, with the shadow of celibacy should his wife die,) isn't that a testimony to how important it is for Christians--all of us called to union with Christ--to receive the sign as fully as we are able?2. What kind of man would enter the priesthood in order to be set apart from those he serves by denying them access to the cup? Servant leaders, or those obsessed with clerical "otherness," a stance which is in fundamental contradiction with the entirety of the doctrine of the Incarnation? Emmanuel is "God WITH us," after all.

Little Bear, if one were to lodge a complaint, it goes to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, not to the Metropolitan Archbishop. That is the chain set forth in Redemptionis Sacramentum, a document that, as it appears to me, seems to be ignored by those who level undue criticism at the Bishop of Phoenix.As to the issue of the hospital, the administrators of that health care facility were the ones who placed themselves outside of the Church by permitting the abortion. If the sick are left without Mass, blame the hospital, not the bishop.Lisa, receiving the Precious Blood from the chalice is not mandatory; it never has been. Bear in mind that the entire glorified Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is contained in the Sacred Host, no matter how small that particle may be. Perhaps you would do well to re-read the Laud Sion sequence we chant on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Michelle Marie Romani 10/11/2011 - 4:46 pmBishop Olmsted made his mark in his prepared public statement of 12/21/10. He said: "In this [St. Joseph's] case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated." His public justification of his allegation of abortion was patently false about the baby and the pregnancy as shown by year-old information to which he had access. The non-viable (11 weeks) fetus's entire and only life support was observably dying. "Healthy"? That dying in progress was why the woman was in the hospital. Pregnancy is a whole-body process as any doctor (or mother) would have readily told him if he asked, not a matter of an organ. It vitally needs the woman's lungs, heart, and circulation. "No problems"? Whether the falsehood was due to ignorance or agenda is irrelevant. Its publication by him showed Olmsted's approach to a profoundly serious, real, life-and-death problem. His deliberate prohibition of Mass (read his letter) for the seriously sick, who had nothing to do with the problem, is an odd way to treat people who could use some charity.

Jack, the Church protects life from conception to natural death. What the hospital did was wrong. Bishop Olmstead took the Church's stand and rightfully stripped away the hospital's "Catholic" standing.What is sad is that there are liberals who seem to want to have it both ways. If a priest celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form, the liberals will say that the bishop has the right to determine if this can happen (which is a false notion, given Summorum Pontificem); however, if a bishop rightly exercises his legitimate authority in regulating the manner in which Holy Communion under Both Species is distributed in his diocese, the liberals start protesting.I fail to see any objectivity in the blog author's post. It seems to me that rather than look at the entire picture, she picks and chooses what she wants to highlight. This does no one any good.Both Bishop Olmstead and Bishop Morlino have acted justly and fairly.