A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Phoenix Rising

The Arizona Republic reported today that Bishop Thomas Olmsted is reversing his earlier decision to limit Communion under both forms in the diocese of Phoenix.

[I]n his letter to priests dated Monday, the bishop cited as the reason for his change of mind "two primary changes in my understanding" of three church documents that govern the new Mass translation and distribution of Communion.He said he had misunderstood that the church was not denying permission for laypeople to distribute Communion, only that it had withdrawn permission for them to officially prepare the cups used to offer wine to the congregation.A specific paragraph of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal governing Communion under both forms should be interpreted far more broadly than he had done."The bishop could permit Holy Communion under both kinds, and I am exercising this faculty to do so," Olmsted wrote.

Diocesan officials have promised to release full details on their website on Monday.

[Those who missed theearlier decision limiting Communion from the cup might want to read my post discussing the reasons that were put forwardby the Archdiocese of Phoenix at the time.]

Because the move to limit Communion under both forms was linked to supposed changes being introduced with the third edition of the Roman Missal,some priests andparishionershave been requesting policy clarifications from their bishops and from the Liturgy Secretariate of the Bishops' Conference.Among the bishops, support for sharingCommunion from the cup has not been lacking.Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop McGrath of San Jose sent outletters clearlyreaffirming the practice fortheir dioceses.Many American dioceses are happy with the practice. The Archdiocese ofBaltimore and the DioceseSioux City, to name two that werecalled to my attention, have recent guidelines posted on theirwebsites thatshow apositive stance towardsharing Communion under both forms. The Baltimore guidelines even go so far as to say:

In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Holy Communion under both kinds is to be considered normative. Parishes that do not currently offer Communion under the species of wine should implement this practice.

On October 26, Bishop Gregory Aymond, head of the USCCB Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, sent a letter to all the American bishops with information clarifying legislation on the subject -- no doubt in response to the volume of questions arising from what happened in Phoenix. This documentation explained that the"expired indult"did not concern Communion from the cup, but rather the permission for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to purify the vessels.On the Phoenix website, reference to the expired indult was removed on October 27, though the rest of the FAQs document remained.

The latest news from Phoenix, however, suggests that a more direct explanation and change of course is going to be made public on Monday. (The FAQs document has beenremoved.)

It takes humility to admit to having made a mistake, and it takes courage to reassess a situation that has gone astray and take appropriate steps to change things. It's too bad things went as far as they did before a mistake of such importance was caught and corrected, but I am happy for the church of Phoenix and for Bishop Olmsted himself that things will be set right again.

OK. Now how about those altar girls?

About the Author

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press).



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

It's wonderful news. The memo from Bishop Aymond is very well composed and corrects the mistaken interpretations that have been circulating in the past month or so. I recommend reading it (it's linked in the article above).

The new Norms for Phoenx have been published - also a newspaper article by Bishop Olmstead explaining them:Norms:

This is heartening news--not only about the reversal in Phoenix but also about Bishop Olmsted's humble admission of misunderstanding the norms. The cynic in me wonders what kind of pressure his brother bishops exerted that he should be so forthright about this issue. After all, the issue with Sister Margaret McBride seemed to be equally ill-informed, but he got a pass on that one. But I may be too jaded for my own good. Maybe it's best just to take the gift for what it is and celebrate it as such.

Mark Jameson,Good observation. I, too, am pleased with the bishop's reversal, and I applaud his humility. Something, however, that I have a hard time getting by is how a bishop could have misread three Vatican documents. Now is that just a face saving explanation? Or did he willfully misinterpret those documents because he does not himself favor Communion under two species? Can he really be sincere in saying that he misinterpreted the documents? I would prefer the explanation where he willfully misread the documents to the one which says he did not understand them. If indeed he did not comprehend these three documents, how much else has he missed? Moreover, how many other bishops are there out there who cannot read? Is this the real side of the great legacy of John Paul the Great?

Alan, I really hope it was an honest mistake. Because if he willfully misread the documents or just plain ignored them, it shows how little regard he has for the intelligence of lay people in the church. I can handle a bishop who may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. What I can't handle is a bishop who thinks he can rule by divine fiat. Somehow, the message got through to Bishop Olmsted that he is accountable, and he changed course. So is this a minor blip in an otherwise autocratic ruling style? Or dare we hope it's the beginning of a new way of shepherding his people?

Wish I could be as optimistic as you both. This liturgical decision (his second in two months) and his handling of the McBride affair points out a troubling pattern. Sorry, but how can a responsible bishop so mis-read the new GIRM and communion under both kinds unless there is an agenda to start with. You would think that a call to the USCCB office to clarify would have been one logical step; you would think that asking his pastors would have been a responsible step.Rather, what you see is a top down, old style, bishop is the TEACHER (incorrectly understood) model. His track record is a series of these types of decisions which refute the very principles of Vatican II. In a broader context, Olmsted politically grabs very any type of USCCB position or headline. Why? Is that the role of a bishop? Now he is on Dolan's committee for religious liberty - and what qualifies him for that role? Because no one else wanted it?The lack of careful thought; lack of basic knowledge; lack of trustful authority (vs. authoritarianism) are all very concerning. You can take joy in this retraction but what we need to really see is Olmsted never making the headlines again and learning how to focus on Phoenix and listening to his pastors and people. Not much hope of that.

Whatever his motive, we should be grateful that he has done the right thing.Bishops have advisors. It's entirely possible that, rather than personally immersing himself in the documents, he was relying on advice that turned out to be bad.Hasn't Bishop Morlino in Madison, WI, initiated similar restrictions, with the same rationale? Will another mea culpa be forthcoming?

Bill, you may be right. There doesn't seem much room for optimism, but I'll take every bit I can get. Also, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt--even when it's hard to do so. I'd like to think that's how Jesus acted as well.I did find it heartening, as Rita reported, that so many bishops responded in a way that publicly corrected Bishop Olmsted's pronouncements. I'm sure there were a number of phone calls and e-mails between these guys and Olmsted--and likely not all were as measured as the norms sound. I also suspect that Bishop Olmsted is not the most popular boy in the class right now. And that's a good thing, I think. There's a greater chance, now, that he'll be on his best behavior for a while, paying more attention to the people of Phoenix.

I'm with Bill deHaas and, to a slightly lesser extent, with Alan Mitchell on this one. I don't see humility in Olmsted's reversal. I see, rather, his de facto acknowledgement that he was way out of step with other bishops. It's too bad that Olmsted accepted Sister McBride's apology/confession/whatever over the St. Joseph Hospital tragedy: Talk about episcopal arrogance! I think I speak for most Catholics who believe that this good sister was never actually "lataed" out of the Church of Rome. On the other hand, regarding Olmsted's actual standing among his local Catholics, I can only wonder......Olmsted is a rigid, narrowly focused, doctrinaire fella. I'd be very surprised if he's really changed his stripes --- or has even taken the real first steps toward doing so.Good news about communion for Phoenix Catholics.As for his orthotoxy, Olmsted is not going to change.I hope he proves me wrong, but I'm not optimistic.

I'm not sure what Olmstead meant regarding lay people can no longer officially prepare the cupsI do know that they can no longer purify them after communion. Would someone have an idea?

Another mis-read - he hasn't a clue about that specific line/section of his "de facto" acknowlegement.Jim - all I can say is that (with Harry S. Truman), the buck stops here. Olmsted can throw his people under the bus if he wants to but the final decision and explanation is his no matter how much he dances around it.

"Hasnt Bishop Morlino in Madison, WI, initiated similar restrictions, with the same rationale? Will another mea culpa be forthcoming?"You obviously don't know Morlino, do you?This man got it right without having to be corrected in the first place:"Im not sure what Olmstead meant regarding lay people can no longer officially prepare the cupsI do know that they can no longer purify them after communion. Would someone have an idea?" The idea is simply rampant nonsensical clericalism.

Bill - of course.

Jim P, you asked about Madison. It's not a mea culpa by a long shot, but the bishop there gave a signal that he isn't going to move in on anybody who continues the practice for the time being.Bishop Morlino released this letter: emphasizes the need for catechesis. He says he would never eliminate communion under both forms completely (something no one said he would do), and then he argues that Vatican II didn't want or expect it to be offered every Sunday. He reiterates the passages of the GIRM that say it should not be offered when there is inadequate preparation and reverence. And he says this:"I have been told of, and have personally experienced, the reality that the provision both that the faithful be well instructed and that there be no danger of profanation of the Sacrament, is not being met. As such, while recognizing the need for patient, prudent and practical steps according to your individual parishes, Ive asked you to move in this direction." What "this direction" is however remains unsaid. Is it reverence? Is it more adequate catechesis? Is it more infrequent use, eliminating Sundays? The rector of his cathedral certainly thought he had used the same rationale as Phoenix and asked for its restriction to limited occasions. In the Bishop's subsequent memo, I think he still leaves it a bit unclear. Saying "no deadine" is nice, but no deadline on what?His diocesan liturgy director, Pat Gorman, subsequently sent out this memo. again, but he prefaces his remarks by saying he hasn't talked to Bishop Morlino about it recently. So what weight this memo has is also unclear. What it looks like to me is that Bishop Morlino said some strong words at the meeting, and then when it got so much negative publicity he was alarmed and decided to take a softer approach. Maybe somebody pointed out to him in the meantime that the "expiring indult" was a red herring. On the other hand, maybe the rector of the cathedral made it all up. But I rather doubt that.

Michael and Nancy, I suspect the part about "preparation" was misstated by the reporter of the news story. Purification of the vessels takes place after communion, as you know, but he might not have understood that.

Regarding preparing the cups: if, as is common, a number of cups will be used to distribute the precious blood during communion, wine is poured into the cups during the preparation of the bread and wine. I took the newspaper article to indicate that laypersons are not supposed to pour the wine into the vessels - a priest or a deacon is supposed to do this.

Rita Ferrone said "How about those altar girls?"Today's Washington Post has an article about a parish doing away with female altar servers. Girls who are already serving can continue to do so, but no new ones will be accepted. The ones who continue will have to wear white robes while the boys will wear black robes (modelling the priest, I guess). "Taylor [the pastor], who did not return phone calls for comment, wrote in the parish bulletin that he hoped the church would create opportunities, and perhaps clubs for girls as a way to help them find ways to serve the church, rather than serving at the altar.

... [Trackback] ... [...] Informations on that Topic: [...] ...

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment