Who is my neighbor?
Liturgical Catechesis: “I’m confused about when to sit after Holy Communion.”
The 2003 General Instructions of the Roman Missal (or GIRM) outlines guidelines for liturgy. It states, “In the dioceses of the United States of America [the congregation] should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer.… The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise” (No. 43).
The GIRM makes no mention of a posture after Communion. This led to some confusion since many felt the congregation should stand until everyone had received Communion. A letter to the Holy See, reported by a U.S. Bishops’ newsletter reported, “In the implementation of the General Instructions, posture should not be regulated so rigidly as to forbid individual communicants from kneeling or sitting when returning from having received Holy Communion” (p. 26).
Because we may sit after Communion, we may reasonably presume permission to kneel as long as we like. The celebrant’s returning the Hosts to the tabernacle brings the Communion rite (one of the “principal parts” of the Mass) to a close, and many of us grew up kneeling until then. To kneel while the Eucharistic vessels are purified is not required, but the respect it shows should by no means be discouraged. On to this week’s reflection..
I’ve been sharing items that were discussed in a recent “Deanery 4” meeting. One topic was “Regional Schools” vs. “Parish Schools.” We first discussed statistics. There is a limited “resource pie” of children available in our area. Competition from top shelf public- private Catholic and private academy schools is significant. Demographic studies shows a declining enrollment in Chester area parish schools.
We discussed the difference between a “pure” regional school vs. a “several-parishes-combined school.” A “pure regional” school model is found in other areas of the country. This is similar to what we have in Philadelphia with our high schools. The school has open enrollment. The building does not rest on any parish grounds. This model has been used in other areas of the country with primary schools as well. A similar model is found in New York. In New York, they have a system of “primary schools” and a system of “secondary (high) schools.” The schools are totally independent. They are not directly tied to the local parish in any way. The school just happens to be located in former parish school buildings. When faced with increasing costs, declining enrollment, what do you do when several parishes need to combine resources and combine schools? Parishioners’ attitude has often been, “Sure, let’s combine but just make sure the location is here.” That is often a non-starter for a fruitful conversation.
Regardless of the model used, what are some of the important issues that need to be considered? Cost is huge. “Brick-and-mortar schools” involve significant fixed expenses, parish subsidies, salaries, benefits and debt. If a parish has a “parish school” these expenses lead to the declining availability of resources for discipleship, formation, liturgy and spiritual programs.
Historically, Philadelphia families have been fiercely loyal to their parishes and parish schools. How do we pay for regional schools if that is deemed a more workable model? What is the ability – and willingness – of parishioners to invest in support of a school that is no longer directly associated with their parish? How would parishes subsidize regional schools? To what financial extent would this support be feasible? In some cases, local pastors say to a school, “Here’s what we’re giving. That’s it. Now go and make your budget.”
The current Catholic culture and atmosphere is not in sync with the reasons why Catholic schools were founded in the first place. The reason for Catholic schools was to pass on the faith to future generations. With close to 40% of Catholic parish families not attending Sunday Mass with their children, is this really working to fulfill the mission? The idea that “If you fill the school, you’ll fill the pews” has proven to be false. One priest commented: “We’re failing because we are not looking at this honestly.”
We talked about national Catholic school trends. 70% of parishes nation-wide do not have a “parish” or “regional” Catholic school. It begs the (some would say heretical) question: “What is the necessity of Catholic schools in a parish or even in our Archdiocese?”
Finally, who works all of this out? What is the time frame to finding solutions to such complex issues?
A final topic discussed at the Deanery Meeting dealt with the internet. Specifically we discussed internet safety and internet addictions. A “Safe Haven Sunday” was recently introduced by the Archdiocese on March 2-3, 2019. As Archbishop Chaput wrote, improper and immoral internet use “is one of leading causes of addictions, abuse, adultery, divorce, and even human trafficking. It creates unsafe environment for children and undermines marriages and families. Safe Haven Sunday will give us an opportunity to address the damage done to marriages, families and our culture as a whole, while providing helpful resources for individuals and families.” An implementation guide for parishes has already been developed. Further information on this initiative will be forthcoming.
A few parishioners have mentioned that they miss the “liturgical notes” that I was including at the beginning of my weekly reflections. Over the past few weeks, there were some practical items that I needed to cover. Hence the liturgy notes ended up on the cutting room floor. I reintroduce them this week below.
During Lent and especially during Holy Week, we do a lot of “liturgical gymnastics” (sitting, standing, kneeling, genuflecting..) What do I do if I am injured or have difficulty genuflecting?
Pastorally speaking, if you are injured; if you are older, if you have bad knees, if you cannot – for any legitimate reason – genuflect – don’t. Putting yourself in some kind of physical discomfort or in a potential fall risk is NOT going to affect how much God likes you. A reverential bow towards the tabernacle (an ancient liturgical gesture of respect and reverence) is sufficient if it is done in a reverential manner. It also might have an evangelizing effect. If done well, a reverential bow has a certain beauty that others notice and serves as a reminder of the sacred space in which all find themselves. Now, let me continue with my reflection from last week…
I began to share some items that were discussed in a recent meeting of “Deanery 4**”. I did this upon the suggestion of several parishioners. They mentioned that such information is relevant to parishioners today. More transparency and information from the Catholic Church in general, and from the Archdiocese specifically, would be a positive development.
I started talking about visits to sick and dying Catholics. Parishes have fewer number of priests. They are dealing with caring for an increased number of hospitals, nursing homes and senior living centers. We also have an aging “Baby Boomer Generation.” This has led to an increased number of elderly people in homes in the Philadelphia area. Moving forward, the issue involves setting proper expectations against pastoral demands. With fewer priests and an aging priest population, we are beginning to see challenges for priests even to cover Masses. Covering hospitals and institutions are becoming a luxury more and more.
The pastor from one city parish said, “We’ll anoint all Catholics when they arrive. We can’t do “emergency” anointings any more. Several suburban parishes covering a large hospital all chipped in to hire a religious sister. She covers the hospital and provides Communion daily. The priest is called only in the case of “true emergencies” (competently discerned by the religious sister). This religious sister has been a great Catholic source of on-site information. She helps discern situations with particular patients. This is especially important when dealing with hospital administrations and Protestant chaplains. Many are (at best) non-cooperative or (worst case) hostile towards the Catholic Church. This is a nice solution. Nevertheless, cost is one negating factor. One must also recognize that the number of religious sisters in our areas is declining. Some religious orders are aging. Future availability might not be a ready option.
Utilizing “Hospital Ministry Teams” is another approach. They have helped immensely to reduce the number of unnecessary emergency calls. Coverage of the spiritual, pastoral and sacramental needs of Catholics is also better. The downside is that these teams do not do any emergency calls in the evenings. They have to be available during the day. Thus younger people with full-time jobs are typically not available. They have to be trained. They need various police and abuse clearances. They sometimes need to be certified by the hospital. Thus, the solution does have logistical challenges to overcome.
In considering policies and planning for the future, some questions were asked. “What about backup if a priest is away or on vacation or on retreat?” “Is it reasonable that there is an expectation of receiving Communion every day in a hospital. Most people weren’t receiving Communion every day when they were not in the hospital” “Can a uniform archdiocesan policy be developed and then distributed to all hospitals? Such a policy does not exist today.” “What about a parish sick call policy? This would outline: ‘This is what you can expect from your local parish priest. This is what we will do. This is what we will not do.” “We need to inform nurse staff and parishioners about the theology and practice of the ‘Sacrament of Anointing.’ For example, there is really no “Last Rites” anymore. That falls under “Sacrament of Anointing: Anointing of the Dying.” If a person was already anointed while they were seriously sick, but not dying, it is not necessary to anoint the person again once death is imminent. Hospital staffs and owners shift and change. You can have a policy but if a new nurse has come in, do they know the policy? How to account for this staff turnover?” “How do we address the problem of a lack of faith, lack of religious practice and a serious ignorance and understanding of the sacraments in our culture?”
Some people might find these questions uncomfortable and the approaches being implemented by some parishes uncaring. Yet, parishes and priests are trying to deal with statistical reality. We are certainly open to a conversation with parishioners. In addition, we always welcome parishioners who wish to come forward, volunteer to participate and implement new and creative solutions.
Parishes in Deanery 4: Archdiocese of Philadelphia: Our Lady of the Assumption (Strafford), SS. Philip and James (Exton), St. Ann (Phoenixville), St. Basil the Great (Kimberton), St. Elizabeth (Upper Uwchlan), St. Isaac Jogues (Wayne), St. Joseph (Downingtown), St. Joseph (Spring City), St. Mary of the Assumption (Phoenixville), St. Monica (Berwyn), St. Norbert (Paoli), St. Patrick (Malvern), St. Thomas More (South Coventry).