On the occasion of the upcoming solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, please allow me to thank all who attended the meeting in January to discuss the U.S. Bishops’ document, Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States. I am grateful that so many of you took that time to examine this document, to share your concerns, and to hear about the priorities for our Diocese regarding the implementation of these new norms. In addition, I am encouraged by your efforts to implement these priorities and renew the spirit of fuller participation in the Eucharistic celebration by all the faithful that these norms promote.
It is my hope that all parishes in the Diocese of San Jose will soon be able to put into regular practice the two directives that I highlighted from the document:
That Communion from the cup will be made available to all the faithful at every Sunday and feast day Mass, and
That hosts from the tabernacle are not used at Mass—that is, except in cases of dire need, the Eucharistic bread that is shared by the faithful will be the same Eucharistic bread that is consecrated at that Mass.
Although I understand that these two directives affect some of your current liturgical practices and that for some parishes, these will be more difficult to implement, I wish to encourage your efforts. I believe very strongly in the Church’s teaching that “by reason of the sign value, sharing in both Eucharistic species reflects more fully the sacred realities that the Liturgy signifies” (Norms, 11) and that “it is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass…so that even by means of the signs Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated” (GIRM, 85).
At this time, I would also like to discuss further the question of posture during Communion. As you are well aware, the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal continues to enforce the 1969 GIRM’s instruction that the assembly remains standing during the distribution of Communion. In light of the Church’s teaching that “a common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the sacred Liturgy” (GIRM, 42), I would ask that you continue the Diocese’s current practice of standing after the Agnus Dei and during the distribution of communion. In addition, in order to show appropriate reverence for the sign-value of the Eucharist, I ask that presiders and other ministers, along with all the faithful, remain standing until the Eucharist has been removed from the immediate worship space and the Blessed Sacrament taken to the tabernacle. At that point the whole assembly “may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed” (GIRM, 43). If, however, a song of praise sung by the entire congregation is used after Communion, then all should remain standing until the singing has concluded.
To supplement and to aid in your further implementation of the Communion norms, the Liturgical Commission will be making available a series of workshops for your Communion ministers, sacristans, music ministers, and any other of your liturgical ministers who take a special role in the Communion Rite. If it would be helpful for your parish, I encourage you to send your ministers to one of these gatherings that will begin on June 21. Later in the year, after further consultation with the Liturgical Commission, I will ask you to join me in beginning a discussion on posture during the Eucharistic Prayer and on other instructions from the new GIRM.
Our sharing in the Eucharist is our source of unity and strength as a Church and as a Diocese. Our celebration of Communion is also our commitment to sacrifice, “for just as Christ offered his whole self, body and blood, as a sacrifice for our sins, so too is our reception of his Body and Blood under both kinds an especially fitting participation in his memorial of eternal life” (16). As the Church in a special way commemorates the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood, let us re-commit ourselves to a deeper participation in that Communion with Christ and his Body.
Once again, please allow me to thank you for all that you do to strengthen the faith of our people in the Body and Blood of the Lord. May this same Lord form us into a sacrament of unity and an instrument of God’s peace.
With every best wish and kind regard, I remain,
Patrick J. McGrath
Bishop of San Jose