As we begin this new year of the Lord, 2004, I would like to share with you some thoughts on the importance of our liturgy and the direction of liturgical practice I ask our Diocese to undertake at this time.
The Eucharist we celebrate every Sunday, and indeed, every liturgy, is made up of symbols and symbolic actions. Symbol is the language of ritual. For a period of time in the Church’s history, “symbol” was interpreted by many as something that was “not real,” just a symbol. Through the work of numerous theologians, scholars, popes, and liturgists, the Church has recovered the fuller understanding of “symbol” to mean something that unites two different realities to reveal their deeper meaning. For example, a ring is a piece of jewelry. But when you exchange it with someone you love, it becomes a symbol of that love and everything you as a couple believe. Though a “symbol,” it is very real, more real than just a piece of jewelry. If you lost it, no other ring could ever take its place. This symbol, and what you do with it, now carries profound meaning for you, your spouse, and all who see you wear it or not.
In the same way, the symbols and symbolic actions in our Mass have profound meaning for us and for all who witness what we do. In a real way, our actions speak louder than words. What do our symbols and ritual actions have to say? I believe that the symbolic language of our Eucharistic celebration in this diocese has the potential to communicate a very powerful message. Every time we gather on Sunday, our Church has the power to say loudly and clearly: “Christ is alive! Alleluia!”
To the people of Santa Clara county, diverse in culture, language, and experience, we can proclaim by the way we pray: Christ is alive, for we who are many are one body; we who speak different languages understand the shared language of God who is love; we who are young and old, healthy and frail, recognize the dignity of every person.
To the cities of this Bay Area, rich with wealth and resources, yet struggling with poverty, homelessness, and unemployment, we can announce by the way we pray: Christ is alive, for all who come to our doors are fed; all who seek welcome are embraced; all who have talents are called to share them generously for those in need.
To Catholics who have left the Church because of hurt, anger, neglect, or apathy, we can make it known by the way we pray: Christ is alive, yet we are incomplete without you; we long for reconciliation with you; we need you.
Most importantly, to our children who learn from our actions and our words, we can affirm by the way we pray that Christ is alive, our faith matters, and our prayer has the power to change the world.
As we enter a new year that sees our nation at war, increasing poverty, and families struggling to live in harmony, the Church of San Jose must proclaim a message of unity with all people of goodwill, for only together can we work for peace. We must declare our solidarity with the oppressed, the broken, and those we have most difficulty loving, for we believe all people are God’s creation.
For this reason, I am asking your priests and liturgists to work on making our prayer a clearer symbol of the message the Eucharist is trying to communicate. During this last year, your pastors, liturgists, and I have been renewing our efforts to implement many of the directives that have been the Church’s teaching since Vatican Council II. Two areas we have focused on are increasing the availability of Communion from the cup and limiting the use of hosts from the tabernacle to only Communion to the sick outside of Mass and in cases when Eucharistic ministers run out of hosts during Mass.
The next area I would like to focus on is the posture of the assembly at Mass. In December, your priests, liturgists, and I gathered for continuing formation on the issue and to discuss concerns and needs. After hearing their concerns at the meeting and reading their comments since, I believe the following is the direction our diocese needs to go in order to communicate a message of unity and solidarity to our world:
The heart of the Mass is the Eucharistic Prayer. Together in this prayer, we give thanks to God. We join our voices with the choirs of angels in praise. We pray in unity with the whole Church and with all the saints. The Eucharistic Prayer is the text that proclaims that the Church, heavenly and earthly, now and from ages past, is united to Christ in praise of God. Accordingly, our symbolic actions should echo our words.
Therefore, I am asking each assembly to take a unified posture during the Eucharistic Prayer, whether it is kneeling or standing throughout. The posture would be determined by each parish and would be the normative posture for that parish. But this should not be rigidly mandated for those unable to participate in the parish’s normative posture because of bodily limitations caused by age, health, disability, or weakness.
In our diocese, we have had the custom of standing after the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”).
So that our diocese may continue to be unified in this posture, we will continue to stand after the Agnus Dei.
The culmination of the Eucharist is in the sharing of Communion. This symbolic action is so laden with meaning, it would be impossible to define it. Yet by its very name, “communion,” we can understand that the central message this action is proclaiming is our intimate union with Christ’s Body and Blood. Having prayed the Eucharistic Prayer as one united voice, and having professed our kinship with each other in the prayer to our Father, we become now what our words have been trying to say—we are one with the Body of Christ, present in the Eucharistic species, proclaimed in the Scripture, represented by the Church’s minister, and embodied in the faithful who gather in prayer. Communion is our greatest act of solidarity with Christ and with all who have been claimed by Christ.
To show clearly our union with Christ, I am asking that each assembly stand and sing from the beginning to the end of the distribution of Communion. Once all have received, the assembly may continue to stand during the silence after Communion or during the assembly’s song of praise, or otherwise may sit or kneel for a period of silence after Communion. This silence is essential if there is no song of praise. After the silence or song of praise, the assembly stands (or remains standing) for the Prayer after Communion. Standing is the normative posture during Communion, but is not rigidly mandated for those unable to stand because of bodily limitations caused by age, health, disability, or weakness.
We who share in Communion have no doubt in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Yet for many of us, we are still learning to recognize the Real Presence of Christ in those with whom we share in the Eucharist. I firmly believe that these normative postures will help us all, and most importantly our children, to understand the full meaning of Eucharist.
In no way do I want these postures implemented with disregard for the elderly, those with ailing bodies, parents who need to carry children, or those who for whatever physical reason are unable to participate in the normative posture. Nor do I want parishes to make hasty changes without adequate catechesis, reflection, and preparation. So I have asked Diana Macalintal, our diocesan Associate for Liturgy, and the Liturgical Commission to prepare resources and workshops for your parish leaders and liturgical ministers and to be available to help your parish during the implementation of these postures and Communion norms.
In the Easter Vigil on April 10 of this year to the next morning on Easter Sunday, our Church will celebrate its pre-eminent Eucharist as it commemorates the resurrection of the Lord. On this night, we will baptize new members into the Body of Christ; they will be living breathing signs of the transforming power of God. Therefore, I am asking your parish leaders to implement these posture norms by Easter Sunday, 2004. My hope is that through this process the whole Church of San Jose can renew its sense of unity and solidarity by this Easter season and become a powerful symbol of the Risen Christ alive in our midst.
With every best wish and kind regard, I remain,
Patrick J. McGrath
Bishop of San Jose