Questions Answered – November 2023

The Place of Communion in the Mass

Question: During the 40s and 50s, come Communion time at Mass, very few people walked up to the altar rails. Yesterday I read that one’s attendance at Mass is not complete without receiving the Eucharist (unless one is in a state of sin). What changed?

Answer: First, let us be clear that one should never receive the Eucharist if one is aware of being in a state of mortal sin. This is because to receive the Body of Christ with a negative spiritual preparation is tantamount to a sacrilege.

Once this is said, however, on must remember that the third requirement just implements the moral law which at its most basic level demands divine worship once a week even in pagan religions. This has been implemented in the time of Christ by attendance which demands spiritual oblation at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass once a week. Since Christ died on the Cross for us and this event is made present in the Mass, one who loves and worships Christ must assist at Mass.

The Council of Trent was clear that the Mass was not just a commemoration of the Last Supper. It is truly the whole event of the Passion made present. It teaches that the Priest is the same (Christ), the Victim is the same (Christ), only the manner of offering differs (one is bloody, the other without the shedding of Blood). The sacrifice has three parts all of which are necessary: offertory, consecration and communion. All three are fulfilled by the human celebrant; the faithful are required to participate in them depending on their moral preparation. Attendance at Mass would thus not be complete without communion, but if one cannot go to physical communion because one is aware of a sin, moral or spiritual communion. In fact, there are many excellent prayers for encouraging spiritual communion for those who cannot actually receive communion. One may make use of one of these or any spontaneous prayer.

The faithful in the 40s and 50s were very aware of their sins and did not presume their contrition was sincere without confessing. Spiritual communion was the norm then. Actual communion physically is encouraged now, but perhaps people are going overboard in the other direction, where the impression is given that it is almost impossible to commit a mortal sin, so almost everyone at Mass communicates. Perhaps room should be made again for spiritual preparation which includes freedom from sin.

Liturgical vs. Private Prayer

Question: I was at the cemetery and prayed the standard prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be) for the dead. On my phone app there are other prayers which I said but later thought they might be only for priests or deacons. Just what prayers/invocations can be said by laypersons and which cannot be said? How does one know?

Answer: Not being familiar with the app of which you spoke, it is hard for me to make a judgement but a few general comments would suffice. Normally a person can say any prayer for any intention. Even those reserved for the priest or deacon in the sacraments would suffice. Of course, they would not be liturgical prayer as they are not public. It would be in this context that certain prayers might be reserved to the priest or the deacon. However, any text can be used for private prayer, even those which would in the liturgy be reserved to the priest or the deacon in the sacramental context.

God never refuses to accept any prayer made from the heart, even one composed for Church use. This is because he does not need our prayers as he knows what is in our hearts. But we should identify our need to be open to his help, and all prayers have this purpose. This is even true of the form of the sacraments which in a given context may express our need and are properly reserved to the clergy. They would, of course, not be open to confecting the sacraments but, as private expressions of our devotion, may aid us to be open to the sacrament.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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