The Desert & Liturgical Changes

(Homily for Eighth Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

A week from today, here in the Archdiocese of Seattle, we will implement some liturgical changes. In reality they are not so much “changes” as corrections. The truth is that we priests, like the Israelites in the first reading, have grown somewhat lax. The Archbishop is calling us to embrace our responsibilities and return to correct practices. For example:

--Only the priest or deacon may give the homily.

--Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers should not give the impression they are “concelebrants.” Therefore they are to wait until the priest receives Communion before entering the sanctuary.

--And above all, recognize that the sacred vessels (chalices and ciboria) contain the very Body and Blood of Christ. They must be made of noble, durable material and great care must be taken in their purification. Although the purification may take place at the altar, credence table or sacristy, the Archbishop has recommended that it be done at the credence table and that only the priest, deacon or specially designated person do the purifications.

Some have complained that these corrections represent clericalism or even a reversal of Vatican II.* I can only respond that those who make such charges have not carefully read the documents of the Council – nor have they mediated sufficiently on the nature of Christ’s Church and the Eucharist. But I do not want to pick on “liberals.” All of us need to return to the “desert” – that place of undistracted reflection – and there rediscover our first love.

For those who are more “conservative” the liturgical changes also present a challenge. The Archbishop has asked that the congregation not kneel after the Lamb of God, but remain standing until all have received Communion or until completing the assembly’s Communion hymn.

I admit I did not welcome this change. I am a fan of kneeling. The posture expresses worship and humility – attitudes most appropriate considering Who we are receiving. However, standing also expresses reverence. If a very important person entered the room, most would automatically stand and remain standing. In the Book of Revelation, John had a vision of the saints "standing before the throne and the Lamb." (7:9) Later they "fell down before the throne to worship God." (v. 11) Standing during Communion, then reverently kneeling would combine those two gestures of respect and worship.

To promote greater reverence, I will list some things all of us can do to:

--Recognize that when we come to Mass, we are entering a sacred space. Turn off cell phones and pagers, remove chewing gum from mouth and hands from pockets, genuflect to the tabernacle and spend some moments kneeling (or seated) in quiet recollection before Mass begins.

--Focus on God. He will create community, not us. While we need to make every effort to be cordial, we should not delude ourselves that hand holding, chatting, a lengthy sign of peace, etc. will unite us. Only God can do that, but we have to first take seriously his invitation to return to the desert. That is where the community of Israel was formed – and that is where we will be re-formed – by focusing on God.

--Ready yourself for Communion. “A man should examine himself; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (I Cor 11:28) I am concerned that having everyone stand might put pressure on people to come forward for Communion even if not in the state of grace.** St. Paul warns that improper Communion doesn’t bring a blessing, but a judgment. (v. 29) If one is not duly prepared, he should either remain in the pew or cross his arms over his chest so the priest will know to give him a blessing rather than Communion.

--Make a gesture of reverence at Communion. The U.S. Bishops have instructed us to bow (not nod) as the person immediately in front receives Communion. Look at the Host as the priest says “Body of Christ,” then respond “Amen.” Receive the Lord reverently on your tongue or make a “throne” by placing your left hand over your right in the form of a cross. If you receive in the hand, step to one side before placing the Sacred Species on your tongue. Bow also to the Precious Blood - even if you do not take chalice.

--Upon returning to your pew, join in the Communion Hymn. Put aside distracting thoughts – such as judging the choice of music or your neighbor’s singing voice. When the hymn is completed, you may either be seated or kneel for a moment of personal prayer.

--Jesus said, “He who perseveres till the end will save his soul.” I know some are anxious to get a head start in the parking lot, but, please, be respectful of others by remaining till the Mass is finished. A friend of mine has pointed out that, as far was we know, only one person left the Last Supper early...

On Wednesday we enter the Season of Lent. The Catechism calls it an “intense moment.” (momentum praeclarum, a splendid moment, #1438) This opportunity will not come again. By participating reverentially in the Mass we can encounter Jesus, the Bridegroom. He desires to espouse his people “in right and in justice, in love and in mercy.” (Hos 2:21)


*Since Vatican II, but not necessary because of Vatican II, we priests have become more secularized and a segment of the laity has become clericalized. About six years ago, Rome published a document aimed at counteracting these trends. In his homily at Giants Stadium, Pope John Paul indicated the fundamental role of the laity: "to work for God's Kingdom by their efforts to shape society in accordance with God's designs. No aspect of life—whether in the family, in the workplace, in schools, in economic, political or social activities—can be withdrawn from God's dominion (cf. Lumen Gentium, 36)."

**State of Grace. As St. Paul notes in his letter to Corinth, examining oneself is a prerequisite for worthy reception, otherwise Communion has the opposite from the desired effect of union with our Lord. This is why, out of respect for Christ and our own good, the Church obliges us to be in the state of grace when we receive. It should be noted, however, that some Catholics have the mistaken notion that they cannot go to Communion unless they go to Confession first. This is incorrect. Both the theology of the Church and her law oblige Confession only when there is mortal sin. Confessions of devotion, however, are highly recommended.

1 Cor. 11:27-29
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible.

See: Communion - Who May Receive by Colin B. Donovan, STL

Versión Castellana

From the Archives:

Eighth Sunday, Year B 2006: The Days of Her Youth
2003: The Desert & Liturgical Changes
2000: The Bridegroom

Bulletin (Three Purposes of the Liturgical Changes)


Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Simple Catholicism (New! Thanks to my niece Sara Bloom)