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Receiving Holy Communion Under Special Circumstances: Continuing the Conversation

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jan 23, 2015

Earlier this month I wrote about how formation and catechizing our children can go beyond the simple Q&A catechism and continues, especially in special needs for receiving the Eucharist. (See Baptism Begins a Continuing Catechesis: Special Needs for Communion.)

Very soon after writing my post, our family traveled back to my mother-in-law's in Pennsylvania, to help her during her cataract surgery. Minutes before beginning Sunday Mass, the priest announced the diocesan change due to the widespread flu. No one should shake hands at the Sign of Peace and the Precious Blood under the species of wine would not be distributed until further notice.

I rushed to the sacristy to catch Father before he began the procession, and he quickly found a solution for our son to receive. The plan was after everyone received communion, my son was to come up to the altar and receive from the chalice. I was grateful the priest made the accommodations for our son. But it was a close call, and distracting to our family to be prepared for the different circumstances.

Jennifer Fitz has continued the conversation, pointing out in this time of New Evangelization this is an area to expand. We need to know how to reach and care for people with special medical circumstances for receiving Communion.

Our family has been told by a priest that he "can't be bothered" because he has too many other people at this Mass. Trust me, we don't want to be "special" and have to go through all the hoops to have our son receive Communion. We would much rather be one of the crowd in the pews. As Catholics, we have such a beautiful and special privilege to be able to receive Jesus in this very special way in Holy Communion: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This privilege should not be denied to those with health reasons when there are ways to accommodate. And so we continue making sure that our son has a way to receive Holy Communion through the Precious Blood at every Mass. It is inconvenient, but completely worth it to receive Jesus.

Jennifer points out the larger picture:

But there’s something more disturbing under the surface: If the parish can’t be bothered to come up with a reliable, no-fuss way to deal with this one simple situation, who else is it we can’t be bothered with?  The Millers are “insiders.”  Families who come to Mass regularly, whose children are duly prepared for Holy Communion, and who take the time to learn what their options are in the face of a difficult medical situation, if these families are facing barriers of hostile indifference, what’s it like for outsiders?

The reality is that families with special needs of any kind — the people who don’t fit in, the people who pose the least little inconvenience — often just disappear from the Church.   If we mean to evangelize, we need to put an end to our can’t-be-bothered attitude.

The first weeks of Ordinary Time unfold the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Jesus begins His evangelization on earth. After his baptism, He begins calling his apostles and disciples. Without delay he sends his disciples out to preach the Gospel and to be fishers of men. Jesus wants to reach all of us.

We are all not in the role of priest, usher or Eucharist Minister to directly make changes to reach those families of special needs. But perhaps there are small ways to help bridge the gap, to help make it easier or welcoming for a person or family with special needs to attend and receive at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is New Evangelization in its simplest form, to "newly experience the gift of communion with the Father which is theirs in Jesus Christ, and, in turn, offer to others this same experience as the most precious gift that can be possessed" (Instrumentum Laboris).

And in this growing season of Ordinary Time, we can answer that call and continue that growth in evangelization to help those in special circumstances, instead of not being "bothered."

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 24, 2015 12:33 PM ET USA

    The "mechanics" of the Mass are on the mind of every parish priest: How much time will it take for the parking lot to clear and fill between Masses? Who will "set-up" what is needed to offer multiple Masses when the priest needs to meet with people? What parts of the Mass do I need to "trim" to keep the schedule efficient? These are real questions pastors face yet secondary one. Pastors need to re-tune parish priorities at Mass from expedience to evangelization, mechanics to Mystery.