As members of the
community move forward to receive holy Communion during Mass, parents
will often bring their small children along. Over the years, it has
become a custom in many parishes for these children to receive a blessing.
I don't really know where this practice began, but it's worth some reflection.
Usually the children
in line will look up expectantly at the person distributing holy Communion.
The minister then responds by doing one of several things: He or she
may pat the child's head, or touch the head in a sign of blessing, or
mark the child's forehead with a sign of the cross. As warm and well
intentioned as the gesture may be, in the context of the liturgy, the
Communion procession really isn't the time for a blessing of
children or adults who are unable to receive Communion.
There are times
in the liturgical year when the laity assist in specific acts of blessing,
such as the blessing of throats or the distribution of ashes. These
are clearly indicated in the Book of Blessings. But extraordinary
ministers of holy Communion do not ordinarily have a commission to bless
in the name of the Church, as priests and deacons do. At this point
in the liturgy, they have a very specific function: to collaborate with
the clergy in the distribution of holy Communion.
As we'll explore
in a later column, the blessing of the assembly properly occurs at the
end of the Mass. As the body of Christ, the assembly is blessed together
before we depart to live the fruits of the liturgy.
be appropriate for children to do who accompany their parents in
the Communion procession, and adults who do not receive Communion?
procession is an opportunity for parents to begin to teach their children
about the great gift of the Eucharist. First of all, children could
learn to give reverence to the Lord hidden under the forms of bread
and wine. Children can already learn from their parents, and others
receiving holy Communion, to give honor to the Lord by bowing reverently.
Parents and catechists
should start teaching the mystery of the Eucharist at an early age.
Children will soon begin to desire to receive holy Communion. This earnest
desire to receive our Lord sacramentally is traditionally called a "spiritual
communion." Regrettably, we don't talk about spiritual communion
as we once did. But Thomas Aquinas, Alphonsus Liguori and many other
great saints strongly encouraged spiritual communion as a practice.
and adults can make a spiritual communion. They may come forward with
their arms crossed and bow before the Eucharist. Then the priest, deacon
or extraordinary minister could say to them kindly, "Receive the
Lord Jesus in your heart." This is not a blessing, but an invitation
to worship, so no gestures are made.
communion would more authentically carry out the spirit of the liturgy.
Being faithful to the truths of the sacramental celebration allows all
of us, young and old, to enter more deeply into worship.
series on the liturgy will continue next week.