And Samuel said: Doth the Lord desire holocausts and victims, and not rather that the voice of the Lord should be obeyed? For obedience is better than sacrifices: and to hearken rather than to offer the fat of rams. Because it is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel: and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey
(1 Samuel 15:22-23a).
As the Feast of Corpus Christi is tomorrow, I thought it would be timely to address the Bishop of Hamilton’s recent document, Liturgical Instruction: Gathered Into One. A friend brought the recently published document to my attention, indicating to me that there were people who had some concerns about some of the directives within. For those outside of my diocese, I hope that you will abstract principles from the concrete situation in which I find myself.
While the document for the most part simply reiterates pertinent instructions given in the GiRM, Bishop Crosby, OMI, offers some interpretation and contextualisation of these prescriptions as they pertain to the normal practice of the liturgy in the diocese of Hamilton. In some cases, this involves limiting options or prescribing certain options available in the GiRM over the other available options. As the Ordinary of the Diocese, the bishop is perfectly within his right and his authority to issue these instructions. However, the controversy (such as it is) primarily revolves around his statements regarding the reception of the Eucharist. Bishop Crosby states very plainly that the norm in our diocese is to receive standing, after a simple bow (not a profound bow nor a genuflection), but he does emphatically remind ministers of Communion that they must not refuse Communion to those, who, like myself, prefer to receive while kneeling. However, the controversial point is when he follows this up by stating, “In the Diocese of Hamilton all the faithful are to be encouraged to observe a common posture for receiving Communion, namely, standing. All servers, Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, and those in leadership roles in the liturgy are to model this posture” (Gathered into One, 3.6, emphasis mine). This mandate to model the common posture of standing by those who serve in some capacity in the Liturgy has led to many to complain about the Bishop’s instructions, stating that for them, receiving kneeling and on the tongue is a matter of conscience for them—that for them, to do otherwise would be sinning. If that is the case, they are free to continue doing so—but not when they are acting as altar servers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, or (perhaps) choir members (depending on how one defines “leadership roles in the liturgy). It is a choice between one or the other, as I understand these guidelines. One must prayerfully weigh their commitment to their voluntary duty to their role in the liturgy vs. their choice to receive while kneeling. Unfortunately, several people have expressed a rebellious attitude that says, “I shall continue to do both, despite the bishop’s instructions!” Their reasoning is that they have the right to receive kneeling, and that not doing so, as it is a matter of conscience to them, would be to receive the Sacrament unworthily, and that therefore the Bishop is wrong to deny them that choice if they are serving in the liturgy.
The problem is precisely here: Obedience is due to our Bishop in this matter (which is a valid and proper exercise of his authority). Knowing disobedience to him actually constitutes a grave sin. A person in a role of liturgical leadership, seeking to receive Jesus worthily by kneeling as a matter of conscience, but doing so in a spirit of deliberately defying the bishop’s instruction to receive while standing, will actually be receiving Jesus unworthily!
To summarise, then, when it comes to this instruction or any other validly promulgated directive from one’s bishop, a faithful Catholic owes his or her bishop obedience. If the instruction is something they disagree with, and perhaps so for valid reasons, one cannot therefore wilfully defy it without sinning. Rather, in such circumstances, we must obey, though we may make our reservations and disagreements known to the bishop through polite, respectful communication with him, such as letters or emails. This is how we express concern or disagreement; not through acts of disobedience toward the authorities Our Lord Himself has established.
May you have a blessed Feast of Corpus Christi tomorrow, and always receive Our Lord worthily!
(Note: According to the Liturgical Instruction, the question of receiving in the hand or on the tongue is not mentioned in the context of the norms regarding posture in paragraph 3.6. In paragraph 3.7, it states, “The choice to receive Communion in the hand or on the tongue is at the discretion of the communicant.” Thus, it seems, even those in “leadership roles in the liturgy” are still free to receive on the tongue, albeit while standing.)
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