Friday, October 27, 2006

A Shrine for Mothers

The parish church we have been attending for three years now and where Simeon is an acolyte recently decided to begin the process whereby it might become a basilica. There are many benefits, both spiritual and earthly, that would accompany such an honor and so I understand why our good pastor decided to do this.

The process, however, naturally requires that our parish be in line with all the norms established by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for the celebration of the Liturgy and reception of Holy Eucharist. I say "however" because, while our parish has been in conformity with these norms in almost every respect, there was one thing we had retained from the days of old: the communion rail. I know of one other parish in Michigan that still distributes communion to the kneeling faithful at a communion rail, but in general, this practice is unheard of nowadays. For some unknown reason, it remained at our parish and it was loved by our parishioners.

The change was announced one recent Sunday. We would now be expected to receive communion in the hand and standing up. I wasn't sure what to think at first. I have no objections to the practice. How could I? It is the norm, but I loved the communion rail and couldn't imagine Mass at our parish without it. I was stunned. The next week the same announcement was made and the following week, the new plan was implemented.

If you had asked me, before all this, if the only reason I attended this church was because we received communion kneeling, I doubt I would have said yes, but somehow now that the privilege was gone, it was that much harder to accept the bad music and other aesthetic annoyances, however minor. Suddenly, I found myself at Mass thinking far too much of the choir, myself and the people around me, and far too little of Christ and the Sacrament I had come to receive.

So, when a good friend mentioned... that a local shrine is undergoing restoration, has dedicated itself to its patron, St Anne, and to all mothers everywhere, (don't miss that link, it's worth reading) brought in an amazing choir and chamber orchestra, acquired (in an almost miraculous way) the most beautiful statue of St Anne instructing Mary, is looking to draw in new families, and is soon to receive the biggest and most impressive organ from Boston to New York City itself... we went.

I don'’t know about you, but I do not levitate at the drop of a hat. I am weighted down by cares innumerable. Whenever I have a few moments of silence, my mind automatically begins making lists; lists of grocery items; lists of chores to be done; lists of vices to be overcome...lists, lists, lists. I cannot escape them easily.

Again, I do not know about you, but I have a hard time seeing things clearly. I see what is immediately before me and cannot seem to head... to see what might be beyond. I am forever mired in my own muddy cares, focusing upon what is lacking and what... must... be... done!

So, to stand in St Anne'’s Shrine as the trumpet blared announcing the Gospel, to listen to the angelic choir singing Vivali's, "Gloria"” as we processed for communion (to receive standing by the way), to hear the words of the Gospel pronounced so clearly by a priest so obviously devoted to Christ, to see the beautiful artwork... restoration underway... and the stations of the cross in French, to gaze into the beautiful and life-like faces of St. Anne and Mary...all of it; it transported me.

I truly and honestly (even easily) could "“lay aside all earthly cares"” as it is sung in the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. And what a lightness I felt! It was the same liturgy, the same sacrifice and sacrament offered at the other parish, but the beauty of this Mass softened my heart and prepared me to wait, with eager anticipation, for the next wonderful thing that might come. The beauty disposed me to hang on every moment, every word, every motion, and glean all I could of the truth and love offered there. The beauty made it easy for this "“Martha"” to lift her head and see life in the light of eternity.

It was not an unfamiliar feeling. I had experienced similar tastes of heaven at Mass before, but it seemed it had been so long since I had experienced it for the duration of the Mass and on account of its beauty.

Upon returning home, I still had one foot in heaven. I had laundry piles to see to and dinner to prepare, but there was a spring in my step and a hope in my heart because, having laid it all aside that morning, I had seen it in the proper perspective. I had seen that it is all for a purpose, that the hardships and struggles will all end one glorious day when Christ comes again, and that there is happiness beyond our imagining!

And I had resolved that morning, that even if I could never again, in this life, experience the joy I had felt, at least I would always remember having felt it. And remember, too, that I would feel it again in the life of the world to come, and at that time, I would want to look back and be proud of how I had pushed on in the blindness between now...and then.

* * * * * * * * * * *

For those of you who may be scandalized by our seemingly shameless parish-hopping, I apologize. The truth is, neither of these churches is the parish of our zip code. The parish of our zip code is a very tightly knit community that always seems to do its best to make us feel unwelcome. As a sheep in the Church and not a shepherd, I do not feel it is my responsibility to remain in this parish and try to change its ways. I would most certainly remain in this parish and attend Mass there every Sunday if the lawful authorities in the Church required it of me in obedience, but they do not.


Bridget said...

Hi there!! I could not help but think to myself, how on earth did communion in the hand become a norm? I am not sure that is official teaching. Our parish here in Front Royal just put a communion rail in!!

Suzanne Temple said...

Hey Bridget, did you read my number 9 in the ten random facts meme?? I miss you guys. About the communion in the hand thing, I'm not sure what the wording is exactly, but that is the norm. Our pastor read it to us when he made the announcement. It may or may not also mention that you may receive on the tongue, but it isn't emphasized or strongly encouraged. Certainly the standing part is the norm.

jerseygirlmama said...

Our parish recently became a shrine and at our parish, instead of a crucifix a statue of Mary is front and center. Certainly NOT the norm and there was some concern that to become a shrine we would be required to change it, but that did not pass. I will be honest, I only attended a parish with a communion rail as a very small child in Syracuse, NY and I think I made my parents lives very difficult when they brought me up to receive the Eucharist at it. I seem to remember being told I would lie on the floor, stand on the kneeler, and make faces at the altar boys. In my defense, I was two years old. I know it seems kind of silly when we are attached to things like a communion rail, but there are certain simple things that help us to make the mass more prayerful and special. Like Mary at the front of our parish-- you can check out more info about our parish at

Diane said...

I have been commenting on your posts so much lately that I am expecting an E mail asking me to keep my thoughts to myself ( My husband has been asking me to keep my thoughts to myself for years to no avail :-) However, I couldn't resist yet another comment. I am with you on choosing a church that is comfortable. My family now attends the church which I attended most of my life. We did attend a church which was in our zip code years ago only because my mother insisted that was our only choice. She recalls that when I was born in 1969,and only a few days old my father got a transfer at work that he desperately wanted. The only catch was that he was notified on a Friday that he was to report to his new position on Monday. Things were hectic as they made arrangements to stay with my Grandmother for a week or two until they could get a new apartment and move. When Dad went to work that week, Mom and Grandma thought about the fact that I would need baptized. Mom called the Priest, which she knew since her family had attended that parish all of their lives ,and was told that the priest would be glad to set up a baptism once we had moved into the area. He apologized for the delay but stated that ,at that time ,there was a rule stating that you had to attend the closest church to where you live. My husband and I were so happy when we heard in 1990 that this rule had been abolished years ago. We immediately started attending my old church ( about 30 minutes from our home)and have been there every since, even though we now live in a town which has six Catholic churches within ten minutes from us ( One within two minutes walking distance).
The other quick comment that I wanted to make was about Communion rails. Our Church has never had one in the thirty some years that I have been there but when my daughter made her First Communion my husband and I attended mandatory parent classes. At one of these classes a new member of the parish asked why we didn't have one. She was obviously very disturbed by the thought of standing for Communion. Our priest had a answer that I will never forget. He told her that the original rail served no other purpose than to separate the Holy (Alter, priest,tabernacle,etc) from the unholy ( the parishners) and that it was custom to kneel before the holy, and had nothing to do with kneeling to receive . Though I do not know that this is fact,( Father does have a great sense of humor, though he sure sounded serious) it was enough for that lady as she sat down and didn't say another word. Also in those classes we learnt that Originally Communion was only allowed to be touched by the Priest and so it had to be taken on the tongue . Though as the Catholic population grew and the number of Priests declined, the church had to consider Eucharistic ministers and if those people could touch the Body of Christ why not everyone?. I do remember when receiving by hand was first instituted in our church. ( I was a child of maybe 10 or so) Weeks in advance we were taught how to receive correctly and reminded that this was in fact Jesus's body and the up most care and respect must be taken.We still have a couple older people in our parish who take by mouth but our Religious classes no longer even list this as an option, nor encourage it.
One last question, Suzanne, you don't mention wether you intend to stay at this new found glimpse of heaven, or go back to where your son is an acolyte. I know that my three children are in Hospitality and Alter servers at our church and would be crushed to have to change. My prayers that you make the best decision for your family are with you.

Suzanne Temple said...

diane, Your comments are always welcome here. I have heard that arguement against the communion rail before. It seems a very American notion to want a sense of equality everywhere. The truth is, the sanctuary of a church is a holy place and the person coming to receive communion is coming as beggar before the King and Lord of all. While it is good to remember that God is love and mercy, it is also good to remember how much greater He is than ourselves and what a gift it is to receive Him.

We have not yet decided what we will do. We will pray about it for a while. Thank you for your prayers!

Anonymous said...

God is good. He will lead you to the church He wants you to serve and be served.
I attended Mass last weekend in Ohio. The congregation stood from the Lord have mercy till the eucharist was returned to the tabernacle after communion. I could not beleive that the priest had instructed them to stand before communion and after communion!!!
I had no problems kneeling because Jesus always brings me to my knees!!

jerseygirlmama said...

In response to anonymous, the priest only instructed the people to stand because that is a "new norm" which actually came down from the USCCB. When this was introduced at our current parish, the priest offered the analogy that when a mother calls her children to the table no one sits and eats until everyone has arrived and been served. It actually helped a lot of people. We were also told, however, that if one wishes to kneel or sit, by all means, it was okay to still do that.

Change is something we all resist as Catholics, one only has to look to Vatican II to see that!

Suzanne Temple said...

jgmama, I didn't mean to begin debates of this sort, but I would be interested to know what your source is on that and if you would email me that information, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

Suzanne Temple said...

I just found this information. It pertains to the question of standing and or kneeling before and after communion. There appears to be some confusion on the matter.

I hope it helps.

DavidofOz said...

There is nothing stopping you receiving on the tongue or kneeling - with or without communion rails. The Vatican responded to this very question after the latest GRM was released and the answer came back strongly that the priest has no right to with-hold communion for anyone kneeling or receiving on the tongue.
So just go with what you prefer. I kneel for communion wherever we attend Mass, whilst the rest of the family receive standing. We all receive on the tongue and the girls wear mantillas. All are valid options.

Alice said...

How sad that the Communion rails were being taken out--when I was a kid, I remember our church having Communion rails, and I would prefer to receive that way if it were available.

I loved your description of Mass at the shrine. How wonderful! What a blessing to have it nearby.

Margaret in Minnesota said...

I have finally made my way back over here to read this beautiful post. When I saw the title and the length of it, I knew it was not something I wanted to begin with the hum & the buzz of my home life at its peak.

Now I am back, feeling most thankful for the gift of an extra hour of sleep (how I love "Falling back"!) and most of all, for the gift of faithful online friends like you.

We drive across town (several, actually, since we live in "the Cities") to get to our beloved parish. No one there bats an eye. They know why we're coming! Equally, you and your husband know why you attend the church you do on any given Sunday. And so does Our Lord.

Ultimately that's all that matters.

Have a Blessed week!

Suzanne Temple said...

Thank you David, for reminding us of this. It is most certainly true.

Alice, they haven't actually removed the rails (not yet anyway) but we just aren't using them anymore. It really does make me sad. But the Shine is amazing! Did you look at that link? Such beautiful quotes from JPII and lovely tributes to mothers!

MinM, You know, I thought of you when they brought out the trumpets. I see why that was occasion for your conversion! So moving.

meLanie said...

i have really enjoyed reading a few of your posts,you have beautiful boys and seem like a real heart for Christ. i was wondering where in the word of God does this play? i find myself searching Him and wondering if Christ was here, returning today what would His church look like?

Suzanne Temple said...

melanie, thank you for reading, and for your kind comments. I'm not sure I understand your question, though. I assume you are not wondering so much about my faith in Jesus Christ as you are about my belief that He founded the Roman Catholic Church. That's a very big question. Too big for a combox, I would say.Feel free to email me, if you'd like.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone would be scandalized by your parish-hopping. I just think it's sad that anyone HAS to parish hop. We're supposed to be ONE (Holy, Catholic and Apostolic too). The scandal is that we're NOT.

Be sure to pray for sanity and unity during Communion wherever you go!

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