Five Seeming Liturgical Abuses That Are Actually Legit

These five liturgical practices may seem unorthodox, but the Roman Catholic Church officially allows for each of them:

1.  Receiving the Blessed Sacrament Twice in the Same Day

The Church limits the number of communions the faithful may receive in a day, lest people misguidedly pursue sanctity by filling their days with numerous communions, or lest receiving too-frequently make this most sacred gift feel common. According to the Code of Canon Law (which governs Church practices) the faithful may receive Our Eucharistic Lord twice daily. However, unless someone is in danger of death, the second time must be while participating at Holy Mass. (Canons 917 & 921)

Ten Commandments - Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Wauzeka WI2.  A Priest Eating Between His Sunday Masses

Ordinarily, a person who is going to receive Our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from all food and drink (besides water or medicine) for at least one hour before holy communion. This is done to prepare oneself to worthily receive this most precious food (though the elderly, the infirm, and those caring for them are exempted from the fast.) The Church, recognizing that a priest could have difficulty finding time for needed nourishment, allows priests who celebrate the Eucharist two or three times in the same day to take something between their Masses, even if there is less than one hour between them. (Canon 919)

3.  Offering Mass for the Soul of a Notorious Person

May a priest offer a Mass for the soul of Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, or Judas Iscariot? Pastoral prudence may advise him against doing so publicly, but the Code of Canon law affirms, “A priest is entitled to offer Mass for anyone, living or dead.” (Canon 901) While the Church has declared many saints and blesseds to be now in Heaven, she has never declared any particular human being to be presently in Hell. Since Jesus warns us so strongly and frequently about damnation, and we know that the devil and ‘one third’ of the angels are eternally consigned to Hell, it seems very unlikely that all people will be saved. (Revelation 12:4 & 9, Matthew 25:41, Catechism of the Catholic Church #393) However, even if hoping against hope, we may still offer our prayers (capable of transcending space and time) for the salvation of any and all human souls.

4.  A Wedding Couple Processing into Church Behind the Priest

At weddings in the United States, the groom typically takes his place near the altar to await his bride’s walk down the aisle. But the Catholic Rite of Marriage, while allowing for local custom, presents a different entrance as the norm: “If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers go first, followed by the priest, and then the bride and the bridegroom.” (Rite of Marriage, no. 20) The ministers of the sacrament of marriage are actually the bride and groom themselves — the priest (or deacon) simply presides as the Church’s official witness. (Catechism #1623) Thus, it is fitting that the couple enter the church on their wedding day side-by-side in liturgical procession.

5.  A Priest Dipping Hosts Into the Precious Blood at the Distribution of Communion

Host and Chalice - Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Wauzeka WIA minister of the Holy Eucharist who steeps the Host into the Precious Blood before placing it upon a communicant’s tongue is distributing by “intinction.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (or GIRM, which governs liturgical practices for Holy Mass) states, “The Blood of the Lord may be consumed either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon.” (GIRM, no. 245) While noting that, “Distribution of the Precious Blood by a spoon or through a straw is not customary in the Latin dioceses of the United States of America,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reiterates that a bishop may allow distribution by intinction in his diocese. (Norms, no. 48 & 24, citing GIRM no. 283)

As the GIRM describes it, “If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, each communicant, holding a Communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the Priest who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, with a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The Priest takes a host, intincts it partly in the chalice and, showing it, says, The Body and Blood of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the Priest, and then withdraws.” (GIRM, no. 287) The U.S. Bishops further emphasize that the faithful, including extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, are never to self-communicate by intinction. (Norms, no. 50) May an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist distribute by intinction? The GIRM passage above speaks of “the Priest,” but I would refer people to their local bishop’s norms on the distribution of Communion for a judgment on this question.

14 Responses to “Five Seeming Liturgical Abuses That Are Actually Legit”

  1. Dan Krischke Says:

    I have done a bit of research on the post-Conciliar Church. It is scary to think of some of the practices allowed now that would have been a mortal sin 50 years ago. Pray for our priests and for our Church. Satan has entered the building.

    • Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

      To clarify, though my headline is admittedly eye-grabbing, I do not believe that these five Catholic practices are improper or actual abuses. The purpose of the article is to teach about our Faith while presenting interesting curiosities that readers may have never heard of before.

      Your prayers for priests are always needed, welcome, and appreciated, but do not despair. Jesus Christ still reigns in his Church as he promised.

  2. morriec Says:

    Dan, the church has the right to define its practices like a government sets speed limits which can change. Going 70 mph can be legal at one point and illegal after the speed limit is lowered. What specific practice bothers you?

  3. TerryC Says:

    They would have been a sin only because by engaging in them one would have shown a disregard for the present norms of the Church, not because there was any intrinsic evil in engaging in the act. The sin was the sin of disobedience.
    We should always pray for our priests and for our Church, but we should also be able to discern the difference between sins which are mortal on their own and those which are sins because they are expressions of disobedience to the Vicar of Christ and the Magisterium of his Church. We should not confuse the two or treat one kind of sin as the other.
    By this I do not mean that one kind of sin is less of an offense in God’s eyes than the other. I am just putting forth the very reasonable point that while knowingly receiving the Eucharist in 1928 without fasting from midnight might have been a sin, the sin wasn’t because you broke the fast, it was because the Church declared the fast and you knowingly ignored what the the Church declared in its authority. In its authority the Church can bind the faithful to fast or loose them from fasting. The sin is to refuse to submit to the Church’s authority.

  4. Rick Reed Says:

    Referring to Number 2, does the same hold for a parish musician who is also serving at multiple Masses? I would assume so, but what does Canon law say? Thanks.

    • Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

      Unless your case is one of those described in Number 2 (i.e. canon 919,) I am unaware of any canon that allows you to break the fast or which gives your pastor the authority to dispense you from the fast. Perhaps your local bishop could grant him this authority, but I do not know. (Canon 89 states, “A pastor and other presbyters or deacons are not able to dispense from universal and particular law unless this power has been expressly granted to them.”)

      This, however, may be helpful in your situation:
      Canon 919, which says, “A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion…” requires fasting for one hour before receiving holy communion, not one hour before the Mass begins. This means that as long as you finish eating some 25 minutes before Mass starts, you should be in the clear.

      • Rick Reed Says:

        Thanks for your reply. It would seem that Canon law hasn’t caught up with the reality that in many parishes a musician serves at many parishes, often back to back Masses. At a former parish, I played 4 Masses in a row, each starting 90 minutes apart, so no time between Masses. At my current parish, we’re fortunate to have 2 priests, yet I frequently serve more Masses than any of our priests or deacons. Not a complaint, just a reality. Canon law doesn’t seem to envision the situation.

      • Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

        I believe that in the scenario you are describing, Number 1 applies (canon 917,) which limits the faithful to receiving communion twice in one day. (I think the Church also limits daily communions because of the danger that too-frequent receptions could make this most sacred gift feel common.) It is always acceptable to snack (outside of the nave / church) before Mass if you are not receiving holy communion in that liturgy.

    • ConceptJunkie Says:

      Am I missing something here? Why would a musician need to receive Communion more than once, regardless how many Masses he attends?

      When I was a member of the choir and the schola at our parish, I sang at more than one Mass on a Sunday several times. I simply received Communion only once. The priest saying Mass will always participate in Communion, but no one else is required to do so.

      In any event, I appreciate this article. Anything that helps to educate us about the Mass is both interesting and useful.

      • Rick Reed Says:

        In response to Concept Junkie, may I turn the question around? Why would I attend Mass if unable to receive Communion (other implications aside, of course)?

      • Fr. Victor Feltes Says:

        Why would someone receive more than once? Think of it this way: a person could wish to embrace their spouse a second time in the same day even though it is, strictly speaking, unnecessary. Love desires intimacy, and our most intimate connection with Christ is through the Eucharist.

        Yet, priests will tell you that it can be challenging to celebrate multiple Sunday Masses as if each were one’s “first, last, & only.” Familiarity breeds difficulty in keeping every Holy Communion special. And so, the Church must strike a balance and she has placed the daily limit for the faithful at receiving two communions daily.

        Why would someone go to Mass if unable to receive the Eucharist? Because worship blesses us and pleases Him. Two people in love want to spend time together, even if they cannot touch.

  5. TomT Says:

    I attend Mass sadly, where we have a priest from a liberal order who ignores and in fact encourages the opposite of not only the GIRM but canon code by adding his own practices to the Mass. He surrounds the alter during the Our Father with children all holding hands including the priest below the alter while insisting the congregation assume the orans position. Also while the tabernacle door is still open and the extraordinary minister is out distributing to disabled in the back of the Church, he tells everyone to sit down.
    I have witnessed many abuses of the novus ordo from misinterpretations of Vat II Conciliar and Post Conciliar documents by liberal bishops and priests. The Church is truly and bitterly divided. It seems that some want a more
    anthropocentric celebration that is ecumenically protestant and the end result is an estimated Mass attendance, at least in this country and I suspect in Europe as well, of about 20% range. Sad.

  6. David L Alexander Says:

    Regarding number 4, the Church has traditionally allowed for cultural adaptations in the Nuptial Ritual, inasmuch as those particular parts were not considered part of the Nuptial Mass proper. In some countries the bride and groom have always walked in together. In others they each walk in separately with their sponsors (older married couples who have been mentors during the engagement period). The custom of the bride being “given away” by her father, uncle, or any older male relative with a pulse, essentially dates back to when women were considered property, the title of which was handed over from the father to the husband.

  7. Phyllis Zagano Says:

    Only numbers 4 & 5 regard liturgy.

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