Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Private Communion


The whole thing was a surreal experience. It had been quite useless calling the parish office. All of the employees had been sent home weeks ago and calls simply went to an already full voicemail box. Seeing phone contact to be useless, I got out a piece of paper and scribbled a little note:

"Father X, would it be possible to make an appointment for my family to come receive Holy Communion and receive a blessing? We have not been able to receive the Eucharist for a month. Please call me and let me know if you'd be willing."

I scrawled my phone number on the note and stuffed it in an envelope with the priest's name on it. I drove to the parish and walked about the abandoned campus. The rectory was a sprawling complex with a couple of different buildings and multiple entry ways; I was not certain which door the priest was most likely to come or go from. I found took a guess as to which door looked the most used and affixed the letter to the door, then went my way.

Two days later, after dinner one evening, I heard a text come through. "It's Father X, please call me." I called him back and he said he would grant my request. Distribution of communion has not specifically been forbidden in my diocese, so as I understand it, this was basically a discretionary judgment left to each priest. I told him how many persons I had: "There will be myself and four of my children receiving." We made an appointment for the following day around 11:30 AM.

I called my children in and explained to them that we would be receiving Holy Communion the following day and to prepare themselves as best they could. There was palpable excitement. Receiving any sacrament in the age of Covid-19 is a challenge. They were joyful at being able to receive Christ.

The following morning we arrived at the church a few minutes early to pray in silence and dispose ourselves. We each took a squirt from the massive canister of hand sanitizer by the door and then knelt in silence. A few moments later the priest walked in, vested in a stole. He removed the ciborium from the tabernacle, approached us in the pews, and began proceeding through the text of a communion service.

"Behold the Lamb of God," he said, holding the Body of Christ aloft immediately in front of us. I'd never been so close to a priest at a moment like that. He administered the sacrament to each of us, on the tongue. There was no contact between the priest's fingers and my tongue; indeed, in my 18 years of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, no priest's finger had ever touched me.

After communion, the priest gave us his priestly blessing and departed. We stayed behind a few moments to pray in thanksgiving. It reminded me very much of stories I had read in saints' lives; I remember in the biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, it talked about how before she entered religious life, when she wanted to receive communion she had to approach the parish priest, ask for permission, explain what preparations she'd made to dispose herself, and then receive at a particular Mass scheduled for that purpose.

It was certainly more of a challenge to orchestrate, but this communion meant a lot more. I was more prepared. My children were more prepared. The extra work made it more meaningful. And I started thinking there really is something to the argument that less communions can be more beneficial. Of course I've always known that it was superior to receive fewer communions better prepared than more communions less prepared, but until this present darkness I had no experiential knowledge of the fact.

When this is all over, I think I may voluntarily receive Holy Communion less and spend more time in preparation. Maybe once a month or something.

Also, I am very grateful for this priest for accommodating myself and my children. I suggested a friend in another diocese try the same thing I did for herself and her family; her priest categorically told her no and simply forwarded her a link to an Act of Spiritual Communion. She was understandably disappointed.

May the Lord bless and keep you all.


8 comments:

Ibelin said...

Serious question; I thought you had to go to communion on Sundays if you're able to, so you don't have to go?

I guess I always assumed observing the Sunday obligation meant you had to receive it.

Boniface said...

Hi Ibelin!

No, you do not have to. The precept of the Church only says one must receive Holy Communion once a year, and that during Easter Season. The Sunday obligation just means we have to hear Mass, but we don't have any obligation to receive if we don't want to. :)

Ibelin said...

Wow! There have been a lot of times I've gone to church and felt unprepared to go to communion, even bad about it but still went because I thought you had to. Thanks for clarifying!

Anonymous said...

"Of course I've always known that it was superior to receive fewer communions better prepared than more communions less prepared, but until this present darkness I had no experiential knowledge of the fact."

1.) Says who?

2.) I'm not your conclusion follows. Sacraments work ex opera operato. You might have *felt* like you got more graces this way. Your experience was different. But the Church doesn't gauge the graces received from sacraments based on the feelings it induces.

3.) Have you asked a priest or confessor whether your conclusion about infrequent Holy Communion is correct?

Anonymous said...

The reason why this line of thought is dangerous is because there's a fallacy along the line somewhere. It's like saying this:

"My wife and I had to endure a separation because of a war. I was frequently out of country, serving my country. I came only one three times in ten years.

My visits with her were more emotionally intense than any experience before, when we lived together.

When the war is over, I think we're going to live in separate houses and get together only every few years."

It's one thing if separation with a just cause leads one to appreciate one's interaction with one's spouse more. It's entirely different to artificially reduce contact in order to "prepare" more.

The case with the Sacrament is similar. The Church encourages frequent reception. There's a cumulative effect here. Who's to say that frequent reception of the Sacraments doesn't have a net better effect, even if you don't do as intense a preparation for each reception?

It just seems that you're seeing this all through your subjective experience. It felt more special, so you're proposing "social distancing" from Our Lord in the Sacrament in order to make your less frequent Holy Communions seem more special to you. It's perverse.

John said...

I have read just about everything you have ever written online, but this is my first time commenting, as I couldn't pass this by.

This is an awesome story, I think everyone ought to try this, even at the risk of rejection. At best, you get to receive Our Lord in this time of spiritual famine; at worst, at least it ought to make an impression on the priests (and bishops hopefully) that the laity desire and need access to the Sacraments.

On another note, however, as noble as your intentions for less frequent Communion in order to make it more fervent may be, I would not recommend it. Saints have again and again stressed the necessity of frequent, even daily, Communion, both from the practical standpoint that man is in great need of the divine Food for his spiritual sustenance as also from the relational standpoint that Our Lord desires this union with us far more than we could ever desire it ourselves.

Besides, how better to prepare for Holy Communion than by the great Sacrament itself? I once read or maybe heard that a good prayer to pray after receiving Communion is something like this: "Lord, by the grace of this Holy Communion, make every future Communion even more fervent". If you receive daily I think this could really be realized quite quickly. Moreover I have also heard that one ought never to pass up receiving Holy Communion when one is able (i.e. in the state of grace and keeping the required fast).

And if you are still worried about being prepared, and perhaps want to only communicate weekly, make preparation a week long affair. St. John Vianney, in one of his sermons, instructed his flock (I guess assuming they would communicate only on Sundays) to spend the first three days of the week (Mon-Wed) in thanksgiving for their Communion, and the last three (Thur-Sat) in preparation for their next.

The desire to be more prepared and more worthy is the right one. Communicating less frequently is definitely not. Grace builds upon nature, and strengthens and fortifies it. Nature alone is weak, and so long without Holy Communion it is bound to suffer both in the loss of virtue (that is good habit) and the development of vice. Build good habits; and the habit of frequent Communion (and confession!) is the best habit of all. Not lackadaisically done, but with a true desire to please Our Lord.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous, and yet doesn't the Church encourage the Emmaus retreats for husbands and wives? likewise, if you are good to have daily communion go for it, but many times it becomes routine and you fail to examine what you are doing until you retreat "to the desert" for a bit. the problem is, of course, when retreating becomes another habit to mask our sins (ask the Orthodox). omission, in this case of self-reflection, is also a fault. retreating for a bit for the layman shouldn't amount to that.

for what it's worth, like John says, a week should be enough to self-evaluate... in normal times. when many parishes are in the retreat, i don't know. for a while in Catholic elementary school i had midweek mass, didn't enjoy it as much as i thought. though did learn a bit and even was an acolyte a couple times. ideally i would have had some of that mass some other weekends...

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dea Boniface. Jesus established His church for two reasons

Salvation

Sanctification

We are sanctified primarily through the reception of Holy Communion and so you may want to rethink your plan in the future to receive less often

Pax tecum