Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Crescat and the Chesapeake Eucharistic Massacre — UPDATED

Communicant receiving Host from Pope Francis on the
tongue. (Photo courtesy
The story begins last month, when Katrina Fernandez, aka The Crescat, received word that her beloved abuela was in the hospital and not expected to live much longer. Kat decided to let her parish, St. Therese in Chesapeake, Va., know so the parish priest, Fr. Kevin O'Brien, could give her Last Rites. Last Rites typically involves not only the anointing of the Sacrament of the Sick, but also Confession and the dying person's last reception of the Eucharist (the viaticum).

According to Kat, here's how the conversation went:

Kat: My grandmother is in the hospital dying and I would like Father to administer Last Rites.
Secretary: Well, Father stays pretty busy but we have a ministry team of people that regularly visit the sick and pray over them.
Kat: No, I want her to receive Last Rites.
Secretary: Well, the members of this ministry can anoint her for healing.
Kat: Well, that’s lovely but you can’t heal death. I would like her to receive Last Rites.
Secretary: I have a few members of the ministry available now. Are you sure you wouldn’t like them to visit with her?
Kat: Unless they can hear her dying confession, absolve her, and prepare her soul from one transition to the next, no.

When my younger brother was alive, I had issues once or twice getting priests to his hospital room for the Sacrament of the Sick, so I feel her pain. The parish secretary's job is not to prevent the faithful from getting the appropriate sacraments; no parish priest should be too busy to administer Last Rites to the dying. (Per canon law [CIC 1003], only priests and bishops have "the right and duty" to administer Holy Oils; this was settled definitely at the Council of Trent [D 910, 929]. As far as I know, there is no document or decision allowing this function to be settled on lay extraordinary ministers. If anyone has knowledge of such, I invite him/her to let me know.)

But wait! There's more!

Now we come to the day of the Mass of the Resurrection. It's not the worst Mass horror story out on the Internet — there are no clowns, dancers or liturgical puppets. However:

I mean I’ve heard stories about priests refusing to give communion to people kneeling or on the tongue before but have never witnessed it myself. I just had such a hard time believing a priest could be so poorly formed or dismissively casual with the Eucharist. ...
What this priest did was totally inexcusable.
Not only did [Fr. O’Brien] consecrate a wheat pita but when I went up to receive on the tongue he forcefully tried to pry open my hands to put the Eucharist in my palm. When I remained in front of him with my mouth open, holds folded closed, to receive on the tongue he grabbed my hand and took the Body of Christ, wedged it between my fingers and said, “Just take it. It’s easier this way.”
Easier for what or whom?! There were not even 50 people in that church! How was me receiving on the tongue going to disrupt the communion line? It made absolutely no sense. Just take it, it’s easier this way? And at my grandmother’s funeral is where you decide to make your little anti-trad point?
And while he was busy making a show out of denying me communion on the tongue in front of my family at my dead grandmother’s funeral, he was hap-happily giving out consecrated wheat pita to the rest of my non-Catholic family without a moment of instruction or notice in the program on why they shouldn’t receive.

Deacon Greg Kandra points us to the Congregation for Divine Worship instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, paras. 48 and 92. First of all, the proper matter for the Host is unleavened wheat — nothing else, nothing added; pitas, tortillas and loaves are right out. Second, the faithful "always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue;" receiving in the hand is an option, not a requirement.

Father Dwight Longenecker throws a rather restrained fit:

I’ve heard similar stories from others: A friend who knelt to receive communion was shocked when the priest snarled at him, “Get up. We don’t do that here.” Another friend tells me how he went forward for communion and the priest says, “Hi Fred. Hey. I like your new mustache! The Body of Christ.” Others have said the same as Katrina. They’ve opened their mouth to receive communion on the tongue only to have the priest give them a blessing instead.
This kind of thing is an outrage. What is especially annoying about this is that this kind of priest usually thinks he is a wonderful, laid back, easy going, super nice guy. He’s the sort who advocates “the pastoral approach” which means he doesn’t bother to observe any church rules or regulations, does what he pleases, soothes everybody with a sweet and gooey “church of nice” message and thinks he’s Father Fabulous.
But should he come across a Catholic who happens to have conservative ideas he becomes Father Forceful. He who prides himself on “listening and dialogue” shuts down the conversation. He who is tolerant and open minded suddenly becomes a “my way or the highway” kind of priest. He who dislikes clericalism and wants to “empower the people” gets pretty uptight when one of “the people” doesn’t see things his way.
If this is the “pastoral approach” may the good Lord deliver us from such pastors.

Father O'Brien had no business trying to force open Kat's hands, or to treat the Body of Christ as if he were serving Kat a summons. Kat can't be blamed for trying to cause a problem because her reception of the Body on the tongue should not have been an issue. Combined with the difficulty of getting the Last Rites and the inappropriate, invalid assignment of a sacrament to lay ministers, we're talking about a parish in profound doctrinal trouble.

[PORTION DELETED — See updated below]

UPDATE: March 13, 2015
Kat has issued an update post on this debacle, which reads in part:

I received a very gracious response from the parish priest who celebrated my Abuela’s funeral mass and I wish to clearly state that I am completely satisfied with his reply and apology. There are still some things that I think need to be addressed but I am confident that they will get handled appropriately.

Crescata locuta est; causa finita est. For more information, including some apologies and thoughts, follow the link to her page. Just keep in mind that you do have the right to receive the Eucharistic Host on the tongue ... assuming you're properly disposed to receive Communion in the first place.

That is all.