Q: As a eucharistic minister at Mass,
I see many people leaving Church
immediately after receiving Holy Communion,
the resurrected body and blood
of Christ. They do not return to their seats
and thank God for the gift of Jesus' presence
in Holy Communion. They walk out
with the host still on their tongues.
How long is the physical presence of the
Lord in our bodies? I once heard 15 minutes.
Is that correct? My heart aches for the
rudeness and disrespect that leaving Mass
so early shows.
Can people walk out after the final blessing?
Can they exit before the priest leaves
A: People should normally return
to their places, pray silently in
thanksgiving, join in the concluding
prayer and participate in the Eucharist
until the priest has blessed everyone
and left the sanctuary.
The action that you describe contradicts
the meaning of the Eucharist—that we give thanks to God together, as
a community of faith. The commissioning
rite at the end of Mass (concluding
prayer, blessing and being sent)
prepares us to go out to live what we
have received. If we create our own
ending time for Mass, we are not truly
acting as members of a faith community
but rather simply as individuals
who have "gotten" what we came to
receive. Leaving early regularly and
without a good reason, moreover, suggests
that we have not accepted all that
God wants to give us.
The Communion Rite of Mass
includes silent prayer after the person
receives Holy Communion. This is not
a mere suggestion or a custom but is
part of the Eucharist itself. The General
Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates,
"During the priest's reception of
the Sacrament, the Communion chant
is begun. This singing is meant to
express the communicants' union in
spirit by means of the unity of their
voices, to give evidence of joy or heart
and to highlight more the 'communitarian'
nature of the Communion procession.
The singing continues for as
long as the faithful are receiving the
Even if no Communion chant is
sung, it is not proper for an individual
to leave immediately after he or she
has received Holy Communion.
Together we are nourished by the
word of God. Together we pray for the
needs of the whole Church and of people
who are closest to us. The priest
celebrates the Eucharist in the name
of the entire faith community.
We recognize the Lord's presence in
a unique way in Holy Communion,
but we also recognize the Lord's presence
in the celebrant, in the assembled
faith community and in those who
would like to be present but cannot
be—some of whom will receive Holy
Communion that a eucharistic minister
brings from that Mass.
Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy encourages "full, conscious and
active" participation by everyone at
Mass (#14). Regularly leaving Mass early
says, in effect, "I want to be part of
this faith community but only on my
own terms." Over time, what kind of a
community can survive such individualism?
You also ask how long Jesus is physically
present in Holy Communion.
The standard response is: as long as
the consecrated host and wine retain
the appearance of bread and wine. His
physical coming continues to promote
in us his real, spiritual presence, which
helps us to live out daily the Good
News of Jesus Christ that we have heard
and celebrated together.
Q: Is a choir leader or organist permitted
to change the words of the
"Lamb of God" at Mass? I have heard
expressions such as "Bread of Life,"
"Hope of Joy" or "Cup of Love." This hardly
seems correct. Is it allowed?
A: Adding petitions such as you
describe is a legitimate practice.
Wherever I have experienced this, the choir sang the standard "Lamb of God,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us" twice, inserted other
petitions and then concluded with
"Lamb of God, you take away the sins
of the world, grant us peace."
This is most likely to occur at a Sunday
Mass where there is a large host to
be broken into smaller pieces and perhaps
several plates or bowls to be filled
with hosts for the distribution of Holy
Communion. Singing the standard
three petitions might not allow enough
time to do all this.
Q: I have several Catholic friends who
attend nondenominational Bible
study groups. This puzzles me. Am I wrong
in not accepting invitations to join them?
A: "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance
of Christ," wrote St.
Jerome almost 1,600 years ago. Even
though not all Bible study groups are
equal in mission, format, approach or
religious affiliation, I cannot say that it
is wrong to study Scripture with Christians
outside the Catholic Church. Each
group should be judged on its merits.
If your needs are being satisfied in your
parish, fine. If not, you may want to
seek out other groups.
God's self-revelation is for the sake of
God's people, but we should remember
that what we call "the Bible" is really a
collection of writings given to Jews and
Christians over at least a 1,200-year
period, with parts of it going back centuries
before that. Each book is in the
Bible because a faith community (Jewish
or Christian) recognized it as part of
God's unique self-revelation.
If your parish does not have a Bible
study group, perhaps a nearby parish
does. Many use the Little Rock Scripture
program that offers instruction at
the general, intermediate and in-depth
Stephen J. Binz has published popular,
Scripture-study books with Liturgical
Press, Twenty-Third Publications
and The Word Among Us Press. Many
volumes trace a single topic through
several books of the Bible.
Back issues of our Scripture From
Scratch newsletter are available for viewing
at www.AmericanCatholic.org or
for purchase through 1-800-488-0488.
Some issues cover more than one book
of the Bible; instead, they give an
overview of a single theme in several
books. I especially recommend "Interpreting
the Bible: The Right and
the Responsibility," by Sister Sandra
Schneiders, I.H.M., a highly respected
Scripture scholar. "The Use and Abuse
of the Bible," by Father Ronald
Witherup, P.S.S., is also excellent.
St. Anthony Messenger Press has
published a variety of books on Scripture.
Other Catholic publishers have
done the same.
On Easter Sunday evening, when two
of Jesus' disciples were disappointed
because he seemed not to fulfill the
Scriptures, Jesus took them back over
key passages to show them that he had
done that (see Luke 24:27). After they
recognized Jesus in the Eucharist and he
had disappeared, they asked one
another, "Were not our hearts burning
[within us] while he spoke to us on the
way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
(Luke 24:32). Study groups can help
open the Scriptures for us as well.
In the January 2009 "Ask" column, I answered a question about how
to find a spiritual director, recommending
the help of local retreat or
spirituality centers. A reader has called
to my attention www.sdiworld.org, a
listing of members of Spiritual Directors
International, an international, interfaith
organization. Names, phone numbers
and religious affiliations are given,
once users have accepted the site agreement.
Q: I would like to know the date of St. Peter's birth. I have read several
articles about him and have posed this question to several
priests, but no one has been able to answer it. Can you?
A: Unfortunately, I cannot help you because there are no reliable
records about this. Although St. John has traditionally
been considered the youngest apostle, I think most Scripture
scholars assume that the apostles were roughly the same age
The Gospels describe in some detail the great faith, the betrayal of Jesus
and the repentance of Peter.
Would anyone's faith be greatly aided by knowing exactly when Peter
was born? We can be curious about many details not explained in the
Gospels, but we must focus on what the evangelists considered most
important: the story of Jesus' self-revelation and the imperfect response
of all his contemporaries, except Mary.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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