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Jesus Sends Us Forth As a Community
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Leaving Mass Early
Can People Add Words to the 'Lamb of God'?
Is It O.K. to Attend a Non-Catholic Bible Study Group?
P.S. on Finding a Spiritual Director
When Was St. Peter Born?


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 the altar?

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 Sacrament" (#85).

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 levels (www.littlerockscripture.org).

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 as Jesus.

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. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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