Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix

As has already been well publicized, Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix has decided to restrict the reception of Holy Communion under both species to “important occasions,” i.e., “the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, the Feast of Corpus Christi, retreats, spiritual gatherings, weddings, and more.”

A question and answer has been published for those who would like further explanation of these restrictions.  That can be found at

The legitimacy of this decision comes from the 2003 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, # 283:

283. In addition to those cases given in the ritual books, Communion under both kinds is permitted for a. Priests who are not able to celebrate or concelebrate Mass; b. The deacon and others who perform some duty at the Mass; c. Members of communities at the conventual Mass or “community” Mass, along with seminarians, and all who are engaged in a retreat or are taking part in a spiritual or pastoral gathering.

The Diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which are also to be observed in churches of religious and at celebrations with small groups. The Diocesan Bishop is also given the faculty to permit Communion under both kinds whenever it may seem appropriate to the priest to whom, as its own shepherd, a community has been entrusted, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of the rite’s becoming difficult because of the large number of participants or some other reason.

The communications office for the diocese of Phoenix stresses the conditions for reception under both forms: First, if the faithful have been well instructed.  Second, if there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament.  Under “conditions,” the release continues by emphasizing “the practical need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon” by having too many extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.”

As a Jesuit, I suppose that I should be agreeing with attempts towards liturgical minimalism.  However, in this case, I cannot honestly see the purpose.  The Bishop has the legitimate authority to expand the reception of both species at every Sunday Mass, and so his appeal to the authority of the GIRM to implement norms “in keeping with new universal Church standards” is a personal decision, not one required by Church law.

For the most part I don’t agree with the reasons given for the restriction.  In my 29 years of going to daily Mass, I have only seen the chalice spill once.  The level of “difficulty” here is disproportionate to the tremendous value of the full sign of the presence of the body and blood of Christ.  While it is true, as the statement repeatedly affirms, that the the whole Jesus is received when only one species is consumed, that attitude seems to foster a fast food mentality of going to Mass.  You receive Jesus under only one species, so why have two?

The reasons to use both species are many.  First of all, it plants us firmly in the Jewish roots of the liturgy.  A good article on this can be found here. Second, it reconnects us, as Vatican II attempted to do, to the whole rich history of the early Church.  For the first thousand years, Christians received under both species.  This is not to say that they had any less respect for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Tertullian notes in the 3rd century: ” The possibility of letting either our cup or our bread fall to the ground makes us painfully anxious.”  Yet that did not prevent the reception under both species. It was more the effect of the Gregorian Reforms of the 11th century that created a more rigid class distinction between priest and assembly than any theology that began restricting the reception of the Eucharist to one species.

This leads directly to my second concern.   Why are seminarians singled out for special reception of both species?  This only fosters the documented growing trend among young priests to shy away from lay collaboration in their ministry.  The seminarian has no special place in the congregation.  He is another member of the common priesthood of the faithful who offers along with the priest the sacrifice of Christ on the altar. Singling him out is particularly dangerous.  More than half of the laity in recent polls say that priests don’t want them to be leaders, but only followers.  The laity want to help their priests.  They want to be a part of the parish and participate in its functions. They want an active part in the liturgy.  Yet there is a decreasing interest among young priests to collaborate with the laity in their parishes, possibly out of a renewed emphasis in many seminaries on the “cultic” identity of a priest.  The danger of the new guidelines is to reinforce that tendency and to downplay the common priesthood of the faithful at Mass.

Listen to the following response to question 7:

“After the priest’s prayer of consecration at Mass, there is neither bread nor wine on the altar, only their appearances; for Christ is now present.”

My concern here is with the emphasis and the tone.  I believe that what the response intends to say is: “for now Christ is present on the altar.”  Vatican II emphasized the four-fold present of Christ in the Mass:  In the word, in the priest, in the congregation, and in the Eucharist.  Thus, Christ is already present at the Mass, even before the “priest’s prayer” (though it is not only his prayer).

Thus, while the Bishop is fully within his rights, I have a hard time seeing the value of the move towards a greater liturgical minimalism.  While Christ is still fully present under one species, human beings are a symbolic animal.  Symbols wedge themselves more deeply within our psyche than do concepts.  It is therefore important to keep the rich symbolism of our liturgical history present in the Mass so that the full presence of Christ can be experienced as present rather than focusing simply on his legal presence.


21 Responses to Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix

  1. Qualis Rex says:

    What you are seeing is the appropriate swing of the pendulum back to where it should be in Phoenix. The former bishop Thomas O’Brien, during his despotic reign, forbade the Tridentine liturgy throughout his diocese, against the outcries of the faithful AND the mandate of Ecclesia Dei. This lead to a mass exodus within his diocses; some formed heretical sede-vacantist sects, some went to the SSPX, some went to the Orthodox, and others left the church altogether. The absence of any tranditional-minded base led to one of the most wayward, evangelical-focused “anything goes” dioceses in the US, where many parishes strayed so far theologically and socially from church teaching so as to be virtually unrecognizable to any Catholic. And as our Lord said very clearly in Matt 7:16 “By their fruits shall they be known”, this same bishop was convicted of killing a pedestrian in a felony hit-and-run. I’m sure the Borgias are smirking, wherever they are.

    As a Catholic, I applaud bishop Olmstead. What may seem like a “personal decision” to some is in reality the next step in a very painful reconciliation caused by very VERY bad decisions and leadership (see: lack thereof) of his predecessor and “old guard”, and the desire to bring the diocsese of Phoenix back to Catholic norms.

    Deo Gratias.

    • Bill Damas says:

      Qualis Rex: I am sorry, but you are out of your mind. If you think many parishes strayed so far from church teaching as to be unrecognizable, all you had to do is open your eyes. For God’s sake, you make it sound like some priest was substituting naked orgies for Mass.

  2. “The absence of any tranditional-minded base.”

    I’m sorry I can’t share your definition of “traditional.” I don’t think his decision was very traditionally-minded in a rich sense.

  3. Qualis Rex says:

    And I’m equally sorry you can’t grasp the definition. When in doubt, look East; the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox have done a far superior job at maintaining traditions when it comes to the liturgy. Doubtless you will remark that they also share in the 2 species, but the reality is they are administered ONLY by a priest AND in ONE form (intinction). Not a eucharistic minister to be found. And this was the real issue our good (see: VERY good) bishop was aiming to resolve.

    Incidentally, this is a bit dated, but to see the utter mess and devil’s work left behind by Bishop Olmstead’s predecessor, you can go here

    • Koala Hex says:

      Here, here. I could not more wholeheartedly agree with Qualis Rex. That some species other than human even should be allowed to distribute communion makes MY blood curdle. Isn’t Phoenix near that Area 51 place? Perhaps the alien “species” who are distributing communion in Phoenix came from the alien interment camps at Area 51. Do we need more evidence that our government is ANTI-CATHOLIC.

      • Jeff Johnson SJ says:

        Koala Hex,
        First of all, we discourage the use of pseudonyms on this blog. See our Frequently Asked Questions page.

        Second, and more importantly, I think you have misunderstood the details of this thread. The debate is about the distribution of communion under the species of the body and the blood of Christ. Species, as it’s used here, refers the forms under which communion appears, not to non-human aliens.

        Hope this helps.

        • Koala Hex says:

          Dear Fr. Johnson,
          I’m afraid you are the one who is confused. Ms. Rex obviously agrees with me, and like her, I make no apologies for holding what some find to be a “non-normal,” non-liberal position regarding the presence of alien species in HOLY MOTHER CHURCH. Recently I had the blessed pleasure of attending the HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS in a remote European village that has been mercifully spared the heretical accretions to the Roman Liturgy and from alien infiltration. Call me old-fashioned, as I am sure you and your kind will do, but I found it a breath of fresh air to be able to worship God without having to wonder about the validity of the mass. I was among simple folk, the likes of whom are denigrated daily by your kind as being theologically unsophisticated. Well, I’m happily unsophisticated, and I’m free of alien blood. Shame on me I guess.

          The CHURCH cannot stand by idly while “non-human” species, sentient though they may be, are allowed free access to the sacraments that Christ himself instituted. Perhaps in your training, and I use this word loosely, as a Jesuit you were taught “compassion” for aliens because Christ was supposedly “compassionate” towards all. THE SLIPPERY SLOPE TO HELL IS SMEARED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS AND ALIEN GOO.

          Secondly, as for my use of a pseudonym. I hold a very important position in a well known think tank that concerns itself with alien infiltration of our government. I have many enemies who would take tremendous pleasure in cooperating with SATAN towards my complete destruction. For the sake of the purity of the species, I cannot risk revealing my true identity.

          All the best,

  4. Bill says:

    Thank you, Nathan, for this interesting post, as well as for this blog in general. I would like to hear more about the diocese’s emphasis on “having too many extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist”. You mentioned this emphasis of theirs in a quote near the top of the post, but didn’t come back to it below.

    • One of the five reasons listed for restricting Communion under both forms is that “when both forms of Communion are used frequently, ‘extraordinary’ ministers of Holy Communion are disproportionately multiplied.” Now I’m assuming that the “disproportionate” is in reference to the number of priests who are distributing. And so when you have one priest, one deacon, and then eight lay people distributing the chalice, the numbers are “disproportionate.” I base this on a later concern in the statement that “the practical need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary (or lay) ministers might in some circumstances constitute a reason for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species.”
      This is clearly a concern for Olmstead.

      The reality however is that we live with a shortage of priests. Either priests will have to become more restricted in their offering of the sacraments, or they will have to allow an expansion of their ministry to involve lay help. It seems to me to be a step backwards to restrict so as to highlight the role of the priest. There is no doubt that since Vatican II, the priesthood has experienced a crisis of identity. The solution to this problem however is not to reaffirm the identity of the priest vis-a-vis the laity. It is rather to confirm the priest in his identity with Christ the head of the body. To follow the former path would be to strip the laity of their own priesthood so emphasized by Vatican II.

      According to well documented polls concerning leadership alternatives that are acceptable, 92% of Catholics would be willing to share a priest with another parish, and 89% would be willing to have a priest come from another country. Only 54% thought a lay parish administrator was acceptable. People still want priests. As long as he is secure in his identity with Christ, their is no need to define him over against the laity.

  5. bill bannon says:

    What is odd is worrying about spillage of the wine when the wine is mostly eliminated from our system hours later in the restroom….as is most of the host.
    I would think both in spillage and in elimination from our system, God withdraws Himself from the bread and wine instantly. We may have a paucity of theology in this area as Rahner once hinted we do on the longevity of the Eucharistic effect.

  6. Back to dark ages we go, economically, politically, sexually, and now thanks to administrative non pastoral ordinaries, religiously. time for another plague wipe out some of these despot rulers who use Christ and religious aspects to force people to obediance…. Let us see how the collection plate influences his decisions.

  7. Anonymous says:

    5 stars, even though I disagree with your thoughts about Communion under both species. However, I do agree that a lot of young priests seem to think very poorly of the laity. This should be examined more, possibly by you?

  8. +Neil V. Christensen, c.s.e.f. says:

    It’s all about Power and control.
    We must remember, Laity are nobody’s, just sheep to be herded for their own good, only the Anointed Clergy have the right to lead or make decisions……

    or, could it be, that this is just a smoke screen, something to divert our attention from another case of a Malignant Crime or Criminal malfeasance by the Dioceses?

  9. Qualis Rex says:

    I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise here that a) liberals and heretics don’t like to hear any opinion other than their own and b) they get to use ad hominem and weak attempts (operative word) at humor rather than addressing any real point or conversation with impunity. Eh, whaddyagonnado? No one takes them seriously anymore anyway, so I guess this is the best they can come up with.

    Must be hard watching their long-standing 40-year-old “traditions” get swept out like some foul rodent that died under the pews (oh, I mean polyester-upholstered stackable chair).

    • Koala Hex says:

      Brilliant, Qualis Rex, simply brilliant. My research on the species \”ad hominem\” is not as complete as yours, however, I look forward to understanding how the \”ad hominem\” species plans to infiltrate my mind.

      As for liberals, heretics, and their kind, they are all massive idiots who don\’t understand how to conduct a reasoned, objective argument.

      \”Cras sollicitudin ultricies leo eget molestie.\”

  10. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Now, now, Qualis and, er, Koala, while I share your admiration for Bishop Olmsted and horror at the thought of aliens receiving the Blessed Sacrament, I think things here have gotten a bit out of hand. (I also admit that among the problems the Church faces, illicit alien participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is not highest on my list of concerns — maybe we can just agree to disagree on that one.)

    I am also concerned that by striking a rather belligerent tone you are inadvertently putting Bishop Olmsted and those who support him in a bad light. (One might begin to show him the respect due his episcopal office by, for example, spelling his name correctly.)

    Arguments can be made either way on this issue, it seems to me, and it would be good to make them, rather than simply sputtering indignation. I’ll give you a start:

    *While Vatican II speaks of the priesthood of all believers, it is clear that the “priesthood” of the laity is qualitatively different than the ordained priesthood. (They differ “in essence” and “not only in degree” according to Lumen Gentium 10).

    *The Council also insists on the importance of keeping the roles of various liturgical ministers and laypeople distinct and separate (Sacrosanctum Concilium 28).

    *By insisting that lay people perform a priestly role (distributing communion) one might actually be hindering the development of a distinctively lay understanding of eucharistic participation. In fact, the assumption underlying such a manner of proceeding is rather “clerical” itself since it seems to imply that the only way to fully and actively participate in Mass is to do some of the stuff the priest does. This is clearly contrary to the intention of the Council.

    *The attempt to use EMEs to try to boost lay participation seems to rely on a rather superficial understanding of what participation in the Eucharist means. As another prominent bishop once wrote about the word “participation”: “Unfortunately, the word was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible, as often as possible should be visibly engaged in action.” Whatever one thinks of this particular issue, such a faulty understanding of the liturgy is painfully widespread — even in some theology departments.

    *Instead of being liturgical minimalism, Bishop Olmsted’s decision seems designed to combat a too casual attitude toward the Eucharist and the Mass in general. This is a real and pressing problem, as was show by the Pew survey last year showing that most Catholics don’t believe the Eucharist is really the Body and Blood of Christ.

    *While dropping a chalice may be comparatively rare, a certain amount of dripping and spillage that comes with multiplying cups is common and very, very bad if we actually do believe the whole Body and Blood business.

    *While there may be a positive symbolic value to receiving under both kinds, the symbolic value of a multiplicity of cups or (gasp!) flagons is probably negative.

    *We don’t need to jump immediately to imputing negative motives to seminarians, since Mass in a seminary is likely to be in many ways analogous to religious communities and retreat communities, which are also mentioned. The regulation might also envision seminarians sitting in choir, which would mean distributing under both kinds to all those in the sanctuary (lectors, servers, etc), which I’ve seen done in churches that adhere to the regulations.

    So how about no more name calling and limiting discussion to the issue at hand? Nathan is not saying that Bishop Olmsted is a bad bishop, merely that he doesn’t understand his decision on this particular issue. One can disagree with a bishop or a superior on an issue like this and still offer him loving obedience.

  11. Matthew Monnig, SJ says:

    You beat to the punch on this one Nathan. My observations are quite different, so I’ll post them as a new post.

    Against some of your commentators, I don’t see any disrespect toward the bishop in your remarks.

    To engage your objections directly, a few points:

    1. Your comment about continuity with our Jewish roots is a great insight. But I think that continuity with our own tradition is even more important, and this universal practice of communion under both kinds is a pretty radical departure from our liturgical tradition as it has (legitimately, I think) developed.

    2. The point about seminarians is a relatively minor detail in this. I think the bishop has in mind something quite foreign to most places: seminarians assisting at Mass in choir. The principle seems to be that those in the sanctuary can receive the Precious Blood. You can of course ask about the distinction being made between who can be in the sanctuary and who can’t, but I think that’s what’s behind it.

    3. I don’t think the language of Christ on the altar is at all incompatible with wider notions of the presence of Christ. There’s always a both/and in this doctrine that can be hard to balance, but there is something unique about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (and so, “on the altar”). CCC 1374, citing Paul VI says, “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

  12. WJ says:

    I think this is a fair analysis by Nathan O’Halloran; however, I also think that, to really understand some of the difficult decisions that Bishop Olmsted has made over the past few years, it is true that you must have experienced what the Diocese of Phoenix was like under Bishop O’Brien. Most of what has been controversial during Olmsted’s service as bishop–including the excommunication of last year, the institution of solely male-servers at the Cathedral, and now this removal of the indult to receive under two species–has to be understood against the backdrop of the past twenty-five years of diocesan life in Phoenix, which has not been pretty. I’m not saying that I agree with the Bishop’s decision in each particular case, but only that I understand what he is trying to do, and why he is trying to do it. (O’Halloran, of course, is respectfully disagreeing with Olmsted, not casting him as a kind of fascist right-wing ultramontanist, but several people have cast Olmsted in this light (one or two on this comment thread), and this is basically incorrect.) Olmsted, personally, is quiet, humble, and hates unnecessary publicity.

    I am no liturgical snob, but I do recall, from my youth in Phoenix, several churches which I am sure celebrated Masses that were never licit and arguably, in some cases, invalid. This grew to become a perverse kind of southwest suburban liturgical culture, in which unintentional profanation of the species became more and more common. I have the same reservations about Olmsted’s decision as does O’Halloran–as a cradle Catholic, I have a healthy strain of anti-clericalism in me ;)–but I’m glad I’m not the one having to make this decision. I’m sure it was more difficult for Olmsted to make than many (not, again, O’Halloran) understand.

    • WJ,

      Thank you for your respectful comments. Since I do not live in Phoenix, you are right to point out that I do not understand the full history of Catholic life in Phoenix. I respect the Bishop and his decision which he is fully in his rights to make. My respectful disagreement is best summarized by the position of Raniero Cantalamessa which I linked in a separate post. Thanks again.

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