01 December 2009

Faith, the Flu and the Diocese of Calgary

H1N1 hysteria has hit Canada hard. In October, the new H1N1 vaccine was the leading story for weeks. H1N1 is often still the leading news story. People are panicking trying to get their vaccine.

I've alternated positions between laughing at the gullibility of people and shaking my head at the nonsense. That was until the hysteria affected me personally. (No, I don't have the flu, nor does anyone I know). But my diocese ( the diocese of Calgary) has put into place H1N1 "precautions."

These precautions include:
  1. No reception of the Blood of Christ
  2. No Holy Water in the fonts
  3. No shaking hands during the sign of peace
  4. No reception on the tongue
That last one is the most difficult for me to swallow. About a year ago (after feeling called to it for about 6 months, but being afraid to) I decided to start receiving the Body of Christ on the tongue.

I decided to do that for one reason, and one reason only. I am receiving MY SAVIOR. Literally, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. I began to notice that after receiving in the hand, particles of Christ were still on my hand. I tried to lick them up, but that is not dignified for me, nor do I believe it demonstrates the reverence I should have for Jesus.

So, because I felt it was necessary to protect Christ, I began to receive on the tongue. I know people who say that receiving on the tongue gave them a stronger and deeper appreciation of their faith, but I can claim no such result. But I do feel it is more reverent, and it does humble me. The bottom line is, I do not like receiving in the hand. I'm paranoid that I'm dropping pieces of Christ to the floor to be trampled on.

And now, my Bishop is requiring that I do this. These rules have been in place for the past three weeks, and every mass I want to cry because of the indignity I am performing. (I know- I could refrain from taking the Eucharist, but I need the grace it gives. I need that close communion with Christ to help withstand sin. Maybe that's a position I need to reevaluate).

But I shouldn't have to. According to Redemptionis Sacramentum 92, the people have the right to choose how to receive. In fact, reception on the tongue is supposed to be the norm- reception in the hand is only an indulgence. In a letter dated July 24, 2009 the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) confirmed that it is not licit to deny the faithful reception on the tongue.

The edict from Bishop Henry just got worse today. He has gone one step further. Calgary has an FSSP parish- St. Anthony's. Mass there is in the Extraordinary Form, and they have been quietly ignoring the H1N1 precautions. Well, as of last Friday, Bishop Henry has shut down the parish. When someone pointed out the CDW's letter, he stated "I am well aware of what the congregation decided but quite frankly, it is not their call. It is mine. " (See the details here)

Ummm no. How can any bishop take that position? Excuse me Your Excellency, but I'm pretty sure it is the CDW's call. The Catholic Church is a hierarchy. Hierarchy's work from the top down. That means that the parish has to listen to the priest, and the priest has to listen to the bishop, and the bishop has to listen to the pope.

The reason I have been receiving in the hand for the last 3 weeks (despite the fact that it causes me great distress) is because I believe in the hierarchy, and I think the hierarchy is important. If my bishop says this is the way things are, I will do that. Unless and until the bishop is no longer obeying the hierarchy. At that point, who am I supposed to follow?

Oh, and didn't Pope Benedict issue something called Summorum Pontificum? The document that states that the laity has a right to the Extraordinary form? Yeah, he did. So not only is Bishop Henry defying the CDW (and the Magisterium), he is now directly defying THE POPE. The Vicar of Christ on Earth. The man the Holy Spirit chose to lead the Church.

Never fear, I will be writing to Bishop Henry. I request you do so as well. But be courteous. If all the letters Bishop Henry gets are rude, he will have no reason to take our concerns seriously. His e-mail address is bishopfh@rcdiocese-calgary.ab.ca. If you live in the diocese, please tell him which parish you attend, and if you live out of the diocese, please state which diocese you do live in.

And please pray for this diocese, Bishop Henry, St. Anthony's parish and all the people affected by this directive.

Until very recently, I have been a big fan of Bishop Henry. I like his no holds barred style when he talks about abortion and homosexuality, and the right of a church to get involved in public life. But this decision, and a few other ones have left me wondering what has happened to him.

Oh, and on a side note, please also pray for my old diocese- the Diocese of Saskatoon which has also suspended reception on the tongue. I know it is deeply troubling to people there. The diocese is currently without a bishop, so people really don't know who to speak to about it.


Fr. Tim Moyle said...

How about the safety of the priest as communion minister? When we distribute communion on the tongue, you would not believe the number of times my fingers get licked! Given that I have just been discharged from the local hospital where I spent the past few days in an isolation room (there's nothing like being in such a setting to make one feel like "medical waste"), I think I can understand the wisdom of Bishop Henry.

The Bishop is responsible for the manner in which the sacraments are distributed within his Diocese. If Bishop Henry has decreed that there be a temporary restriction during this time of "pandemic", he is exercising prudent and effective concern for his faithful.

The argument though that this is an over-reaction is hard to sell to someone who just took 10 pills and used 2 puffers this morning... like me!

Fr. Tim Moyle
Mattawa, Ontario

Sarah said...

Fr. Tim,

I am very sorry to hear that you have been sick. I've never been in isolation before, but I can imagine that it is terrible. I don't know if you were suffering from H1N1 or not, but I'm going to assume that you were.

I agree with you that the Bishop has the responsibility to care for his flock.

My big problem with this situation is that Bishop Henry appears to be ignoring the authority of Rome. Sickness is just the reason of the day. Being a part of the Church means adhering to her teachings. All her teachings, and if you can't do that, why are you a member of the Church?

Anyway, I do want to respond to the concerns you raised in your comment:

1) I do not believe that reception in the hand is safer than reception on the tongue. Hands are just as germ filled as mouths, and I know that when I receive in the hand, very often the priest or EMHC will touch my hands with their hand. Germs will then transfer from one person to the other.

Also, while the priest has the opportunity to cleanse his hands, the laity does not. We've been handling hymnals and kneelers and touching the pews. Those are not santized daily.

So receiving in the hand doesn't seem to protect the laity or the priest very well.

As for people licking the priest when they receive, I think that is a combination of bad form on the part of the priest and the faithful. I know it was one of the reasons it took me 6 months to actually start receiving on the tongue. An announcement explaining how to receive on the tongue should take care of that problem.

2) Despite your illness (and I'm not trying to diminish it, because you have obviously suffered) I stand firm by my statement that the reaction H1N1 is extreme. If you look at stats, H1N1 is less deadly and less contagious than the seasonal flu.

The WHO changed its definition of pandemic- it doesn't refer to the severity of the illness, but to how many countries it is found in.

Part of life is getting sick. It is not a pleasant part of life, but the fact still remains that we will get sick.

The Church is charged with the care of souls. The amount of suffering in this life really does not matter in comparison with Eternal Life. While the Church should minister to the sick, her first duty is to the souls of the world. Not receiving on the tongue distresses me because I believe I am not giving Christ the reverence He is due. I am willing to take the risk I will get sick in order to be reverent. We are talking about the Body and Blood of our savior- how can we be anything less than reverent?

3) My final point isn't specific to reception on the tongue, but to the precautions in general.

I have a good friend who is not Catholic but is contemplating joining the faith (he's not yet in RCIA). He attends mass faithfully every week. At least he did.

The day the protocols were announced, he turned to me and said "the Church has lost its faith." Basically, he believes that if it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive, we should have no fear of illness.

I don't know how to respond to his charge, and so he has stopped attending mass and discerning entering the Church. He left the church he was raised in because he thought it had lost its faith. He won't join another church that has lost its faith.

I know he is an extreme example, but I've had conversations with other Catholics who feel the same way, and I don't know what to say to them.

These precautions are harming the faithful far more than an illness ever will.

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

For statistical info on H1N1 go to thewellnesspractice.com

Steve said...

Hi Sarah,

This is a great post. While I sympathize with Fr. Tim and all people who have suffered illness, I think your perspective is correct. Where there's a will, there's a way. As you pointed out, we have the means to avoid contagion, if only we would have the will to make the effort. Bishop Henry is strong on life issues, but is very weak on other matters.

Keep up the great work. Have a Merry Christmas!

Vox Cantoris said...

Father Tim Moyle,

Sorry Father, they did not "lick your fingers" you did not place the HOST properly on their tongues!

It is the communicant's rite and the bishops were wrong.

Now have a Merry Christmas and be careful not to touch the communicant's tongue.

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