The laity and the chalice in Phoneix

Last month, I had my say about the decisions by Bishops Olmsted (Phoenix) and Morlino (Madison-Wisconsin) to restrict the distribution of the chalice to the laity. I thought it was an unfortunate move. Well, +Olmsted has reversed course, which is good; unfortunately, the Arizona Republic‘s report is problematic. Let’s dig straight in, with my emphases and comments.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has backed away from his ban on using consecrated wine for Communion at most Masses, a decision that was originally met with widespread outcry. [Readers familiar with the story will get the gist, but this sentence could scarcely have been more poorly constructed. +Olmsted hadn’t “ban[ned]” anything; he had limited the instances in which the laity may receive the chalice, i.e. “consecrated wine.” He certainly didn’t “ban” the “us[e]” of wine, as that would invalidate the Mass, and insofar as the Mass serves the purpose of consecration (reduced to brutally instrumental terms arguendo), a ban on consecrating wine would effectively be a ban on the Mass. The Arizona Republic might benefit from having someone familiar with Catholicism writing for the Catholic beat.] In an explanation of his decision in a letter to the priests of the diocese, Olmsted apologized for his own misunderstanding of church documents, including new guidelines and translations for the Catholic Mass, and for any confusion arising from his previous statement made at a priests’ meeting in September.

Father Anthony Ruff, an expert on new translations for the Mass, who criticized the bishop’s previous position as a “step backward,” said he had never heard of a bishop “retracting so quickly.” [This is like characterizing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as an “expert” on the Affordable Care Act: It may be correct in a very, very narrow and specific sense, but such a description is deceptive because of the larger truth that it omits. This is why the immemorial formula is “the truth and the whole truth.” Fr. Ruff is not aptly described as an “expert” on the corrected translation; he is one of its most outspoken critics! Last year, he notoriously publicly threw his toys out of the pram in a public letter to the bishops refusing to participate further in the enterprise. I shredded it at SF here.]
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Olmsted’s decision comes just two months after he announced that Communion would no longer [regularly] include wine, which Catholics consider [to be] the blood of Christ, on a regular basis. The decision received strong criticism within the diocese and nationwide.
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Fran Clarida, a local Catholic who started a Facebook page called Keep the Cup at Mass, embraced the reversal. “I am grateful that Bishop Olmsted took the time to review the facts regarding his decision and listened to the concerns and needs of his priests and parishioners,” the Valley woman said. “The way he handled it in the beginning showed poor leadership and resulted in hurting [!] some of his priests and parishioners. Church documents were misread or misinterpreted, and a decision was made without consultation or research. But I am happy with the bishop’s final decision.” [It’s hard to argue with this. It’s hard to understand how +Olmsted could have failed to ask the kind of elementary questions that everyone else asked almost immediately: What indult? When was it granted? Why? Can we see a copy? When did it expire? Who applied for it to be renewed? These were the very first questions that jumped to my mind when I heard about it. You don’t just publicly announce that you’re making a change like this without dotting every i and crossing every t! What were you thinking, your excellency?]

Since about 1970, Catholics have had Communion available under both forms — bread and wine. Through consecration at Mass, Catholics believe those elements are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. [Well…. transsubstantiated… The form—that which theological language calls the accidents—remains unaltered.] Distribution under both forms is not a requirement at all Masses. [Distribution to the laity under both forms is not a requirement at any Mass. Indeed, distribution to the laity under either species is not a requirement for the Mass to be valid. Come to think of it, the presence of the laity is not a requirement! All of which makes one wonder about the precise nature of the “hurt” of which Ms. Clarida spoke.] In those instances, usually at lightly attended weekday Masses, the consecrated bread alone is offered.

Confusion arose this fall as [as=”at the same time as”; one hopes the writer did not mean to imply, as some will regrettably infer, some kind of causal relationship.] the church began distribution of new Mass instructions and translations that are more true to the ancient Latin that was used in all Masses until the mid-1960s, when the Second Vatican Council permitted Masses in local languages.
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In September, Olmsted made his decision based on his understanding of the new translations of church teachings that he believed indicated lay ministers could not distribute wine or bread at Communion. [He seems to have based it on the GIRM and other documents that belong to liturgical regulation—not the Magisterium. To Church law, that is, not Church teaching.] Catholic churches rely on laypeople to assist at weekend Masses to speed up distribution of Communion. [That’s true. Many do. But that’s an abuse, and at a more opportune time, we will consider how far from the purpose for which EMHCs are provided actual usage has diverged. Also, note the sophomoric writing; you could easily say “Catholic parishes rely on the assistance of laypeople to speed up distribution of Communion.”]

But, in his letter to priests dated Monday, the bishop cited as the reason for his change of mind “two primary changes in my understanding” of three church documents that govern the new Mass translation and distribution of Communion. He said he had misunderstood that the church was not denying permission for laypeople to distribute Communion, only that it had withdrawn permission for them to officially prepare the cups used to offer wine to the congregation. [As many of us thought. This was a snafu—a simple misreading of the documents. I’m sorry to say this, but +Olmsted is being poorly-served by his chancery; if he didn’t catch this, someone should have. In the real world, heads would roll over this kind of mistake.]
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An unhappy business from start to finish.

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  1. Communion under both kinds < MOTU PROPRIO on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 8:49 am

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