Blessings and the Communion line

Father Zuhlsdorf responds to a question from an RCIA candidate who asks whether it is wrong to join the communion line for a blessing. The practice of inviting non-Catholics forward to receive a blessing is a (likely) illicit but very common practice in the United States; the questioner reads Father Z’s blog and had been troubled by a recent post lauding a priest who has stopped giving such blessings.

I want to add a personal reflection on my experience, because I was in a similar situation to the questioner. While I was in the first stage of RCIA, I would go up for a blessing like everyone else; we were expressly invited to do so, and when you’re new you do what you’re told. Besides, you don’t want to be in the way! But as time went on, things that I was reading started to give me anxiety that there was a problem with the practice. In particular, a letter on EWTN’s website from the CDW indicating that they had some concerns and were actively studying the issue made me anxious that regardless of the invitations and the ubiquity of the practice, the communion line was and should be for people receiving communion—period.

At about this time, we were blessed with a new pastor, and when I presented myself for a blessing, he seemed uncomfortable. (Please read that sentence precisely: I didn’t say that he wasn’t or isn’t comfortable with it, only that he seemed uncomfortable with it. Capiche?) This was a bit of a kick in the tuchus for me. In light of the reading and consideration I’d given the issue, I took this as a good opportunity to stop going up for blessings, at least as a general matter. I wasn’t ready to encourage others to do likewise, to say “this is a problem,” still less to encourage the parish to stop the invitation, but I felt that it was enough of a problem that I couldn’t continue to participate in it while mulling it further.It is quite often, in law and life, that you have to make a tentative decision about an issue because the world keeps turning while you’re pondering the question, and you must decide what to do while figuring out your decision. Cf. Christian Legal Society v. Walker, 453 F.3d 853 (7th Cir. 2006) (Sykes, J.). So I stopped going up for a blessing, and tried to ensure that I found a pew where I wouldn’t be in the way if I kept it.

Because my path to confirmation was, for various reasons, unusually protracted—I was finally received at last week’s Easter Vigil—this situation continued for more than a year. Thus, I had a lot of time to think about it. And at some point, the thought  occurred—maybe this is pride, I don’t know—that there may be something quite positive about keeping one’s pew. It may be a good example to others. It seems to me that what’s really at the root of this “come up for a blessing” business is the desire to circulate everyone through the communion line. I’ve read that people sometimes feel that if they don’t go up in line, people will look at them funny (“look at the sinner!”; “look at the outsider!”); my guess is that at some point in the past, the “inclusion” people—you know the type—decided that if everyone joined the communion line, no one would feel excluded, and the people who would otherwise have had to keep their pews could subtly get a blessing instead. This is, of course, well-intentioned poison. It isn’t hard to predict what happens next: Once everyone’s in the practice of going up at every Mass regardless of their last trip to the confessional, it’s a short jump to receiving communion at every Mass. But receiving should never be the default option! I can’t help but feel that by keeping one’s pew, one gives a positive example: Never receive on autopilot. Only if one is affirmatively in a good place to receive should one present oneself for communion. By breaking the mindset that “everyone goes up,” by people visibly keeping their pews, I think that’s actually quite helpful to breaking the mindset that receiving is the default.

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