By Fr. Michel Mulloy
(This month the following column addresses the temporary changes made to the celebration of the Mass in the Diocese of Rapid City because of the concerns raised by the viral flu. These changes do not affect the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Rite. Those who attend the Latin Mass will see no changes. However, it is good to appreciate these temporary changes in the Novus Ordo.
Earlier this month, your pastors read for you a letter that I prepared offering temporary guidelines for the celebration of the Mass. These were put in place in response to recent concerns about the viral flu that has been reported here and throughout the world. Similar temporary changes in the celebration of the Mass have been announced in many dioceses in the United States and around the world. Two aspects of these directives are worthy of reflection.
We have suspended the distribution of the blood of Christ as a precaution against the spread of illness through the sharing of a common cup. This action does not diminish the fullness of our reception of the Lord at this sacred time of the Mass. The church has long taught that when we receive under the form of bread or under the form of wine, we are receiving the whole Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. Although receiving under the form of bread and wine was practiced in the early church, for many centuries the faithful only received under the form of bread. In the United States the option to receive under the form of wine was granted many years ago. This was done as a fuller sign of communing with the Lord. Nonetheless, the church has always taught that receiving one species is receiving the Lord. This is evident in that the reception of the blood of Christ has always been optional except for the priest. In addition, those who are gluten intolerant only need to receive Christ under the form of wine. For those for whom this form of communion is necessary, please visit with your pastor about being able to receive from the cup. In the same way that some parishes have low gluten hosts on a separate plate for distribution to those who need that, certainly provision can be made for an extra, perhaps smaller cup to be placed on the altar for those who need to receive the Lord in that manner.
This temporary restriction can perhaps serve as a reminder for us to be deeply grateful for our faith and the opportunity to regularly receive Jesus in Holy Communion. It can even remind us to pray for people in those dioceses where Mass has been suspended all together.
Another provision we have temporarily enacted is a verbal exchange of the Sign of Peace to limit physical contact. This is not intended to diminish the significance of this ritual. The Sign of Peace was reintroduced to the celebration of the Mass following the Second Vatican Council. Some have misunderstood the reason for this ritual and perceived it as a distraction from the preparation for receiving our Lord in communion, but the Sign of Peace is about offering and accepting the peace of the Lord before receiving him in the Eucharist. The priest offers us this peace as he says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” We respond and are then invited to offer the peace of Christ to one another. This is not a light-hearted social greeting. We are offering each other the peace of Christ and receiving Christ’s peace from those around us. This is a wonderful way to prepare for the reception of the Lord in Holy Communion, to enter into the unity that he desires for us to embrace — with him and with one another. Perhaps this temporary restriction on physical contact can help us to better appreciate what this ritual is all about as we sincerely turn to look at another and deliberately offer them the peace of Christ with the words, “I offer you the peace of Christ” or “Christ’s peace be with you.”
These changes are temporary. In adjusting to them we are invited to open our hearts to all that the Lord will continue to teach us as he guides his church in our diocese. Parishes will be notified when the temporary measures are lifted.