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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

When do you lofty types receive the Blessed Sacrament?

Obviously, the configuration of every church is different, and timing differs from day to day, season to season, even from Mass to Mass on the same day.
When I was a child, and a college student in another place (another lifetime, it sometimes seems,) we trekked down the stair right after singing the Lamb of God, (or even!!!! the Agnus Dei!!!) and were, in effect, the head of the line. This was so at several different parishes.
My recollection is from the Age of Standing for Communion, but I think it was so in the kneeling days as well.
At my first job, we were not in a loft, but the pattern held. Choir "went first" in silence, then began to sing, whether a piece particular to them, or in leading congregational singing.
(What I can't recall in all this is when Unnecessary Ministers of Holy Communion came into the picture. They seem always to have been there, but obviously, this is not so.)
At my present parish we are up three flights, for all intents and purposes, and an EM, (UM,) or two , or occasionally a deacon, or VERY rarely, a priest makes the ascent. (That person is called a "runner.") We have a number of EMs in the choir, and often one will meet the runner, receive, and then become the minister of one species.
The current trend among liturgisti is that singing must commence as the priest makes his communion. No silence until the musicians are ready, no instrumental music to "tide us over."
Naturally, between the stairs and the church which is nearly a city block long, we do not receive very near the beginning of communion.
When I began my tenure, I had the choir sing their anthem or proper first, then the cantor downstairs would announce the PIP hymn, which would often time out to begin just as the choir was starting to receive.
If things worked out very well I was "head of the line" and receiving as the announcement was made. Sometimes I would forgo the Precious Blood in order to get back to the bench.
Sometime, we would be well into the congregational piece and I would receive when it was over.
Sometimes, the PIP piece would be on going, (and more verses obviously needed, the lines downstairs still reaching the back of the church,) and I would receive while playing.
But many of the most requested contemporary pieces, not because of their difficulty so much as their nonsensical arrangement, do not allow me to spare a hand or even my gaze in order to receive, so I either had to stop the piece or wave the EM off.
In any case, I was never able to devote the attention to receipt of the Body and Blood that He deserved.
Sometimes, we were not quite finished with our piece, and although he claimed not to mind, the deacon, ( whether upstairs with us, or in the sanctuary playing "wine steward,") would be visibly steamed.
Some choir members, despite my requests, would stop singing, even a complicated piece of polyphony and dash to the side of the loft the minute the EM came in sight. Some did this because of a reverence that would not allow them to keep Him waiting. Other because they wanted to either receive from the chalice first or not at all.
Now, for an expectedly long Liturgy, say, Christmas, when a longer choir piece might reasonably be programmed, the "runner" would still likely arrive right in the middle of the entire communion time, meaning the longer than usual piece fit in neither before nor after the choir's receipt of communion.
And of course, a storm could mean that numbers downstairs were so small and numbers upstairs so great, that even without singing a choir piece, hence no waiting for the EM, he or she would return to the sanctuary well after communion was over for everyone else.
Then there came an insistence from TPTB that the congregation was to sing at the very beginning of communion.
Never mind if the choir were singing the actual proper or a very good approximation of it, and the piece we sang with congregation was a barely-better-than-random "communion song," from the meager offerings of Gather.
The latter took precedence over the former.
Strangely, the insistence came from someone who rarely attends a choir Mass, and probably had little idea of the week in and week out realities of how things timed out, but would be basing the decision on Holy Thursday, the Paschal Vigil and Midnight at Christmas.
What began to happen then was that the congregational communion song would run out just about when the choir had the opportunity to receive.
So, should I receive? have a time, or will there be excessive (and verboten,) silence? should I improvise endlessly as an introduction to what we would sing? are enough sopranos back in position to begin? have the tenor picked up their octavos or hymnals yet? have the EMs finished with the choir members with canes who can't get to their station by the door? are jaws still working, have the basses swallowed yet?
And then, looking downstairs -- is the communion procession over for all intents and purposes.
And of course much of this hinges on the ambulatory powers of the EM, some of whom arrive a good while before others would. This is not something that can be planned for.
On "big" feasts, the crowd, (extra instrumentalists, choirs from other parishes in the cluster, relatives who've begged a good seat,) make it impossible for the EM to get to, or sometimes even to see who has not yet received, and they abandon us; but that is a different problem altogether. The configuration of the loft, platforms, risers, console, shelves and pillars is awkward, to put it mildly, and I am not able to change it.
It's a royal mess.
Our bishop, or the liturgista who speaks for him, has requested that "post-communion" pieces be done rarely, if ever, so the obvious solution to some of this is out.
All this has made it difficult for me personally, to quote P the B, one of the P that B, "to enter prayerfully into the Liturgy."
I simply cannot devote the attention to receiving my Lord that such an action deserves.
On non-choir weekends, I simply go down to the sacristy after one of the Masses and ask a priest or EM to give me communion.
Several weeks ago I decided I would just do that all year long.
It "feels" odd, but feelings are not really germane.
Anyway, it certainly "feels" better than scrambling to receive with one eye on the organ, one on the procession downstairs, and virtually no attention to spare for Our Lord.
(I know some of the Liturgy Nazis work themselves up into a froth at the very idea of receiving outside of Mass.... tant pis.)
Of course, this way I never can receive the Precious Blood.
I am not really sure about all this....
And I appreciate that when I make this request of the deacon, he always, at least during the flu season, washes his hands after having pressed the flesh at the door.
This past week, while he was going to do so, the celebrant returned from hugging and shaking (among other things,) and he, who never washes his hands, went to the tabernacle for me.
Somehow, nearly a dozen Hosts fell to the floor (I can't figure why, he did nothing sloppily or abruptly and the ciborium was not that full.)
I helped pick them up (my eyesight is better than his,) and offered to consume them, so I guess deep down I'm not as fanatical about things as my hand-washing concerns might indicate...
(He refused my offer, incidentally.)
Odd weekend, all in all.
Should I just not take Communion so often?


Brian Michael Page said...

The current trend among liturgisti is that singing must commence as the priest makes his communion. No silence until the musicians are ready, no instrumental music to "tide us over."

Gotsta love those liturgeists, always looking to quell the silence.

My now-former pastor would have a server ring the Sanctus bells as he drank from the Chalice. In addition, at most funerals, he would "invite all practicing Catholics in good standing with the Church" to receive.

I still find it a habit to wait until the priest starts heading for the people to start any Communion music I have prepared.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by.
You're in a loft, I take it?
When do you receive communion?

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)