I’d like to say a few words about a rather strange experience of some weeks ago, in a small church in one of the Home Counties.
When the distribution of communion began, I just got up and went to take communion; then went back to my place and started to pray.
Seriously, I do not think I did anything difficult, or source of potential confusion. I could clearly see the sanctuary from where I was sitting, so there was no real danger of losing my way and having to ask for directions. Similarly, I did not experience any dangerous rabble, and I can tell you very confidently that I would not have been in any danger of being trampled even if I had been, say, a 95-years-old with a walking stick. Finally, I did not remember seeing anything atypical or having the impression of being in the process of doing anything dangerous, or wrong, or in any way needing of instruction.
I was, therefore, happily praying (sitting on my pew, not kneeling, as I did not want to be of obstacle to anyone) when a lady asks me whether I have been to communion. Strange questions, thinks I. Isn’t it not, in the end, my business? When has an obligation to go to communion every week been introduced? Should I not be free to decide myself whether I am willing – or, in fact, worthy – to receive communion?
Life being what it is, I didn’t start the discussion with the old lady asking me, and answered “yes”.
“Oh, next time you are here you must say to me beforehand if you go to communion before your turn”, more or less says the lady and I apologise if I do not remember the exact words, by such matters I never do. After which, she proceeded to channel my bench neighbours toward the sanctuary and only at that point I understood that I was, in these people’s mind, supposed to wait for my turn like a good boy, possibly in the hope of getting a pat on my back from the old lady.
I must… what? And… why exactly? I left kindergarten an awful lot of years ago, and the idea of having to tell mistress that I am going to get up from my bench is not exactly my own idea of “adulthood”. Besides, even after the most honest of efforts I am utterly, utterly unable to see what necessity should there be to have this kind of “helped” flow to the sanctuary.
It might be shocking to some of the readers, but I assure you that irrespective of how crowded the church is (and I have attended for a long time in really crowded churches; churches who would have caused the old lady to faint before she can say “you must”) people are able to do these things without any help, without anyone being injured, and without any discomfort for anyone.
Do you see such ladies helping people to board a bus, or a train? Or to buy a cinema ticket? Or to do anything else where there is some beginning of halfway less than orderly proceedings? Have you ever asked yourself why? The answer is, because people are perfectly able to do these things by themselves, and do not need any help, or helpers.
I can almost hear the objections that would be opposed to this: oh, but this is soo uncomfortable for the oooold people, who are sooo frail. There might be (let me think…..) absence of oxygen; a sudden stroke with no place for the ambulance; or they might die just standing whilst waiting to receive communion!
I grew up attending Mass in a small church (a provisionally converted stall), where two thirds of those attending mass did so in standing. As a child you were obviously expected to stand, and many adults also had to stand in order to allow older people to sit. There was no need of service personnel, everything happened out of common sense and common courtesy. The church was, in fact, always so packed that some people always ended up staying outside of the church, following from outside what was going on inside through the door left open. You can imagine the rabble.
Still, the flow to receive communion was perfectly ordered, perfectly safe and perfectly sensible, without any need of any help from absolutely anyone. No strokes, either.
Nonetheless, if I were a tired nonagenarian fearing the, say, six-minutes queue to receive communion I’d use my God-given brains and get up for communion only towards the end, when the queue has been more or less dissolved. I am sure I’m not the first or the only one coming to such genial revolutionary conclusions.
Whenever I do not attend at the Brompton Oratory I end up wondering whether at Novus Ordo Masses it is considered a deminutio not to have any particular “role” at Mass: the number of gift bearers, children gift bearers, readers, sanctuary cleaners, “flow helpers”, and what not being nothing less than prodigious.
I must now admit that, sadly, this appears to be the case.