Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Liturgical Abuse at First Holy Communion

My post on Good Shepherd Sunday: Cute Trumps All elicited this guest commentary from a friend, who attended her granddaughter's First Holy Communion. I'll let her speak for herself! 

Attending a First Communion event in the Archdiocese of Portland never promised to be a walk in the park, but what it turned out to be was a “Catholic” fiasco of the stuff of nightmares.  The presence of Buddhist prayer wheels could not have made it more alien to my understanding of the Church’s worship.

The preparation for my granddaughter’s reception of the Eucharist proceeded well. A princess by temperament, she chose a tiara to wear with her veil. Her dress was a lacy confection previously worn by her mom and her cousin. How sweet, right?  Until the big day actually dawned…

The parish in question shall remain nameless, but it is representative of many in Oregon’s largest city. The priest, appropriately named Father “Pete,” is in his 50’s, tall and imposing, but obviously a marshmallow inside, whose primary reading material must consist entirely of the least challenging juvenile literature.

The day began with the obligatory picture taking – which went on for the better part of an hour, inside and outside the sanctuary. Well, parents and grandparents can be excused for this bit of sentimentality, even if it celebrates the fancy clothes and nervous smiles more than it acknowledges the momentous fact of initiation into the reception of Christ Himself.

During the photo shoot, however, a full church of early attendees – hoping to be seated where they could take yet more pictures of Johnny and Susie in the very act of Eucharistic reception – visited freely and loudly. After a lifetime in the Catholic Church, I have never seen a crowd act more like they were at cocktail party, instead of in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament – conveniently assigned to a side altar, and apparently ignored.  And on this occasion, a first was achieved for me: watching the godparents of my granddaughter bring their cups of Starbucks’ designer coffee into the church – and drink  in the aisles and in the pew before Mass. The smell of latte lingered long after they had stopped consuming the brew – barely in time for the processional.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the choir finally assembled – a dozen people of all ages and both sexes, who found a place ten feet from the altar in the sanctuary – so that at least the noise subsided to a dull roar. The singers looked harmless enough with their OCP books, but the bongos some of them held make me cringe. Shortly after the tuning up ended, the lector admonished us to “introduce yourselves to your neighbors.” My hope was that this pre-liturgical action would replace the “sign of peace” glad-handing. No such luck; that took another five minutes later in the long event.

Then we all rose and gawked at the 30-some kids in their finery, as the procession started. I didn’t count the verses of the “gathering song” (at least seven) as the first communicants led an army of servers of both sexes, lectors (although the youngsters did all the readings except the Gospel), extraordinary ministers (mostly women), and, finally, Father Pete, attired in a fairly standard chasuble,  but adorned with colors not listed in the rubrics. I had never laid eyes on him before and was to soon wish I never would again. 

Once the choir finally shut up, Father proceeded to poll the crowd about who came the farthest for the occasion. Connecticut won up front, but he continued to acknowledge folks from Illinois, Utah, and even The Dalles. Then he launched into the new translation prayers, many of which received the wrong responses and were punctuated by his ad-libbing, but then the Mass had already begun to seem irrelevant in the face of all the personal “sharing.”

After more insights inserted by the celebrant, who didn’t seem to want to stop talking long enough to actually say the Mass, the sung Gloria began. Father then proceeded to go up and down the church aisles, sprinkling everyone heavily with holy water. As the time for the readings approached, several youngsters in white and black lined up to render Scripture – three in turn on a reading, lest anyone be too taxed – and sing the Responsorial Psalm. After that painful interlude – soon to be followed by many more – the celebrant hoisted the book of Scripture, marched to the back of the church, unattended by his phalanx of servers and candle bearers, and told us all to turn around for the Gospel.  Huh?!

The homily gave the best intimation of how much worse it would get. After gathering all the children to sit with him at the base of the altar, our celebrant took out a basket and held up “bread,” in this case hamburger and hot dog buns, and asked the children what they were and what made them special. Well, of course, he finally summarized, it was the “fixin’s” – meat and ketchup or mustard – that were important.  Then he reached to the bottom of the basket for some hosts. These too were bread, he elicited from the eight-year-olds, but in this case, the “fixin’s” came from the Holy Spirit. I finally shut out the rest of the pre-school catechesis and prayed I could hang on and not make a scene.

It got worse. After the Creed, which took less time than the comments about our Baptismal promises leading up to it, we got to the Offertory, which evoked a procession of a dozen youngsters carrying nothing, and a line of more to say the prayers of the faithful.  All this time the choir was singing the contemporary version of Ubi Caritas, while women filled the numerous chalices on the altar, and Father relaxed after his efforts at setting up an atmosphere of conviviality.  Father then took a huge beaker of wine and some glass chalices into the congregation and had the children pour the wine into them.

When time for the Preface arrived, Father once again invited the entire group of first communicants to stand around him at the altar and hold hands. This lasted through the consecration, which seemed to be taking place as the celebrant held the host and then the chalice down at the children’s level, turning in a circle, while saying the words of transubstantiation! I resolved at that point to abstain from the sacrament, since its validity appeared in question.

I lasted until the children’s Communion, which took place with Father seated on the lowest step; Communion was given  only in the hand, followed by a drink from  the chalice held by – who else? – a woman. It had been explained to me earlier that it was fine for the children to drink the Precious Blood from the chalice because they had been given a taste of the unconsecrated wine days before, so “they wouldn’t spit it out in disgust during Mass.” Oh, well, that’s okay, then.

Although I had to tread on a few feet, I managed to get out of there as the congregation began to line up for Communion, pleading my bad hip, which had indeed begun to throb agonizingly.  I hid out in the car until I heard, to my surprise, an organ play the recessional. Yes, the church has a beautiful organ and evidently someone who can play it. But flutes, tambourines, and pianos are so much more relevant, don’tcha know?

After Mass, one person in our party from out-of-town, whom I had been told  attended a Latin Mass regularly and loved it – said to me, “That was the most beautiful First Communion I have ever seen!” I tried not to wince, went on auto pilot, and figured I would be able to leave soon. I managed to get to an exit point without meeting Father “Pete” formally (my hip did not allow me to walk all the way across the church hall to where he was), thus avoiding the sin of striking – or at the very least, cussing out – a priest.

If this is business as usual for the “Oregon Church,” God help us all. Pray a new prelate soon arrives in Portland and stops this obscene use of the liturgy as an occasion to glorify man (oops!) persons.


  1. I love the TLM--it precludes ad libbing

  2. Wow. Obscene is the right word! This may sound pessimistic but I'd venture this kind of abuse isn't unusual, don't you think? So sad, for the children of course. Lord have mercy.


  3. Oh. My. Goodness. That sounds appalling. I've been to a novus ordo once since I began attending the TLM, and I did not feel comfortable with it at all.

    My daughter had her First Holy Communion last december in the Latin Rite, and it was beautiful. It was pretty much like your regular High Mass, but when it came time for the Eucharist, the children took their Communion first.

    Kneeling at the rail.

    On the tongue.

    The only photos in the church were taken by the church photographer, and the photo op was only after Mass was concluded.

    There are now a few churches that I know of that hold regular TLMs. My main church (a half hour up the road which is pretty much all TLM all the time), and another church about 3 min around the corner where Father was with SSPX and has a Low Mass on the first sunday of every month at 7am before the usual NO Masses.

    I'll be supporting Father around the corner on the first sunday of the month.

    There's another church in the City which holds a TLM (Low) on wednesday evenings, and one of our country churches has a TLM once a month. These are the ones that I know of, and the City and country church Masses have Fathers from my main church saying the Mass.

    I just wish you could all come over here to participate in our small but growing community.

  4. Gak! A tiny bit different from my first communion 57 years ago. I won't attend a Mass where those sorts of shenanigans go on.

  5. I am sorry for your friend. What she saw is common in the Archdioceses of Portland. I count the days when the archbishop will leave us. What is madding is that those that attend services in Portland think this is normal. Its all so feel good. When Fr. Cary was named Bishop of Baker I was shocked that we had a priest of his quality in our archdioceses. I am sure there are very good priest but I think that they operate under the radar. Throwing good priests under the bus is common now days. When the new archbishop arrives, he will have a monumental task. Turning this around will be very difficult.

  6. I was really hoping that this was Swiftian satire rather than reality. Perhaps cussin' out a priest would not be a sin under these circumstances.


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