Bishop of Rockville Centre William Murphy has issued a pastoral letter restricting the practice of Communion services at parishes and schools in his diocese. He said the ban on Communion services would bring the archdiocese into conformity with the liturgical norms of the Church.
Writing in an eight-page letter sent on Friday, Bishop Murphy reflected on the importance of the Eucharist. "The Eucharist is the greatest gift Jesus left us… The celebration of the Eucharist gives us our identity as well as our life,” he said.
The bishop said that Communion services, in practice, often sever what he called “the connection between receiving the Sacrament and celebrating the sacrifice.”
“The two go hand-in-hand,” he continued. “Receiving the Sacrament is the culmination of participating in the sacrifice.”
“There is an inherent interconnection between sacrifice, Real Presence, and Communion,” Bishop Murphy said.
“In the popular mind, all too often the purpose of Mass is still seen as an action simply to consecrate hosts; some people think their participation in the Eucharistic Prayer is all about watching the priest and then receiving Holy Communion,” he wrote.
Bishop Murphy said that the internal “offering” of ourselves both differentiates a Mass from a Communion Service and provides context for the laity’s “full, conscious, and active” participation in the Mass.
He ordered the Communion services in the diocese to end by July 1. Bishop Murphy explained in his letter that the Communion services were originally intended for use on Sundays only in remote, missionary parishes where priests could rarely visit.
According to Newsday, for the past thirty years, students at the elite Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY could receive Holy Communion during a 15-minute Communion service just before lunch. Schools like Chaminade have said they conduct the services because they lack the time to celebrate Mass amid classes. Some schools lack priests to celebrate Mass.
At some parishes in the diocese, church workers hold the services on weekday mornings because no priest is available for Mass.
In his pastoral letter, Bishop Murphy said that in 1997 his predecessor Bishop John Raymond McGann had instituted a moratorium forbidding any new Communion services from being offered on weekdays, though the moratorium allowed parishes with existing services to continue to hold them.
Since that moratorium, Bishop Murphy said, liturgical legislation has clarified that “Celebrations of the Word, especially the use of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours is encouraged, the distribution of Holy Communion is not a part of such service nor should it be.”
Celebrations of the Word include all of the designated Mass readings for the day but no Eucharistic prayer or consecration. At Communion services, the Mass readings are followed by the reception of Communion Hosts consecrated by a priest at a previous Mass.
Bishop Murphy said celebrations involving Communion services could no longer be held on weekdays.
“I, as Bishop, am declaring that no weekday Celebrations of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion will be allowed in this Diocese thereby bringing our Diocese into conformity with the liturgical norms of the Church,” he wrote.
“This new policy must not be seen as ‘taking something away’ from the laity,” the bishop insisted. “All of us are called to offer our proper roles in the Liturgy and none of us is other than servant of the Church when we fulfill any role in the Liturgy”
According to Newsday, several schools and parishes who hold Communion services have said they would follow the bishop’s instructions. Some, however, said they were disappointed the services would end.
Others saw the bishop’s letter as an opportunity to reflect on the importance of Holy Communion and to counter its casual reception among some Catholics.
"I think it's positive and something to be embraced," said Father James Williams, president of Chaminade, Newsday reports. "The bishop is the teaching arm of the church."