Saturday, 15 March 2014
The Protection of the Holy Eucharist and the Role of the Church Usher
A fine post on Dr Joseph Shaw’s LMS Chairman blog set me thinking about what may (and probably will) lie ahead. This is the result.
Dear Fathers, Pastors of souls, I’m sure you will agree that there are times when you have to think like a civil servant.
I’d like to think that every priest has planned ahead, and worked out in advance how he is going to deal with the publicly unrepentant who stand in front of him at the altar steps, daring him to refuse them Holy Communion.
A soldier is well trained to deal with unexpected and critical threats, and so must priests be, in the spiritual sphere, especially in these dark days. I do not know whether bishops usually guide their clergy in such matters. I hope they do. But if not, it would be as well for priests to be (oh, cringe at the jargon) proactive.
When planning for these contingencies, it would be sensible also to recruit some of the burlier members of the congregation to serve on a roster of church ushers.
I sometimes try to imagine how I might react if I were in the priest’s shoes when faced with this situation. I can think of a few requirements. A quick assessment; taking command of the moment; a decisive response; a refusal to be cowed; genuine concern for the soul in front of you; standing on your authority as a priest of God and guardian of His Body.
I suppose the priest could say, quite simply, “Please return to your place”, or something similar. That might be sufficient, as well as tactful: the would-be communicant would know the implications of the priest’s words.
If the person refused to move away, I can envisage something stronger, such as “I will not give you Holy Communion”, and even, if the person persisted, “For the sake of your soul, I will not give you Holy Communion.” This would be turning into a horrible experience for the unrepentant person (as it would for the priest), but that would be more salutary for him than if he were to add the sin of sacrilege to his defiance.
Finally, faced with continuing refusal to move aside, the priest would be well advised to have his Burly Ushers close by, to apply their own persuasion.
After that, there is the question of the bishop’s reaction if he were informed of the incident. Now that is the great unknown. But at least in my imaginary diocese the priest would be able to produce his plan (already pre-approved by the bishop, naturally), which I hope would encourage the bishop to believe that he handled the crisis well. Civil service thinking, you see.
Times are grim, but at least we can all be prepared.