Catholic blogs take issue with many different things. CMR is no exception. Most of the time, we take exception with patently preposterous, the harebrained, or heretical. Less frequently (amounting to never) do we look at something from a pastoral perspective. I don’t write this post with any great insight into historical liturgical practice, or any great insight on anything for that matter. I write it from the perspective of my Catholic gut. Minor though it may be, I take some issue with orderly, row by row, usher micromanaged communion.
In the parish of my childhood communion was un-choreographed, unsystematic, and chaotic. Each communicant would present themselves for communion at a time which suited them and more importantly sometimes not at all.
Back then, at communion time, everyone approached the communion rail (yeah, the good ol’ days) randomly. We had all types, there were those who ran to the communion rail quicker than Marlon Brando to a Sizzler buffet. Others moseyed. Still others sashayed (we will leave these for another post). Random and anonymous. With all the randomness to it, if someone chose not to present themselves for communion, that choice was not readily apparent to those sitting in proximity. No one knew who got up when, so if someone was already kneeling in the pew already when you returned, it might mean that they simply had found a faster line with the quick Priest working the left side of the communion rail. Remember when priests were the ordinary ministers of holy communion? Point is, you had no idea if the person sitting next to you presented themselves for communion or not.
But something changed when standing became the ordinary posture for reception of Holy Communion. Somehow, the randomness of approach became unacceptable disorder. Like Jedi knights (or maybe Sith), these polyester clad warriors were called in to quell the rebellion. The empire of the usher had begun. They came out of the woodwork to bring sequence to the procession. The ugliness of the random banished forever. The jacketed juggernaut wrestled contumacious communicants into line. Everyone in their turn, pew by pew, rise, turn, proceed.
But banished with disorder was anonymity. No longer could you hold your place in the pew without telegraphing to all that would not receive communion. The effect of this is a strange sort of peer pressure to receive communion, prepared or not.
There was a time in my life when I was not properly prepared for communion. This usher enforced pew peer pressure made me very uncomfortable. I can easily imagine that someone who wants to attend mass but has not yet conformed their lives to the teachings of the church might find this orderliness a temptation to sacrilege or even a barrier to mass attendance. I know I did.
Now I am certainly not saying that all ushers are evil (not all) and that orderliness is to be avoided. No. But in the random and disorderly perhaps there was approachability that now seems lost. It seems that while the trains now run on time, the passengers are less important. I, for one, prefer the former ways. Ugly and anonymous.
This is my case for chaos. Does anyone else have an opinion on this?