ST. JAMES CATHOLIC COMMUNITY
A charter church of
The Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch-Malabar Rite
Fr. John W. Sweeley, D.D., Pastor
Norms for Reception of the Holy Eucharist in the Home
St. James Catholic Community believes it is imperative that its members receive the Holy Eucharist in their homes as actively participating members of the community. There is both theological and historical evidence to support that until the ninth century the faithful received the host in their hands and communicated themselves in their homes.
(Jungmann, Riepe, The Mass of the Roman Rite; cf. Angelo Penna, C.R.L., Eucharist and Mass, Concilium, Vol. 40)
There is nothing in current Catholic doctrine that precludes the practice of a layperson distributing the Holy Eucharist either to others or communicating themselves. On the contrary there is much to support such a practice. The confusion lies within the distinction between discipline and doctrine. Every Christian belongs to what is called the common priesthood of the faithful. (Vatican II, Constitution of the Church, No. 8) However, the character of the sacrament of Holy Orders confers upon a man or women the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood that differs from the priesthood of the faithful.
Thus there are certain things priests can do which the laity cannot. In regard to the sacrament of the Eucharist the function of the ministerial priest is to facilitate with the Holy Spirit changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no divine law or doctrine that would forbid a layperson from distribution of this spiritual food to either themselves or others which has already been brought about through the unique power of the ministerial priesthood.
Some historical facts regarding reception of the Holy Eucharist cited in Martimort, LEglise en priere Cfr. Also Jungmann, Vol II, p. 386 especially note 95 include:
1. St. Benedict, according to the witness of St. Gregory the Great, gave himself Viaticum.
2. In the early church Mass was not celebrated on ferial days and laymen were allowed to take home part of the Eucharistic bread and wine to be reserved and self-communicated on those days.
3. In the Apostolic Tradition Hippolytus of Rome alludes to the daily communion of Christians and recommended they take no food prior to receiving the Eucharist in their homes.
4. In the 3rd century in Ad Uxorem, and De Oratione Tertullian in Africa attests to the Body of the Lord that is received and reserved by laymen.
5. In the 4th and 5th century in Rome we have the witness of St. Jerome, Paulinus, the bishop Honoratus and St. Augustine that the Eucharistic elements were still reserved in private homes.
6. St. Bede in England in the 7th century recounts the death of Coedmon who was enjoying himself with friends when he had the feeling he was about to die. He asked for the Eucharist reserved in his home and gave himself Viaticum.
7. Until the 8th century laymen were permitted to give themselves communion not only in cases of sickness but also at times when the Eucharistic liturgy was not celebrated.
8. Prior to the Caolingian Reform of the 9th century there was no conciliar text that forbid the layman from giving communion to the sick.
9. As late as the thirteenth century certain theologians recognized that laymen had the right to distribute communion to others and themselves as a substitute for the priest doing so.
10. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the respect for the Blessed Sacrament went so far that a layman was not permitted to touch the sacred host even if because of this a dying person would be deprived of Viaticum.
11. Respect for the Blessed Sacrament became so intense that from the sixteenth century until Vatican Council I in 1870 most laypersons throughout the world were not allowed to communicate except on Christmas and Easter. Even then communication was usually reserved for the nobility only.
12. Vatican Council I declared that the Eucharist be made available to all the faithful. However, so that it was not defiled the laity was to communicate only in the species of bread, they were not to touch it, and it was to be placed on their tongue by the priest.
13. Vatican Council II restored communication of the laity in the species of both bread and wine and promotes the reception of the Holy Eucharist on a daily basis.
14. In a layperson's priestly role, which has reached new understandings and dimensions since Vatican II, it is both within the view of the church and considered necessary and prudent in special circumstances to ask a layperson to share in the privilege of distributing Holy Communion.
15. Vatican Council II recognized the right of the laity to distribute and communicate the Holy Eucharist to others and themselves. Although most often the Holy Eucharist is distributed by a person commissioned as a lay minister according to "Instruction on the Extraordinary Ministers for Administration of Holy Communion" (Fedei Custos) any lay person, at the discretion of the priest, can perform this function for others or themselves.
These are crucial times for the church. We of St. James Catholic Community believe God calls us to be his servants at just such a time. It is no accident that the cross is our primary symbol. For that is where Christ became God's perfect servant. The cross is where God moves with full power into the world's arena through imperfect men and women who would be his servants.
The critical question before us is: How can the church of today be the servant of God? Behind that question lies two additional questions: What does it mean for the church to serve God? Does the church have a special mission?
THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST
The church does have a special mission and that is the church is the Body of Christ on earth. St. Paul told the Corinthians in First Corinthians 12:27 before they had buildings in which to worship or clergy to perform ceremonies, Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it. Paul makes it clear that the church is to be the Body of Christ in the world doing what Christ would do if he were here in the flesh. What a startling idea that is!
(Cf. Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16; Colossians 3:12-17)
Thus the source of the life of the church, which is in reality the Christian community, is the Holy Eucharist. Whatever the particular needs of a community its most authentic need is always to celebrate the Eucharist authentically.
We need to remember that Christianity is an Easter faith. It is the story of Christ's victory over death and all that that implies. The resurrection stories all relate that after the crucifixion the body of Christ did not remain entombed. It continued to be living and active. It was on the move from Jerusalem to Emmaus to Olivet. It appeared wherever it was needed. In the first centuries of the church before the advent of special physical structures designed for worship it appeared wherever the faithful were gathered either in large numbers of in twos or threes. Reception of the Holy Eucharist was considered so important it was brought by the faithful from the place of consecration to their homes where it was reserved and later communicated.
If a church is to meet the needs of the people of God where should the church ideally be located? An old English colloquial saying puts it rather cynically. The neer to the church, the further from God. This is probably a bit harsh yet it reminds us that the church must always be ready to be judged according to its response to its mission as the Body of Christ.
There has been much written recently that reveals church attendance both of Catholics and Protestants has diminished by 25-50 percent over the past twenty years. Yet, these same reports reveal that the majority of these people acknowledge they have spiritual needs which are not being met. The bottom line is that they have turned off to traditional forms of institutional denominationalism but not to God.
Thus, the mission of St. James Catholic Community is to bring the Body of Christ to the Body of Christ. If the church of God is to be meaningful to the People of God it must be ever changing yet unchanging. One way of resolving this paradox is to create a new kind of authentic Catholic community on the Internet. To be authentically Catholic this community must adhere to the rites and forms of orthodox Catholicism via apostolic succession of its clergy and the celebration of its Divine Liturgy while at the same time embracing the re-discovery of the historic right of the laity to reserve and communicate the consecrated bread in their homes.
THE MINISTRY OF COMMUNION
To participate worthily, intelligently, and whole-heartedly in the ministry of the Eucharist as you will do demands that we adopt as far as possible the mind of Christ as he embraced his death and resurrection. If the Eucharist serves to enshrine for all times that sublime commitment of Christ embracing humiliations and death in our name then you and I cannot stand idly by as detached observers. We have to accept the challenge that is demanded by the Eucharist which is the challenge of joining Christ in his Passover when we eat his flesh and drink his blood. The Eucharist requires a commitment from you that is a deeper commitment than you have made up to this point in your life. The ministry of the Eucharist that you will share demands the deepest commitment one can make. It is the commitment to reserve and communicate to yourself and family the Body of our Lord.
This is what you are committing yourself to; not to a ritual function. Desire, love, loyalty, sincere friendship, genuine openness to others, an aversion from deep-seated friendship-rupturing sin constitute the mind that you and I bring to Christ in our ministry of the Eucharist. It is here in the Eucharist that the fidelity of Christ to us in his covenant love meets our covenant loyalty to him most authentically. Our sacramental union with Christ becomes not a manner of a passing moment, not a Sunday event, but a real pledge to live a better life in readiness to let Christ's love radiate to all people through us. This is what the ministry of communion is all about.
From the earliest days of Christianity the Eucharist has been the center of the Church's life. It has been the supreme prayer, the ultimate act of worship, the most important occasion of Christian instruction. It has been the source of Christian unity and love within the community. All the other sacraments point toward the Eucharist and find their fulfillment in it. It is the Eucharist that is truly the center and epitome of Christianity.
Many understand by Eucharist the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. They associate the sacrament as much with the permanent presence of Christ in the tabernacle as with the celebration of the Eucharist itself. Very often the Mass, although it is looked upon as the sacrifice of Christ, is viewed as a means to effect the permanent presence of Christ in the bread and wine.
However, if we look more deeply we see that this is an incomplete idea of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the total action that is the efficacious sign of Christ's saving acts. The sacrament of the Eucharist is not to be restricted to the moments of consecration and communion but includes the total Eucharistic action from the entrance hymn through the dismissal. It is within this entire sacramental action that consecration and communion take place. It is essential for you who now share in this ministry of the Eucharist to understand this.
Eucharist itself is a true sacrifice. It makes Christ present for us: Christ in his original act of dying and rising is made present for us here and now. It is this Christ, the Son of God, with whom we are joined and from whom we receive the grace of salvation. It is not merely a commemoration but an actual experience of this salvific event.
This is central to our understanding of what the celebration of the Eucharist is and therefore of what we do as ministers. It is Christ and his redemptive sacrifice, his Passover and Paschal Mystery, being made present for us here and now through the means of sign and sacrament of the sacrifice of Christ. It is the sacrifice of Christ himself.
In the Eucharist the presence and active intervention of Christ go so far as to completely take over the elements of bread and wine. Christ takes them out of their natural mode of existence, not only to make them a sign of his presence, but also so that he is truly present in their visibility. This is the primary presence of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. This is the presence with which we are most familiar.
However there are three other ways in which Christ is manifested in the Eucharist.
1. Christ is present in the reading of the scriptures.
The scriptures are the Word of God and he is present in them speaking to us. Christ, who as the Word of God fulfilled in himself, makes himself heard and recognized in the texts of the Old and New Testaments. He is manifested in the Old Testament as prefigured and in the New Testament as the perfect fulfillment. This is the real presence of Christ in the Word.
2. Christ is present in his ministers.
By the apostolic institution Christ designated for himself special representatives who we now call bishops, priests and deacons through the sacrament of Holy Orders. These deacons, priests, and bishops are associated in a special manner with Christ's messianic mission. Far more than in any other act of their ministry priests and bishops are called upon in the liturgy to act in the person of Jesus Christ. But it is important to remember that in varying degrees and according to the mandate of the bishops, all ministers of which you are one, contribute to realizing the presence of Christ in any celebration of the Eucharist.
3. The community constitutes a presence of Christ.
The community, the people gathered to share in the Eucharist, constitute a particular mode of the presence of Christ. Under the leadership of the celebrant who represents Christ as head of the community the whole community acts. By means of our liturgical celebrations, especially the Eucharist, this mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ is expressed most completely. The local community gathered together to be sanctified by their head, to worship the Father through him, and to serve God's people.
This is why it is incomplete to say that the priest is the only minister of the total sacrament of the Eucharist because all who have been baptized share in the priesthood of Christ. To that extent the ministers of the Eucharist in all its aspects, but especially in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, exercise that priestly function.
The distribution, reservation and communication of the Body of Christ are a ministry of participation in the Eucharist. Although the priest is the principal minister of the total celebration he is not the only minister of total sacrament. Both those under Holy Order and the laity are full participants in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, there is no doctrinal prohibition to the laity reserving and communicating in their own home.
If we are to look upon the entire body of Catholic theology and practice it is clear that distribution, reservation and communication of the Body of Christ in one's home was for the first eight centuries of the Church considered not only a right of the laity but usual and common practice. Beginning in the ninth century until the middle of the twentieth century the laity were denied this basic right not on the basis of doctrine but rather that of an arbitrary rule of church discipline. Since the mid 1960s the Church Catholic has been in the process or rediscovering this ancient practice of the church. It is in this spirit of rediscovery of the right and practice of the laity that members of St. James Catholic Community may reserve and communicate the Holy Eucharist in their homes.
We can now apply all that has been written above to your participation as a member of St. James Catholic Community. Liturgically, a return to the original Christian practice of the laity distributing, reserving and communicating the Eucharist in their own home will have profound significance for the church as servant of God in the modern world. It highlights, in a very personal way, the universal priesthood of every Christian while at the same time emphasizing the solemn responsibility of the laity. It is a powerful reminder that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ and that a man and a woman cannot simply receive the Eucharist passively in order to enjoy its benefits. Reception of the Eucharist must actively embrace Christ and this activity must not be merely internal if it is to affect our world. There must be an external manifestation of our participation. Moreover, it is not only your participation but also that of the total laity represented by you and therefore the total church that is represented by both the priest and the laity acting together as ministers in this celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
All members of St. James Catholic Community are entitled to have the Holy Eucharist sent to them by U.S. Priority Mail. The Eucharist will not be sent to anyone who is not a member of St. James Catholic Community.
You do not have to leave your present church or denomination to become a member of St. James Catholic Community. The table of the Lord was open to all who came to him and the Lord's table of St. James Catholic Community is open to all who come with a meek heart and due reverence. As Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 19:14, Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven children of all ages are welcome to receive the Holy Euchrist.
Information provided on this census is strictly confidential. It will not be sold, given or in any way distributed to any individual or organization.
Please answer all items and return by email or send to:
Fr. John W. Sweeley, D.D., Pastor
St. James Catholic Community
612 East 34th Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2903
Other persons in the home that will receive Communion.
Please write a short paragraph describing your family's religious experience.
A Host will be sent for each Sunday in the month for each person on the census.
Jesus freely gave his Body for us and we freely give his Body to you. However, a monthly donation of $10.00 would be appreciated to cover the cost of postage and handling.