Church history is certainly my favorite subject to study. There is so much in our past that can help us today. And in the case of our history, it is accurate to say that truth is stranger than fiction.
Any trip to Europe will make clear that parish churches were plentiful even in small towns. They indicate how important the faith was to our ancestors. Many of the cities here in the United States also have several Catholic parishes within a few city blocks of each other, most often split up by nationality.
Father Richard Kunst
Because of the close proximity of churches, there grew up an abuse that the church had to correct, which we can still feel today. Often, due to misguided piety, people would travel from one parish to another on any given day so that they could receive Communion several times. They would figure out what time priests might be saying Mass and then get to that church and altar even if only in time for Communion. They would receive the host, then run off to the next parish to do the same, all while rarely, if ever, fully participating in the Mass.
It does not take a rocket scientist or a canon lawyer to see the abuse of such activity.
Because of this behavior, the church established the policy allowing Communion only twice in any given day. It is not uncommon for me to get a question about this before Mass. Someone walking in might ask, “Father, I went to Communion at a funeral this morning, can I go again?” The answer is “yes,” as long as you fully participate in both liturgies.
In all my years of priesthood I have never known of anyone running around to hit the tail end of Masses in order to repeatedly receive Communion, but I will tell you what I do see often: tardiness. Some people have a bad habit of being perpetually late to Mass, even very late. It is not uncommon, even at a weekday Mass, for people show up at the Lord’s Prayer or later and then come to Communion. That is not right.
It is understandable to be late for Mass occasionally — fussy kids, bad traffic or some other unforeseen issue can arise that could cause someone not to make it on time. But when it becomes a regular habit, it becomes a problem. There are people in our parishes who have no idea we start Mass with a hymn, because they are never there to hear it.
There is no hard, fast rule as to how late one can be and still receive Communion, but I generally tell people that if they have missed the first reading, perhaps it would be best that they do not receive during that Mass. That’s because we are expected to fully participate in the liturgy. If we miss that much of the Mass, we are not fully participating.
This is not a legalistic hoop to jump through. It is meant to spur on a proper spirituality. St. Alphonsus de Liguori wrote that if we had 100 years to properly prepare ourselves for our first Communion, it would be an insufficient amount of time. Coming to Mass early will help put us in the right frame of mind for what we are about to enter into.
Then there is the other end of Mass, where I see an even more common abuse, and that is leaving immediately after receiving Communion. I have often thought to myself that if I gave a crisp new $10 bill to everyone as I was shaking hands with them after Mass, I don’t think a single person would ever leave early! We would never go to a movie and then leave right before it ended, so why in the world would we do that at the Mass, which is the source and summit of our faith?
Again, I know that certain circumstances arise that may cause people to have to leave early, but not every week! And as in the case of the people who come late, the people who leave early tend to be “repeat offenders.” The same St. Alphonsus de Liguori made reference to this behavior, as well. He said that after we have received Communion, 12 angels surround us adoring the one we just received. The parking lot is not the proper place for us to give thanks to God for the gift of his Son in the Eucharist.
All of this might seem harsh to some, and perhaps that is all right. The point is that receiving the Eucharist is the most sacred thing we do. Even if we are not aware of it, it is the most significant undertaking of our week. It is right that we allow ourselves the time to prepare to receive Christ and the time to thank God for his Son after we have received.
Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. Reach him at [email protected].