Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I am writing to ask for your advice regarding the liturgy during this unique time in our history. As a community of religious sisters we, fortunately, possess some consecrated hosts. Is it liturgically sound if we watch the Holy Father’s televised Mass and for our superior to distribute the reserved hosts to us at the time of communion? — M.P., Rome
A: In this time of the coronavirus crisis there are probably many houses of religious sisters and consecrated laity in similar positions.
In the current lockdown, it is a very good thing to follow a live-streamed Mass whether by the Holy Father or indeed by any of the many priests who have undertaken similar initiatives. It is a moment of prayer, of pondering God’s Word along with the celebrant, and of making an act of spiritual offering and communion with the Eucharistic sacrifice.
It is not, however, participating at Mass, which requires physical presence, and so it would not be sound liturgical practice to distribute Communion during the live streaming of the Mass.
Communion may be administered immediately after the Mass has concluded, or at some other suitable time, and always following the approved rites of the Church for distribution of Communion outside of Mass.
The Church has two similar but different forms of this rite: a rite for administering communion to the sick, and the “Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside Mass with the Celebration of the Word of God.” In the context of a community of religious, it would be this second rite that is to be used.
According to the rubrics of the rite:
“26. This rite is to be used chiefly when Mass is not celebrated or when communion is not distributed at scheduled times. The purpose is that the people should be nourished by the word of God. By hearing it they learn that the marvels it proclaims reach their climax in the paschal mystery of which the Mass is a sacramental memorial and in which they share by communion. Nourished by God’s word, they are led on to grateful and fruitful participation in the saving mysteries.”
The rite has the following structure:
— Introductory Rites: Greeting and penitential act.
— Celebration of the Word of God.
— Communion rite: Our Father, Sign of peace, “Behold the Lamb of God… Lord I am not worthy…”, distribution of Communion, moment of silence or a song, concluding prayer.
With respect to the celebration of the Word of God it indicates:
“29. The Liturgy of the Word now takes place as at Mass. Texts are chosen for the occasion either from the Mass of the day or from the votive Masses of the Holy Eucharist or the Precious Blood, the readings from which are in the Lectionary. A list of these passages can be found in nos. 113‐153 of this Ritual. The Lectionary offers a wide range of readings that may be drawn upon for particular needs, such as the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart. See nos. 154‐158 below.
“There may be one or more readings, the first being followed by a psalm or some other chant or by a period of silent prayer. The celebration of the word ends with the general intercessions.”
If, for example, the rite of distributing Communion were to be celebrated immediately following a live-streamed Mass, it would be a legitimate option to use one of the other readings suggested in the above rubric so as not to repeat the readings of the day. If the rite is celebrated separately, then the best option is to use the daily readings.
There is also a briefer form of the rite with a very short reading. This may be used when there are only one or two people for Communion.
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