Too good to give up.

Nothing sparks a firestorm of comments like taking a hard line on an issue. Over at the National Catholic Register, columnist Danielle Bean did just that by outlining "Why I'm Giving Up Communion On the Tongue." Nearly 400 comments later, and Bean's column is the most-read page on the site this week.  

Bean's stance comes from a series of blunders by her parish's ill-trained Extrodinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who have, among other things, dropped the host on the floor while attempting to place it on her tongue. 

Fed up with the mishaps which caused Communion-line distractions, Bean declares:
I could be stubborn and insist upon receiving on the tongue because I have a right to, even when the challenges it causes become a distraction to myself and others. But that doesn’t seem like something Christ would want me to do. 
Jesus is Jesus, in my hand or on my tongue. [emphasis Bean's]
And that is why I am 90% convinced that from now on, when I receive the Eucharist from an EMHC, I should put my own preferences aside and receive in the way that is least likely to cause confusion and distraction—in the hand.
Blame could be passed around ad infinitum here--here are some general accusations: Blame the EMHCs, they don't know what they're doing. Blame the darn congregants that present themselves to receive on the tongue, but have their mouth partly open, or have their tongue down to their chin or who are 6'8". Blame the pastors, who haven't trained the EMHCs. Or, place additional blame on the pastors for having EMHCs in the first place. And round, and round.  

I received Our Lord by hand until fairly recently. Fear of looking stupid, I suppose, or of having the host drop to the floor (much like what Bean experienced) held me back from receiving on the tongue for years. But now that it's a regular practice for me, I know that it's too good to give up--it's a special moment of reverence between me and the Lord. Someday, I hope to kneel when receiving as well, like Pope Benedict requests of recipients when he distributes Communion at papal Masses. 

Here's a little background: The United States is one of four countries that have been granted an exception from the universal practice of receiving Communion on the tongue. Pope Paul VI discussed the correct posture for the Eucharist in his 1969 Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion, Memoriale Domini. After a survey of the world's bishops showed a majority preference for retaining the discipline of receiving on the tongue, Pope Paul expressed his support for their conclusion. 

He did, though, give a loophole. For places where receiving by hand was already the norm (or where there was a "particular circumstance"), the practice could be allowed. The United States became one big "particular circumstance," apparently, since receiving by hand here wasn't the norm in 1969. But I digress.

Papa Benny's Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, Monsignor Guido Marini, thinks the pope has more in mind than just shock value by requesting such a traditional posture for Communion: 
"It could also be noted that the (Pope's) preference for such form of distribution which, without taking anything away from the other one, better highlights the truth of the real presence in the Eucharist, helps the devotion of the faithful, and introduces more easily to the sense of mystery. Aspects which, in our times, pastorally speaking, it is urgent to highlight and recover."
The pope is, of course, right: Receiving on the tongue makes clear that we receive no less that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist. But I have many dear family members and friends that receive the Eucharist in the hand with equal reverence as I do, receiving on the tongue. 

If and when the Vatican announces that the U.S. faithful may no longer receive Communion by hand, I'd expect all Catholics to fall in line. Until then, reverence and the utmost respect for the Lord present in the Eucharist should be the uniform characteristics for those in the Communion line.  

Have I had awkward moments with untrained EMHCs, trying to place the host on my tongue at the right time, in the right way and in the right position? Sure. But it doesn't happen at every Mass, and it certainly isn't enough to change the way I receive our Lord. I'd hope Bean could learn to live with whatever distractions she thinks she's causing by receiving on the tongue. I'll conclude my thoughts with the same beautiful line she does:
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours!

And just for fun... a little photo tutorial.


"This is what Christians do for each other."

I have to share this beautiful post from my friend, Anne. A gifted writer to begin with, Anne has turned her sadness and grief over her mother's recent passing into a rich collection of reflections on her blog:
When my friend stood up to read the prayers of the faithful, she prayed for all those who had suffered the loss of a parent.  I lowered my eyes, fighting back tears.  Her eyes were red, glistening around the edges with fresh tears, and her voice was very soft, nearly breaking.  I knew what she was feeling.  And I knew she knew how I felt.  We were sisters, in a way, in that moment.  We prayed together, heart to heart.
And then the priest said something that took my breath away and set my heart beating quickly.  As I stood there, watching my friend and her mother bow their heads, I heard: "Thank you all for coming and standing with us to remember the life of J. with his family. This is what Christians do for each other." 
I am blessed to have both of my parents with me still, being new grandparents to Baby J and his little cousin, my sister's baby. I know not everyone, especially Anne, has that luxury. But even with my nuclear family intact, the passing of close relatives and parish friends has been a constant in my life since I was small. 

Not until going to college, though, did I realize how little experience many of my peers had with death. Not that I wished the experience on any of them--no one wishes for their friends to have just a little more sadness in their lives. 

But when I begin to count off the funerals I've attended, it adds up quickly. There's our beloved Grandpa Les. There's our substitute grandmas, great aunts Lolo and Rita. There's my paternal grandfather and grandmother. Then there are the many men and women from our parish: Rich, a FBI investigator, devout Catholic and family man who left behind six beautiful children and a loving wife. Penny, a long-time parish volunteer whom everyone knew and loved. Liz, the sweet and generous wife of our parish deacon. Bob, the retired Lieutenant Colonel who sang in the choir and deeply loved his wife, Moonbeam. John, a big teddy bear of a man who treated our autistic sister with such kindness. Mary Jo, my grade school classmate, taken so early by meningitis; and Bridgett, another grandmother figure in my life who took me to classical music concerts. These are a few; there are others.

Their funerals allowed their loved ones to pay tribute to their lives and pray: "May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace." I know some parishes have ministry groups whose sole purpose is to attend funerals, especially for the lesser-known (or much older) members of a parish. My Mom has come home from such Masses and said many times over, in all seriousness, "You know, there's just nothing like a good Catholic funeral." And she's right. Respect for the soul, respect for the body, respect for the Creator that made both--it's all there. 

Death, in our culture, however, is often treated with not just disrespect, but downright horror. Look at the television shows and movies, built around a fascination with a grim afterlife: The Walking Dead on AMC and The Ghost Whisperer on CBS are two recent examples. No wonder there's such skepticism today about the possibility of heaven and hell--the deceased are obviously too busy trying to either launch zombie attacks or avenge their own deaths to be worried about such things as final damnation (or salvation, for that matter). 
It's no badge of honor to have attended many funerals, and some would even call it unfortunate. But it is a life experience that greatly shapes a person. My mom often tells stories about growing up in small-town Nebraska; she lived next door to one of the two town mortuaries. The family running it lived in the upstairs portion of a beautifully restored Victorian and ran the business downstairs. As her own mother died suddenly when Mom was only 11, she learned, so very early, that death cannot stop us in our tracks. We grieve, we pray, and we never forget. But we keep going.

While still in my dating days, I had a litany of "first date questions" that I'd draw from if a young man happened to take me out to dinner. One of my favorites was, "Have you ever been to a funeral?" (We can all see now why I spent most Saturday nights with my girlfriends, eating brownies and watching Bridget Jones' Diary.) It always surprised me when my date would cock an eyebrow, quizzically furrow his brow and say, "Well, uh, no, not really--oh maybe one, but yeah, not more than that." I somehow knew that if this was the answer, he and I might have a hard time relating. 

And so it was rather telling when my husband Sean and I went on our first date, after three years of friendship. Sean worked weekends at the Catholic funeral home in town as an "ambassador," somberly donning a suit and tie to assist with viewings, rosaries and, of course, funerals. In my nervous first-date mode, I began asking him over our smoked-salmon appetizer, "So, have you ever been to a funer..." I trailed off in laughter as I realized my mistake. Sean's response was right on beat: "As a matter of fact, I have... usually one, sometimes two a week." And then he smiled. 

There's no dispute that death is painful--for ourselves and others. But as Catholics, we "look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Attending funerals affirms that line of the creed in our hearts and minds.

We force ourselves to gather up our courage, pray for strength, and give thanks for every day God gives us. We thank him that we were well loved. We thank him for the gifts of living saints in our lives.

And we pray that at our own funeral, the priest will say, "Thank you all for coming and standing with us to remember the life of ___ with her family. This is what Christians do for each other."

Movie Trailer Friday: Scare the hell out of 'em.

Welcome to the Screening Room for the Domestic Apologist! I thought I'd start something of a Friday tradition here, and it was either fish-fare recipes, or movie reviews. Considering the content below, you might wish I had gone with the former!

I ran across the trailer for The Rite on apple.com/trailers today. Though I'm not inclined to see it when it comes out (more on that below), I do want to highlight any film that opens its trailer with an aerial view of St. Peter's:

I won't be privy to an early screening of The Rite, and even if I was, I'm doubtful I could sit through it. Drama, when mixed with either horror or realistic violence, just isn't my cup of tea--unless it's being utilized for a grave artistic purpose.

Instead, I rely on excellent Catholic movie critics, such as Steven Greydanus, who do get to preview these sort films. Steven, a regular contributor and blogger for the National Catholic Register, is a keen observer of Catholicism on the big screen. He, along with many other Catholics, found much to enjoy in another exorcism movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I'll be waiting to read his take on The Rite. Until then, we'll be watching Planet Earth on Netflicks, here at the Harrell household.

If you're looking to do a little preview reading on The Rite, here's a piece on the real-life priest from Northern California (holla!) who inspired the film.  
New York Post: Scare the hell out of 'em

And, the book, based on the priest, that inspired the film, that swallowed the fly, that...
Catholic Exchange: The Rite - Making of a Modern Exorcist


How do you solve a problem like "Chradvent"?

You can count on it: On the first of November, the dark chocolate marshmallow Santas (my personal favorite) are right next to the Halloween markdown candy at the local grocery store. 

Before Thanksgiving arrives, department stores have hauled their plastic greenery, red bows and "Lowest prices of the season!" signs out of storage.  

By the day after Thanksgiving, some radio stations are solely playing Christmas music. You'll hear every awful rendition of "Santa Baby" by Gaudete Sunday, for sure.

You can also count on this: As long as we've had businesses competing for your holiday dollars long before Christmas arrives, we've had the same (but valuable) message from sage homilists, essayists and Christian cultural commentators. And that message is: Don't let Christmas steal your Advent.

It's actually the title of a great essay by Deacon Greg Kandra this year, and, of course, his points ring true: 

Jesus is coming.
But until he comes, we wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray.
We shouldn't rush it. Advent is the time for taking stock, and making plans, a season of great expectations...
That brings me to a question all of us should ask during these coming weeks:
Are we listening?
Are we paying attention?
Are we looking to what will be -- or are we already there?
If we jump right into the holiday season, we forget to wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray. We neglect the "joyful hope" that is so much a part of this beautiful season. When Christmas arrives, it will seem almost anti-climactic: one more day in a long litany of jingling bells and canned carols.

Earlier in the piece, which served as a homily for the first Sunday of Advent, Deacon Greg ponders if we haven't smashed the two seasons of Advent and Christmas into one, calling it "Chradvent." 

I agree with him. Yes, we shouldn't rush Christmas, and we should fully appreciate Advent. 

But shouldn't there a way to fully coexist (I cringe at using the word, believe me) with the commercialism of "retail Christmas" and the beauty of Advent? 

While I'd love to turn down the premature Christmas cheer in our malls and on the airwaves until Christmas really does arrive, that would defeat the purpose of why those businesses push Christmas in the first place. For retailers, especially in this economic slump, getting us in the "Christmas spirit" means getting us to swipe our credit cards. And, it might just keep them in business--and keep more employees on the payroll.

Our time will be better spent not by railing against retailers, but instead, appreciating how the hyper-commercialized holiday blitz around us can make both Advent and Christmas more cherished.

Take Deacon Greg's first question about Advent: "Are we listening?" We listen to the words from Isaiah at Mass, we listen to the "O, Antiphons" around the dinner table, we listen to the voice of God in our hearts. But listening to Christmas carols in the radio, even if it's only December 1, allows us to hear something else: Christian lyrics on secular stations. When's the last time you heard "Long lay the world, in sin and error pining"on your local "modern hits" station? For a few blessed weeks, Katy's Perry's overtly-sexual "Teenage Dream" is replaced by "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/ Hail the incarnate Deity." Even if it's early, I'll take it.  

Second question: "Are we paying attention?" Is it possible that the hasty arrival of Christmas decor in our marketplace makes us focus more steadily on the season of Advent? I'd say so. Nowhere do we see more of a stark contrast with the holly-jolly and the life-size nutcrackers than in our parish churches. While red and green adorn the cathedrals of consumption, deep purple vestments and candles (along with a splash of pink wax) greet us each Sunday at Mass. The Church, along with the Cross, have always been signs of contradiction with the world at large, and that continues through Advent. 

Third question: "Are we looking to what will be-- or are we already there?" In our own home, I hope our children can see this question answered with our family nativity set--a decoration which has been all but litigated out of public (and political) sight. Is the set "already there" in our home, displayed before Christmas? Yes. But I take the Baby Jesus figurine out of the creche and hide it in the fine china. I hope to make it a family tradition to place Jesus next to Mary on Christmas Eve, and then let the Wise Men make their grand entrance on Epiphany. By doing this, I hope our kids see both what's already there, and what will be.

Jumping into this holiday season without being firmly rooted in our faith would be a tragic mistake, for adults and children alike. But the secular world isn't about to change any time soon: The Christmas trees will forever be up in Women's Apparel before Thanksgiving. It's how we observe Advent during the jingle, jangle and fa-la-la-la-las that matters.