A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Leaving Right After Communion
ROME, 21 JULY 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Unfortunately some in the parish have developed the poor habit of leaving Mass immediately after Communion. I estimate around 30%, or approximately 225 people, leave early. Our church holds 750, so the disappearance is definitely noticeable. Could you provide a theological discourse on why this is not appropriate behavior? — D.S., Port Charlotte, Florida
A: This is a perennial problem, but one which must be faced with patience, insisting, as St. Paul would say, "Opportune et inopportune" (in season and out of season), until the message reaches home.
This question reminded me of the story of a saintly priest who had the same problem with one of his devout parishioners who attended daily Mass but left immediately after Communion. He solved the problem by ordering two altar boys with lighted tapers to walk on either side of him as soon as he started to leave the church and accompany him all the way to his carriage.
When, after three days repeating this action, the somewhat flustered and embarrassed gentleman asked the priest for an explanation, he was told that since Christ was still present in him as he left the church, his presence had to be honored by lighted candles. Needless to say, he never left early again.
This anecdote could serve as a starting point for the priest to reflect with the people on the importance of giving thanks for the gift of Mass, of being spiritually nurtured by God's word, of participating in his unique sacrifice, and by receiving Communion.
This also requires that there is effectively a period of silence after the Communion song and that the priest, deacon and other ministers lead by example, dedicating two or three minutes to silent reflection at the chair.
On occasion the priest may assist the people by directing a brief meditative prayer of thanksgiving. This is especially effective at so-called children's Masses for, while the prayer is ostensibly directed toward the children, it often serves adults just as much.
Another point to be emphasized is the importance of assisting at the entire Mass. There are many plastic images to illustrate this, but most can grasp that if their boss, or the local mayor, summons them to a meeting, they would not dare leave before their host has formally brought it to a close. Even more is this true when a beloved parent, sibling or lifelong friend invites us to spend time with them.
If we behave thus before mere human authority and relationships, then how much more should it be true when our host is the Father who created us, the Son who died and rose for us, and the Spirit who gives us life.
Let us leave courtesy aside for a moment and return to thanksgiving. The Mass is something we celebrate together as Church and as a worshipping assembly united to Christ through the priest. It is not just something we do as individual Christians.
In the same manner, our thanksgiving for Mass cannot be reduced to the individual sphere and must be carried out as Church. This collective thanksgiving is done through the priest at the closing prayer to which all respond "Amen."
Finally, the Mass is intimately united to Christian life and mission. The final blessing and dismissal send us forth to transmit what we have received to our brothers and sisters. If we leave directly after Communion, then we lose this important component of our spiritual life.
From a very material standpoint one could also see if there is some tangible motivation that leads so many of the faithful to leave early. Is there a bottleneck in the parking lot? Are Mass schedules too close together? If there are real practical inconveniences involved, then theology alone will be ineffective in changing people's habits until these are resolved.
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Follow-up: Leaving Right After Communion [8-19-2008]
Our July 21 column dealt with people who leave Mass early. Several readers asked about those who arrive late for Mass. We addressed this question in several columns, principally on Nov. 4 and Nov. 18, 2003, and on Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, 2007.
At the risk of appearing presumptuous, I hazard a little publicity directed toward newer subscribers to ZENIT’s services. It is quite possible that your question has already been touched upon in previous articles, and I recommend searching the liturgy section on the ZENIT Web page.
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