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Jesus facepalm

do not suffer the children

Jesus facepalmThis week Jesus’ liturgical facepalm is awarded to those who refuse to bless children at communion time. E-popular Roman Catholics Fr. John Zuhlsdorf and Deacon Greg Kandra helped viralise Father Cory Sticha’s blog post, Why I refuse to bless children at Communion.

The key, according to them, is Sacrosanctum Concilium (paragraph 22): “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” Blessing non-communicants at communion time, apparently, is adding to and changing the liturgy.

What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?
You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Deacon Greg (naively?) thinks he is sidestepping his own debate by using words such as “Receive Jesus in your heart”, “which”, he says, “is not a blessing but simply an admonition”. Sorry, Greg, aside from creating a new discussion about when is a blessing not a blessing, the point wasn’t about “blessings”, the point you brought up was “adding, removing, or changing anything in the liturgy” and that’s exactly what you are doing.

Some points from me:

  • Someone significant to this conversation once said: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”. I think that insight applies here – as it does to so much of what consumes the time and energy of the church currently.
  • I’m passionate about communicating all the baptised. If your theology includes baptising children, I struggle to understand why it would not include communicating children.
  • Liturgical regulations can suffer from archaeological fantasies that we are living in some bygone era. In the early church all present would have been communicants and non-communicants (if any were allowed in) would have left prior to the Eucharistic Prayer. We are not living in a pre-Constantinian or Constantinian context. In our post-Constantinian context there are communicants and non-communicants present at communion time.
  • The blessing at the end of the Eucharist is a relatively later addition to the liturgy, increasing as non-communicating presence increased at the Eucharist. It cannot now be used as a reason not to bless non-communicants at communion time, as that final blessing itself is an “addition”.
  • We are talking not just about non-communicating children, we are talking about Roman Catholic divorcees, and those not in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, etc.
  • At which point is something an “addition or alteration” to the agreed liturgy?
  • If some present themselves at communion time to the priest, hands together (mouth closed), or arms crossed across their chest, what is a priest to do? Explaining at that point to “go away” (or doing so by gesture) surely is also an “addition or alteration” to the rite? Announcing at each Eucharist that there will be no blessings at communion time is, surely, also an “addition or alteration” to the rite?
  • The discussion is a luxury. Many Christian communities do not have children and young people and non-communicants present. Those of you who do have these – don’t stuff it up: don’t let the experience be one of unnecessarily excluding them.

A life-size statue of face-palm Jesus (pictured above) will be delivered to the community where the priest refuses to bless children and others at communion time. This community will be required to sprinkle the statue with holy water, cense it, and chant the Miserere. A 13½ inches (34 cm) replica will be delivered to the priest. He will be required each week to light a candle before it and say three Lord’s Prayers, three Hail Marys, and three Glory be to the Fathers for the inclusion of everyone in God’s family.

Double Facepalm

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25 thoughts on “do not suffer the children”

  1. Emmetri Monica Beane

    My 15 year old daughter is a child of divorce and has not been baptized. Her father and I worship in different traditions. Therefore, she approaches the rail with arms folded to receive the blessing of the priest (or bishop) and rejoices in it. I cannot imagine the damage it would do to her to be turned away.

    It is unimaginable to me that a church whose Scripture reports in Matthew 19: “13Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15And he laid his hands on them and went away.

    I love liturgy but liturgy exists to bless the Lord and the people and not for its own sake. Let us not make an idol of it.

  2. Oh for pity’s sake. Yep, Facepalm awards should be awarded to these guys. Did they give an example of the “go away” gesture in their blog posts? That would be interesting to see…

    1. Mary, I actually did engage in a discussion thread, before I posted this, on that very point; but they kept sidestepping this by talking about things like “the priest blowing his nose” is apparently not an “addition to the liturgy” – but apparently blessing a child is. It’s a different way of viewing things to mine, so it’s hard for me to get into their perspective. Blessings.

  3. A particularly “palm-y” moment in Sticha’s blog is where he aligns his logic and authority with that the magisterium claims regarding (e.g.) women’s ordination – “Please don’t continue to argue about it. My decision is made, the issue is done. This is truly done in the best interest of your children and grandchildren, as well as for you.” Sanctimony that would have the curia itself squirming with embarrassment, I suspect. Wait until a bishop or curial prefect types something clarifying that the blessings are allowed…

    1. I suspect, Andrew, for people who think like this it will require a declaration and example from the pope himself. And this pope, not some other. Easter Season blessings.

  4. Spot on, Bosco. Had to share this one around.

    Like you, I am big on communion of ALL the baptized. When we baptize my son in three weeks, even though he currently takes no food except for breastmilk and formula, I will be placing a drop of wine on his tongue at communion. I wish that all children at the rail at communion time (and adults too, for that matter), would actually receive the sacrament, but for a variety of reasons many do not. It would be unconscionable for me to refuse a blessing to them at such time if they request it.

  5. My five-month-old son was baptized this morning (a wonderful occasion, complete, oddly enough for low-as-a-snake’s-belly-in-a-wagon-rut Ottawa diocese, with a moving sung Litany of the Saints!), but alas he did not communicate. Having stayed awake through the whole service, he finally fell asleep at the altar rail! We’ll get him next week. My two-year-old, however, managed his first sip from the chalice. Normally he gets as far as sniffing it and turns away. Today, he braved a sip, then contorted his face, shivered, and said, “Yech!” Progress…

    In fairness to this priest who has expressed this opinion, he is writing to his regular congregants asking them not to bring their children forward for a blessing at that particular moment in the liturgy, which is for *communion*, not for blessings. Bosco, I know that you’re not keen on blessing children at communion time either (because you’d prefer to communicate them!). Indeed, I recall that it was you who persuaded me not to have my own children blessed at the altar rail! When the Roman Rite starts inviting communicants before the age of reason, then I have no doubt that this chap will encourage them to come forward. For my part, I no longer present myself for a blessing when attending a Roman Catholic mass, as I used to do. I know that this time is for communion, so, as a heretic out of communion with the See of Rome, I don’t come forward. 😉

    It seems to me all to the good that the administration of communion should precisely be for the administration of communion. We already try to make the weekly Eucharist “do” too much (laying on of hands for healing, children’s times, birthday and anniversary celebrations, commissioning of parish councils, Earth Day exhortations, liturgies of the notices…). Must it be also include, by right and statute, a catch-all, vague, general blessing of people who don’t know what’s going on? A restoration of a formal blessing of the non-baptized and excommunicate (!) would be all to the good, it seems to me. (As it says in the old Commination, “until the said discipline may be restored again…”)

    I’m not unaware of the pastoral issues, and hopefully this fellow knows how to handle a visitor to his church. In the course of my duties as a postulant for ordination, I have now been called upon several times to bless people at the altar rail, knowing that it is *entirely* inappropriate for me to do so as a layman, no matter what one’s take on the rubrics, but nevertheless not wanting to cause embarrassment or disturbance. (In those situations, I put a hand on the shoulder and recite Num. 6:24-26 in the first person plural. No complaints so far…)

    Communion of “all” the baptized? I seem to remember some further requirements… something about a need to be truly and earnestly repentant of my sins, in love and charity with my neighbours, and intending to lead the new life, following the commandments of God and walking thereafter in his holy ways. Also something about not coming to Communion except with full trust in God’s mercy and with a quiet conscience, which might on occasion require the benefit of absolution and ghostly counsel from a discreet and learned minister of God’s Word.

    I recall an Anglican priest relaying the following remark from an Eastern Orthodox priest: “Anglicans are always going on about intercommunion and wanting me to admit them to communion. But not a single one has ever asked me to hear his confession.”

    Communion without due preparation is, I begin to believe, the root cause of much of the irreverence and silliness in our worship, not to mention the endlessly repeated idea of worship’s supposed “irrelevance”. The parish communion movement’s great victory was to give people a desire for and expectation of weekly communion. Its great failure was to make people think that receiving communion is just something you “do” on Sunday — indeed, the only thing that Christians ever “do” — regardless of how you’ve lived from Monday to Saturday. It falls to a rising generation of Christians generally, and pastors and liturgists in particular, to reverse this trend.

    1. Thanks, as always, Jesse. With much to think about.

      Congratulations on and blessings with the baptism!

      Just a couple of quick points:
      I don’t think that the construction of Num 6:24-26 is significantly different from a “blessing”.
      Most Prayer Books provide suggestions how to alter the wording used by a priest to that appropriate for a lay person.
      There is a problem when a blessing appears more significant (the grandness of Num 6:24-26 & the time that takes…) than receiving communion…

      I am intrigued by your Eastern Orthodox priest friend. Is he suggesting he would hear an Anglican’s confession and give absolution? If so, is he suggesting this is a general position? I for one have had a lot of experience with Orthodox; I have always been welcomed with great enthusiasm; there has never been any question that I would receive communion; I have always received the friendship bread; I would be fine about going to confession and receiving absolution from an Eastern Orthodox priest – but have never, until now, realised that might be an option…

      Χριστóς α̉νέστη!

      1. I went with the Numbers blessing mainly because it’s what I say to my children when I put them to bed (it is the GREAT blessing of the OT), so it was what sprang to mind when I first had to do this! (“The Lord bless us…” seemed to satisfy as a non-priestly variant…) Perhaps I also spend too long over the normal words of administration, so it didn’t seem out of place for length 🙂 I’ll have to study the book again to see if there’s a better option.

        As I say, I had this anecdote at second hand, but I think the Orthodox priest’s point was *not* that he would hear an Anglican’s confession, but that Anglicans who agitate for intercommunion with the Orthodox have not yet come to an accurate understanding of the Orthodox understanding of what due preparation for communion involves (and equally of their understanding of communion as the fulfilment of the sacrament of penance).

        I attended an Orthodox vigil a few weeks ago, and, arriving early, had the pleasure of observing, from a quiet corner, several people going to confession. The outward ceremonies of Orthodox confession are very attractive (the broad epitrachelion laid over the head of the penitent bowed over an icon, and the threefold kiss and embrace with the confessor at the end of the sacrament). It made me feel like going over myself!

        1. I wonder, Jesse, if I should do a post on confession some time in the future. I suspect there is no significant training and formation for Anglican clergy in NZ for this part of priestly ministry. I was recently talking to someone about confidentiality and confession – he was totally surprised; and fascinated that I hope and intend to keep that come what may. Interestingly, he is a Roman Catholic, with his church having the same discipline. Blessings.

      2. I meant also to say that I, too, have had the delight of sharing in the antidoron (blessed bread) at Orthodox services. Somehow it always seems more significant a gesture of hospitality than the fair trade coffee we serve in our Anglican parish after Sunday service… 🙂

  6. Fr. Sticha’s arguments are actually well-reasoned within the scope of the liturgical trends (going more conservative) within the Roman Catholic Church, at least from my perspective. I’m now an Episcopalian; as a young adult, I was an active (but questioning) Roman Catholic.

    Just some quibbles with the facepalming:

    There is a move to restore the Catechumenate in the RC – some RC churches do this, dismissing catechumens for instruction following the Gospel. Divorced persons are welcome to receive communion if there are no other obstacles of serious (mortal) sin that would prevent them from receiving (re-marriage, sexual activity) and here’s the big one… in my experience in the last few masses I’ve attended with friends and family over the last 10 years, including my mom’s funeral where I asked the priest to invite people to come up with arms crossed over their chest to receive a blessing during Communion since many people who would attend were not RC (his face turned purple but he regretfully indulged me)… conservative RC priests generally still don’t invite adults to come up to receive a blessing during communion time, so forget about children. It’s a foreign concept. It is not in the RC liturgy. The whole theological focus of the moment is centered on the idea of Christ feeding his people his own body and blood. There are blessings aplenty throughout the Mass, just not individual ones.

  7. I found the Orthodox priest’s comment on intercommunion apt. Western Christians want to gate-crash the Orthodox Sacrament of the Altar but have no interest in the ascetic preparation required of communicants in that tradition.

    Jesse, you are so right about preparation for the Divine Mysteries. My Orthodox friends tell me they keep a strict fast of at least three days (pure vegan and no alcohol or oil, no fried, grilled or baked foods, just steamed vegetables, cooked pulses, grains, fruit, nuts etc) as well as private confession before a priest with absolution. This is preparation of body, mind and spirit.

    They routinely chant these prayers in preparation:


    While the Caroline divines advocated the ancient practice of receiving holy communion as the first food of the day – and water does not break the fast – I wonder how many Anglicans practise this in the twenty-first century?

    I hope one day before I die to hear a sermon on how to prepare for holy communion and how to pray the Liturgy intentionally. Ideally this would also refer to fasting as an optional but highly laudable practice to be followed by communicants according to their conscience. But the truth is that there is such a disjunct from most sermons and the Eucharistic action that follows that they might as well be two separate services.

    Has anyone seen any book published in the last 30 years on preparing for holy communion written for members of the Anglican communion? Bishop W Walsham How’s old classic book of preparation is well worth studying. The Bishop recommends prayerful preparation and self-examination on the Friday before Communion Sunday based on the Ten Commandments (they used to be part of the Communion rite but that was a long time ago, in a church far, far away…) and offices of preparation on Saturday morning and evening and on Sunday morning before the Liturgy. While dated in its language, it is effective in its method of preparing communicants to receive the Lord’s Supper by faith with thanksgiving.

    Spiritual writers have emphasised that every effort made in prayerful preparation is richly rewarded by an enhanced participation in the fruits of the holy Sacrament. I wonder why the contemporary leaders of the church are silent on the issue.

    1. Some good points, thanks so much, Steve. My own approach and teaching has been to highlight how, in contemporary Western Christianity, the Eucharist is being asked to bear too much. It is the jewel in the crown – we need to encourage the crown, and not have the jewel on its own. By this I mean the Daily Office, Lectio Divina, and contemplative prayer; as well as the mission and ministry of our life. The most-visited section of this site, you may be interested to know, is the material on the Liturgy of the Hours.

      Easter Season blessings!

  8. For a whole HOST of hands on faces:


    Ok, they’re “brokers” but what the heck?

    I wonder what these priests do if someone is clearly having a medical emergency. We had a lady who fainted but also appeared to be having a seizure. Among those who came to her aid, our pastor – in the middle of the liturgy (!) – vested, of course.

    Jesus got up and washed feet – what might the “authorities” have said?

    Even the Desert Fathers make it clear that when it comes to prayers, guests always take precedence!

    Then again… some folks LOVE power and control! And that is what this refusal to bless is all about.

  9. Thanks so much, Rev Peters – this made me laugh so much! So well written, and such an amazingly tragic thing that only a double face palm can put a decent perspective on it. I’m a C of E priest and, needless to say, am VERY happy to bless any children or adults at Communion who wish for it. I also am of the view that we ought really to be communicating all who have been baptised, and hopefully we’ll end up that way in the Anglican Communion. Anyway, great to read your blog; I was born in NZ and would love to head back sometime if poss! God bless, Mark

    1. Thanks. Communicating all who are baptised, Mark, has been formal policy of NZ Anglicanism since 1990. There are other Anglican provinces which have a similar policy.

      Christ is risen!

      1. Ah, that’s good to know re communicating the baptised in NZ, Bosco; I don’t know all the details of NZ Anglicanism as it currently stands, yet. The C of E is currently in the process of catching up with you guys on that one (you can add it to the list of other things it’s catching up on)!

        Χριστóς α̉νέστη!

  10. All religion is syncretic!

    What has been interpreted down the ages as ‘do this in [future] remembrance of me’ could just as easily have been interpreted as ‘you are doing this in remembrance of me’ or ‘you are celebrating *this* Passover in remembrance of me’ as Jesus is pointing out his imminent death and resurrection…as far as my Greek translation/interpretation skills go…and when I say ‘translation’ the earliest copy of Luke 22 a scholar could find to translate would be a 3rd or 4th century Greek codex fragment in which those particular words are damaged and lost…Textus Receptus and Novum Testamentum Graece don’t appear until the 1500s…and that’s if my knowledge of the ancient texts in the world is current and correct…etc etc.

    I don’t think people will ever agree fully with all aspects of interpretation, translation and delivery of Christian ideas but if the study and discussion is kind and keeps us spiritually connected and alive it serves its purpose, because Jesus *is* celebrated still. The remembrance is what it stirs in our hearts and minds and subsequent words and actions?

    For some people that connection is deeper study, others want a liturgy, old or revised, many need strict rules to observe, others need to interpret freely as they feel spiritually led…it’s a lot to do with our personalities and cultural background.

    I’m currently sick and my pastor just this morning wrote to me asking if I can drink some kind of grape juice in the Eucharist she is coming to administer tomorrow; I had asked her if we could bless water but she likes to say ‘fruit of the vine’…and I know she would prefer to use juice. I am sure she does not need ( and I would prefer not to give ) a lengthy explanation of how fruit juice inflames an embarrassing bowel condition, and I would much prefer to be able to go up to the altar and just receive a blessing or pray than draw attention to my problems or distract anyone else…a little sensitivity goes a long way! But am I fully partaking…am I doing things right…will others be more comfortable if I just do as they do?

    Mark 9 or Matthew 12, with us, against us….the discussions post on down the ages…that sounds like a title for a modern hymn!

    Take care Bosco, thanks for an interesting thread.

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