WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., has ordered an end to weekday Communion services outside the context of Mass by July 1.
Citing guidelines for the distribution of Communion in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Bishop Murphy said in a May 9 pastoral letter that his decision would bring the diocese "into conformity with the liturgical norms of the church."
The order applies to parishes, schools and social and charitable organizations which had adopted the practice of offering "celebrations of the word" with the distribution of Communion when no daily Mass was scheduled. Such usually brief services often were led by laypeople, nuns or brothers.
The distribution of Communion to the sick outside of Mass is permitted as long as the proper ritual is followed, he added.
Bishop Murphy said his decision was made after consulting with the diocese's Advisory Committee on Canonical Affairs and the Presbyteral Council.
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The pastoral letter was welcomed by priests of the diocese who said they expected it would end abuses of the sacrament of holy Communion.
"Basically it clarifies the whole situation around the Eucharist," said Father Jeffrey Madley, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary Church in Southampton, N.Y. "It makes sense because at least you have a clear direction to go in. I'm glad he came out with the letter.
"I don't have a problem with him pointing us in the right direction," he added.
Father Lawrence Duncklee, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Inwood, N.Y., had prepared a statement for the parish staff in anticipation of the letter. He said he had observed "a great disrespect for the Eucharist" in some parts of the diocese.
"What I've taught for the 28 years I've been a priest is that the Mass is the celebration of the community," he said. "So the body of Christ which we consecrate is the body of Christ which we become."
Father Charles M. Ehrhart, administrator of St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk, N.Y., agreed that the new policy brings parishes in the diocese in line with the rest of the church.
"It's extremely timely," he said. "It's very, very apropos in the attempt to avoid abuses of the sacrament."
In the letter, Bishop Murphy said he recognized that the practice of offering celebrations of the word with the distribution of Communion developed over the years in order to allow priests to have a day off during the week. He acknowledged that there will be days when no Mass will be celebrated in parishes and said pastors should inform parishioners about the schedule of weekday Masses in neighboring parishes.
"This new policy must not be seen as 'taking something away' from the laity," Bishop Murphy wrote. "Those persons, lay and religious, who have led such celebrations in their parishes are to be thanked for the reverent way they have conducted these services."
Bishop Murphy encouraged parishes to begin offering the Liturgy of the Hours, which he called "the preferred liturgy to be prayed when Mass is not available during the week."
Bishop Murphy's letter, the seventh of his seven-year tenure, stresses the importance of Mass as being central to the life of Catholics because it recalls the sacrifice of Christ.
"Within this centrality of celebrating the Eucharist ... we can have a deeper and more satisfying understanding of what it means to receive holy Communion," he wrote. "The celebration of the Eucharist should find its consummation in receiving holy Communion.
"The reception of holy Communion is never just passively 'getting' or 'receiving' holy Communion," the letter said. "Instead the reception of holy Communion is the culmination of participating in the celebration (offering of the sacrifice). There is an inherent interconnection between the sacrifice, real presence and Communion. We should never sever the connection between receiving the sacrament and celebrating the sacrifice; the two go hand in hand."