A friend of mine texted me last week to say that she’d found a nice church round the corner from her office and had just “popped in for a lunchtime Communion service”.

Which puzzled me, because this lady is a Catholic and the word we use is “Mass”. Was this my friend’s way of letting me know that she’d swum the Tiber in the wrong direction?

As it turned out, the church was Catholic, and my friend had indeed been to a Eucharistic service led by a lay worshipper. I’d forgotten this was allowed, but now I thought about it I remembered that years ago my mother was arm-twisted into conducting one. “It felt wrong,” she said.

Coincidentally, I read the next day about a Californian bishop who has banned these services in his diocese. As the Catholic Herald reported, Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa is citing a 2004 Instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW). This says that bishops “should not easily grant permission” for weekday Holy Communion services without a priest “especially in places where it was possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday”. This ruling was being ignored so widely that Bishop Vasa lost patience.

Good for him. When was the last time a bishop risked upsetting lay Catholics by actually implementing a ruling from the CDW? I sometimes wonder why the Church bothers to run this Vatican dicastery, given how little control it exercises over the discipline of the sacraments.

Let me refer you to an article that appeared this April in the ultra-liberal American National Catholic Reporter. It’s by one Bill Mitchell, who belongs to a Catholic men’s group that meets at “the home of one of our members, a cosy but plenty big place on a pond at Cape Cod”.

These rustic but plush surroundings are the setting for a priest-free “liturgy” at which they troop into the kitchen – “a processional provided with liturgical oomph as Peter opened his mobile phone and played the ‘Glory Be’ he created by layering multiple recordings of his own voice”.

After a sign of peace consisting of “72 hugs”, these well-heeled gentlemen break bread and pass round a cup while Bob reads Chapter 22 of Luke – that is, words almost identical to the priest’s words before the elevation at Mass.

This scene is not beyond parody: it is a parody of the Mass, no less appalling because it’s ridiculous and the accompanying photo looks like it was taken from a Brooks Brothers ad for casual clothes for the older man. The headline? “A weekend at Cape Cod shows glimpses of a future church”.

That’s my fear, and why Bishop Vasa should be applauded. Ten years ago, one felt that Catholics were protected by the Magisterium. Now, not so much. How would the current successor of St Peter react to that mock-eucharist in the “cosy but plenty big place”? I wish I could tell you, but I can’t.

Full story at The Catholic Herald.

See August 6 CalCatholic story, “Santa Rosa bishop orders halt to Communion services without a priest