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Online Edition - Vol. IV, No. 9: February 1999

Distant Early Warnings

New "Custom" Can Create New Liturgical Law, says New Zealand priest

In October we published a letter from a Filipino priest concerned about "self-intinction", that is, the dipping of a consecrated Host into the chalice of the Precious Blood by a communicant, rather than by a priest, when Communion is administered by intinction.

Our reply confirmed that self-intinction is a liturgical abuse. We cited a Vatican Letter in response to a question of May 29, 1969, which stated that "In the case of Communion under both kinds by way of intinction, it is never permitted to place on the hand of the communicant the Host that has been dipped in the Lord's Blood" (DOL 648). Thus, since the Body and Blood (the intincted Host) must be placed on the tongue of the communicant, the intinction of the Host by the communicant is implicitly forbidden.

We also noted that administration of Communion by intinction is uncommon in the United States (presumably because it requires reception of Communion on the tongue), and self-intinction is rare here.

But there is evidence that the practice of self-intinction may be increasing in some parts of the world. Last July, an article, "Receiving Communion Through Intinction" appeared in a New Zealand magazine, Tui Motu InterIslands. The author, Father Humphrey O'Leary, a Redemptorist priest and canon lawyer, discusses self-intinction and notes that only "some" New Zealand dioceses do not permit the practice.

To the question, "Is receiving the Precious Blood by intinction basically acceptable?" Father O'Leary responds, correctly, "The answer is clearly yes."

But then he argues that allowing communicants to "self-intinct" if they wish "is a clear-cut act of proffering, of ministering the chalice, not a situation of self-service. The one who dips their [sic] Host in the chalice is being ministered to..."

To the objection that "this is a practice for which Church law gives no permission", Father O'Leary replies, "All very true. But we belong to a Church which, unlike the legal system of our civil society, puts a high value on custom. ...[C]ustom is a bogey that legislators and tidy-minded appliers of legislation wish would go away... [because] custom is a long-standing and officially-recognized way in which ecclesiastical laws are changed or over-ridden."

Father O'Leary suggests that the only reason for the prohibition of self-intinction is the desire of priests to keep "power" in their own hands. He argues that "moral theology" allows disobedience of such a law if, "for considerations that are at least subjectively overwhelming" communicants "have no other path to receiving the Precious Blood." (He does not suggest what conditions might render a priest incapable of intincting the Host and administering it, properly, on the tongue of the communicant.)

The phrase, "subjectively overwhelming", obviously, intends to provide an excuse for disobedience of almost any sort. Even more amazing, though, is his idea of the role of custom not to protect traditional practices but as a device to erode them.

True: a longstanding custom should be considered, and may even have binding force. (The custom of kneeling during the Consecration or before or after Communion, leaps to mind.) But to contend that an illicit act, if practiced long enough, becomes a self-legitimizing "custom" is simply nonsense.

Turmoil Continues in Rochester

The saga of Corpus Christi parish in Rochester, New York, which resulted in the firing of the pastor, Father James Callan, his defiant parishioner, Mary Ramerman and their followers is not over, despite Father Callan's suspension from priestly duties and the appointment of a new pastor.

Six staffers associated with the two, waving contracts that Father Callan signed with them just four days before their firings, said they will sue the Catholic Church in civil court for breach of contract.

Mary Ramerman, a convert from Methodism, was dismissed for performing priestly duties reserved to the ordained, including wearing priest-like garb, hearing confession and elevating the chalice during Mass. Bishop Matthew Clark transferred Father Callan, then suspended him, for offering Communion to the non-baptized, for allowing Ramerman to perform priestly acts, and for blessing same-sex unions.

Callan told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle December 16th that he signed the contracts with his six supporters as a "safeguard". Liz Brown, speaking for the diocese, said that contracts are not normally signed at the parish level. The legal standing the contracts is unclear.

The lawyer for the six Corpus Christi staff, Matt Fusco of Rochester, admitted that "I will have to learn a little something about canon law". But he claimed, "One thing I do know about canon law is that the Church must honor the civil law". Each contract includes a clause stating that "at no time shall any employee be forced to subscribe to the beliefs and tenets of any entity or organization, except those specifically contained in the mission statement of Corpus Christi Church."

While this wording suggests that the six were somehow unfairly subjected to a religious test, it also implies that "beliefs and tenets" of Corpus Christi are different from those of the Catholic Church.

Among the six staff members is Sister of St. Joseph Marie Henninger of the Dimitri Recovery House of the Homeless. Ramerman has said she also had a contract and may join the lawsuit.

When asked whether a nun can sue the Catholic Church, Henninger replied, "We're going to find out."

Dissenters in Rochester seem able to marshal national media coverage at will. For example, Time magazine featured a story November 30th about Mary Ramerman and Father Callan, noting that Father Callan had advocated women's ordination in his very first homily in 1974.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, which has presented the dissenters sympathetically, admitted in a December 9th editorial that that Fr. Callan and his adherents are heading "away from disagreement about ministry and liturgy and toward open rebellion over the way the church [sic] exercises authority."

A December 27th profile of Callan, who was suspended from his priestly duties indefinitely on December 8th, quotes a friend who attended seminary with Callan before deciding not to enter the priesthood as saying, "Father Callan has been trying to reform the church since 1968."

Another supporter, who is described as having been the spiritual director of seminarians when Callan was attending the seminary, says, "My definition of the church [sic] is that it is like running with your grandmother. You love her dearly, but she is always a mile behind."

***

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