I imagine most Catholics who pay attention to Church news are aware by now of the numerous sacrileges and disgraces that characterized the reservation and distribution of Holy Communion at World Youth Day in Lisbon. A little digging around indicates that such evils were not limited to this WYD but have afflicted many other WYDs as well. For those who may not have seen the viral posts on social media, we can briefly summarize what happened in Portugal.
In direct defiance of standing liturgical law, thousands of ordinary ministers of Holy Communion sat still while brigades of extraordinary lay ministers distributed Communion, mostly into the hand, and with little provision for or evidence of the required sign of adoration prior to reception. In order to bring in enough hosts due to the mistaken view that everyone has to receive, consecrated hosts were stored in large gray tupperware-like bins put on tables under tents, with no attempt made to store them fittingly, in decent furnishings and surroundings, and with appropriate acknowledgment of the Lord’s presence there (the pair of lit plastic candles were a slight nod in that direction). At a WYD-related Mass in Estoril, the Blessed Sacrament was distributed in cheap bowls from IKEA, covered with plastic wrap. Other deviations could be mentioned, but these will suffice.
It does not require either much faith or much knowledge to know that the Eucharist should not be stored and treated like a packed lunch in plastic containers. It is hardly surprising—though it is, indeed, somewhat ironic given Pope Francis’ assertion in Desiderio Desideravi that liturgical law should be complied with (although he himself routinely violates it)—that the antinomian “Woodstock for Catholics” atmosphere of WYD should encourage the transgression of the canonical and liturgical laws that govern the Novus Ordo.
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What is perhaps more surprising is how many mainstream Catholics try to defend these things. They say (I will give their objection the most eloquent force I can): “Jesus came to the world poor, unknown, hidden, humble. He did not have majestic churches or gold ciboriums or elaborate tabernacles. He came in a simple way among simple people because the main gift He came to bring is Himself, not fine art. In Lisbon, He came among 1.5 million Catholics to grace them with His presence. The only way something on this kind of scale can be done is to use plastic bins, inexpensive bowls, and the like. The critics of WYD are Pharisees who care more about tithing mint and cumin than the weightier matters of the law—you know, the love of God and neighbor.”
There’s a lot of error packed into that paragraph. Let’s take it apart piece by piece.
First, the way Our Lord came into the world and allows Himself to be treated by sinners shows His divine patience and longsuffering, while the way we treat Our Lord, present in our midst, shows either our faith or our lack of faith, our love or our contempt. As I put it in my book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis:
Jesus was born in a humble stable and placed in a manger, true. But the wise men did not bring him straw, dirt, and dung; they brought him costly royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The way in which Our Lord was born revealed his humility, which disdains earthly pomp; the way in which the three kings adored him revealed their humility, which looked for the best they could offer, knowing in their wisdom that it was far beneath what He deserved. It is not for us to behave as if we were Jesus come into the world, and thus to create churches that look like barns or stables or caves to receive us. It is rather our business to join the magi and the shepherds in heeding the divine call that beckons us beyond our limits. Responding in faith, we must give our utmost to the Word-made-flesh….
Though Our Lord first appeared on earth in a humble manger, hidden and poor, the sacred liturgy is not time-travel to Bethlehem circa 4 B.C. The Mass…makes present in our midst the glorified Savior whose second coming will not be in quiet poverty, but in earth-shattering splendor. For this reason, the instinct of our faith has always been to maximize the beauty of the liturgy and its diverse furnishings and surroundings, yearning for what is to come rather than indulging in backwards glances. (pp. 20–21)
Second, it is laughable to talk as if the coordinators of WYD “could do no better.” People with access to the multi-million-dollar WYD funding and any standard diocesan ecclesiastical warehouse could easily obtain fitting furnishings, if only the sort of temporary wooden tabernacles used for Holy Thursday side altars. Our forefathers in the Faith did the best they could in every situation—and what we saw in Lisbon is far from “the best that could be done.” Ever heard of foresight in planning?
We agree—don’t we?—that love of God is the first of all the commandments. This love has to be concrete in order to be real; airy abstractions don’t count. If God made Himself man in order to come among us, love us, and receive our love, and if He continues to do this in the Holy Eucharist, do we not have the most solemn obligation to fulfill the first of God’s commandments precisely toward the Eucharistic Lord and then toward our brothers and sisters in Christ (the second commandment)?
Love does not aim at the minimum or the tolerable; it aims at the highest possibility, the maximum, the perfect. We all understand this intuitively. Woe betide a man or woman who thinks he or she will find someone to marry, or keep his or her marriage flourishing, by doing the bare minimum or the barely tolerable. Try giving your date or your wife a handful of weeds instead of a bouquet of roses. Try showing up at a wedding or funeral dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. It’s been done, I’m sure, but then again, our age is not known for common sense, good taste, or even elementary social awareness. Love does not aim at the minimum or the tolerable; it aims at the highest possibility, the maximum, the perfect. Tweet This
In any case, we all instinctively understand that if a group of people are so poor that the only tabernacle they can afford is a simple wooden box beneath a makeshift hut, they are not to blame in any way; but that, on the contrary, if a group has access to a big budget and diocesan warehouses full of magnificent unused furniture (including carved wooden tabernacles—I’m not making this up; I’ve seen eye-popping warehouses of stored church goods even in small European dioceses!), their choice to use “tuppernacles” in unmarked tents with a couple of plastic candles thrown in speaks volumes about their contempt for the Lord truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Love aims at the best possible, given all that is available in the vicinity; it does not settle for a temporary low-class expedient. Whoever was involved in the planning of WYD decided to imitate not the Magi who gave the Lord gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the Corinthians who heedlessly carried on with their “agape,” not discerning the Body and Blood of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 11).
Third, why do we make the absurd assumption that vast numbers of people at an open-air Mass need to receive sacramental Communion then and there? In better times, large public events like the 1926 Chicago Eucharistic Congress were organized with reverence and beauty as overriding considerations. The key is to follow good sense and tradition. At the aforesaid Eucharistic Congress, there was a stadium pontifical Mass, with thousands of small children singing the Gregorian chant. Only a small number of ministers and people near the altar received Holy Communion sacramentally, while the rest of the crowd made acts of adoration and spiritual communion.
Earlier that day, in the morning, countless low Masses at side altars throughout the city made it possible for individuals who wished to receive the Lord to do so, with due piety and no weird mingling of clerical and lay roles, no deployment of zillions of ciboria, etc. Moreover, the Chicago stadium Mass, instead of featuring a Lego-brick backdrop and a bathtub-shaped altar (as in Lisbon), showcased a magnificent temporary baldachin and noble furnishings in the improvised sanctuary. Tradition has the answers. When people believe rightly and care deeply, they find a way to do things properly.
Even Pope Benedict XVI noted the difficulties involved in gigantic Masses and wondered if such “celebrations” corresponded to the will of the Lord. The same pope frequently quoted St. Augustine saying, of the Eucharist: “We must adore before we receive. We would sin if we did not adore.” Liturgical law stipulates that some (external) act of adoration be paid to the Lord before receiving Him. Where was that external adoration in the video footage from Lisbon? Most of the behavior displays all the reverence of a summertime snack bar at the pool.
Finally, our fellow Catholics can call the Lisbon critics “Pharisees” all they want, but they should remember one thing: Our Lord was more insistent, not less, on the keeping of the commandments of God than the Pharisees were. In fact, His complaint is not that they cared too much about divine worship but that they cared too little about it, overemphasizing minor and man-made rules and neglecting God’s law about how He wishes to be served. For example, the Temple rulers allowed the money changers into the temple precincts, which displeased Our Lord so much that He overturned their tables not once but twice: “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
The complaint orthodox Catholics have about the modern Church—a Church whose modernity was on full display in Lisbon—is precisely that it is preoccupied with minor and man-made everything: fabricated rites, interreligious dialogue, globalism, climate control, you name it, while neglecting or even contradicting the commandments of God, especially the first three concerning the adoration to be given to Him alone and the sixth and the ninth concerning the purity required of those who belong to His people and who approach His holy presence.
I know there are good individual right-minded priests and leaders at WYD who are doing their best to bring people to Christ, to catechize them soundly, and who strive to demonstrate (to the extent that the event allows) the joy and coherence of tradition. The Lord finds chinks in any armor and lets fly His burning arrows to pierce hearts. God is so powerful He can find ways to bring good out of evil.
That being said, it is high time to retire the World Youth Day in its present “incarnation.” The mass-market assumptions behind it, the atrocious way the liturgies are conducted, the volunteer-army deployment of the Eucharist, the lack of decency in clothing, the almost Woodstockian atmosphere—none of this makes any sense for Christians, let alone for Catholics. There were many other cringeworthy things that happened at WYD, such as the drinking and drug abuse about which I received eyewitness reports (and about which I predict we will hear more).
Events like this are the kind of things sincere Catholics have to explain away with a blush of embarrassment, saying to their Protestant friends or to religious seekers: “This doesn’t reflect who we truly are and what we truly believe”; and saying to the Lord: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”—yet with a sinking feeling that some, at least, do know what they are doing. (Perhaps certain Modernists, Marxists, Masons, or Satanists involved in the preparations take steps to ensure the WYDs will be massive engines of profanation and desacralization, an inverse de-catholicization to counter John Paul II’s original intention of a new evangelization.)
Those who really want to reach and evangelize young people know there are far better ways to do it, beginning with the recovery of liturgical tradition. As a more intelligent pope and a better discerner of the signs of the times bore witness in the letter he sent to the bishops with Summorum Pontificum:
In the meantime [since the Council] it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form [of the traditional Latin Mass], felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.