08 April 2013

On the Reservation of Eucharist by Hermits

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I saw a "privately professed and consecrated" hermit's video on YouTube. Is it true that non-canonical hermits can have tabernacles and reserve the Eucharist in their own places and that Bishops have allowed it? . . . Can I get permission as a lay hermit or can I move where it is allowed? ]] (Redacted: often-asked questions were omitted)

I would be VERY surprised to hear that ANY Bishops have allowed non-canonical hermits to do this so, to be perfectly frank, I think this person may have some (or all) of her facts wrong or even be simply making something up to justify (or obscure) what the Church would consider a seriously illicit matter. It is unusual in the extreme to allow any individual to reserve Eucharist in his/her own home; when this happens it is done as an extension of canon 934  for canonical hermits and consecrated virgins ONLY because of the nature of their vocations and standing in law.

Even so, it is not done automatically. One's own Bishop MUST give permission according to the requirements of canon law and with appropriate supervision. In the situations you refer to I think one would have to ask why a Bishop would allow this for a lay person if he is also unwilling to admit them to profession as a canon 603 hermit where they assume the necessary legal and moral rights and obligations associated with such permission. (By the way, if the person has freely chosen not to become a canonical hermit, then they have also chosen to forego the rights and obligations or responsibilities associated with this standing in law, and this will include the possibility of reservation of Eucharist in their own hermitage.) Once again we are faced with the reality that canonical standing under canon 603 is associated with rights AND obligations which hermits and Bishops honor. In light of this I have to say that for me this lay hermit's assertions simply do not compute.

Further, in such practice there is tension between the Church's theology of the reserved Eucharist and the necessary connection with the ACT of consecration which must be adequately preserved or honored. What I mean by this is that we are aware of Christ becoming present in the proclaimed Word, in the praying assembly (who also give themselves to God and are in turn consecrated by God to be freely broken and poured out for others) and in the presiding priest, as well as in the consecration of bread and wine during Mass. The Presence of Christ is always a living, dynamic reality realized in relationship and in the community's celebration of the Gospel. With the disciples on the road to Emmaus we recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread because he becomes truly present in the breaking of the bread and all that implies. Reservation of Eucharist (which is primarily meant to nourish the sick and isolated who cannot attend physically with the fruits of communal worship and belonging) is never to become detached from an integral connection with this communal event; there is some danger that it will, especially when individuals are allowed to have tabernacles in their own places. (Actually this is a significant danger wherever the reserved Eucharist is seen as somehow separated from the Eucharistic celebration.) Canonical hermits and consecrated Virgins are usually aware of this danger and are generally significantly attuned to the ecclesiality of their vocations. However it becomes especially acute and may cross the line into actual sacrilege particularly when the reservation is undertaken without permission or oversight as an individualistic or privatistic act.

Certain cautions are taken by the church  to be sure this does not happen when the extensions (to CV's and Canonical hermits) mentioned above are made: 1) Mass is ordinarily said at least occasionally at the place of reservation (Canon law prefers twice monthly), or 2) when this is not possible (and it is often not) reserved hosts are regularly refreshed after a Eucharistic celebration with the parish community so that the integral connection to Mass itself and the local community of faith is maintained. (We speak of the Real Presence remaining so long as the elements retain the "sensible qualities" of bread and wine and are unadulterated; in a similar way perhaps we have to think of the Real Presence remaining only so long as there is a living or vital connection with the celebrated Mass itself); this practice also helps maintain the hermit's connection with the specific commission given at the end of Mass, 3) only those who are answerable in law to ecclesiastical superiors (those who have responded to the call to ecclesial vocations) are allowed to reserve the Eucharist, and are required to do so according to the requirements of canon law (cc 934-941). Otherwise it is simply too easy for people to slip into superstitious, individualistic devotional, or otherwise irreverent practices, not to mention bad or distorted theologies of the Eucharist and Eucharistic spirituality.

Personally I would discourage you from even thinking about looking for a Bishop who allows such things as a lay hermit reserving Eucharist in her own home --- not least because I honestly doubt they exist any more than Bishops exist who allow lay persons generally to take Eucharist home with them for reservation no matter how personally reverent or pious these persons are. (Remember that even for EEMs bringing Eucharist to those who are sick, guidelines generally prohibit or discourage stops between the Mass and the home being visited as well as they discourage taking the Eucharist home with one, Unless one is doing so for a sick family member this would ordinarily be a violation of the trust placed in one when one was commissioned and could itself rise to the level of sacrilege. Such actions tend to break or trivialize the integral connection with the communal celebration of the Eucharist and the commission to go forth which concludes the Mass.)

Moving to another diocese seems an even worse idea to me and is certainly something I would discourage. You would do far better developing a strong and sound Eucharistic spirituality within the limits which apply to you in the Church. Remember too that lay hermits generally are self-described and there is nothing preventing any person living alone from calling themselves a lay hermit. While I do not necessarily mean that you fall into the following category, you must realize that there is nothing at all which assures the Church of the nature and quality of  the eremitical life, the silence of solitude which is characteristic of an eremitical life, the soundness of the spirituality, theology, prayer life, etc of a privately dedicated self-described hermit.

This might well be problematical sometimes even with diocesan hermits but at least with canonical hermits there is a Rule of Life they are legally as well as morally responsible for honoring and regular meetings with directors and delegates as well as their Bishop. The canonical hermit is publicly responsible for living out her canonical commitments and the tensions between physical solitude and community which are part of the life; her canonical commitments reflect, specify, and nurture her ecclesiality. While no one can see into the hermitage (that is, Religious in community are more aware of the lives of those living with them than friends and neighbors of hermits), regular contact with those helping supervise her life serves to help ensure she is responsive or obedient to these commitments with a care which is edifying to the whole church. More importantly, unless one has in some way been publicly commissioned by the Church in a way which makes (or seeks to make) reservation of the Eucharist in one's own hermitage a true extension of the Church's worship one will, by definition, be abusing matters and betraying the very nature of Eucharist. The bottom line is that Eucharist, including Eucharist reserved in tabernacles, is not an individualistic devotional but always and everywhere a communal reality --- even (or especially!) in the solitude of a hermit's cell. Canon Law and various guidelines are meant to ensure this is maintained and honored.