The great thing about modern tele-communications is that whatever happens in Rome is known throughout the world within five minutes. The rest is up to bloggers.
Throughout Catholic history, liturgical developments have spread via imitation. While often the last to adopt new liturgical “fads”, Rome has itself often been a trend-setter, imitated by Churches throughout the world. In the past that process was slow, today it is (by ecclesiastical standards) practically instantaneous.
Witness the example of what some are calling the “Benedictine” (after the Pope, not the Order) style of placing a crucifix on the altar so that the celebrant might still be said to be celebrating “ad dominum” even though he is not facing liturgical east (cf. here for the effect of that example in Melbourne).
Now the eagle eyes of the world’s cameras have pounced on the fact that “four dozen people received the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling from Pope Benedict on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.” Instantly the speculation on the blogosphere goes wild about some new command coming down from on high dictating a return to kneeling and reception on the tongue. Demonstrating once again what a power the blogging world is in terms of public opinion and media, the Holy See has been just as quick to respond:
Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don says “there are no new norms coming” that would change the Vatican’s 1969 decision that local bishops could allow their faithful to receive the Eucharist in their hands while standing.
He also says “there is no discussion” about insisting those who receive Communion from the Pope do so kneeling or that they receive it on the tongue rather than in their hands.
“But the gesture of the Holy Father is to be appreciated. It brings out in a better way the fact we adore the Lord whom we receive” in the Eucharist, Archbishop Ranjith said.
“It was a special occasion and I hope this practice spreads.”
Get that? No commandment, no dictate, no arm-twisting. Just an example of a good practice, and one that the Congregation (and presumably Pope Benedict himself) hopes will spread.
Long ago in the Lutheran Church of Australia, the Commission on Worship realised that it was no good trying to tell Lutherans what they had to do in the liturgy. They would simply and stubbornly insist on their Christian freedom to do otherwise. So the Commission adopted the practice of providing good resources and making them easily available, and simply setting an example whenever possible of good practice. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen everywhere, but today the standard of liturgy in the LCA is 100% up on what it was twenty years ago.
Modern Catholics are much like modern Lutherans in this way. Or should we say that they are all simply human. They are much more likely to adopt good practice when they see its merits and they see it well modelled than they are if they are simply told “Thou shalt do it this way”.
John 13:15: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”