Q. Long ago, as a child, I remember saying prayers aloud for “the conversion of Russia” after every Mass. Why, in our troubled world, are we not doing the same thing now for Islamic extremists, who are surely in need of our prayers? And where would such a directive come from? (Medford, New Jersey)
A. The prayers to which you refer were recited by the priest and people after every low Mass from the years 1884 to 1965. Called technically the “Leonine prayers” because they were introduced under Pope Leo XIII, their original purpose was to pray for the sovereignty and protection of the Holy See.
In 1930, following the Lateran Treaty that stabilized the relationship between the Vatican and the Italian state, these prayers were redirected by Pope Pius XI and directed to be offered instead for the people of Russia.
Although popularly believed to have been “for the conversion of Russia,” they were actually said, in the words of Pius XI, “to permit tranquility and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia.” The prayers were discontinued in 1964 through a Vatican instruction (“Inter Oecumenici”).
The church stills welcomes converts from other religions and believes that the Catholic Church alone embraces fully the central truths that Christ came to proclaim. Each year, just in the United States, thousands of adults are received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil ceremony.
However, the church promotes unity among all religions and nations. The Second Vatican Council’s declaration “Nostra Aetate” (1965) states that the church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religions and “regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men” (No. 2).
In the same document, the church specifically mentions its “esteem for Muslims” and notes that Muslims “value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting” (No. 3).
The church does pray, strongly and consistently, against violence — particularly violence done in the name of religion.
In November 2014, on a flight returning from a visit to Turkey, Pope Francis “called on political and religious leaders across the Muslim world to condemn violence done in the name of Islam,” according to a Catholic News Service report. The pope noted that this would help show the non-Muslim world that Islam is a religion of peace.
Q. How is it that some people who give out Communion say your name before they say “the body of Christ,” but not everyone gets called by name? I was an extraordinary minister of holy Communion some years back, and I stopped doing it because I couldn’t think of people’s names quickly enough.
But I also remember hearing that using the recipient’s name is improper because it takes the focus off of Jesus whom we are receiving. What is the correct position on this? (Missouri)
A. Your question invites an interesting balance between what might seem pastoral and what is liturgically and theologically correct. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal — the official “rule book” on the manner of celebrating the Eucharist — makes no provision for mentioning the name of the person receiving Communion.
Instead, it says in a straightforward way: “The priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen” (No. 161).
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in liturgical guidelines published for extraordinary ministers, is even more specific, noting that “no other words or names should be added; and the formula should not be edited in any way.”
The reasoning would seem to be, as you suggest, that the interjection of the personal element could “take the focus off of Jesus” and might distract from the proclamation of faith that is essential in the brief dialogue.
I, though, have an even more practical reason for staying with the simple formula. Many parishes have large congregations (more so now, with the ongoing merger of parishes); hence, even at daily Masses, it is unlikely that the priest will know everyone who comes to Communion.
To call some people by name and not others introduces a distinction that might cause harm and hurt. At the Eucharist, all are equal, bowing in gratitude for this wondrous gift. Hence the wisdom of the simple formula.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.