MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2013
Bishop Athanasius Schneider distributes Holy Communion at Assumption Grotto in 2008
On EWTN this past week was His Excellency, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, ORC - an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan. Bishop Schneider sat down with Fr. Mitch Pacwa to discuss a topic he has become well known for: Reverence for Our Eucharistic Lord, especially during reception of Holy Communion.
In the first half hour of the video, we hear how his German family ended up in that part of the world and how growing up behind the Iron Curtain affected understanding of the faith, especially the Eucharist. At a time when religious freedom is threatened here in the United States, it is good to see how other Catholics have struggled to practice the faith in the face of government oppression. It gives us an appreciation of the freedoms we do have, and hopefully a desire to take full advantage of them in living out our Christian lives, and working to protect our liberties.
Bishop Schneider knows many languages. As a patristics scholar, this has given him access to texts that many others would not have. He used these language skills to understand how Holy Communion was received in the early Church, since it is often brought up in discussions. For example, people argue that early Christians received Communion in the hand, but His Excellency goes into greater detail on how they received in the hand. It is very different from how we receive today. In fact, kneeling and receiving on the tongue is a much simpler process than what occurred in the early Church. He discusses this, and other things in the interview.
His Excellency spent time at Assumption Grotto in 2008 where I had opportunities to photograph him and converse briefly with him. In 2009, the opportunities would present themselves again when he spoke at the Call to Holiness conference, an apostolate of which I am now a board member.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider is an interesting subject worth careful study. He is not dynamic, but his passion comes through loud and clear. Students of virtue, which is hopefully all of us, should observe how he discusses the most sensitive subject of reception of Holy Communion. This is a man who underwent culture shock when he went to Germany as a teen and witnessed people receiving Communion in the hand. It crushed him, and his mother wept at the sight of the casual way in which the Eucharist was handled. He was shielded from this practice in Kazakhstan where Communion was often received infrequently, and in secrecy.
Bishop Schneider is very devoted to Our Lady.
His episcopal ring contains the Miraculous Medal.
I have never been able to reconcile defending the Eucharist while attempting to verbally beat others into submission on this subject. What Bishop Schneider gets, that others do not, is that people were born into this practice, and it is all they know. Or, people desiring to be humbly obedient were forcefully pushed into receiving in the hand against their own sensibilities, eventually embracing it unaware that it came into it's own through illicit means. Reverence for the Eucharist should lead us to be mindful of the dignity of others. Harsh rhetoric and demands only cause damage and make people defensive against the desired practice. We would do best to pray for people to be enlightened and be patient as God works on their minds and hearts with what we present.
Some reject these things out of hand, but we must remember that once the seeds have been planted they take time to sprout. Our job is not to force germination as this is against nature (God gives to all, free will). We can keep the soil moist, taking care not to let it dry out; and take care to not oversaturate it (sometimes it's best to present things to people, encourage them to pray on it and let them ponder it over time).
Hopefully, more bishops will follow the lead of the Holy Father, who now places a kneeler out for those in his Communion line. Bishop Schneider mentions in the interview that other bishops have set this practice up in their cathedrals. Here again, a gentle example is being set with some bishops and priests following, but not without catechesis.
If you want to learn more from Bishop Schneider, I suggest getting his little book, Dominus Est – It Is the Lord! Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion. Even if you feel strongly about receiving Communion in the hand, read the book any way. I've not met anyone who didn't walk away feeling closer to Jesus in the Eucharist by learning this man's life story and the struggles Catholics endured to live the faith behind the Iron Curtain. It can only make you appreciate how easy we can practice our faith here in the United States. In his homily at EWTN on the same day as the interview below, Bishop Schneider spoke on the effects of persecution on people's faith.
I also have a blog which is intended to collect things from, and on, Bishop Schneider, but it is in need of updating. Many videos and texts have come out since I last updated it. If you are aware of something that is not in that blog, drop a link in the comment box here.
Bishop Schneider was in New York, as well, during this visit. People may feel free to drop in links for those events in the comment box here, as well.
Edit: In this post. Fr. George David Byers discusses how he was traumatized by the changes in the 60's - something I have heard from others who were taught never to touch the Eucharist as had been the case for centuries, only to be told he now had to receive in the hand.