Msgr. Joseph M. Champlins as Liturgist;
His latest book: "The Breaking of the Bread..."

As Buffalo's "Western New York Catholic" diocesan paper (November 1998) reported:

"The name Champlin may not be a household word, but chances are your life as a Catholic has been influenced by Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin in more ways than you realize."

Indeed, there are few priests who have left their pastoral and liturgical mark on the Church as Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin, a priest of New York's Syracuse diocese. In dozens of books, articles, and syndicated columns he furthered the agenda of AmChurch to "americanize" the Liturgy and to restructure in Liberal fashion relationships between priests, religious, and laity in the parishes of the country. From positions as Diocesan Liturgy Chairman, Associate Director of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Vicar for Parish Life and Worship for the diocese of Syracuse, Rector of its Cathedral until his recent retirement, and as a leading "litnik" in the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, he has travelled more than two million miles to lecture on pastoral subjects at religious education Conferences, clergy retreats, and meetings with laity eager to hear his version of "people ministering to people". Speaking to audiences on marriage and family life, on catechetics, and on liturgy, he frequently remarked that:

"perhaps the Lord may be giving us fewer priests so the laity will minister to one another as originally intended."

"The Breaking of the Bread: An Updated Handbook for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion" (Paulist Press, NJ, 2005) is one of his most recent books and is a revision of an earlier work published in the late 1970's "An Important Office of Immense Love: A Handbook for Eucharistic Ministers" wherein he rejoiced at the Vatican's permitting in 1977 for the U.S. this new "sacred ministry". In "The Breaking of the Bread...", he notes happily that:

"there has been a veritable explosion in the number of Catholics exercising this function" and that "almost everyone [at Mass] moves forward to receive the Eucharist".

Obliged by recent Vatican documents to acknowledge the proper name of "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion" for those temporarily deputed to exercise that ministry, he expresses his delight at the "countless extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion" functioning in American parishes and especially with the "five hundred persons serving in liturgical ministries [at] the new and remarkable Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles". There "at Sunday Masses there are over 40 Communion Stations" (pages 2-3). Though Msgr. Champlin quotes on page 103 the prescription from the Vatican instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum", (n. 151) that:

"Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of a fuller participation of the laity...",

It is this latter concept of liturgy that has certainly represented Msgr. Champlin's long-held understanding of Liturgy. His loose and rather flexible understanding of Liturgy and Music in the Liturgy (which is NOT that of the official Vatican documents attempting to correct the disfigurement of the Liturgy), has its interesting counterpart in his view of the Church's sexual morality. His marriage preparation booklet "Together for Life" which has sold more than 8 million copies with its flexible, non-judgmental attitude towards the grave sin of contraception, and with its subtle underminding of "Humanae Vitae", served to promote moral relativism on a key moral issue. Unfortunately, the booklet continues to be used in many American parishes (See "Countering the Eclipse of Sin in Marriage Preparation", The Wanderer, 5/25/06).

It is Msgr. Champlin's role as a liturgist that has long been a matter of concern to Catholics and needs to be further highlighted. As I took occasion to note in a Review of his book "With Hearts Light as Feathers: the First Reconciliation of Children":

"With regard to liturgical and sacramental matters, Msgr. Champlin was a fervent advocate of the ill-fated RENEW program... Always open to liturgical innovation, he sanctioned Holy Communion being given to Protestants in inter-faith Marriage Encounter groups, and enthusiastically defended liturgical dancing at Mass. When Communion-in-the-hand was still forbidden, Fr. Champlin endorsed its illicit practice. Like other liturgists who happily impose their own glosses on Vatican documents, Msgr. Champlin helped to transform 'Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist' into those 'Special Ministers' who are a permanent feature at every Mass."
(Homiletic and Pastoral Review, December 1995)

Msgr. Champlin has always looked upon the Church's approval of lay ministers of Holy Communion as vindicating his own vision of "creative liturgies" being at the heart of the Church's renewal and to be fostered by laity exercising parish leadership positions. "Parish Leadership people" whom he trained to appreciate music in the Liturgy in diocesan workshops relished the Sunday Masses in his parish featuring high-school girls dancing in the sanctuary to songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar".

Champlin's notion of "active participation" by the laity (especially women and girls) has included his delight with applause at Mass, "the half-dozen women who bake our altar breads or the ceramic students who fashioned our altar breads" (which "are not thin and pure white"), home liturgies, "small group liturgies" marked by spontaneity, and the establishment of committees galore including the parish liturgy committee made up of enthusiasts for tacky innovations as well as the more serious liturgical abuses which have alienated parishioners nation-wide from regular Mass attendance.

The version of "active participation of the laity" relentlessly pursued by Msgr. Champlin and his fellow re-shapers of liturgical celebration has had results. It is undeniable that there has occurred not only a sharp decline in Mass attendance but also a blurring of the distinction between the ordained and lay ministries in parish life. In the words of one of the Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion whom Msgr. Champlin quotes favorably:

"There [now] seems to be a closer relationship to the Lord and the people of the parish as a representative of the Lord during the Mass".
(p. 38)

There are some surprising errors in "The Breaking of the Bread..":

  • Msgr. James Moroney, secretary of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, appears twice as Msgr. James Maroney (pp. vii and 76).
  • The heretic Theodore of Mopseustia, the father of Nestorianism who was condemned in the Fifth Ecumenical Council, appears as "St. Theodore of Mopsuestia" (p. 8).
  • On page 45 Eucharistic Prayer IV is quoted: "by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this bread and wine into the one body of Christ." The approved text actually reads: "and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ."
  • For one who declares that "faith in this real Eucharistic presence is the most critical quality for a minister of Communion", he writes, "We touch, consume, and handle more reverently the consecrated species when we fully appreciate that it is truly Christ's Body and Blood beneath the bread and wine." (p. 24)

This last expression presumes the continued existence of "bread and wine" and fails to do justice to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

There is no question that Communion-in-the-hand was practiced in the early centuries of the Church, both West and East, and in itself can be as reverent in practice as Communion-on-the-tongue. The Holy See and the Church in the U.S. and other countries have permitted Communion-in the-hand, so there is no question of the legitimacy of the practice. However, there can be no question that the abuses surrounding the practice have led the Supreme Pontiffs to protest strongly at the spread of irreverence accompanying the practice in all too many places. For example, in his "Holy Thursday 1980 Letter to Bishops", Pope John Paul II addressed the issue:

"In some countries the practice of receiving Communion in the hand has been introduced. This practice has been requested by individual episcopal conferences and has received approval from the Apostolic See. However, cases of a deplorable lack of respect toward the Eucharistic species have been reported, cases which are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behavior but also to the pastors of the Church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful towards the Eucharist. It also happens, on occasion, that the free choice of those who prefer to continue the practice of receiving the Eucharist is not taken into account in those places where the distribution of Communion in the hand has been authorized. It is therefore difficult in the context of this present letter not to mention the sad phenomenon previously referred to. This is in no way meant to refer to those who, receiving the Lord Jesus in the hand, do so with profound reverence and devotion, in those countries where this practice has been authorized."
(See Origins, NC Documentary Service, 3-27-1980)

The history of the introduction of Communion-in-the-hand in U.S. dioceses remains to be written. But it is known that it was preceded by years of disobedience and deceit by priests in Western Europe (especially Holland) and then in the U.S. and Canada who were agitating for radical changes in liturgical practice. As Australian Bishop Bernard D. Stewart of Sandhurst (one of the heroic and vigilant bishops of the post-conciliar period) noted in his 1976 "Pastoral Statement on the Manner of Distributing and Receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion":

"The new method was introduced illegally; an indult was given in places where it had become an accomplished fact and could not easily be removed."

What was particularly disconcerting to concerned priest and lay writers (e.g., "On Consulting the Faithful" by A.J. Matt, Jr., Editor of "The Wanderer", 4/27/72, and various articles by Wanderer Columnist Frank Morriss, 9/22/77 and /23/78) were the blatant propaganda efforts engaged in by national and diocesan liturgical committees which distorted the history of Communion in the hand in the early Church and even tampered with patristic testimonies such as the famous testimony of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Thus, readers of such material as "Take and Eat" emanating from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions were never informed that in the early Church the faithful did not take communion with both hands (with one hand extended to receive and placing the host in the mouth with the other). Rather, one received on the palm of the right hand which acted as a paten from which one then took the host directly with the mouth, without any clutching by the left (and especially since the left hand was popularly regarded as a symbol of evil).

Moreover, no mention was made of the early Church's sense of profound awe in the presence of the Eucharistic elements or the testimonies noting that women often had a white cloth cover the hand to reverently receive the host. In quoting St. Cyril of Jerusalem on communion under two species, excised from his testimony were certain questionable practices that might well have excited wonder among readers being persuaded to adopt the new practice:

"Sanctify thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body... and after proceeding to drink the Precious Blood from the cup, while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touching it with thine hands, sanctify both thine eyes and brow and the other senses."
(See his Mystagogical Catecheses, #21)

Ignored were the testimonies from the 5th century calling for abolition of communion in the hand as abuses multiplied concerning careless and irreverent reception of Holy Communion and many having come to regard the Body of the Lord as ordinary bread. Interestingly, in his recent work Msgr. Champlin registers no interest in the appointment of installed acolytes where there is a real need for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and discourages the practice of Intinction allowed by the Church for priests to administer the Eucharist. Both the use of acolytes and Intinction would eliminate the excessive use of Extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist he favors to flourish in parishes.

Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin was assuredly an active participant in the fraudulent catechesis for communion in the hand that characterized the "progressive" liturgists who clearly had the ear of most bishops. And as his recent book "Breaking of the Bread..." also witnesses, though he acknowledges that Communion in the hand is an "option" (allowed by special indult of the Holy See), he clearly holds that it should be the norm for the faithful. This same attitude certainly appears to be shared by many involved in the preparation of children for their first Holy Communion and who subtly impose their own preference for communion in the hand. As noted, our author is pleased with the proliferation of Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion where Communion under two species has now become common even at daily Mass. He is entranced with the testimonies of the "uplifting experiences" of the lay ministers whom he helped train at Syracuse's Cathedral to be "casual and relaxed and reverent". Examples:

"I try hard to look in each person's eyes and touch his or her hand as I place the wafer in his or her palm... and pray that my contact has helped to make the experience more meaningful for the receiver."
(Janice, p. 6)

"About twenty-five years ago as an altar boy, I had a very different view of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist... Over the past several years, great changes in the sacrament have made Jesus a closer friend. A more relaxed and personal relationship has been formed between us. Jesus used earthen dishes when he consecrated the bread and wine of the Last Supper into his Body and Blood, not golden cups and platters. He was dealing with common men and he too was a common man. How he is again reachable and has been brought back to humanness by a Church that feels for its people. With the advent of bread baked by lay people, Communion in the hand, and a relaxation of the fasting rules, I believe that Jesus Christ has been put back into our lives on a more personal level than ever before."
(Bill, p. 20)

Msgr. Champlin admits there have occurred incidents where extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion have caused scandal as moral faults were revealed or disobedience to liturgical norms resulted. But in his vision for a renewed Church with lay people, they become "leadership people", it is the habitual use of Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist that is envisaged as the key element for fulfilling the Church's call for "greater participation in the liturgy". This vision, however, is not compatible with the Church's directives as contained in the "Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests" (August 15, 1997). Unlike Msgr. Champlin, the Instruction deliberately avoids the term "lay minister" as too liable to be misconstrued as meaning the lay person is substituting for an ordained minister rather than collaborating with him. It is also made clear that the use of Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must not result in blurring the essential difference between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful.

There is no "right" to be an Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion; the latter is intended to be "supplementary", a temporary deputation by hierarchical authority and determined by real necessity. As another more recent Instruction has insisted (but which also remains generally ignored):

"If there is usually a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers may not be appointed."
(Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 157)

Russell Shaw, a former staff member of what is now called the USCCB, has observed rightly with respect to the explosion of lay ministries in the Church and all parish activities becoming subsumed under "lay ministry":

"Much theoretical and practical confusion has accompanied the rise of lay ministry... The trouble is that where everything is ministry, sooner or later nothing will be."
("Lay Witness", May-June 2006)

A serious result of the absorption of lay energies into liturgical activities has been to the detriment of the Second Vatican Council's call for them to renew the temporal order. Russell Shaw has also pointed out how the diversion of the laity from their proper role to evangelize society and culture has had another consequence: "Organized lay apostolate has largely disappeared from the American Catholic scene".

Lastly, a reader of "The Breaking of the Bread" will be uneasy with the resultant devaluation of the priesthood that is the consequence of the widespread abuse of the use of Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion which receives the author's enthusiastic sanction, and this, moreover, in a context which accepts the shortage of priests as a permanent fact. For Msgr. Champlin, there is now a paradigm shift in parish leadership with lay leaders now determining the shape of liturgical celebration:

"In a parish or worshiping community, the leadership people may judge that it needs these ministers, and will carefully select suitable candidates and then publicly commission these persons."
(p. 18)

The reduction of priests from their own leadership/liturgical role to be "sacramental ministers" in lay-run parishes abounding in Extraordinary ministers is already increasingly evident in the more liberal dioceses of the United States, such as Rochester, NY. There can be no question that where "lay ministry" is seen to dominate liturgical celebration, the role of the priest is thereby diminished and devalued to the injury of the priesthood and the entire Church.

James Likoudis co-authored (with Kenneth Whitehead) in 1981 the book "The Pope, the Council and the Mass" which was hailed by "L'Osservatore Romano" as an outstanding defense of the genuine liturgical reforms desired by Vatican Council II. It has been re-published in a new Updated and Revised edition, and is now available for $16.95 from Emmaus Road Publishing (1-800-398-5470) or

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage