I have, this week, welcomed some local school children into church for their "Service". There will be three such services and all the children will attend. It is a Church School, but home to many (if not most) kids of other faiths and none - with a few practicing Christians in there for completeness. The accepted mode for the "Service" is Holy Communion - which for a priest of my own specific interest and experience shouldn't pose a problem. Wanna Mass? Can do a Mass!
Except is not that simple, and fraught with pitfalls that perhaps don't cross the minds of all hospitable priests when kids show up.
For most catholic Christians (in both senses of 'catholic') or indeed any with a sacramental awareness, the Eucharist and its Sacraments are profoundly important and life-changingly significant. To partake of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it is normal and indeed expected that someone would pass through the Rite of Confirmation or, if younger, have celebrated First Communion in some communities. The line that divides those who can or may receive the Body and Blood of Christ is clear, fixed and to many, very important.
There is a danger, therefore, of welcoming sixty children into the church and giving the very large majority of them their First Communion quite inadvertently. Most wouldn't care or even notice, their parents/carers either - but some would notice that I would had acted very poorly as a priest.
The question is, then, how to celebrate a Eucharist without consecrating anything all the while maintaining the Sacramental dignity of the act of worship and not turning the event into a facade or a 'show and tell' exercise. I gave them an informal Eucharist service with singing, prayers of intercession, scripture a homily and a fair amount of descriptive narrative. The service had a theme and to me at least, it was real and meaningful. I will hope and pray that it was for them too.
The core question for me, and one that I have never fully resolved, is simply (and yet not simply) at what point or by what means do I as priest consecrate ordinary wine and standard wafers? There is the epliclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit). There are the Words of Institution. There is a little arm waving and hand flinging. There is a corporal upon which the elements stand and within whose edges some regard the 'act' to take place. Then there is plain old intention. What consecrates? Can I exclude the Holy Spirit from anything? Do I avoid a corporal so as not to create boundaries? What if I keep my arms by my side? What if I avoid the words that Jesus is said to have uttered? These seem flimsy, but yet I do not wholly know the answer and rather fear that I should. I want to involve these children in something significant and meaningful yet must (and you must forgive the term) protect them from having the Sacraments being imposed upon them without them fully knowing what and why they are.
In the end, and in line with some specific wisdom I received in the past, I left the matter in the court of intention. Simply put, I didn't intend to consecrate but instead to illustrate. Intention, it seems, is key to all that I do as an anointed and ordained priest. I have no 'super powers' at one level yet believe that my Charism is to be able to bless, consecrate and forgive on God's behalf. I leave this post unsure of the answer, but write this to show you that things are often not as simple as they seem.