Monday, 21 January 2013

Communion in the Hand

I have long been of the opinion, and practice, of only receiving Our Lord whilst kneeling and on the tongue whilst studiously ignoring looks from both laity and occasionally clergy who "roll their eyes up" when presented by communicants such as myself.  No I will not tell you what I think about EMHCs - but you are permitted to guess.
Recently I read a quite stunning article from a well known Scottish blogger and contributor to liturgical magazines such as The Remnant, and, having received his very kind permission, I append his article in full below.  Do enjoy.
Reviewing Communion in the hand
By Martin Blackshaw 
“Why, for God’s sake, should Communion in the hand be introduced into our churches when it is evidently detrimental from a pastoral viewpoint, when it certainly does not increase our reverence, and when it exposes the Eucharist to the most terrible diabolical abuses? There are really no serious arguments for Communion in the hand. But there are the most gravely serious kinds of arguments against it.”
These words of Dietrich von Hildebrand were published in a November 18, 1973 article entitled ‘Communion in the hand should be Rejected.’
To demonstrate the stature of the one who wrote the article it suffices to recall the tribute of Pius XII, who called von Hildebrand a “20th century doctor of the Church.” Popes Paul VI and John Paul II later paid their own compliments to this German Catholic philosopher and theologian.
In the years since von Hildebrand’s article was published, reports of the Blessed Sacrament having being found under church pews or lying in the street have become commonplace in many countries, as have reliable observations of a general loss of Eucharistic faith among priests and faithful.
One U.S. gallop poll in recent years recorded just 30% of U.S. Catholics now believing in Our Lord’s True Presence. The other 70% had either various shades of Protestant belief or no belief at all.
These findings would appear to confirm what the ‘Servant of God’ Fr. John Hardon S.J., had already bluntly asserted: “Behind Communion in the hand—I wish to repeat and make as plain as I can—is a weakening, a conscious, deliberate weakening of faith in the Real Presence.”
Pope John Paul II was already lamenting the trend in his April 1980 ‘Instruction’ Inaestamabile Donum, when he wrote of “…frequent abuses being reported from different parts of the Catholic world…an increasing loss of the sense of the sacredlack of reverence and respect for the Blessed Sacrament.
The Pontiff was to write of these abuses again in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) and Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), deploring their multiplication and asking: “How can we not express profound grief at all this?
In 2005, Cardinal Francis Arinze also spoke out noting that the practice of Communion in the hand had even facilitated easy access to the Blessed Sacrament for blasphemers, who subsequently abused the consecrated host in satanic rituals and displayed all manner of sacrileges against it on the Internet.
A few years later, Peruvian Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne and Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra banned Communion in the hand from their respective dioceses of Lima and Bologna, citing overwhelming evidence of irreverence, profanation and sacrilege against the Blessed Sacrament as their reason for acting.
Then, in 2008, the truth about this practice began to emerge. Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, at that time Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote: “It is now time to evaluate carefully the practice of Communion in the hand and if necessary to abandon what was never actually called for in the Vatican II document, Sacrosanctum Consilium.
The Archbishop wrote these words in his Preface to Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s book Dominus Est, which scholarly work, by an expert in Patristics (Fathers of the Church), challenges the authenticity of this modern practice.
It is Bishop Schneider’s contention that what has been sold to the Catholic faithful as a return to the Eucharistic discipline of the early Christians is historically untenable.
The discipline of the early Christian Church, insists Mgr. Schneider, forbade both the placing of the Blessed Sacrament in the left hand and the touching of it by the faithful with their fingers. Rather, the faithful were obliged to bow reverently and consume the sacred host directly from the palm of the right hand, taking care to repeat the action to ensure that no consecrated particle remained. Additionally, women were required to cover the right hand with a white cloth.
Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise of San Luis, Argentina, in his book ‘Communion in the hand – Documents and history,’ concurs with the findings of Bishop Schneider, declaring: “It would be to deceive the faithful to make them think that receiving Communion in the hand would identify them more with the spirit of the primitive Church.”
Bishop Laise, now retired, also refused to permit Communion in the hand in his diocese, as has his successor.
Also in 2008, Mgr. Guido Marini, Master of Pontifical Ceremonies, in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, responding to the question of whether the Pope intended to make Communion on the tongue while kneeling mandatory at his Papal Masses, said:
I really think so. In this regard it is necessary not to forget that the distribution of Communion in the hand remains, even now, from the juridical standpoint, an indult from the universal law, conceded by the Holy See to those Bishops’ Conferences which requested it. The method adopted by Benedict XVI tends to underscore the force of the norm valid for the whole Church.
One year later, On July 22, 2009, Cardinal Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, speaking to Life Site News, said: “It is the mission of this Congregation to work to promote Pope Benedict’s emphasis on the traditional practices of liturgy, such as reception of Communion on the tongue while kneeling.”

These statements clarify three very essential points for Catholics today:
  1. Communion in the hand was not initiated by Vatican II or the Conciliar Popes.
  3. Communion in the hand is “an indult” from the universal law of the Church, which remains that of kneeling to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.
  5. Communion in the hand is not the traditional practice of the Church’s liturgy.
The truth is that Communion in the hand was introduced illicitly into the Church in the mid 1960s. Pope Paul VI lamented this fact in his May 1969 ‘Instruction’ Memoriale Domini, stating: “in certain communities and in certain places this practice has been introduced without prior approval having been requested of the Holy See…
In the same document the Pope upholds the Traditional practice, declaring: “the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering Holy Communion to the faithful… The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed.
While it is true that Paul VI in Memoriale Domini provided for an indult under strict conditions for those countries were the “contrary usage” had then come to prevail, it is clear from the wording of the document that this provision was restricted to those countries alone. At the time, these were Germany, Holland, Belgium and France.
The intention of the Pontiff was evidently to isolate the novelty of the “contrary usage,” which he prophetically warned carries with it “… the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.”
How the indult thereafter came to spread into many other countries is best explained by Bishop Laise, who writes: “These initiatives frequently could not be suppressed because they had spread too widely. With his great kindness and prudence, the Holy Father has frequently ceded, and many times he has done so against his will.
He then adds: “If the legislation did not change [that Communion on the tongue is the lawful practice], the obvious conclusion is that the only reason for the extension of the rite [of the practice of Communion in the hand] is that the Bishops did not listen to the vehement exhortation of Paul VI to diligently submit to the law in force and again confirmed.” [MD] (16).
That law of 1500 years has not been abrogated or superseded. This is the message Pope Benedict XVI is sending to the Church today. It is the message par excellence of St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote: “out of reverence for this Sacrament, nothing touches it but what is consecrated.” (Summa, III, Q. 82. Art. 3).
In this Year of Faith, then, I hope every priest will weigh seriously the matter of Communion in the hand, which today is sadly more reminiscent of the practice introduced by the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century than that of the early Christians.
More importantly, I urge the Bishops to follow the Holy Father’s example of humble love for Our Eucharistic Lord by discouraging this “contrary usage” with its clear and proven dangers to faith and reverence.
To these I beg urgent reflection on this closing observation of Bishop Laise:
With Communion in the hand, a miracle would be required during each distribution of Communion to avoid some Particles from falling to the ground or remaining in the hand of the faithful….Let us speak clearly: whoever receives Communion in the mouth not only follows exactly the tradition handed down but also the wish by the last Popes and thus avoids placing himself in the occasion of committing a sin by negligently dropping a fragment of the Body of Christ.”
© Martin Blackshaw
January 2012


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