Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Communion in the hand: an indult

Many Catholics today regard the reception of Holy Communion in the hand as the norm and can`t conceive that anyone should prefer to have the host placed directly on the tongue. Yet an interview with the new papal MC, Mgr Marini, reminds us that permission for Communion in the hand is given by papal indult: i.e. it is a favour or privilege which could be revoked if the Pope saw fit. On Corpus Christi this year, in St Peter`s square, the Pope distributed Communion at Mass to forty-eight people who knelt and received on the tongue. It was said at the time that this was done to highlight the solemnity of the Eucharist on this special feast. However at the next public papal Mass at Santa Maria di Leuca and Brindisi, the same thing happened. In the interview Mgr Marini confirms that this will become the norm at papal Masses.

In Rome I bought a copy of the little book of Mgr Schneider, an auxiliary bishop in Kazakhstan, which argues for the re-introduction of kneeling and receiving on the tongue. The cardinal archbishop of Lima has recently revoked permission for receiving Communion in the hand in his diocese. Something is afoot. I think it is hard to argue against the desirability of kneeling to receive Holy Communion. some people don`t like receiving on the tongue and will say that as many sins can be committed by the tongue as by the hand and so there is nothing intrinsically better about receiving on the tongue. Yet I have seen it suggested that at the Last Supper it is not beyond possibility that Christ would place the host on his apostles` tongues as that was a known sign of friendship in that society.

But we must not forget a traditional practice of middle-eastern hospitality, which was practiced in Jesus' time and which is still the case: one feeds one's guests with one's own hand, placing a symbolic morsel in the mouth of the guest. And we have scriptural evidence of this as well: our Lord dipped a morsel of bread into some wine, and gave it to Judas. Did he place this wet morsel into Judas's hand? That would be rather messy. Did he not perhaps extend to the one whom he addressed later in the garden as "Friend" the gesture of hospitality spoken of above? And if so, why not with Holy Communion, "giving himself by his own hand."

Communion on the tongue emphasises the role of the priest at pastor who feeds his people with the bread of heaven.

Anyway, this is what Mgr Marini had to say to the Osservatore Romano. H/T to Rorate Caeli.

In the recent visit to Santa Maria di Leuca and Brindisi, the Pope has distributed communion to the kneeling faithful in the mouth. Is it a practice destined to become usual in papal celebrations?

I think so. Regarding it, it should not be forgotten that the distribution of communion in the hand still remains, from a juridical viewpoint, an indult from the universal law, granted by the Holy See to those Episcopal Conferences who have made a request for it. The mode adopted by Benedict XVI tends to underline the force of the norm valid for the entire Church. In addition, a preference could perhaps be seen for the use of this mode of distribution, which, without eliminating anything from the other, puts into light better the truth of the real presence in the Eucharist, aids the devotion of the faithful, introduces with greater ease the sense of mystery. Aspects which, in our age, pastorally speaking, it is urgent to underline and recover.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As reported by Fr. George Rutler in his Good Friday sermon at St. Agnes Church, New York in 1989, when Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked by Fr. Rutler, "What do you think is the worst problem in the world today?"

"Without pausing a second she said, 'Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand.'"

(note: Fr. Emerson of the Fraternity of St. Peter was also a witness to this statement by Mother Teresa).

Also, it could be argued that people do not 'receive' Holy Communion in the hand, they 'accept' the sacred Host into the hand. They then place the Host into their own mouths and, in reality, receive from themselves. Thus, they themselves become their own Extraordinary minister. [There are many stories of people 'accepting' the Host into their hands then taking it back to their seats and not consuming the sacred species. They have not 'received'.]
The same applies to receiving from the chalice. Extraordinary ministers are not allowed to let go of the chalice for fear of spillage but they all do. This results in the faithful taking the chalice in their own hands and becoming their own Extraordinary minister.