Thursday, May 27, 2010

Vexed Issues 3: Communion in the Hand

My main concern in this series of posts is practice at Papal Masses, although much of what I say has relevance at the smallest parish Mass as well.

Those of us who prefer to receive Communion on the tongue, and kneeling, if at all possible, were relieved and overjoyed when Pope Benedict made clear his own feelings on the matter and began to 'lead by example'. Since then many more people, judging from all his televised Masses, are following him in this leadership. And yet even in St. Peter's Basilica, with his example before their very eyes, many take absolutely no notice. At the very least it seems to me the height of discourtesy to continue doing something in his presence which he is known not to favour. At one point in Portugal, the Holy Father said, "We impose nothing; we propose ceaselessly....." The trouble with those who do not follow the Pope's way, on this, as on many other things, is that they are content to accept the first part of his remark as an endorsement of their own behaviour, whilst totally ignoring its second part, which is an invitation to examine his propositions.

I agree with Mary who asked in a response to an earlier post, why Pope Benedict doesn't speak out on this, perhaps by devoting a Wednesday General Audience to his REASONS for giving Communion in the way he does. At the moment it could still be claimed that people are ignorant of these reasons. As things are, at least in UK and France, the bishops and priests who could be robustly supporting the Pope in this matter, or at the very least opening an honest discussion on the manner of receiving Communion, largely do not seem to be doing anything of the kind. Why is this? I'm afraid my own answers to the question fill me with dread.

1. Many of those priests and bishops do not agree with the Pope. Worse, they are reluctant to listen to him, leave alone to explain/pass on his teaching to the faithful, thus showing scant respect for his age, holiness, wisdom, experience and scholarship.
2. Communion in the Hand began BEFORE the Holy See gave permission for it, initially to the French Bishops Conference, and then over 40 years it gradually became common practice. The Holy See never said that it wished that to happen, quite the reverse in fact. See the original document here.
3. Many priests, laypeople, and even bishops maybe, have no recollection of the former practice, or at least none in their adult catholic lives. Those of us old enough to have these memories have had to watch in sorrow and dismay, as reverence for, and even belief in, the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, has persistently dwindled. It is this latter which really alarms me. From my own observations over four decades in England and France. I cannot help but think of Communion in the Hand as a strong influence in this direction.

A note about these large open-air Papal Masses: One still sees many people turning away from the person who has given them the Host in the hand, without consuming It first. Added to this, surely an insistence that Communion be received on the tongue would cut down the factor of risk to the Sacred Host.

Finally, on a more encouraging note, at least in one sense: In the general Communion melee in St. Peter's on Pentcost Sunday, the camera showed a young boy accepting Communion and immediately turning away with the Host still in his hand. He was grabbed, yes grabbed, by a male lay assistant to the distributing priest, and made to consume the Host there and then. The boy looked astonished and one wondered about the catechesis he had previously received.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,
I've just read your post about the reception of Holy Communion. I, too, saw the incident in Saint Peter's, when the young boy was stopped and told to consume the Host. You know I believe in receiving Communion on the tongue when and where possible, but I must make a few points here.
1. I usually receive the Host in the hand in my own parish. I do this in the way that the early Church fathers suggested: I make a throne with my hands, the right being on top of the left, receive the Host in the right hand and consume it with the left hand. I do this while standing in front of the priest and put my hands together before moving away from him - no matter how many seconds this takes. Most priests are in such a rush that they would obviously prefer it if I didn't do this - but I do.
2. One of our priests - the married ex-Anglican - actually told me that he doesn't like giving Communion on the tongue. Enough said about that.
3. When I'm at a big Papal Mass either in Saint Peter's Square or in the Basilica, I receive in the hand. The reason is because of the crowds and the pushing from all directions, plus there is no acolyte with a plate [ this to me is VERY important]. On Easter Sunday, when it had been pouring with rain, but stopped during Communion, I was in a long queue to get to the front of a section, to a priest. He turned out to be American [that's not significant, except that he was speaking English]. Most people were receiving in the hand. When he got to me he asked me if I was a Catholic. I'm afraid I was flabberghasted, as this had never happened before. He asked other people too. I suppose this is a precaution, because many people who attend Mass in the square regard what's going on as a "spectacle" and may not even know what Communion is. I noticed near me people were writing postcards and smoking during the Mass!!!
3. At each Extraordinary Rite Mass I attend we have prie dieus put out and kneel at these, receive on the tongue and the server holds a plate under each person's chin. This is how I like to receive Communion.
4. Reception in the hand can encourage serious abuses such as intinction, which may cause dropping of the Host either on to the floor or into the chalice. One person in my parish does this and our priest has not stopped her.
5. Jane, I agree that the Holy Father should make this the subject of his catechesis one Wednesday - close to the Feast of Corpus Christi, perhaps. But, more than that, he needs to issue some document which would be binding to the whole Church. As you so rightly said, it's a sad fact that many bishops are not interested in what our Holy Father says and they are still "cafeteria Catholics" when it comes to the Magisterium. Benedict XVI now has a chance to sort out all this laxity.
Keep up the good work!
Love, Mary

epsilon said...

The only thing I can say is that at Mass last Sunday, Pentecost, the thought struck me (while the priest - the vicar general of the diocese if I'm not mistaken - was telling us that we are all going in the direction of becoming the cosmic Christ:( ...) that those apostles who were filled with the Holy Spirit were less than perfect also - one to the point of having denied all knowledge of Jesus not so long previously - and yet there was God "moving on" and letting them put their past transgressions behind them.

There's an awful lot of healing / correcting of pridefulness to be done, but who are we to say that these erring priests/bishops won't turn around... especially if we pray.

It's taken me an awful long time to see the error of my own ways, but my mother was praying for me all the time (the fact that she thinks I'm a fanatic now is another story!)