Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rethinking Communion in the Hand

I just came across an excellent article by Jude Huntz in an old issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review (March, 1997) on the issue of receiving Communion in the hand. You can read the entire article here, and I have it linked on the sidebar under Excellent Catholic Articles, but below is a synopsis of what Jude Huntz listed as the 15 reasons why Communion in the hand out to be abolished, as Huntz says, to "contribute to the day when it will only be a reference in the history books." Here is an overview of the 15 reasons.

1. The Legal Status of the Two Methods

We must remember that though Communion in the hand is the norm in the United States, this is only by way of indult, which Huntz reminds us is a grudging admission. Like many other concessions granted since Vatican II, Huntz also points out the Communion in the hand has been extended beyond the original intention envisioned by the indult. "The permission for Communion in the hand was hedged around with so many precautions, that some have concluded that even in countries where it would seem to be legal, actually, in the larger number of cases, it is still not allowed."

2. The Fragments

It is Catholic doctrine that the true and entire Presence of Christ is present in either species, but also in each particle of the species. "Very great reverence, respect and care is to be taken of these fragments. Since this is the case, why would we multiply immensely the number of persons who are handling the Sacred Host, some of whom are clumsy, or cannot see well, or don't care, or don't know, etc."

3. Clericalism?

Communion in the tongue is not a form of clericalism; Huntz reminds us that even priests are not allowed to self-communicate, except as part of the consecration. "When Pope St. Pius X, for example, was on his death bed in August of 1914, and Holy Communion was brought to him as Viaticum, he did not and was not allowed to receive in the hand: he received on the tongue according to the law and practice of the Catholic Church." We simply ought not to handle the Sacred Host unless we absolutley have to.

4. "Communion in the hand" is a misnomer

The sacrament of Holy Communion consists of eating the Bread of Life. Those who receive it in the hand do not "take Communion in the hand." Each person self-communicates, effectively becoming their own extraordinary-minister.

5. Scriptural considerations

"[I]t is certainly eminently scriptural to refrain from touching something as a sign of reverence (and not only scriptural, but even universally human). In the case of the Ark of the Covenant, it was absolutely forbidden to touch it, under pain of death. Even when it was "necessary" to do so, as it seemed to one unfortunate ark-bearer, it was still forbidden" (2 Sam. 6:6-7).

6. The Last Supper

The fact that the Apostles at the Last Supper (may have) self-communicated is no argument in favor of general self-communication because, "even if it were, though, we would point out that the apostles were themselves priests, or even, bishops." Every priest self-communicates at the Sacrifice of the Mass, the form of which was layed out by Christ at the Last Supper. Thus, the fact that the Apostles may have self-communicated is no more argument thna the fact that the priest self-communicates.

7. "Take and eat"

Did not our Lord say of Holy Communion, "Take and eat"? Yes, but these words were addressed to the apostles and not to all Christians indiscriminately. Further, even if these words had been addressed to all the faithful, they are not verified in our standardized way of receiving Holy Communion. Literalism here would require that the priest or other minister merely hold the ciborium while the faithful "took" and ate. But this practice is forbidden. (It has been practiced here and there in violation of liturgical law.)

8. The provenance of Communion in the hand

Communion in the hand came out of two sources: (1) The Protestant Reformation, and there with an intentional aim of debying the Real Presence of Christ and treating the Host as ordinary bread, and (2) In modern times, "It is well known that Communion in the hand began spreading during the early nineteen-sixties, in Catholic circles in Holland. It began, then, as an aping of the Protestant practice, or at the very least as a "false archaeologism"...We can summarize that the practice of Communion in the hand came in modern times from heresy and disobedience. Is that what the Holy Spirit would inspire to bring about some desired liturgical change? One is permitted to think that perhaps a different spirit was at work."

9. Not universally practiced in the early Church

Though many quote a passage from St. Cyril of Jerusalem regarding making a "throne" in the hand to receive the sacrament, Huntz gives us several other quotes from the Fathers to demonstrate that Communion on the tongue was the norm at least as far back as Constantine and that Communion in the hand was only practiced during periods of intense persecution. One good quote is from St. Basil: "It is not necessary to show that it does not constitute a grave fault for a person to communicate with his own hand in a time of persecution when there is no priest or deacon" (Letter 93). The text implies that to receive in the hand under other circumstances, outside of persecution, would be a grave fault.

10. Who promotes Communion in the hand?

Those who promote Communion in the hand are often the same who attack the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament and promote horizontalism. "Those in the mainstream liturgical establishment (and their followers) who promote Communion in the hand are the same persons who, for the most part, have a distaste in general for worship of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and perpetual adoration in particular."

11. Communion in the hand is too casual

Eating with our hands is something so casual that it is difficult to translate this gesture into something sacred and profound. What do we eat with our hands? Finger foods, popcorn, chips, etc. In the natural order, we at least use silverware with more refined food (hence the golden or silver spoon of the Orthodox). But with the hand? That is how we eat popcorn. How can we take a gesture that is so trivial 98% of the time and make it reverent the other 2%?

12. To possess and control God?

Holding something in our hand is a sign of possessing it, as when we buy a new car, we own it when we are handed the keys. It is therefore improper to hold God in the palm of our hand, for it implies that we "own" Him, and Scripture tells us quite the opposite: "I have carved you in the palm of My hand."

13. Ecumenical considerations

How does Communion in the hand further ecumenism when of the twenty-one rites of the Church, we are the only ones who practice Communion in the hand as the norm? Most of the other rites are horrified by such a practice. Communion in the hand does more to harm ecumenism than to help it. "Is true Christian unity promoted by the present decadent state of our Eucharistic practice, of which a significant part is Communion in the hand?"

14. Its fruits

"We must be rigorously honest with ourselves. Has this practice really strengthened and clarified our faith in the Real Presence? Has it resulted in greater prayerfulness, greater love, and a more abundant fraternal charity? Are we as a people more and more awe-struck at taking the Lord's Body into our hands? At least one fruit has manifestly not come from the introduction of this practice. And this is a feature also of the larger liturgical reform in general: unity has been injured. It seems to this writer, at least, that Communion in the hand must share part of the blame for the decline among Catholics in belief in the Real Presence."

15. The example of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa

Even though JP II allowed Communion in the hand, he was no fan of it. Huntz recalls this anecdote: "The most remarkable example of this last is the time when the wife of the President of France, Madame Giscard d'Estaing approached the Pope for Holy Communion with hands outstretched. He ignored those hands and placed the Sacred Host into her (astonished) mouth." Then there is this wonderful story from the life of Mother Teresa: "Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand" (Fr. George William Rutler, Good Friday, 1989, sermon at St. Agnes Church, New York City).

In the end, the article maintains that "But this practice has been the occasion of great harm to the Church and to souls. It has expedited "indifference, outrages and sacrileges" towards Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It is implicated in the manifest lessening of faith in the Real Presence which we see in our times." I encourage you to check out the entire article here, and I will have it linked permanently on the sidebar.

Thanks to blogger Mr. S for digging up this article for me.

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