Validity, an old chestnut

Last night a friend, Br Tony Jukes SSS, posted a comment on a recent post here with a link to a Youtube video put up by the schismatic Holy Family Monastery in the USA. You can go to that post if you want to find the link to the video in question. Its title gives you all you need to now about its stance:  Why the New Mass and the New Rite of Ordination are Invalid.

After an awful night of hayfever–ruined sleep, I have managed to have a little look at that video this morning. Its narrator, Br Dimond, and his community, I stumbled upon some years back. I do not wish to doubt his sincerity, but I do doubt his theology and understanding of how the Church works.

Continue reading “Validity, an old chestnut”

The Lament of a Liturgical Loner

Monks live liturgy. “Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” (Rule of St Benedict 43:3) our holy father St Benedict bids us. The Divine Office and the Mass punctuate and structure our day, uniting our lives with Christ’s sacrifice of perfect praise in his Body and Blood on the Cross. This union is what gives the monk’s life its truest and deepest value. A monk with no taste for liturgy is akin to a bird who fears to fly: things can only be difficult and frustrating. So if some of us monks seem to be endlessly focusing on liturgy, you might cut us some slack. For us, the liturgy is the privileged way to live in Christ’s Body, a privilege which necessarily imposes demands on our daily living outside the liturgy. These demands we spare no effort to meet faithfully, though we so often fail.

If liturgy was a live issue before the Council of 1962-65, it has become in the wake of that Council an explosive issue. Liturgy seems never to be at rest. For some, the Council gave a licence to change comprehensively the performance of the Church’s liturgy, and the change has been unrelenting. For others the changes were unjustifiable, unconscionable even, and they reject them outright. For others still, liturgy has been something to be coped with, an unavoidable battlefield on which they try to find shelter in some compromise that acknowledges the reality of change and seeks somehow to keep it organically connected to the Tradition of the Church. Few have been satisfied.

We might ask ourselves: where is my foxhole, my bunker, my bastion, on this battlefield? So much of my reading the past year or more has shown my foxhole to be filling with mud, slowly but ever more surely. It is not a tenable position in the long-term. Two things that have brought that conclusion home with a whack in recent days. One is an article by Fr Thomas Kocik at the New Liturgical Movement. Fr Kocik is one of the leading lights of the Reform of the Reform movement, which sought to modify the reformed liturgy imposed in the wake of the Council by realigning it with both the actual teachings of the Council Fathers and with the rich liturgical tradition that had developed gradually and organically from the times of the primitive Church to the 20th century. Fr Kocik cites Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as a prime example of a Reformer of the Reform, who proceeded

not only by his teaching and personal liturgical example but also by legislation. He accentuated the liturgy’s beauty, promoted the liturgical and musical treasures of the Western Church (including of course the usus antiquior of the Roman rite), and introduced more tangible continuity with tradition in the manner of papal celebrations (e.g., the ‘Benedictine’ altar arrangement, offering Mass ad orientem in the Sistine and other papal chapels, administering Holy Communion to the faithful on their tongues as they knelt).

But Fr Kocik is throwing up his hands in surrender. The Reform of the Reform cannot be done. It is impossible. He finds that

the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined.

Things are so far advanced now that it is necessary to go back to the beginning (or rather, to 1963) and start afresh on the basis of the Council’s actual, explicit, written teaching in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

[T]he road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC 14).

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The other thing that has sobered me up was a video embedded at Catholicism Pure & Simple. It compares the old and the new Masses in the act of their celebration. It is a little weighted in one direction: the sole example of the post-conciliar Mass is a portly late-middle-aged priest with some annoying American habits (and please, it is not only American priests who can have annoying liturgical habits, I know) who is set against more than one youthful and much slimmer celebrant of the Mass of 1962. The young guys are indeed examples of “best practice” of the preconciliar liturgy, though perhaps many ordinary Catholics back then did not always receive best practice. The older, new-Mass man, is not what you would call an example of best practice; though he is by no means the worst, and perpetrates none of the more spectacular abuses that could so easily have been found on Youtube.

The video, however, put a living face to the theories and principles of the liturgy that have been at issue. And they left me torn, almost asunder. Why?

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Both had aspects that did not attract. The new-Mass man was a little too cavalier in his bearing and demeanour before the most sacred things the Church has in its gift. The loud munching on the Host and the long swig of the Chalice both jar. The music was dire in its banality. The poor man felt a constant need to inject meaningfulness into the words he pronounced, even when they were addressed to God and not to the people. He fiddled around with the traditional formulas (eg “…in Jesus’ name, who reigns gently with You…”) in order to be relevant, or caring, or creative, or whatever. He gave out Communion like it was corn chips and not his God.

Yet, it is hard not to conclude that the structure and the rubrics of the new Mass lend themselves to such a practice and attitude. If you remove so many of the sacralizing elements of a ritual, of course it is going to end up secularized. Rather arbitrarily included after the Council among the “useless repetitions” the same Council had deprecated, nearly all the signs of the cross and genuflections and kissings of the altar were removed from the Mass. To one not formed under the old Mass, these gestures can appear to be fussy and pedantic and almost obsessive. They seem to cry out for some rationalization. But is such a principle appropriate to the symbolic and sacred ritual of the Mass? Are time-and-motion principles suited to something that should take us out of time and out of ourselves?

It is this same unfamiliarity with the old Mass that can make it seem quite alien. Even with my theoretical knowledge of it, it can still throw me to watch it. While I have no beef with the idea of rubrics in liturgy (for one thing, they spare the faithful too much of the priest’s ego), the old Mass can seem dizzyingly rubrical: where exactly the Missal sits on the altar, the depth and direction of bows, the placement of the paten, and the like. It does not come naturally to me. Mind you, should it?

That said, a solemn and formal liturgy does feel right. A solemn, chant-filled new Mass is wonderful. Even the vernacular does not normally worry me, and in fact I have rarely said a Mass in Latin (apart from singing daily the parts of the Mass in Latin). The ritualized movement, if not overplayed, makes sense. One hides, subsumes, oneself into it. Using the little logic that God has given me, it is apparent that in the old Mass this submission and surrender to ritual is taken to the next level. It is hard to object to it in terms of liturgical logic.

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Here probably comes the nub of the issue: the new Mass has the inherent quality that it allows the celebrant to take over. He is “president” (an awful word in liturgy), and too easily he becomes star of the show. I have seen regularly the pressure that some priests unconsciously feel to be creative, to say something relevant or meaningful, to be constantly babbling. Being in the vernacular allows the priest to dominate the Mass, in a way that is near impossible in Latin. In the vernacular he can interject and extemporize at will. There is the modern plague of the opening mini-sermon telling you what the readings are going to be about (cannot the people understand vernacular readings for themselves?!). Then there are the myriad changes and “improvements” that some priests feel that they must impose (must the people be patronized so?). The most dangerous thing of all, perhaps, for the priest is facing the people. Now, everyone’s eyes are on him and not on God and his Christ, who will return from the East. Instead of priest and people together facing God they face each other, a closed and often self-satisfied circle. Many a priest will recite the Eucharistic Prayer with his eyes on the people, and so inevitably end up talking to the people, even showing them the Host as he pronounces “Take this all of you…”, talking to the Father, but looking to the people.

In other words, there is a disjunction between what we are taught happens at Mass and what seems so often to be happening. There is an incongruence between the words and the actions. It is possible to do the new Mass properly; but the new Mass seems to have the inherent flaw that it is so easy to do improperly.

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Then there is the dazzling array of options and variations now available: options for penitential rites, for readings, for Eucharistic Prayers. More is not always better. The more the range of options, the less is it possible to have ritual in the truest sense of the word. The new lectionary has many flaws, not least that it swamps people with chunks of scripture, often out of their context, and too much for people to assimilate in any deep way. Priests either have to retrain themselves as amateur scripture scholars or waffle about some experience they have had or some story that comes to mind to illustrate the easiest point that can be mined from the readings. And not a few end up talking about themselves. Scripture is wonderful, and we should all be spending time with it in some systematic way each day. But Mass is not a scripture class. Nor should it ever be one. The Word serves the Sacrifice which is the real reason we have gathered: to unite ourselves to Christ’s perfect worship of the Father on the Cross. Anything else is secondary in the Mass.

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So this priest is left dazed and disquieted, and feeling rather alone in it all.

It is clear that so many of the young are abandoning the liturgical practice of the Faith, and who can blame them if all they were to get is Fr Superstar and pop muzak they would never want to hear outside of church, and clearly do not want to hear inside either. Why would they come if they are talked down to like children, and are never challenged with hard truths that will give them quality of life? How often do priests confront them, challenge them on things like sex before marriage, pornography, alcohol abuse? Children thrive on challenge, and youth can handle hard truths as long they can see they are not being talked down to but called upwards. If we do not tell them, then we are complicit if they go astray for lack of guidance. And we should all remember our Lord’s warning regarding those who lead his little ones astray. And when was the last time a priest mentioned hell as a reality, and a real prospect for grave and unrepentant sinners?

Communion in the hand is too often an awful spectacle. The Sacred Host – Jesus Christ no less! – is handled and fingered and self-administered in a way that does not seem congruent with what we believe the Host actually is. How I respect the goodly number at our abbey Mass who receive the Host in the throne of their hands and then raise that throne straight to their mouths, not a finger in play. They are usually converts who have made an often painful decision to submit to the Saviour in the Host. But Communion in the hand was a concession that has become the rule, and it can really jar.

Just as many youth are just leaving the churches to an ageing generation who are usually either faithful no matter the cost or who find some sort of forum for self-expression in creative liturgy, so too a healthy number of young are also finding their way into church where the Mass is celebrated properly, with dignity, with a clear sense of worship of God and not a tacky public meeting led by a dominant self-appointed few; and in fact where very often the Mass being offered is the old Mass. They participate actively enough, not by doing things but by losing themselves in the mystery. It resonates with them, it makes sense, and it challenges them, takes them out of themselves towards God.

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So is there no hope for the new Mass? Is the solution for our many dying parishes to return to the Mass of 1962 and then try for a renewal of the Mass that is more consistent with what the Council Fathers actually mandated? We certainly cannot rule out the old Mass – it is the Mass that admirably served the Church for well over a millennium, for which saints thrilled and martyrs died, which so firmly directs our gaze to God and from ourselves. It is authentic worship.

That said, the Council Fathers were neither stupid nor total dupes. They were on to something. I look at some of the interim Missals that emerged towards the end of the Council and just after and see what we might have had. One Eucharistic prayer, in Latin (since it is addressed to God, and he does speak Latin!) with readings in English, facing east but with more streamlined (and not gutted) rubrics; no vast array of options for this, that and whatnot but some apposite offerings for seasons and certain days. In those missals we were seeing the fledgling emerge before, seemingly inexplicably, a cuckoo took over the nest: a new and totally different Mass, constructed by a committee according to their personal theories of what in liturgical antiquity was to be revived (and which often, we know now, never really existed in the form asserted. Eucharistic Prayer 2 is supposedly Hipploytus’ canon, but if you read the original it differs markedly from this rudely brief composition we now have. It’s just one example. Mass facing the people is another. Communion in the hand is yet another). Alcuin Reid gives some insight into that committee which composed the new liturgy in the wake of the Council, here and here.

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So there is life beyond the old Mass, but we will need the old Mass around to inform a renewed liturgical practice and spirituality. Surely the new Mass can be saved, though it requires surgery. The revised Missal of 2012 was a step in the right direction, giving us a vernacular more suited to worship. Yes, it can be clunky, but better that than simplistically banal. But as Fr Z often says, if you do not like the translation you can always go back to the original – Latin. Moreover, maybe I need to learn the old Mass to know what I am talking about in more than abstract theory, to give it a chance. After all, I have given the new Mass over 40 years of undivided attention. Moreover, perhaps the Missal of 1965/67 which is the subject of the Agatha Christie indult should be given another, longer and better chance that the paltry few years it was allowed.

One thing seems sure: without a wholesale renewal of liturgical practice and spirituality the New Evangelization will remain just another expensive white-elephant of a programme. And priests will remain faced with the temptation to entertain and be creative in worship, and in so doing seriously undermine that worship. Without authentic worship the faithful, especially the young, will not be truly challenged to live with integrity, treating their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and their neighbours as Christs in disguise.

It is a daunting task, and if the Church is relying on me then all may be lost. There are many places where such a renewal is already underway, or where the desire for a true renewal is brimming up. Many priests and people are discovering the liberation of a more God-centred liturgy, and its child, a more surely God-centred life. Many other priests and faithful feel the same I am certain.

Pax.

Nil by mouth – the controversy over Communion on the tongue: a compromise?

A couple of weeks ago Elizabeth Harrington, writing as the Education Officer for the Liturgical Commission of the archdiocese of Brisbane, penned an article in the diocesan tabloid, The Catholic Leader, on the issue of the reception of Holy Communion in the hand. It ignited a small bushfire of controversy. Kate at Australia Incognita was tersely unimpressed, and the brethren at Cooees in the Cloister were roused out of a relatively lethargic summer to fisk vigorously Ms Harrington’s article in some detail. And just recently Rorate Caeli has stepped into the fray to take issue with a particular assertion made by Ms Harrington.

Now that the dust is settling, we might look afresh at the issue. To be sure, Ms Harrington’s article, being from someone in an official ecclesiastical position, was unfortunate to say the least, and largely unhelpful to the cause she was championing. It was a reactive article, prompted by her clear displeasure at an online petition started by two Victorian priests, which asks the Holy Father to abolish Communion in the hand, and restore Communion on the tongue as the sole proper means for receiving the Host. The heat of outrage rarely produces the best, clearest or most coherent arguments, as she proves with her article.

Ms Harrington’s case for Communion on the hand

Early in her article she quotes the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM, to wit, #161), that the choice of how to receive the Host is the communicant’s alone, and that “(n)o minister may dictate whether communicants receive in the hand or on the tongue”.

Two problems arise immediately. First, in the very next sentence she declares that

Receiving Communion on the tongue when the majority receive in the hand disrupts the unity that uniformity of posture and practice at Communion symbolises and builds.

Communion on the handThis rather stunningly contradicts her previous approving reference to GIRM by effectively dictating that communicants ought not to receive on the tongue when others are receiving in the hand. But apart from this logical flaw, there is another problem, less obvious if one does not read the paragraph in GIRM she refers to, namely #161. If you do read it you will see that it makes no assertive declarations about a minister having no right to dictate how a communicant receives. It does say that a communicant should receive the Host “either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand”. The tone of this section is not as Ms Harrington would make it out to be. Yes, it does allow a communicant to decide to receive in the hand, but there is a caveat of sorts – “where this is allowed”. Here is a clue to something we will return to in the next blog entry: Communion in the hand is a concession, an exception to the general and centuries-old rule that the Host is received normally on the tongue, and it is an exception granted rather unwillingly by Pope Paul VI to bishops’ conferences which requested it. Ms Harrington would seemingly wish to make this exception the rule.

As the article goes on, things do not improve. She asserts that Communion on the tongue is “unhygenic”, because it is difficult for ministers to avoid passing on to communicants others’ saliva. Rorate Caeli took exception to this un-substantiated assertion, and quoted a response made by the American Society of St Pius X. They make the valid point that in the pre-conciliar liturgy there were clear and specific rubrics on how to receive the Host on the tongue, which if followed would ensure no physical contact between the priest’s hand and the communicant’s mouth. Indeed, they point out, there is more physical contact in the process of giving the Host in the hand. We have seen the priest purify his fingers; but has the extraordinary minister of the Eucharist (if there is one) done so? they ask (and in some places, they do, deo gratias). Moreover, if saliva is the issue, then surely (they state with good reason) the shared chalice provides far more opportunity for the faithful to share in each other’s saliva; this is especially so if the chalice is not purified adequately after each communicant.

If she makes an argument for anything, Ms Harrington is providing one for restricting the use of Extraordinary Minsters of the Eucharist (“Extraordinary” clearly implying they are meant to be an exception allowed in time of pressing, extraordinary, need, another exception that has become a rule in too many places). If they are not trained to distribute Communion properly, then they should not be allowed to do so. One woman has decided now that if she is forced to receive from an extraordinary minister, she will receive on the hand given the obvious confusion of the ministers at her parish when faced with administering the Host in the tongue.

And if communicants do not know how to receive the Host on the tongue properly, then they should be instructed how to do so. It is not hard. Even Ms Harrington makes the same point. Perhaps those who make a meal of it (no pun intended) have been made nervous by the palpable opprobrium of those around them, who (like Ms Harrington) feel they are “disrupt(ing) the unity that uniformity of posture and practice at Communion symbolises and builds”. Which begs the question, is the unity of the congregation really built just on uniformity of posture and practice; or is the paramount constituent of unity not rather faith in Christ into whose death we are baptized and whose Body and Blood we receive and so continue more and more to become?

Real Presence(s)!

If faith is the prime building block of a congregation’s unity, a baptismal faith communally proclaimed and renewed in the Creed, then we cannot ignore faith in the real presence of Christ in the sacred species of the Host and the Chalice. Ms Harrington has thought of this point and has sought to muddy the issue by asserting that

Christ is present in several special ways at Mass apart from in the consecrated elements, for example in the assembly which gathers. We “touch” Christ in these other manifestations, so it would be inconsistent not to be able to take Christ under the form of bread in our hands. The bread which becomes the body of Christ is described in the liturgical texts as “work of human hands”. There is nothing unworthy about our hands. After all, we use them to do Christ’s work. As St Teresa said, “Christ has no other hands but yours”.

This is an old chestnut, and one really that is so dis-credited it is embarrassing to see it employed yet again. The four modes of the presence of Christ in the Mass (the priest, the people, the scriptural Word and the sacred species) are here simplistically, and erroneously, equated. In enumerating this four-fold presence of Christ the Second Vatican Council stated clearly though briefly (considering it to be so well-established in the the Church’s understanding that it needed no elaboration) that Christ is present “especially under the Eucharistic species” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #7 – emphasis mine). To clear up any doubt about the primacy of the Real Presence, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does elaborate:

The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

Could it be clearer? The presence of Christ in the scriptural Word, the priest and the congregation is a spiritual and intangible presence. In the Host and Chalice it is a real presence in the proper sense of the word – it is a substantial presence, a physical presence. The sacred species are Christ “himself wholly and entirely present”.

So the issue is not, as Ms Harrington alleges, the supposed unworthiness of our hands. We are all ultimately unworthy of the Mystery, even the priest. If we were already worthy then there would be no need for the Eucharist in the first place. St Paul was clear about the righteousness that comes only from God to those who have faith in him:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

The Eucharist is a crucial part of the process by which the Christ, through his Church and its sacraments, is making us worthy of him, of allowing us to obtain the righteousness that only he can give. This is grace, and we can do or merit nothing without it.

Rather, at the heart of this issue is faith. If we truly believe that Christ is wholly, entirely and substantially present in the Host and the Chalice, then surely that faith must find expression in our behaviour. As human persons our bodies must express what our minds hold to be true and important; our interior conviction must be mirrored in our exterior disposition. Otherwise our faith is lacking integrity.

Ms Harrington blithely, and distressingly, asserts that “(i)t was only later that over-emphasis on Christ’s divinity and on human sinfulness led to a ban on people receiving Communion in the hand”. The only possible “over-emphasis on Christ’s divinity” would be to deny his humanity. But there would be no Eucharist without his humanity; it is only because he first took a human body that he can make that body sacramentally and substantially present in the Eucharist. Faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist is itself faith in his humanity. It is more likely that the Host came to be received kneeling and on the tongue out of a strengthened faith in the real presence of Christ in the Host, a result of the development of our understanding of the mystery. Moreover, the practice of the early Church is hardly ipso facto a template for practice now. If so, the light penances of modern confession would have to yield to the years-long public penances of the early Church, and the solemn and public rituals of reconciliation she employed.

The practice of the early Church

The last Communion of St JeromeSo indeed Communion was administered into the hands of the faithful in the early Church. But earlier than is often claimed today, the practice of Communion on the tongue was introduced. Pope St Leo the Great (in his commentary on John’s gospel) and Pope St Gregory the Great (in his Dialogues), popes of the 5th and 6th centuries, give clear indications that they administered Communion on the tongue. But given that Communion was for a time given on the hand, do we take it that the modern practice reflects that of the early Church? A little research makes it all too obvious that, on the whole, it does not reflect the early Church’s practice when receiving Communion on the hand.

One of the more distressing sights at Mass now is to see people coming up and receiving the Host as if it were a corn chip (and grasping and swilling from the Chalice as if it were a beer after work). What sort of faith does that sort of body language betray? Yet in the early Church it was not like this. Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his book, Dominus Est!, provides some telling examples. St Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) exhorted his flock to

take care not to lose part of It [the Body of the Lord]. Such a loss would be a mutilation of your own body. Why, if you had been given gold-dust, would you not take the utmost care to hold it fast, not letting a grain slip through your fingers, lest you be so much the poorer? How much more carefully, then, will you guard against losing so much as a crumb of that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?

His point is clear. If you have faith that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church’s most precious possession, then surely you should treat it as such. He goes on to cite examples of an equally strong concern for the least particle of the Host in the writings of Tertullian, Origen, and St Jerome. Moreover he quotes a particularly eastern Father, St Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD), who wrote

That which I have now given you, says Jesus, do not consider bread, do not trample underfoot even the fragments. The smallest fragment of this Bread can sanctify millions of men and is enough to give life to all who eat It.

In the same vein Schneider quotes the rubrics of the Coptic Liturgy, which evince a zeal for protecting the sacred species from falling to the ground and profanation.

Indeed this clear concern of the Fathers of the Church for the protection of the sacred species down to the least fragment, lest it be trod underfoot (a common specific fear), rather suggests that this, in fact, was an occurrence that was more common than was desirable. Thus the need for exhortations and reminders to be careful with the Lord’s Body. Could this have been a major factor in the transition to Communion on the tongue in both the eastern and western branches of the Church? Perhaps receiving in the hand was soon seen as more dangerous for the sacred species, and more conducive to a laxity in faith.

This is all the more worrying for us today when it is remembered that these early Christians did not simply stand in line as in a bread queue, receive the Host and head back to their places. Schneider gives clear evidence that the faithful washed their hands both before and after receiving Communion, and bowed in adoration before receiving it. Theodore of Mopsuestia even exhorts his flock to kiss the Host before consuming it. St John Damascene in his De Fide Orthodoxa, instructed Christians to compose their hands in the form of a cross to receive “the body of the Crucified One”.

A Happy Compromise?

In the next blog entry we will briefly look at the process by which Communion in the hand came to pass in so many countries (though not all). For now, perhaps we might adopt a compromise that would allow those who are committed to receiving in the hand to do so peacefully and without risking scandal to those who have found the practice disturbing thus far.

Ms Harrington herself gives the clue to the compromise when she refers approvingly to St Cyril of Jerusalem’s instruction to his catechumens:

When you come forward for Communion, do not draw near with your hands wide open or with fingers spread apart; instead, with you left hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King. Receive the body of Christ in the hollow of your hand and give the response: Amen.

The unwary miss it the first time reading this passage. St Cyril tells his flock to make a “throne” with their hands. It is clearly a deliberate and careful posture, meant to show great reverence. But there is more. Schneider (p.38) quotes the ancient canons of the Chaldean Church which, strikingly, forbade the priest from using his fingers to put the Host in his mouth. He was directed to consume it straight from his palm, to signify clearly that the Host was not ordinary but “heavenly food”.

That this unusual and striking canon was included clearly implies that in the early Church the laity did not use their fingers to place the Host in their mouths: they consumed it straight form the palm. Many Anglican converts still receive this way, and it is most edifying. Usually they will also lick or gently suck on their palms to ensure that no fragment of the Host is left behind.

So might it not be a good and charitable thing to do for Christians who are committed for whatever reason to receiving Communion on the hand:

  1. To bow or genuflect before approaching the priest or deacon distributing Communion (when I was at my Jesuit school in the late 1970s/early 80s, we were taught to genuflect when we reached number three in line);
  2. To place the left hand over the right in the form of a cross, cupping them slightly to make a throne, or for the Christmas-hearted, a crib;
  3. To bring the Host on the palm straight up to one’s mouth, licking or gently sucking on the palm to ensure no fragment is left;
  4. Before walking off, to make a sign of reverence for the holy food just received, the sign of the cross being the obvious one. Any appearance of rushing at Communion time is to be avoided at all costs. We can spare the Lord a few more minutes, surely.

If all who did not receive on the tongue were to do this then perhaps we might find that faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist might be the stronger, and the more obvious. Such a witness could only benefit us all. I suspect it is only when we pay due reverence to his Real Presence in the Eucharist that we might be able to pay the proper reverence to Christ’s spiritual presence in our neighbour.

As mentioned above, next time we will look at the introduction of the modern concession for reception of Communion on the hand.

And do not forget to read the Catechism!