Monday, 31 January 2011

Genuflections and other gestures - Part. 2.


Father Juan Silvestre, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and a Consultor of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, as well the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, writes on Zenit (in an article reproduced below) about the significance of external signs of devotion. He speaks particularly about kneeling and genuflecting, making the simple and obvious link (although not obvious to everyone) between the outward sign and the inward attitude and how one strengthens the other. Nothing earth-shattering here but I have noticed how often from official and semi-official sources we are now hearing so much along these lines - always linked with copious quotes from the Catechism and from the Holy Father (as Cardinal and Pope).

A friend of mine in Rome recently had the privilege of assisting in the distribution of Holy Communion at St Peter's and it was made abundantly clear that communion must be given on the tongue. Although I notice that not all those assisting in such a way always follow this injunction (and I'm sure it might be difficult if individuals present their hands in a way that they have grown accustomed to in their own parishes).

What does all this point to? That the Holy Father has realised from past experience that legislation - even from the Holy See - is often ignored at a local level. How often have I heard the cry, "Oh, that doesn't apply here". So, along with legislation he is, I think, trying to change the culture - by encouragement and quiet promotion of a more devout way of doing things.

Let us pray that those most in need will allow themselves to be encouraged.
External Signs of Devotion by the Faithful
Genuflecting and Kneeling Reflect Spiritual Attitude

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: "In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church" (CCC, No. 1097). Hence, the liturgy is the privileged "place" of a Christian's encounter with God and with him whom he sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:3). In this encounter the initiative, as ever, is the Lord, who presents himself in the heart of the Church, risen and glorious. In fact, "if the figure of Christ does not emerge in the liturgy, who is its principle and is really present to make it valid, we would no longer have the Christian liturgy, completely dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence" (Benedict XVI, To the Bishops of Brazil [North 2], April 15, 2010). Christ precedes the assembly that celebrates. He -- who acts inseparably united to the Holy Spirit -- convokes, gathers and instructs it. Because of this, the community -- and the faithful who take part -- "should prepare [...] to encounter [the] Lord and to become 'a people well disposed.'" (CCC, No. 1098). Through the words, actions and symbols that constitute the scheme of every celebration, the Holy Spirit puts the faithful and ministers in living relationship with Christ, Word and Image of the Father, so that they can insert into their own life the meaning of what they hear, contemplate and carry out. Hence, every "sacramental celebration is a meeting of God's children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words" (CCC, No. 1153). In this meeting, the human aspect is important, as St. Josemaría Escrivá also pointed out: "I don't have one heart to love God and another to love the people of the earth. With the same heart with which I loved my parents and I love my friends, precisely with this same heart I love Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit and Mary Most Holy. I will never tire of saying it: We must be very human because, otherwise, we cannot even be divine" ("Christ Is Passing By"). This is why filial trust must characterize our encounter with Christ. Without forgetting, however, that "this familiarity also entails a danger: that the sacred we continually encounter becomes a habit for us. Thus, reverential fear is extinguished. Conditioned by all our habits, we no longer perceive the great, new, amazing fact that he himself is present, speaks to us, gives himself to us" (Benedict XVI, Holy Chrism Mass, March 20, 2008). The liturgy, and in a special way the Eucharist, "is the encounter and unification of persons; the Person, however, who comes to meet us and desires to be united to us is the Son of God" (Benedict XVI, To the Roman Curia, Dec. 22, 2005). The individual and the community must be aware of being before him who is thrice Holy. Hence, the necessary attitude is one full of reverence and of a sense of wonder, which gushes from knowing oneself in the presence of the majesty of God. Was this not perhaps what God intended to express when he ordered Moses to take off his sandals before the burning bush? Was not the attitude of Moses and Elias born from a similar awareness, who did not dare to look at God face to face? And did not the Magi show this same disposition of spirit, who "prostrated, adored him"? The different personages of the Gospel who met Jesus -- he who passes, who forgives -- do they not also give us an exemplary model of conduct for our encounters with the Son of the living God? In reality, physical gestures express and promote "the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 42), and enable one to overcome the danger that snares every Christian: habit. "For us who have always lived with the Christian concept of God and are accustomed to it, the possession of hope, which comes from the real encounter with this God, is almost no longer perceptible" (Benedict XVI, "Spe Salvi," No. 3). Because of this, "a convincing sign of the effectiveness that the Eucharistic catechesis has on the faithful is surely the growth in them of the sense of the mystery of God present among us. This can be verified through specific manifestations of reverence toward the Eucharist, to which the mystagogic way should introduce the faithful" (Benedict XVI, "Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 65). The acts of devotion are understood in an adequate way in this context of encounter with the Lord, which implies union, "unification [that] can only be realized in keeping with the form of adoration" (Benedict XVI, To the Roman Curia, Dec. 22, 2005). We see in the first place genuflection, which is done "by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil." (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 274). The bowing of the head instead means reverence and honor. In the Creed -- except in the solemnity of Christmas and of the Annunciation (Incarnation), in which it is replaced with genuflection -- we carry out this gesture pronouncing the wonderful words: "By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man." Finally, we would light to highlight the gesture of kneeling at the moment of the consecration and, where this use is kept, at Communion. They are strong signs, which manifest the awareness of being before someone special. It is Christ, the Son of the living God, and before him we fall on our knees. In kneeling, the spiritual and physical meaning form a unity, because the bodily gesture implies a spiritual meaning and vice versa, the spiritual act calls for a manifestation, an external translation. To kneel before God is not something that "is not very modern"; on the contrary, it corresponds to the truth of our being itself. "One who learns to believe, also learns to kneel, and a faith and a liturgy that no longer knows about kneeling would be unhealthy in a central point. Where this gesture has been lost, we must learn it again, to remain with our prayer in the communion of the Apostles and martyrs, in the communion of the whole cosmos, in the unity with Jesus Christ himself" (J. Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy [Opera Omnia 11]. LEV, Vatican City 2010, p. 183).

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem

Dom. Daniel with Fraters Alban and John with myself
at a Mass in St John's (now closed) in Allerton Bywater. Christmas 2007


Congratulations to The Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem who have obtained permision from Bishop Bransfield to reside in Charlestown, West Virginia for a period of two years.

Dom. Daniel has been searching for a home for this dedicated little community for some time now. I'm very happy that something tangible has come about for them and pray for their growth.


Frater John and me outside the Lateran Basilica last year.


Some more photos with Dom. Daniel and the Fraters during Mass in 2007
on the Feast of St John the Evangelist,
which concluded with blessing with a relic of St John.








Here is a Youtube clip of Solemn High Mass at St Michael's Abbey (Norbertines), Orange, California - the temporary home of the Canons. (To watch the rest of the Mass just click on the Youtube links after this first part.)

It is worth noting that the beautiful vestments were made by Dom Daniel himself!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Cardinal Vaughan School

Cardinal Vaughan
The Catholic Encyclopedia says of him: Cardinal Vaughan was a man of strong vitality, and his energies were devoted, with rare singleness of purpose, to one end—the salvation of souls. He loved directness in thought and speech, and had little taste for speculation or analysis. He knew how to win and to hold the allegiance of men, and the touching extracts from his intimate diary which were published after his death showed him to have been a man of exceptional and unsuspected humility.

Would he like the school named in his memory - I think so.


H/T to Linen on the Hedgerow for picking up this article from the Evening Standard on the Cardinal Vaughan School in London. It seems to be the report of a journalist's experience of simply going into the school to see it for himself. It sounds like a good school where they are Catholic and they mean it. A sad contrast with many of our church schools where you are lucky to see a crucifix prominently displayed in a classroom, let alone hear the rosary and Angelus prayed everyday. Catholic "ethos" can be a very vague concept that covers a great deal. An ethos needs to be experienced in practical ways and one of the most basic is surely that we meet together each Sunday at Mass as God's people to worship Him. Whether you call that an ethos, a practical application, or just Catholicism, it's not something that can be said of very many of our Catholic schools.

Frankly, if I went to a parish where EVERY parent of a child in the school was not just coming to Mass but actively involved in the parish I'd be jumping for joy!


I've highlighted the parts I find most interesting. Here is the article:

A little bit more background to the Vaughan affair
Courtesy of the Evening Standard, 26th October 2010 edition.........

Keeping the faith at a Catholic state school
Stephen Robinson
26 Oct 2010


As the deadline for secondary applications looms this week, a row between parents and officials has left one of London's best Catholic state schools without a head
You know you are not inside a bog standard comprehensive when you walk into a Latin lesson at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and all the pupils spring respectfully to their feet.
Outside the classrooms, the male teachers and the senior prefects progress along the corridors in academic gowns, as though they are dons floating across an Oxford quad. There is no interest in the staff room in advancing media studies — at this Holland Park comprehensive, it's more classics, science, maths, music, modern languages and a stiff dose of Catholicism.
The honours board hanging above the main staircase proudly records this year's haul of Oxbridge places — 12, one of the highest of any non-private school in the country. Almost every boy and girl goes on from the school to some form of higher education.
Then there is the strong sense of Catholic devotion. The rosary and Angelus are recited every day. At mass, the boys and girls — who are admitted into the sixth form — kneel on the bare floor. They are encouraged, though not compelled, to attend confession. Discipline is strict, though the school is certainly not solemn.
The teachers josh around with the boys and girls in the corridors between lessons but there is no doubt who is in charge. Bad behaviour and slacking at homework are not tolerated. The teachers use unfashionable words such as “punishment”.
“The Vaughan”, as generations of old boys and their parents call it, feels almost like a public school, or perhaps more precisely like an old-fashioned grammar school because the children, though impeccably mannered, do not seem “posh”.
As required by laws governing comprehensive school intakes, the Vaughan admits a mixed band of clever and not very clever children from Catholic primary schools; they are ethnically mixed — there are lots of Poles — and some 40 per cent of the children speak English as an additional language at home.
Yet in its unapologetic commitment to academic achievement, the Vaughan is a little like the grammar school depicted in Alan Bennett's History Boys but with a strong Roman influence and without the flattened vowels and high camp flourishes. “The Pope would absolutely love this school,” says one parent. “It's just a shame that our Catholic hierarchy cannot appreciate its strengths.”
With its stellar A-level results, fantastic Ofsted reports and stunning music, it is no surprise that the Vaughan attracts five or six applicants for every place. Parents love it because it offers an education that would cost upwards of £20,000 a year across the way at St Paul's or Westminster, and it is precisely this level of achievement that has led to a ferocious row over the “gerrymandering” of the school's board of governors.
Last Thursday, this erupted out of the pages of the Tablet and into a potentially ruinously expensive legal battle pitching the Vaughan against the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and the Westminster Diocese Education Service (WDES). A group of parent governors sent a letter to parents pleading for funds to take the diocese to court to stop what the governors see as a blatant attempt to destroy the Vaughan as one of the very best Catholic comprehensive schools in the country.
The row at the Vaughan reflects a London-wide problem for many of the better church schools, which are heavily oversubscribed, causing tension between church authorities and disappointed parents. The London Oratory, which competes with the Vaughan to be regarded as London's top Catholic state school, turns away scores of disappointed parents each year. The Brompton Oratory, which is linked to the school, records attendance so that sharp-elbowed middle-class parents cannot fool the admissions staff. Nick Clegg, an avowed atheist married to a Spanish Catholic, is said to be considering sending his children there.
The Vaughan has unwittingly become the battleground between liberal and conservative English Catholics in a war to determine what is a proper state-funded Catholic education.
Overwhelmed by applications for its prized places, the Vaughan decided to demand proof of levels of Catholic adherence beyond the diocese's standard requirement that children be baptised Catholics whose parents regularly attend mass.
“We found middle-class parents were good at playing the system, and that parish priests would just sign the form confirming attendance as a favour,” says Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, former chairman of the governors, who was returned to the board by Kensington and Chelsea council. So the Vaughan asked for evidence of parental “involvement” in Catholic affairs as a means of weeding out less devout applicants.
This was regarded as uncontroversial by the parent body but caught the attention of officials at the Westminster diocese. To the fury of parents and staff at the school, the WDES reported the Vaughan to the Government inspectorate for breaching comprehensives' admissions policies.
The diocese argues that demanding higher levels of Catholic commitment discriminates against poor children whose parents are less able to contribute by volunteering at parish events, or cleaning the church. [I find this amazing - I know for a certain fact that parents of poor children are just as capable of giving their time and energies to a parish community as anyone else.]
That one Catholic bureaucratic body should report a Catholic school to a secular schools inspectorate was regarded as a gross betrayal by the Vaughan and by many in the wider London Catholic community.
Worse still, so far as the Vaughan was concerned, the diocese began to use its powers to purge the school board. Six governors deemed supportive of the school were ousted, then the dioceses imposed as a governor Paul Barber, director of WDES, a lawyer who has no direct teaching experience.
Barber was the official who reported the school to the secular schools adjudicator so his appointment to the board caused fury, prompting parent governors to secure a temporary injunction barring his appointment as a conflict of interest.
The upshot is that because of the injunction, the Vaughan's board of governors is unable to meet, and it is impossible to select a replacement for the much-loved headmaster, Michael Gormally, who has retired because of ill health.
Many parents believe the diocese has deliberately paralysed the governing body so that it can impose a liberal outsider on the school as the next headmaster and begin to purge the Vaughan of its conservative Catholicism and unpick its unapologetic academic elitism.
“The diocese clearly wants to change the school,” says Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, an outspoken sixth baronet who divides his time between west London and his ancestral home in Ireland. “Why are they picking on this school when they should be worrying about failing schools in London?” He believes that the officials in WDES are “wagging the dog” and persuading the bishops to impose conventional Left-wing ideology on the schools.
Patti Fordyce, another governor whose term was terminated by the diocese in August, believes the WDES is trying to impose its vision of modish Catholic liturgy suitable for young people, “all tambourines and guitars, all that stuff that is as embarrassing as watching parents dance at a disco”. Fordyce, whose own son attended the Vaughan, says that what children really respond to “is the beauty of the liturgy”.
The Vaughan is clearly at a crossroads, and staff and parents fear that should the diocese prevail in imposing a liberal outsider as headmaster, the best teachers will leave, and the school could simply collapse.
The Westminster diocese refuses to explain why its director of education, Paul Barber, has been appointed to the Vaughan's board. Officials say the row is a matter of “authority” and that it is for the bishops, not school governors, to determine admissions' criteria.
Barber is not, and has never been, a governor of any other school in the diocese, even those which have been placed under watch as “failing”. Parents and staff argue that if entrance criteria became more specifically geographical, it would benefit principally the ultra-rich who live in the multi-million pound houses on Addison Road in Holland Park rather than the wider Catholic community of west London.
At the Vaughan, where the teachers are caught in the crossfire, it is business as usual, though Charles Eynaud, the acting headmaster, concedes the legal dispute is taking its toll.
“We are looking forward to a speedy resolution of this matter so that we can move on and the Vaughan can continue to improve and flourish,” he says, declining to comment further.

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James Preece has more on this debacle on his excellent site, Catholic&Lovingit.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Registration open for Adoratio Conference


Registration is now open for the major International Conference on Eucharistic Adoration which will take place in Rome from June 20-24, 2011, organised by Mon Dominique Rey, the Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon.


"The Conference is being held with the intention of promoting the desire of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church to see Perpetual Adoration spread to Parishes and Dioceses around the world.

The faithful must seek to receive and to venerate the Most Holy Sacrament with piety and devotion, eager to welcome the Lord Jesus with faith (Pope Benedict XVI May 11, 2007)

Holy Mass is in itself the Church’s greatest act of adoration: “No one eats of this flesh”, as St Augustine writes, “without having first adored it”.
Adoration outside Holy Mass prolongs and intensifies what has taken place in the liturgical celebration and makes a true and profound reception of Christ possible. I would like to take the opportunity to warmly recommend, to Pastors and to all the faithful, the practice of Eucharistic adoration. I express my appreciation to the Institutes of Consecrated Life as well as to the associations and confraternities that are especially dedicated to this practice; they offer to everyone a reminder of Christ’s centrality in our personal and ecclesial life.

In life today, often noisy and dispersive, it is more important than ever to recover the capacity for inner silence and recollection. Eucharistic adoration permits this not only centred on the “I” but more so in the company of that “You” full of love who is Jesus Christ, “the God who is near to us”. (Pope Benedict XVI Angelus 06.10.2007)

In fact, adoration must precede our every activity and programme, that it may render us truly free and that we may be given the criteria for our action. (Pope Benedict XVI Speech October 16, 2006)."

Speakers Include



I've just registered myself - it should be excellent!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Organist needed

I'm amazed at the variety of people who find this little blog. The statistics tell me that the majority of readers come from the UK but many also from the USA. France, Canada, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland and Australia also feature. Surprising is that Greece, Romania, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Turkey have also featured.

However, this particular post is aimed at those close to home here in Leyland. Our parish is in desperate need of an organist - for we do not have one at the moment and all my efforts and connections have not led anywhere as yet. As you can imagine, without an organist we struggle with much of the music. We're blest to have had visiting organists (of some distinction) for special occasions and we have been blest with a schola and someone to organise them for high days and holidays but a regular organist has eluded us.

The Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium spoke of the organ as the pre-emminent instrument for church music:

In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.

I couldn't agree more! So - a heartfelt plea for help. If anyone has any ideas or offers, please do get in touch.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Significance of Genuflections and the Tabernacle

GOR made an interesting comment after the post on the significance of genuflections and other gestures about how we now mostly acknowledge the presence of the Lord in the tabernacle with a bow rather than a genuflection during Mass. Going with this is the idea that somehow Christ is "more" present in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar than He is in the tabernacle, - a dynamic and a static presence, I think I've heard it called. I cannot see how this can be theologically possible. Those who follow this quirky theology, are then driven to place the tabernacle somewhere less important - away at the side or in another chapel.

Priest trapped between Our Lord behind him in the tabernacle
and in front of him
on the altar


While the instructions do indeed suggest that it is possible to reserve the Blessed Sacrament away from the main altar in a church, I think this really envisages places where a great many people pass through (like Cathedrals and historic churches) and cathedrals (where the bishop's presence represents Christ to us). I've no objection to this - but the documents do say a side chapel - in other words, something like the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Westminster Cathedral - NOT a pillar or stand away at the side of the main sanctuary. (By the way, these are so often not even practical, as there is usually not enough space on the shelf/table in front of them to use when the Blessed Sacrament is being placed in or taken out of the tabernacle.) Incidentally, there is a tradition of Blessed Sacrament towers at the side of sanctuaries but these are not the plant-pot stands we so often see today.

In other words, it should look like this..

And not like this...
The other drive to side-lining the Lord's presence is that when the priest goes to the other side of the altar and offers Mass "facing the people", he then has his back to the tabernacle - a position I find very uncomfortable and odd. The answer, of course, is not to place the priest front and centre thereby side-lining the Lord but to turn and face him, so that the priest is then at the front of God's people leading them towards Heaven. This means that when he genuflects at Mass towards the transformed elements on the altar, he is not at the same time ignoring the existing consecrated species in the tabernacle.

When is a DVD not a DVD?

The Bishops’ Conference has recently published what it calls "a key resource for catechesis" on the new translations of the Missale Romanum.
"Become One Body One Spirit In Christ" is described as "an interactive DVD exploring the depth, richness, and layers of meaning of the liturgical texts of the Roman Missal." It is on sale on the BCEW website for £14.99. The format 'DVD' is mentioned four times on the sales page. The official press release refers to DVD no less than six times:
18/01/2011 Press release Issued by the Catholic Communications Network

Become One Body One Spirit in Christ - interactive DVD

The forthcoming new translation of the Roman Missal will offer the Church in England and Wales an opportunity to deepen its understanding and celebration of the Eucharist. A key resource for catechesis is the interactive DVD Become One Body One Spirit in Christ which has recently been published by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

The DVD has been produced by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy to assist individuals and parishes to explore the Church’s teaching on the Mass and discover the riches of the new translation. There are over six hours of video on the DVD featuring experts from around the world talking about many aspects of the liturgy. This includes insights into the process of translation and commentaries on the texts, reflections on liturgical ministry — ordained and lay, and sections on music and the liturgical environment.

Bishop Arthur Roche, bishop of Leeds and chairman of the Department for Christian Life and Worship said:

“Become One Body One Spirit in Christ is an excellent resource for communities and individuals to learn about and be inspired by the Mass. The Mass is at the heart of what it means for us to be Catholic and this interactive DVD will help people uncover the riches that Eucharist offers us. The in-depth exploration of the Order of Mass will be of great benefit to people as we prepare for the forthcoming new translation. I am very grateful to all who have contributed to the DVD: bishops, scholars, liturgists and pastors and to Frayneworks for creating such an engaging and imaginative resource.”

So, it seems clear that this item is in fact, a DVD.

However, the above mentioned Bishop Roche has written that
"Although the interactive resource is called a DVD it cannot be used in a DVD player. It requires a computer to access the material."
Well, that's cleared up that confusion!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Why do trendy clerics hate the Ordinariate?


Is this type of liturgy the reason for discomfort among some Catholic clerics?


Catholic reaction to the new Ordinariate has been mixed to say the least. From those like myself who consider this a wonderful moment in the life of the Church in these lands, to an almost visceral hatred for the new Ordinariate expressed by some priests. Some people have questioned the idea that those joining the Ordinariate have anything to bring to the Catholic Church. Cardinal Levada addressed this very question in March of last year:

Those "entering into communion do indeed transform the Catholic Church by way of enrichment. Let me add right away that when I say enrichment I am referring not to any addition of essential elements of sanctification and truth to the Catholic Church. Christ has endowed her with all the essential elements. I am referring to the addition of modes of expression of these essential elements, modes which enhance everyone’s appreciation of the inexhaustible treasures bestowed on the Church by her divine founder."

He explained "what is new is that perennial truths and elements of holiness already found in the Catholic Church are given new focus, or a different stress by the way they are lived by various groups of the faithful who are called by Christ to come together in perfect communion with one another, enjoying the bonds of creed, code, cult and charity, in diverse ways that blend harmoniously."

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith went on to say that it can be fully expected that "while we may accurately know what can be truthfully said, the full knowledge of what that means is enhanced by the contemplation of many groups of people on the same mystery."

Needless to say this is exactly what we find in Anglicanorum Coetibus:

This single Church of Christ, which we profess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic “subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside her visible confines. Since these are gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity."
(§5 III) Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.

Cardinal Levada proposed: "We sometimes do not know the value of what we possess and we need the spirit-filled insights of others to recognize the treasures we have." I think this is especially true when it comes to liturgy. I believe that Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus are milestones on the road to reform - truly Catholic reform, that is ! Perhaps that is what makes the aging trendy clerics so livid!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Significance of Genuflections and Other Gestures

Father Nicola Bux is professor of Eastern Liturgy in Bari and consultor of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Saints' Causes, for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, as well as of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. In an article on Zenit this week significantly, under the title of the Holy Father's book, The Spirit of the Liturgy) he points out some ways in which he envisions the enhancement of the liturgy in continuity with the past manner of celebration. I reproduce it below with my own highlights.

More Than Words: External Signs of Faith by the Celebrant
The Significance of Genuflections and Other Gestures


By Father Nicola Bux

Faith in the presence of the Lord, and in particular in his Eucharistic presence, is expressed in an exemplary manner by the priest when he genuflects with profound reverence during the Holy Mass or before the Eucharist. In the post-conciliar liturgy, these acts of devotion have been reduced to a minimum in the name of sobriety. The result is that genuflections have become a rarity, or a superficial gesture. We have become stingy with our gestures of reverence before the Lord, even though we often praise Jews and Muslims for their fervor and manner way of praying. More than words, a genuflection manifests the humility of the priest, who knows he is only a minister, and his dignity, as he is able to render the Lord present in the sacrament. However, there are other signs of devotion. When the priest extends his hands in prayer he is indicating the supplication of the poor and humble one. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GRIM) establishes that the priest, "when he celebrates the Eucharist, therefore, he must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he says the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ" (No. 93). An attitude of humility is consonant with Christ himself, meek and humble of heart. He must increase and I must decrease. In proceeding to the altar, the priest must be humble, not ostentatious, without indulging in looking to the right and to the left, as if he were seeking applause. Instead, he must look at Jesus; Christ crucified is present in the tabernacle, before whom he must bow. The same is done before the sacred images displayed in the apse behind or on the sides of the altar, the Virgin, the titular saint, the other saints. The reverent kiss of the altar follows and eventually the incense, the sign of the cross and the sober greeting of the faithful. Following the greeting is the penitential act, to be carried out profoundly with the eyes lowered. In the extraordinary form, the the faithful kneel, imitating the publican pleasing to the Lord. The celebrant must not raise his voice and should maintain a clear tone for the homily, but be submissive and suppliant in prayer, solemn if sung. "In texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice, whether by the priest or the deacon, or by the lector, or by all, the tone of voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a commentary, an acclamation, or a sung text; the tone should also be suited to the form of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering" (GRIM, No. 38). He will touch the holy gifts with wonder, and will purify the sacred vessels with calm and attention, in keeping with the appeal of so many saints and priests before him. He will bow his head over the bread and the chalice in pronouncing the consecrating words of Christ and in the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesi). He will raise them separately, fixing his gaze on them in adoration and then lowering them in meditation. He will kneel twice in solemn adoration. He will continue with recollection and a prayerful tone the anaphora to the doxology, raising the holy gifts in offer to the Father. Then, he will recite the Our Father with his hands raised, without having anything else in his hands, because that is proper to the rite of peace. The priest will not leave the Sacrament on the altar to give the sign of peace outside the presbytery, instead he will break the Host in a solemn and visible way, then he will genuflect before the Eucharist and pray in silence. He will ask again to be delivered from every indignity not to eat and drink to his own condemnation and to be protected for eternal life by the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ. Then he will present the Host to the faithful for communion, praying "Dominum non sum dignus," and bowing he will commune first, and thus will be an example to the faithful. After communion, silence for thanksgiving can be done standing, better than sitting, as a sign of respect, or kneeling, if it is possible, as John Paul II did to the end when he celebrated in his private chapel, with his head bowed and his hands joined. He asked that the gift received be for him a remedy for eternal life, as in the formula that accompanies the purification of the sacred vessels; many faithful do so and are an example.
Should not the paten or cup and the chalice (vessels that are sacred because of what they contain) be "laudably" covered (GRIM 118; cf. 183) in sign of respect -- and also for reasons of hygiene -- as the Eastern Churches do? The priest, after the final greeting and blessing, going up to the altar to kiss it, will again raise his eyes to the crucifix and will bow and genuflect before the tabernacle. Then he will return to the sacristy, recollected, without dissipating with looks and words the grace of the mystery celebrated. In this way the faithful will be helped to understand the holy signs of the liturgy, which is something serious, in which everything has a meaning for the encounter with the present mystery of God.

Friday, 21 January 2011

"a reductive sense of conscience"


Today the Holy Father told an audience of police chiefs in Rome that public officials must offer a strong moral example.

"Society and public institutions must rediscover their soul, their moral and spiritual roots,"

"The singular vocation that the city of Rome requires today of you, who are public officials, is to offer a good example of the positive and useful interaction between a healthy lay status and the Christian faith."

"In our world ... the impression is given that moral consensus is lacking and consequently the foundations of social life are not able to function properly," the pontiff added.

The Holy Father also warned against "a reductive sense of conscience."

In the modern world the risk exists that an individual "with his own intuitions and his experiences, becomes the sole unit of measure ... on personal truth and personal morality," he said.

EWTN has just posted a translation of a talk given by the most excellent Bishop Athanasius Schnieder at a conference of cardinals and bishops held in Rome, December 17, 2010: "Proposals for a correct reading of the Second Vatican Council." It contains the following highly relevant passage:

The Council continues, saying: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” (ibid., n. 43) Such an error has become even more manifest in recent years in which one observes the phenomenon of people who, while professing to be Catholics, at the same time support laws contrary to the natural law and to the Divine law, and openly contradict the Magisterium of the Church. These words of the Council echo now: “Let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other.” (GS, n. 43) Moral, domestic, professional, scientific, social life must be guided by the faith and so ordered to the glory of God. (ibid.) Let us observe again, in these teachings of the Council, the importance of the primacy of the will of God and of His glory in the life of every one of the faithful and in all the Church. The Council affirms this not only in a document on the liturgy, but in the pastoral document par excellence: the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes.
This talk is well worth reading (here) but if you would rather listen to it, Fr Z has a Podcast available here.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The sign of Peace?



On a lighter note...

I'm sure others have heard this song by Richard Stilgoe & Peter Skellern before but I hadn't until I came across it the other day on the Chant Café. (see here)

By chance Fr Z has a questionnaire on this very subject on the sidebar of his site: Fr Z

Sacrilege and Communion in the Hand

I have found that whenever I mention the issue of sacrilege in regard to the Blessed Sacrament eyebrows are lifted. "Surely we don't need to worry about that sort of thing do we?" But perhaps if we worried more about it it might happen less often!

In the summer of 2008 Catholics were horrified when a professor at the University of Minnesota willfully desecrated the Eucharist. On the Internet Professor Paul Zachary Myers invited anyone to obtain for him a consecrated Host from a Catholic Church so that he could desecrate It. Another man read about the request and took a Host from the London Oratory, videotaping himself taking It from the Mass. He then sent the Host to Professor Myers and posted the video on the Internet.

Professor Myer then proceeded to drive a rusty nail through the Host in order to show the “absurdity” of the Catholic belief in the True Presence, and posted photos of the event on his website. Unfortunately the event set off a series of copycat crimes, and these deliberate desecrations are all over the Internet.

Deliberate desecration is not the only problem. Ignorance, lack of faith, etc. can also lead to terrible sacrileges taken place, as this video clearly shows:




And for those who think that such cases are rare:
"Do you remember last year here at St. Mary’s when we found a Host under one of the pews in the church? I know from other priests that this happens every once in a while in other parishes as well."
Fr. Greg J. Markey, Pastor of St. Mary Church, Bridgeport Diocese, USA.
"Are there any occasions in which a danger is present that profanation is likely? I think so. (1) In one parish I served a half-consumed Host was found just outside the Church door; (2) in another a half consumed Host was found on the floor and (3) in another, an EMHC took great delight in sharing with me her “amusing incident” wherein, having taken her pyx and the Blessed Sacrament home before going to the designated sick person, she had finished her housework and gone to the sick person’s house “only to realise that the pyx was in the pocket of her other coat.” She found this amusing; I did not, nor was it amusing (4) to arrive at a hospitalised person’s bed to be told she would not have the nun back because when it came time to give the Host, Sister “could not find her pyx in her handbag.”"
English Pastor's comment on an earlier post.

“Children are known to have fiddled with the Sacred Host placed into their hands at Holy Communion; adults have been seen to pass the Blessed Sacrament from one to the other in a queue. Rightly does the Sacred Congregation ask whether such people who act like this really believe in the Real Presence of Christ. One must pass over in appalled silence the unspeakable abominations of demonism when the Sacred Host is sacrilegiously carried off to the satanic rituals of black masses. Sacrileges have occurred in the past and will occur in the future. But today the Holy See testifies that they are numerous and widespread; it also says that Communion in the traditional manner [on the tongue] is a better safeguard against adulteration of doctrine and profanation.”
Bishop Bernard D. Stewart, Sandhurst, Australia

"Then there are those who abusively take away the sacred species to keep them as souvenirs, those who sell, or worse yet, who take It away to desecrate It in Satanic rituals. Even in large concelebrations, even in Rome, several times the sacred species has been found thrown onto the ground."
Cardinal Ranjith in his foreword to Bishop Shneider's book
“…cases of a deplorable lack of respect towards the Eucharistic species have been reported, cases which are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behavior, but also to the pastors of the Church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful towards the Eucharist."
Pope John Paul II, Dominicae Cenae, Feb 24, 1980
A few years ago a pupil at a Catholic High School in a nearby diocese nailed a consecrated Host to the door of a classroom. I have myself twice found Hosts on the floor of the church after Mass. A priest I know was once shown a photo album by parishioners of their trip to Rome some years earlier which contained a concecrated Host next to a photo of them at the papal Mass. (The priest promptly consumed the Host, to the horror of the couple who had now been robbed of their souvenir of the papal Mass).
I was present at Mass to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Hierarchy in Westminster Cathedral where I witnessed Cardinal Daneels (who else?) hand Communion to an arab gentleman who was sitting with the dignitaries at the front. The man walked back to his seat holding the Host in his fingers, clearly unsure what to do with It. A priest friend of mine, sitting at the front of the sanctuary, followed him, sat next to him and asked him if he was a Catholic. He was a muslim from the embassy of some country or other representing the Ambassador. The priest asked him nicely "would you like me to take care of this?". "Yes" said the man. A situation that should never have arisen.

These incidents, and there are many more, remind us that it would certainly be more difficult for people to take the Host improperly if everyone were receiving Holy Communion on the tongue. As the Catholic Church teaches, “If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 92).

"let all remember that the time-honoured tradition is to receive the Host on the tongue. The celebrant priest, if there is a present danger of sacrilege, should not give the faithful communion in the hand, and he should make them aware of the reason for way of proceeding."
(Congregation for Divine Worship, April 1999)

(This is to say nothing of the real and present danger of the loss of fragments of the sacred Host which might be best dealt with in another post.)

I find myself in complete agreement with Cardinal Ranjith who wrote:
"Now I think it is high time to review and re-evaluate such good practices and, if necessary, to abandon the current practice that was not called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium, nor by Fathers, but was only accepted after its illegitimate introduction in some countries. Now, more than ever, we must help the faithful to renew a deep faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in order to strengthen the life of the Church and defend it in the midst of dangerous distortions of the faith that this situation continues to cause."
In our secular lives, to be fed directly by the hand of another is a very intimate and personal act and a sign of great love. It happens sometimes that lovers might place food directly into each other's mouth and of course the most obvious and suitable analogy - when babies and young children are fed by the hand of their parents. A sign of complete dependence on the part of the child and of love and care on the part of the parent and surely a beautiful way to receive the sustenance of eternal life. Taking the best of our human acts and building them into our spiritual relationship with the Lord.

Monday, 17 January 2011

More on Communion in the hand

This article is from some time ago but is quite comprehensive in its scope.

Rethinking Communion in the Hand

By Jude A Huntz

HOMELITIC & PASTORAL REVIEW March 1997

Has the practice of Communion in the hand really strengthened and clarified our faith in the Real Presence?

The time has come to begin to do everything we reasonably and licitly can to discourage the practice of Communion-in-the-Hand. In fact, the time is long past that we started doing this. It is much better to receive Holy Communion in the traditional manner, than it is to receive the Sacred Host into our hands. In Canada and the United States, it is true that one may receive "on the hand," with due precautions, but it is better to receive on the tongue.

Even as we begin, it might immediately be objected: Communion in the hand is fully approved by the Church, and it is disloyal and disrespectful and therefore not allowed even to begin this discussion. In answer to that objection, let us begin with the legal aspects of the question.

1. The legal status of the two methods

It is the law of the universal Church in the Latin Rite (to which most of us belong) that we receive Communion in the traditional manner. To receive on the hand is only an "indult," or concession that is in effect here and there. It does not exist in the greater part of the world. For example, for a while it was allowed in the Philippines, but then the bishops there changed their minds, and rescinded the permission.

Another way of illustrating this same point is to recall that in those countries where the indult for Communion in the hand has been granted by the Holy See, an individual bishop may forbid the practice. But, no bishop has the authority to forbid the traditional way of receiving Communion: on the tongue. Thus from the point of view of liturgical law, the two are very far from equal.

It must be further noted that the relevant legislation "strongly urges and exhorts" us all to receive Communion in the traditional manner, which is officially described as "more reverent." One will search in vain for any encouragement of Communion in the hand on the part of the supreme authority of the Church. Indeed, the only time that it is mentioned in official documents is in a cautionary way. It can be done reverently, but be careful!

In some countries the practice of receiving Communion in the hand has been introduced. This practice has been requested by individual episcopal conferences and has received approval from the Apostolic See. However, cases of a deplorable lack of respect towards the Eucharistic species have been reported, cases which are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behaviour but also to the pastors of the church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful towards the Eucharist. It also happens, on occasion, that the free choice of those who prefer to continue the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is not taken into account in those places where the distribution of Communion in the hand has been authorized. It is therefore difficult in the context of this present letter not to mention the sad phenomena previously referred to. This is in no way meant to refer to those who, receiving the Lord Jesus in the hand, do so with profound reverence and devotion, in those countries where this practice has been authorized. (Pope John Paul II, Dominicae Cenae, II)

In Memoriale Domini, which granted the original concession, and in the letter to nuncios which in each and every case accompanied the actual indult (L'instruction "Memoriale Domini"), 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 . . .

If we examine the practice of placing the Sacred Host in the hand of the communicant, one dogma of the Church comes immediately to mind:

The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ. [Note 205: Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1641.] (CCC, 1377, my emphasis).

The Roman Catechism put it this way:

Christ, whole and entire, is contained not only under either species, but also in each particle of either species. Each, says St. Augustine, receives Christ the Lord, and He is entire in each portion. He is not diminished by being given to many, but gives Himself whole and entire to each . . . . the body of our Lord is contained whole and entire under the least particle of the bread.

Therefore, 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.

To this must be added the increased danger of dropping the Host on the ground and the increased ease of stealing the Body of the Lord for superstitious or horrible purposes.

For those who believe with lively faith, this question ought to be enough to put an end to Communion in the hand: "What about the fragments?"

3. Clericalism?

Is it not a form of clericalism to allow the priest to touch the Sacred Host and to disallow the laity to do the same? But priests are not allowed to touch the Blessed Sacrament except out of necessity. In fact, other than the celebrant of the Mass itself, no one else who is receiving Communion, not even a priest, may do so in the hand. And so, in the traditional liturgical practice of the Roman Rite, if a priest assists at Mass (and is not [con]celebrating) and if he wishes to receive Holy Communion, he does not do so by his own hand: he receives on the tongue from another priest. The same is true of a bishop. The same is true of the Pope himself.

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.

This confirms a basic point: out of reverence, there should be no unnecessary touching of the Sacred Host. Obviously someone is needed to distribute the Bread of Life. But it is not necessary to make each man, woman and child into his own "eucharistic minister" and multiply the handling and fumbling and danger of dropping and loss of fragments. Even those whose hands have been specially consecrated to touch the Most Holy Eucharist, namely the priests, should not do so needlessly.

4. "Communion in the hand" is a misnomer

To place the Sacred Host in the hand of a person is not to give him Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Holy Communion consists in the eating of the Bread of Life. Rather, what is happening here is that each person who receives the Sacred Host in his hand, is then giving himself Holy Communion. Each person is becoming his own (extraordinary-become-ordinary) minister of Communion. By this means the ministry of priests (and deacons) or even that of legitimate extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion is becoming obscured or even dissolved.

5. Some Scriptural considerations . . .

In Holy Communion, we receive the Word-made-Flesh. When Ezekiel received the word of God, in a wonderful yet lesser manner than do we, it was as follows:

And [the Lord] said to me: . . . "But you, son of man, hear what I say to you; be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth, and eat what I give you." And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and, lo, a written scroll was in it . . . And He said to me, "Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel." So I opened my mouth, and He gave me the scroll to eat ["And I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that book" - Vulgate]. And he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it." Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. (Ezek. 2:1,8,9; 3:1-3, RSV).

It does not say that the prophet stretched out his hand, but that he opened his mouth. And is this not very fitting, since we are to receive the word as little children, whether it be the bread of doctrine or the Bread come down from Heaven.

In another place, in a psalm with clear prophetic, Eucharistic overtones, which is used in the Office of Corpus Christi, the Lord says to us, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it . . . . But Israel I would feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock." "I will fill it," not "fill it yourselves."

Now admittedly, this is not in itself a proof. But it points us in a certain direction.

Again, it 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. And the fellow paid the supreme price for his temerity in reaching out to steady the ark: "When they came to the floor of Machon, Oza put forth his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it because the oxen kicked and made it lean aside. And the indignation of the Lord was enkindled against Oza, and He struck him for his rashness and he died there before the ark of God" (II Sam. 6:6,7). We have greater than the Ark of the Covenant here.

6. The Last Supper

But surely the apostles received Communion in the hand at the last supper? It is usually presumed that this was so. Even if it were, though, we would point out that the apostles were themselves priests, or even, bishops.

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."

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

The origin of the current practice of Communion in the hand in Western Christianity can be traced to the Protestant Revolution, or "Reformation." Some will argue that this was the reintroduction of a formerly universal and venerable practice. We will deal with that idea below. But even if it were the case that this was formerly a practice in the Catholic Church, its introduction in the sixteenth century was hardly orthodox. Rather, it was an embodiment of a denial of the Real Presence as taught by Christ and his Church, and of the reality of the Catholic priesthood. It was a liturgical consequence of a prior heresy.

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": an idolization of (supposed) practices of the ancient Church. This involved a forgetfulness (or denial!) of the truth and development of Catholic Eucharistic doctrine to an ever clearer, and ever more explicit form. It involved a rejection of what had in fact been handed down to us in the organic development of the Liturgy. And it was a case of blatant defiance and disobedience of Church law and ecclesiastical authority.

The desire for this practice proceeded neither from the supreme authority of the Church, which was opposed to it, nor from the ranks of Christ's faithful (who by definition hold fast to belief in transubstantiation) who never asked for this practice. Rather it proceeded from some of the middle management of the Church, and the "liturgical establishment" in particular. And this in typical revolutionary fashion.

When it came time to begin pressure for the practice in North America, the means used were not always honest. In fact a measure of deception or at least "mis-information" was involved. It is better to draw a cloak over the sordid details, but if anyone wants to dispute that things were this way, ample documentation can be brought to bear.

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. Was it universal?

The history of Communion in the hand is usually told as follows: From the Last Supper on, and during the time of the apostles, Holy Communion was, of course, given in the hand. So it was during the age of the martyrs. And it continued to be so during that golden age of the Fathers and of the liturgy, after the peace of Constantine. Communion in the hand was given to the faithful just as we now do (in the more open and up-to-date sectors of the Church). And it continued to be the common practice until at least the tenth century. Thus for over half of the life of the Church, it was the norm.

A wonderful proof of the above is held to be found in a text of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) in which he counsels the faithful to "make a throne of your hands in which to receive the King [in Holy Communion]." This Father of the Church further counsels great care for any fragments which might remain in one's hands, since just as one wouldn't let gold dust fall to the ground so one should take even greater care when it is a question of the Body of the Lord.

According to the popular rendition, the change in the manner of receiving the consecrated bread came about in this way: During the Middle Ages, there were certain distortions in the faith, and/or in the approach to the faith, which took place and which gradually developed. These include an excessive fear of God and related preoccupation with sin, judgment and punishment; an overemphasis on the divinity of Christ which was virtually a denial of or at least downplaying of his sacred humanity; an overemphasis on the role of the priest in the sacred liturgy; and a loss of the sense of the community which the Church, in fact, is.

In particular, because of excessive emphasis on adoration of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and a too strict approach to moral matters, Holy Communion became more and more rare. It was considered sufficient to gaze upon the Sacred Host during the elevation. (In fact, this decadent practice of the "elevation"-so the mainstream treatment of this period continues-and the equally unhealthy Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament find their origins during these unfortunate Middle Ages, a period whose liturgical practices we would do well to rid ourselves of).

It was in this atmosphere and under these circumstances that the practice of Communion in the hand began to be restricted. The practice of the priest placing the consecrated bread directly into the mouth of the communicant developed and -sad to say- was imposed.

The conclusion is rather clear: we should get rid of this custom whose roots are to be found in the dark ages. We should forbid or at least discourage this practice of not allowing the faithful to "take and eat," and return to the pristine usage of the Fathers and of the apostles: Communion in the hand.

It is a compelling story. It is too bad that it is not true.

The Sacred Council of Trent declared that the custom of only the priest who is celebrating the Mass giving Communion to himself (with his own hands), and the laity receiving it from him, is an Apostolic Tradition.1

A more rigorous study of the available evidence from Church History and from the writings of the Fathers does not support the assertion that Communion in the hand was a universal practice which was gradually supplanted and eventually replaced by the practice of Communion on the tongue.

Rather, the facts seem to point to a different conclusion.

Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461), already in the fifth century, is an early witness of the traditional practice. In his comments on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, he speaks of Communion in the mouth as the current usage: "One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith."2 The Pope does not speak as if he were introducing a novelty, but as if this were a well-established fact.

A century and a half later, but still three centuries before the practice (according to the popular account reviewed above) was supposedly introduced, Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) is another witness. In his dialogues (Roman 3, c. 3) he relates how Pope St. Agapito performed a miracle during the Mass, after having placed the Body of the Lord into someone's mouth. We are also told by John the Deacon of this Pope's manner of giving Holy Communion.

These witnesses are from the fifth and the sixth centuries. How can one reasonably say that Communion in the hand continued as the official practice until the tenth century? How can one claim that giving Communion on the tongue is a medieval invention?

We are not claiming that under no circumstances whatever did the faithful receive by their own hands. But, under what conditions did this happen? It does seem that from very early on it was usual for the priest to place the Sacred Host into the mouth of the communicant. However, during times of persecution, when priests were not readily available, and when the faithful took the Sacrament to their homes, they gave Communion to themselves, by their own hand. In other words, rather than be totally deprived of the Bread of Life, they could receive by their own hand, when not to do so would mean being deprived of that necessary spiritual nourishment. The same applied to monks who had gone out into the desert where they would not have the services of a priest, and would not want to give up the practice of daily Communion.

To summarize, the practice was that one could touch the Host when not to do so would mean being deprived of the Sacrament. But when a priest was available, one did not receive in one's hand.

So St. Basil (330-379) says clearly that to receive Communion by one's own hand is only permitted in times of persecution or, as was the case with monks in the desert, when no deacon or priest was available to give it. "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, my emphasis). The text implies that to receive in the hand under other circumstances, outside of persecution, would be a grave fault.3 The saint based his opinion on the custom of the solitary monks, who reserved the Blessed Sacrament in their dwellings, and, in the absence of the priest or deacon, gave themselves Communion.

In his article on "Communion" in the Dictionaire d'Archeologie Chretienne, LeClerq declares that the peace of Constantine was bringing the practice of Communion in the hand to an end. This reaffirms for us the reasoning of St. Basil that it was persecution that created the alternative of either receiving by hand or not receiving at all.

After persecution had ceased, evidently the practice of Communion in the hand persisted here and there. It was considered by Church authority to be an abuse to be rid of, since it was deemed to be contrary to the custom of the apostles.

Thus the Council of Rouen, which met in 650, says, "Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywomen but only in their mouths." The Council of Constantinople which was known as in trullo (not one of the ecumenical councils held there) prohibited the faithful from giving Communion to themselves (which is of course what happens when the Sacred Particle is placed in the hand of the communicant). It decreed an excommunication of one week's duration for those who would do so in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon.

Of course, the promoters of "Communion in the hand" generally make little mention of the evidence we have brought forward. They do, however, make constant use of the text attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the fourth century at the same time as St. Basil.

Henri LeClerq summarized things as follows: "Saint Cyril of Jerusalem recommended to the faithful that on presenting themselves to receive Communion, they should have the right hand extended, with their fingers together, supported by the left hand, and with the palm a little bit concave; and at the moment in which the Body of Christ was deposited in the hand, the communicant would say: Amen."

There is more to this text than just the above, however. It also goes on to propose the following: "Sanctify your eyes with contact with the Holy Body . . . . When your lips are still wet, touch your hand to your lips, and then pass you hand over your eyes, your forehead and your other senses, to sanctify them." This rather odd (or even superstitious? Irreverent?) recommendation has caused scholars to question the authenticity of this text. Some think that perhaps there has been an interpolation, or that it is really the saint's successor who wrote it.

It is not impossible that the text is really the work of the Patriarch John, who succeeded Cyril in Jerusalem. But this John was of suspect orthodoxy. This we know from the correspondence of St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine. So, in favor of Communion in the hand we have a text of dubious origin and questionable content. And on the other hand, we have reliable witnesses, including two great popes, that placing the Sacred Host in the mouth of the communicant was already common and unremarkable in at last the fifth century.

10. Who promotes Communion in the hand?

(This argument might be accused of the logical fallacy of "guilt by association." But that argument is not necessarily false.) 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. A due, strong emphasis on the personal, bodily Real Presence of Christ our God in Holy Communion is not something which modern liturgists are noted for. Indeed, they even discourage it. Our attention is to be on the community, they say. In general, we can apply to the distorters (knowing and unknowing) of the Catholic doctrine and practice with respect to the Mass the following words of G. K. Chesterton: they are guilty of "the idolatry of the intermediate to the oblivion of the ultimate." Well, these are the promoters of Communion in the hand. And they dislike and discourage the traditional manner of reception. Why?

11. Communion in the hand is too casual

What kind of foods do we eat with our hands? Often, in our "culture," it is food to which one pays no attention. We eat pop-corn with our hands, paying it no attention while our eyes are fixed on the movie screen. We munch on snacks at a party, while engaged in conversation. Particularly with children, but not only with them, this seems to be a very unwise thing to associate with the Most Holy Eucharist.

12. To possess and control God?

It is consoling to hear our Creator say to us, "I have carved you in the palm of My hand." It is of primary importance to recall that "He made us, we belong to him." But what is Communion in the hand saying at a symbolic level?

Often something is placed in our hands as a sign of ownership and control. The consummation of the purchase of a new home or automobile is in the handing over of the keys. We might even toss them in the air and triumphantly catch them. But should we take him (unnecessarily) into our hands whom the earth and the sea cannot contain?

13. Authentic inter-ritual and ecumenical considerations

If we glance around the Catholic world, at the twenty-one rites of the true Church, we must ask, "how do they receive Holy Communion?" If the present writer is not wrong, they do not or hardly ever receive Communion in their hands. And under those rare circumstances that they do, on particular days, they receive in a far different manner than ourselves, taking pains to purify their hands both before and after.

We must further ask if some of the propaganda in favor of Communion in the hand, on the part of modern liturgists, is not deeply offensive to our fellow Catholics, such as when the traditional manner of receiving Communion is said to be "childish" (or when intinction is criticized).

And if we take a look at those of our separated brethren who share with us an explicit, and orthodox belief if the Holy Eucharist, we must ask ourselves: "How do they receive Communion?" Further, 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 Pope . . . and Mother Teresa of Calcutta

It is well known that the Holy Father is not a promoter of Communion in the hand. In his native Poland, the practice is still illicit, as indeed it is at the level of the universal Church. It was also illicit until very recently in the Vatican Basilica. And he has even refused to do it in countries where the practice has been granted by the Holy See.

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. (Actually, she need not have been astonished; explicit instructions had been given that the Pope would not give Communion in the hand.)

The Missionaries of Charity have no qualms about touching Christ in the guise of the poor, lifting him out of the gutters, and cleaning his maggot infested wounds. They choose, however, not to touch him in his Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. All of Mother Teresa's sisters are united both in their many hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and in their manner of reception of Holy Communion: on the tongue.

Mother Teresa herself evidently regards the practice in a somewhat negative light:

I will tell you a secret, since we have just a thousand close friends together, and also because we have the Missionaries of Charity with us, whom the Holy Spirit has sent into the world that the secrets of many hearts might be revealed. Not very long ago I said Mass and preached for their Mother, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and after breakfast we spent quite a long time talking in a little room. Suddenly, I found myself asking her-I don't know why-"Mother, what do you think is the worst problem in the world today?" She more than anyone could name any number of candidates: famine, plague, disease, the breakdown of the family, rebellion against God, the corruption of the media, world debt, nuclear threat, and so on. 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."4

Thomas Aquinas reminds us that reverence demands that only what has been consecrated should touch the Blessed Sacrament. By baptism, the Christian has been consecrated to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, but not to distribute the Sacred Host to others or unnecessarily to touch it. "To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained, one which indicates an active participation in the ministry of the Eucharist" (Dominicae Cenae, 11).

A practical course of action ought to be undertaken or these reflections would be next to useless. A minimal thing to do would be to broadcast far and wide the legal status of Communion in the hand and the urgent desire of the Church that we in fact not receive Communion in that manner. A thorough and well understood catechesis in the integral Catholic Faith should lead to a rejection of the practice. In particular, we should include a renewed and due emphasis on the Divinity of Christ, the burning love of his Sacred Heart for us, the Real Presence and the adoration due it, and the need for reparation.

Adult converts and catechumens and children preparing for First Communion have habitually been denied in many places even knowing about the traditional manner of receiving the Lord, let alone being allowed to choose that method. Without coercion, they should gently be guided towards what is objectively superior and a very important safeguard for their delicate faith.

Priests should refuse "Communion in the hand" unless it is manifestly being done with great care and correctness, including astute attention to the fragments. They should question their penitents as to their manner of receiving the Sacred Host, and, if the penitent receives in the hand, he should be encouraged to at least think about a healthy change for the better.

We have of course not argued that Communion in the hand is in itself evil or sacrilegious. And, together with the Pope we acknowledge that it can be done with reverence and care. 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.

Reparation is needed. In addition to heartfelt prayer, let us make every effort, according to the light which the Lord has given us, and according to our state in life, and our resources, to contribute to the day when it will only be a reference in the history books.


1 Sess. 13, c. 8: "Now as to the reception of the sacrament, it was always the custom in the Church of God, that laymen should receive the communion from priests; but that priests when celebrating should communicate themselves; which custom, as coming down from an apostolical tradition, ought with justice and reason to be retained." In sacramentale autem sumptione semper in Ecclesia Dei mos fuit, ut laici a Sacerdotibus communionem acciperent; Sacerdotes autem celebrantes seipsos communicarent: qui mos, tamquam ex traditione Apostolica descendens, jure, ac merito retinere debet.

2 "Hoc enim ore sumiter quod fide creditur." Serm. 91.3.

3 Just as if I were to say, "It is not a grave fault to miss Mass on a Sunday, if one has to take care of sick person." This implies (what we already know) that when there is no such excusing cause, it would be a grave fault.

4 Fr. George William Rutler, Good Friday, 1989, sermon at St. Agnes Church, New York City
 

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