Thursday 13 January 2011

Communion in the hand

Following on from Bishop Athanasius Schneider's wonderful little book: "Dominus Est - It is the Lord!" (See: comes this very timely tome:"Communion in the Hand"by the Most Rev. Juan Rodolfo Laise, bishop emeritus of San Luis, Argentina.

I've often thought that some practices in the Church died out or changed over the centuries from practical experience - for example, receiving the Precious Blood from the Chalice: the difficulty of administering this to larger numbers of people; how many chalices can you put on one altar (at Liverpool cathedral - dozens of varying shapes and sizes so that it looks like one of those stalls an an antiques fair). The difficulty of administering the chalice reverently, hygienically and without spillage. I presume that over the centuries these everyday practical difficulties brought the practice to an end.

The same applies for Communion in the hand - the opportunity for irreverence as the host is placed on grubby hands (and I mean unwashed rather than hands roughened by honest toil), even worse grubby woollen gloves or onto palms where phone numbers have been scribbled down. Even more so, the opportunity for desecration if hosts are conveyed away without being consumed. In my last parish at school Masses (in the church) I twice found a Host on the floor. After the second time I insisted that at such Masses everyone received on the tongue (as is the parish priest's duty in Canon Law if there is a reasonable possibility of desecration).

The universal law that forbids Communion in the hand remains in force. In 1969, Pope Paul VI gave an indult to the French bishops permitting each bishop to allow the practice in his own diocese (En réponse a la Demande). An indult is a special permission for a particular situation, not a universal norm. Nonetheless eventually the majority of dioceses in the world took advantage of the indult and simply permitted the practice. Unlike Pope John Paul's indult to celebrate the Old Mass, the indult to receive Communion on the hand was ethusiastically embraced in England & Wales.

This is yet another strange case of the normative (receiving on the tongue) becoming rare, even discouraged, and the exceptional option (receiving in the hand) becoming the universal practice. Such inversion is most clearly seen regarding the position of the priest at the Altar during Mass - the normative position is ad orientem, yet the extraordinary option of versus populum has become universal.

I've read before that the introduction of Communion in the hand came in through the back door - Rome being "forced" to legislate for an illegitimate practice that had been deliberately allowed to develop widely. This new book gives a detailed description of one brave bishop's research and experience.

A further interesting point of view from the soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II:
"There is an apostolic letter on the existence of a special valid permission for this [Communion in the hand]. But I tell you that I am not in favour of this practice, nor do I recommend it."
(responding to a reporter from Stimme des Glaubens magazine, during his visit to Fulda, Germany in November 1980.)

Some quotes from the book:
From the outset, priests and faithful under my pastoral care asked me not to introduce this practice in the diocese of San Luis. I called a priests’ meeting for August 8, at which I presented Rome’s decree and the instruction Memoriale Domini. They unanimously agreed that, for the good of the faithful, Communion on the tongue should be maintained . . . .

The result of this meeting was a diocesan decree in which I reiterated the request of the pope and strictly abided by the law in force maintaining the prohibition of Communion in the hand.

Nevertheless, a question remained: Since Memoriale Domini was the only legislation in force, how was it that everyone adopted the practice of Communion in the hand as if it were merely an option proposed, and even recommended, by the Church?

Seeking an answer to this question and to defend my decision – which was very controversial with some ecclesiastical sectors that spoke out in the media – I encouraged a deeper investigation of the history of this usage. And the results of this investigation are found in this work.

- from the Introduction to Communion in the Hand.

Most Rev. Juan Rodolfo Laise,
bishop emeritus of San Luis, Argentina.

All that has been elaborated on until now permits us to realize that the history of the reintroduction of communion in the hand is nothing other than the triumph of an act of disobedience. The consideration of the details of this history makes evident to us the gravity of this disobedience: in fact, it is very serious above all because of the very matter which it concerns; very serious because it implies the open resistance to a clear, explicit and solidly founded directive of the pope; most serious by its universal extension; most serious because those who did not obey were not only the faithful or priests, but in many cases bishops and entire episcopal conferences; most serious, because not only did they remain unpunished but they obtained a resounding success; most serious, in short, because it has succeeded in having the state of disobedience remain hidden, making it such that one might believe, on the contrary, that they were adopting a proposal that came from Rome.

– from Part IV, Conclusions.
Copies of these books can be ordered from the excellent

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Jacobi said...

Fr Simon,

I seem to recall, from my altar boy days in the 50s, that only those whose hands have been blessed/consecrated,(not sure of the techical term), that is the priest, can touch the Sacred Species.
That appears borne out by John Paul II's Dominicae Cenae of 1980.

If, as you say the 1969 Indult applied only to one diocese, then the now common practice of reception by hand may be tolerated but is surely illicit.

Also the practises of intinction I have seen for instance in Belgium, which I know well, are bound to result in the sacred Bood being sprayed/scattered.

In the present climate we are not going to have corrective action from above, however much the Holy Father might be tempted. He would simply be ignored.

The answer lies with you and like minded priests (and the odd bishop?) to change practises yourselves. It will take time , so the quicker you get on with it, the better!

Fr Dickson said...

It is not so easy to reintroduce Communion on the tongue. Education has achieved some success in my parish in that a few adults have returned to it and children formed for First Holy Communion generally take it up, though one or two have returned to receiving on the hand and one wonders if this is the influence of the school or the home. However, there is something to build upon and a route for building: First Holy Communicants.
As for the Indult, Michael Davies (RIP) recounts how this began as an illicit practice. Indeed, Memorial Domini stated clearly that where this practice prevailed (that is, by the date of the Instruction, May 29th 1969) that a Bishops Conference which had voted by a two thirds majority to formalise the practice could apply to Rome for confirmation of their decision. It was not, to my knowledge, in practice in England & Wales at that time and as therefore the application for such confirmation here seems questionable.
It is important to note that all the Bishops of the world were asked whether or not the innovation was to be permitted –and most of these would have been the Father of Vatican II who voted for Sacrosanctum concilium) and their response to this question was resounding ‘No’: votes against being 1,233; votes for ‘yes’ being 597. Yes ‘with reservations’ was 315. It is clear then that the mind of the Vicar of Christ and the mind of the Fathers of Vatican II was that this was not to be admitted. Its subsequent proliferation seems to have come then from laity and clergy who had already given up their filial loyalty to the Holy See, who must now take responsibility for revoking the permission. It is the role of the Parish Priest to do so only where there is the possibility of desecration. I have found no Hosts on the floor here so I have no right in Canon Law to forbid reception in the hand.

Fr Gary Dickson

GWAM said...

I can remember THAT SUNDAY as clear as the bells I was later asked, as an altar boy, aged 11, to suddenly stop ringing.

1977. St Margaret Mary parish, Liverpool Archdiocese. 18 months earlier I'd been blessed to be trained as an altar server by Fr Godfrey Carney and Fr Michael Reilly (saints both!) and, though it was Novus Ordo (I knew no different, I'd had no idea as to what had happened just a decade earlier) Sunday mornings were a true and simple joy.

Until THAT SUNDAY, just about a month after Fr Carney departed.

I remember how a different priest calmly announced from the pulpit (I'm obviously paraphrasing with 34 years hindsight - but not as much as you'd imagine) that "there was no reason why the practice in Europe" (I simply had no idea what Father was talking about at that stage) "should not be introduced here"; and he went on, "so for those who want to, starting next Sunday, you can receive communion in the hand and we will show you how to do so and to help you prepare."

I recall he cited Holland and France.

I was stunned. I didn't need any further information. There are some things you just know are wrong. Even at 11. Of course I didn't dare utter a peep.

The switch happened a week later. Within a matter of months I was told that I no longer needed to use the plate and further I had no need to ring the bells. The communion rails swiftly became redundant.

A week, that's all it took, perhaps a fortnight tops, for the hand:tongue ratio to become 90:10.

I was staggered. The priest was right. There was me thinking it would never catch on. What did I know?!! He'd been pushing at an open door.

Six months later Benediction disappeared.

That was when I heard a very strange phrase - that made absolutely no sense at all to me - for the first time.

"Vatican too."

Vatican too? Vatican too what? Or is it Vatican to? I do wish they'd speak properly, I mused. Adults are now speaking in part sentences! Vatican too? Vatican to? Where's the beginning of the sentence? Where's the end?