Tuesday 12 July 2011

How to Receive Holy Communion

This weekend the Archbishop of Westminster, His Grace, Vincent Nichols issued a Pastoral Letter "On Receiving Holy Communion"

It is very good in parts, stressing the reverence required to approach the Lord.“ However, as A Reluctant Sinner notes "some traditional Catholics will be disappointed" in the way he stresses the rubric to be inserted into the Missal for England and Wales that standing and receiving on the hand are to be made the preference here, as an exception from the norm in the Universal Church. There are extensive footnotes in the Pastoral Letter which make sure that the nuance and detail of the Church's teaching are covered but I doubt if many priests read out the footnotes. It can be difficult for people to see that the norm can be something that is hardly ever done, either through disobedience or because an indult has been given to a particular place. The way the Letter puts it really gives every encouragement to stand at communion rather than kneel and to receive on the hand rather than on the tongue. This is what the Bishop's Conference appear to want but the constant drive for this is a little sad for those who want to keep doing what is , in fact, the universal norm in the Church and something hallowed by centuries of practice.

I notice that although the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacrametnum is quoted in the footnotes and this is meant to be a detailed letter on ensuring reverence in receiving Holy Communion, there is no mention of another one of its injunctions - number 93. "The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling." I wonder why that is?

(I also notice that the use of blessings for those unable to receive Holy Communion is also spoken of as perfectly "normal", although there is no mention of this practice in any rubric of the old or new missal or any of it's translations. I know that in many parishes, such "blessings" are given by the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. I've posted on this abuse before.)

The Letter says:

"The usual practice in our parishes is for the Sacred Host to be received on the hand, standing." (Usual where? I know of parishes in the Archdiocese of Westminster where it still "usual" for the faithful to kneel before Almighty God) and – when practical and prudent to do so reverently- for the Precious Blood to be received from the Chalice, also whilst standing. This practice of standing is now confirmed in the Liturgical Norm for England and Wales, just recently approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome.”

“This Norm together with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal also provide choices which each recipient is at liberty to make: to receive the Sacred Host in the hand or on the tongue, either standing or kneeling. Each way has its symbolic and spiritual meaning helping us to be profoundly aware of whom it is that we receive and the unity of faith we share.”

I can only wonder just what "symbolic and spiritual meaning" standing & receiving in the hand have? Seriously, what "spiritual meaning" can this actually have? Standing "symbolises" what exactly? Maybe Cardinal Ratzinger can enlighten us:

"..there is a story that comes from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, according to which the devil was compelled by God to show himself to a certain Abba Apollo. He looked black and ugly, with frighteningly thin limbs, but most strikingly, he had no knees. The inability to kneel is seen as the very essence of the diabolical.
(Spirit of the Liturgy)

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger also had this to say:

"Communion used to be received kneeling, which made perfectly good sense.The attitude of kneeling ought never to be allowed to disappear from the Church. It is the most impressive physical expression of Christian piety, by which, on one hand, we remain upright, looking out, gazing upon Him, but, on the other, we nonetheless bow down."

"'Man is never so great,' said John XXIII, 'as when he is kneeling'. And that is why I believe that this attitude, which was already one of the primitive forms of Old Testament prayer, is something essential for Christians." (God & the World)

And how can standing & receiving in the hand possibly help us "to be profoundly aware of whom it is that we receive and the unity of faith we share.”? Mgr Marini, papal Master of Ceremonies, has stated clearly that the reason the Holy Father only distributes to communicants kneeling and on the tongue is that this preference:

"better highlights the truth of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, helps the devotion of the faithful, and introduces [them] more easily to the sense of the mystery. These are aspects which, in our time, pastorally speaking, it is urgent to stress and recover."

I myself heard Mgr Marini reiterate this at the recent Adoratio Conference in Rome.

The Archbishop also states that "Each way of receiving Holy Communion expresses awe". Really? Is he serious? Awe? I've never seen awe, I've seen reverence, yes, but not awe. It is simply not an awesome thing to queue up and put out your hands!

In complete contrast to the words of the Archbishop of Westminster we find the Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith:

"I would recommend all faithful, including the religious, to receive Holy Communion reverently kneeling and on the tongue."
(Liturgy Circular, 7th October 2009)

His Eminence also addressed these words to his priests at the Convention on Sacred Liturgy on 2nd September 2010:

"Invite the faithful to receive Holy Communion kneeling, provide facilities for them to kneel at the Altar railings and help them to receive Holy Communion with reverence and devotion."

Cardinal Ranjith is, of course, not the only important voice calling out.

Interestingly, Cardinal Llovera, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, speaking to Life Site News on July 22, 2009, stated:

"It is the mission of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments to work to promote Pope Benedict's emphasis on the traditional practice of liturgy, such as reception of Communion on the tongue while kneeling."

Once again, it seems that we in England & Wales are 'behind the times', pushing an agenda that is long past its sell-by date! I know that the Latin language is considered obsolete in these lands, but two well-known phrases come to mind: Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia (where Peter is, there is the Church) and Sentire cum Ecclesia (to think with the mind of the Church). Perhaps if we clung to Peter and listened to his teaching, we would not be in the mess we are!


Sixupman said...

All kneel at The Holy Name, Manchester, majority appear to partake on the tongue, Mass is ad orientem, and, the Canon in Latin. Not to mention a TLM weekly and plentiful provision for Confession.

No wonder the church is popular and to think the Jesuits had it destined to be a conference centre.

Richard Collins said...

Thank you for this Father. I only hope someone in the CBEW reads your blog (as I am sure they do).

Anonymous said...

When Our Holy Father came to the United States, I tried getting this same point across: "Perhaps if we clung to Peter and listened to his teaching, we would not be in the mess we are!"

For whatever reason, no one seems much interested in doing this, and I do not know why, but it clearly would be a big help in straightening out our forty plus years crisis.


Father Ian O'Shea said...

I wonder, Father, if someone is trying to take advantage of the two meanings of the word,'norm'? To say, 'It is the norm in England and Wales to receive Holy Communion in the hand standing.' is, sadly, a matter of fact. Most Catholics do. But what they want the faithful to understand by it is: 'It is the RULE in England and Wales...', which it isn't. The people have the right to receive in the traditional manner. I suppose it will be up to us priests to make sure the faithful are aware of their right so that no one pulls the wool over their eyes. Father Ian O'Shea

Jacobi said...

We should not forget some basics here.

The priest's hands are consecrated and anointed to allow him to handled the Sacred Species and vessels.

As such, lay people, including extraordinary distributers of Holy Communion should not handle the chalice or the Host, and receiving by hand, self administration, is equally wrong.

torchofthefaith said...

Matthew 7:16

By their fruits you shall know them.

David O'Neill said...

Thank you Fr Simon for that, I too hope that our bishops read it.
I attended a Mass for the reception of the body of a priest friend some 2 years ago & rather than create a difficulty I approached the celebrant (the VG of Hexham & Newcastle) to be asked why I wished to receive Communion on the tongue. I used the fact that a priest's hands are specially anointed to touch the Body of Christ & his response was that he would 'bless' my hands. With that reaction from a senior cleric where are we going? To complete the picture he insisted that my wife & I go for Communion after everyone else.

Kitchener Waterloo Traditional Catholic said...

I wonder what percentage of clergy are of the same mind as the Pope?

Fr William Bauer said...

Receiving Holy Communion is so easy, even a 7-year old can do it. I believe I was 8 in 1949, when Sr. Mary Clemencia provided appropriate instruction to us, after which we went to our first Confession and the on Sunday to First Holy Communion.

Kneel. Open mouth with tongue slightly extended. Receive. Go back to pew and thank God for this wonderful gift.

Sounds easy to me.