Friday, April 18, 2008

A significant milestone

It looks as if the inroads made upon our holy liturgy by insurgents and liturgical terrorists are now beginning to be rolled back. Melancholicus is cheered and encouraged by this development, reported by Catholic World News. It is merely a beginning, but we must remember that a man who wishes to remove a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. Perhaps in the course of time, other bishops will follow Cardinal Cipriani’s lead.

Peruvian cardinal stops Communion in the hand

Lima, Apr. 17, 2008 ( - A Peruvian cardinal reports that he has banned the practice of receiving Communion in the hand.

Speaking to the Italian web site Petrus, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima, Peru, said that in order to guard against abuses, "the best way to administer Communion is on the tongue."

Cardinal Cipriani told Petrus that he took the step to halt Communion in the hand in order to promote greater reverence for the Eucharist. In some cases, he said, the practice had led to gross abuses. More generally he cited the "relaxed attitude of many priests" as a cause for the decline in reverence.

Up until the decade in which both Church and society fell apart (that’s the 1960s for those of you who haven’t been paying attention), the universal practice of the Catholic Church in the Latin rite was to administer the host to all communicants on the tongue. The only ones who were permitted to handle the sacred species were those whose hands had been consecrated specifically for that purpose, namely priests and bishops. The faithful did not receive holy communion in their hands, nor at this time were there any such thing as “extraordinary ministers” of holy communion, which latter was a radical novelty without historical precedent. Needless to say, the practice of lay-led “communion services” (which do not satisfy the canonical obligation of hearing Mass, and at which no Catholic is ever obliged to assist) was also unknown.

The proponents of such things will appeal to the practice of the early Church in order to justify their position. It is true that in the first centuries, the faithful did receive holy communion in the hand. But it is also true that this practice had died out everywhere by the sixth century, owing to the same reasons for which Cardinal Cipriani has now banned it in his diocese. Thereafter, holy communion was administered to the faithful on the tongue, and this remained the norm until the Reformation when, animated with zeal for overthrowing the doctrine of transubstantiation, the reformers insisted that the laity should take the consecrated elements into their hands.

In the turbulent anything-goes atmosphere of the post-conciliar Church, the abuse of communion in the hand sprang up as an aping of protestant practice in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. The abuse spread quickly internationally, necessitating an intervention on the part of the Holy See, as it flagrantly violated liturgical norms. Of course by the time the abuse was addressed, it was too widespread to offer much hope for its swift and easy suppression. Despite the fact that most of the bishops consulted on this question were against changing the discipline of the Church in this regard, Pope Paul VI in the instruction Memoriale Domini, while appealing for the traditional practice to be maintained, infamously granted permission for communion to be given to the faithful in the hand.

In this manner, a questionable practice that began as an act of disobedience was accommodated within the life of the Church by being made a legitimate option, whereafter it rapidly became the norm in a striking illustration of how what is optional today may become obligatory tomorrow. Communion in the hand came late to Ireland, and when he made his first holy communion in 1979, Melancholicus received on the tongue. But by the late 1980s, the traditional manner of receiving holy communion had died out almost entirely.

As a young man, Melancholicus used to receive holy communion in his hand, and he did so routinely until a certain day in February in the year 2000. He was attending a Mass celebrated in a parish not far from where he lived at the time, and that parish was given to the use of big, thick, crumbly hosts.

After receiving holy communion, he was startled to notice two small particles on the palm of his left hand. It is lucky that he noticed them when he did, as they would have been profanely lost otherwise and Melancholicus would have been guilty of sacrilege, at least materially if not quite formally.

For each particle of the sacred host, however small, is just as much the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus as is the host in its entirety; hence the extensive array of precautions traditionally resorted to by the Church to safeguard the Blessed Sacrament from the danger of sacrilege.

With the advent of communion in the hand, however, most of these precautions became redundant, and the Blessed Sacrament is now exposed to sacrileges on a daily basis that could never have occurred before Paul VI so ill-advisedly granted permission for unconsecrated fingers to touch the host. On how many occasions have hosts been found on the floors of churches, under pews, between the pages of missalettes, or even in garbage cans? The practice of communion in the hand also greatly facilitates the efforts of dubious persons to spirit away the sacred host for nefarious purposes.

In February 2000, Melancholicus had not yet discovered the traditional Latin liturgy, in which communion is (or at least should be) always given on the tongue. But that Mass in Bray was the last occasion on which he handled the sacred host, and since then has insisted on receiving on the tongue, and that only from the hands of a priest.

For this reason, attendance at the rite commonly called Novus Ordo is a double headache. Not only does the practice of standing communion make receiving on the tongue more difficult than it might otherwise be, but one must choose one’s pew with care in order to have ready access to the priest at communion time without having to wade through the inevitable morass of “extraordinary ministers”.

Melancholicus does not like to observe the faithful receiving holy communion at the Novus Ordo. Nine out of ten communicants in Ireland receive in the hand. In the church he attended during his visit to Tacoma (a conservative parish whose pastor has clearly been influenced liturgically by EWTN) almost nobody received on the tongue. Very little care seems to be taken with the host by the majority of communicants, and in Ireland very little reverence is shown; in Melancholicus’ local parish, nobody bows or genuflects before receiving save for one pious lady who is always the last person in the church to communicate.

But once again we must not fall into the error of blaming the laity for an abuse instigated and promoted by the clergy. Cardinal Cipriani cited the “relaxed attitude of many priests” as the cause of much irreverence among the laity, and Melancholicus would concur with his eminence’s diagnosis. So many clergy seem to go out of their way to celebrate the Novus Ordo in as casual, relaxed and informal a manner as possible. On frequent occasions, Melancholicus has witnessed such celebrations that were downright sloppy and careless. Yet the clergy wonder why their parishioners no longer go to church.


The Bovina Bloviator said...

[O]ne must choose one’s pew with care in order to have ready access to the priest at communion time without having to wade through the inevitable morass of “extraordinary ministers.”

Quite so but when I do choose wrongly, I have no qualms wading through that "inevitable morass" to get to the priest. Moreover, after receiving I march straight pass the woman (and it's always a woman) chalice bearer; if I don't see her, she's not there.

Call it the zeal (or arrogance) of a convert but in no Anglo-Catholic parish did I ever have to put up with that nonsense and see no reason to do so now, having journeyed to the One True Fold.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Cardinal C gets it. The early Church did have Communion in the Hand, but along with that, the priests were being killed left and right, better to have the bread of Life, than to not have it (since priests can only offer the sacrifice)...I pray for the day that Communion in the Hand is banished in the Latin Church, Lima, San Luis, Argentina, most diocese in Nigeria are ahead of the curve.