Monday, July 28, 2008

The Manner of Receiving Holy Eucharist: Some Considerations

The question of how communion is received has been very much in mind recently, between the Pope's new custom of his communicants receiving kneeling and upon the tongue, and with the recent words, and current United States visit, of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who has likewise spoken on this subject. Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, the Secretary to the CDW, has also raised this matter in the past short while.

These, in combination with the recent scandals surrounding the actions of an American University Professor, show that the time is ripe for a re-consideration of the indult which was granted for the reception of communion on the hand.

Now, the protest might go out that the aforementioned scandal has nothing to do with communion on the hand. There is a sense in which this is both correct and incorrect. It it true that there is nothing inherent to the practice of receiving communion in the hand which necessitates this kind of abuse. This is similar to the fact that there is nothing inherent to a Mass being offered versus populum that necessitates a skewed orientation within the liturgy, or the manifestation of "the personality priest". Similarly, it is also true that communion received upon the tongue is not an absolute safeguard against sacrilegious acts, for certainly these things have occured throughout the course of our history.

However, there is something circumstantial and prudential which needs to enter in here. Mass offered versus populum, while it doesn't necessitate of problematic orientation or the manifestation of the personality priest, are circumstances which do make it easier for those problems to manifest themselves. Likewise, communion offered standing and upon the hand are two circumstances that do lend themselves to the easier ability to "smuggle" out a consecrated host from Mass, by comparison with receiving it mandatorily upon the tongue while kneeling.

When receiving standing and upon the hand, one can quite quickly "get away" from the attention of the priest (assuming he is even being attentive, and it is easier to be less attentive in this mode) by turning away from the priest and pretending to receive as one walks away -- one will note that in many cases, many people do receive this way anyway. Even standing in front of the priest, with the host in one's hand, it wouldn't be terribly difficult to pretend to put it to one's mouth, going through the motions without actually receiving.

Compare this to the situation of receiving while kneeling and upon the tongue. First off, the host will be placed in one's mouth without question and it will be quite evident if the person is lingering in the matter. Second, as they are kneeling, this would result in the fact that even if they wish to remove the host from their mouth, they are not liable to be able to do it while kneeling there, either because they are at a kneeler before the priest who is watching and waiting for them to begin to consume it and then arise, or because, if they are at an altar rail, the activity of removing the host would be quite likely be noted by their communicant neighbours. This means they must therefore wait to stand up and leave, at which point, it is still going to be far less discreet to actually remove the host from their mouth and also, the host will have likely in that time softened to some extent, making it yet more difficult still to accomplish their act.

Evidently, someone determined might yet find a way around these obstacles it is true, but not without greater contrivance and effort, and also greater possibility of being noticed.

By comparison, the circumstances of communion on the hand present fewer obstacles to Eucharistic abuses insofar as they make it easier and far more comfortable to steal a consecrated host -- or, for that matter, to simply take it and drop it.

Evidently, any obstacles, difficulties or uncomfortable situations are likely to discourage the more "casual" abuser, and also prevent other abusers from accomplishing their goals. The question should rightly be asked, if the Professor in question had been required to go through all these hoops and awkward circumstances, would he have proceeded at all, let alone succeeded, or would he instead have chosen to simply do something else to make his sorry statement?

Of course, all of these are merely the prudential and circumstantial considerations of someone taking a host without consuming it. None of this considers the historical reasons this developed, the matter of accidents with regard to the Holy Eucharist, nor the issue of reverence related to how we receive, nor the catechetical nature of receiving kneeling and upon the tongue.

Indeed, kneeling is something which we culturally understand. The idea of kneeling for prayer as we do throughout the liturgy, or as children have done for generations before bed -- even if they do not do so so much anymore -- is rather like the colour black for mourning in the West; it is culturally imprinted and a recognizable sign. In the case of the kneeling, it is a sign of reverence, adoration and submission. On the one hand, it puts us into the proper disposition for the liturgy generally -- which is first and foremost divine worship -- and second of all, it puts us in the proper disposition for the reception of holy communion. Actions do matter and they do have an effect upon our interior disposition.

Likewise, not touching the sacred species similarly is a powerful tool for teaching about the need for reverence toward that which is sacred. It not only is a powerful catechetic for the real presence, it also bespeaks something about the nature of the priesthood; he who confects and touches the Eucharist with his hands.

There are many arguments, theological, catechetical, historical and prudential for the mandated restoration of the traditional manner of reception of communion in the Latin rite. Given the evident rise in the lack of understanding of the Eucharist on the part of even Catholic people, given the lack of respect and care toward the Eucharist that can occur within our churches, given the general lack of reverence indicative within the liturgy, our churches and society generally, and given the evident rise within society of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic activities with respect to the sacred, for all these reasons it is to be hoped that now, especially in the light of these very public sacrileges, not just by adolescent pranksters or disgruntled youth, but by a secular academic professional (which speaks quite seriously to the societal persecution and mockery of the Faith) that the Holy See will give serious study and reconsideration of the indult to receive communion upon the hand and look at the re-institution of the traditional practice, both to help protect against these abuses, and also to help teach and restore a greater sense of reverence toward the Holy Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

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