Friday, May 08, 2020

Contempt for Communion and the Mechanization of Mass

Rube Goldberg, Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin (1931)
On May 6, I published at OnePeterFive an article entitled “Bishops Cannot Mandate Communion on the Hand or Forbid Communion on the Tongue.” Taking up and augmenting material first published at NLM on February 29 and March 2, my goal was to compile in one convenient place testimonies to the universal law of the Church about the right of the (properly disposed) faithful to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, which is and remains the norm.

To this article, some have responded: “That’s all well and good, but we know that the bishops will go ahead and do this anyway, whether they have the authority to do so or not.” Indeed, contrary to the policy of the Thomistic Institute recommended by the USCCB, many dioceses have already published such illegal policies that are being forced on clergy and laity in the name of “obedience.” (Our situation is bringing home ever more clearly the utter lack of clear and sound thinking about what the virtue of obedience is and what it is not. I recommended this superlative article on the subject, as well as this shorter piece.)

My reply here would be that there is a benefit to knowing that certain policies are illegal: as the Catholic Church has always taught, an unjust law does not bind in conscience. That all too many bishops have grown accustomed to a “lawless” mode of operation — one in which they simply do not care what the Vatican says, or Canon Law for that matter — is not exactly breaking news. Tradition-loving Catholics have been dealing with it for a good half-century now, especially after 1984 (Quattuor Abhinc Annos), 1988 (Ecclesia Dei Adflicta), 2007 (Summorum Pontificum and Con Grande Fiducia), and 2011 (Universae Ecclesiae).

A video has been making the rounds of a young canon lawyer attempting to argue that bishops do have the right, in emergencies, to suspend universal law. Typically such justifications will breezily invoke “the common good” in order to wipe out anything and everything that stands in the way. It is precisely this kind of behavior that has made the expression “the common good” sound fascist, as if we’re ants in an anthill, lining up to be sacrificed for the good of the colony. Fr. Zuhlsdorf refutes the canonist tidily, and then moves into larger questions.

I was not surprised to hear from a German friend that the bishops of Germany have already moved to prohibit communion on the tongue in every diocese of their country. She speculates that if it is not possible for believers to receive on the tongue at traditional Latin Masses, they will peel off in large numbers to the SSPX if things are handled differently there. She then shared with me stunning photos of different “safe methods” proposed for distributing communion that indicate massive disrespect for Our Lord and for His people, a complete loss of the sense of the sacred, no awareness of fittingness, an utter lack of common sense or supernatural faith.

The “Alice Through the Plexiglass” Method
The “Stop and Drop” Method
The “Stretch and Catch” Method
The “Tong-along” Method
Viewing these photos, one is reminded of recent remarks by Cardinal Sarah concerning a proposal in Italy for “hosts placed in plastic bags to be consecrated by the priests and left on shelves for people to take.” Cardinal Sarah said that our solutions cannot involve “desecration of the Eucharist.”
It’s absolutely not possible, God deserves respect, you can’t put him in a bag. I don’t know who thought this absurdity, but if it is true that the deprivation of the Eucharist is certainly a suffering, one cannot negotiate how to receive communion. We receive communion in a dignified way, worthy of God who comes to us. The Eucharist must be treated with faith, we cannot treat it as a trivial object, we are not in the supermarket. It’s totally insane.
The same impression is given by the photos from Germany. It would be far better not to distribute Our Lord in Communion than to subject this Most Holy Sacrament to such demeaning expedients. Never has it become more clear that the Novus Ordo is thought of like a “sacramental distribution machine”: the laity have to come and get their token, or perhaps make use of delivery with Amazon Prime. (It would be better to stay home and pray Prime.)

“Mechanization” (1982) by Kestutis
As Fr. Zuhlsdorf writes, Catholics more than ever must recover the sense that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the highest, noblest, most solemn and awesome act of the Church, offered by Christ to His Father, offered by us in union with Him to the Most Holy Trinity. It has intrinsic worth. But this truth only becomes apparent from its Tridentine form; it has otherwise been obliterated.

My German correspondent then writes:
If these are the only possible forms in Coronatide, then it is better to stick to spiritual communion. But there are also very clever Tradis or conservative Catholics who say: “According to episcopal decrees, the ban on oral communion applies only INSIDE the Holy Mass.” So during the Mass they make a spiritual communion while the priest communicates at the altar, and then five minutes after the final blessing, the same faithful proceed to the altar and receive Holy Communion on the tongue. 
This is what I would recommend for clergy whose consciences might trouble them. (I would also continue to recommend what I did in my article “Restoring Liturgical Tradition after the Pandemic.”)

Another friend wrote to me this heartbreaking account:
What are we laypeople to do when faced with a priest “obeying his bishop” who refuses to give Jesus on the tongue? It happened to me this morning, and I was devastated. A visiting priest refused to give me Jesus on my tongue. I said I cannot receive Him in my hand (it is anathema to me). He said okay, and I got up and walked away. I went back to the office and cried. I have never been refused before and it hurt me deeply. I understand he thinks he is just being obedient to the bishop, so here we are — two people caught between a rock and a hard place, and Jesus is held hostage in the Sacrament. What are we to do?
I admire the integrity of this Catholic. If we are convinced in conscience that communion in the hand is unworthy of Our Lord because of the regular loss of fragments (as demonstrated in this article), and because of the cumulative harm of disregarding the difference between clergy and laity, we will not, for any reason, participate in or support the practice of communion in the hand, since we would be guilty of consequentialism: seeking a good end by a bad means. We stand to receive more graces from Our Lord by practicing a selfless zeal for His divine honor than if we compromise out of a self-centered desire to get a sacrament.

Flannery O’Connor related an incident that once occurred in a conversation she was having:
Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.
We might turn this around into a positive rule: “If it’s more than just a symbol — if it is Our Lord Himself — to Glory with It!” Let us surround the Sanctissimum with glory, laud, and honor. Let us treat it with the same affection with which Our Lady treated Our Lord at His nativity, the tender love shown by the women who washed His feet and wiped His bloody face, the humble adoration with which St. Thomas greeted Him after the resurrection, the homage paid to the King by innumerable hosts of angels and saints in His eternal court of heaven! No finite good, no finite evil should be taken as an excuse for silly, slipshod, sacrilegious liturgy.

Nevertheless, in answer to my correspondent’s question, there are several things we can do.

1. We can offer up to the Lord our suffering at being deprived of our canonical right as faithful, and strive to make fervent spiritual communions until such time as the unreasonable policies are lifted.

2. We can, meanwhile, write respectful letters to our local ordinary and to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican, explaining (as briefly as possible) why we wish to exercise our right to receive on the tongue. It is valuable to point out that there is no evidence whatsoever that, properly administered (that means to kneeling faithful, whose mouths are at a convenient height), communion on the tongue is any less sanitary than communion in the hand; there is good reason to believe that the opposite may be true. No need to go into a long discourse about the numerous evils unleashed by communion in the hand.

3. We can attend liturgy elsewhere, at a parish or chapel where communion is distributed reverently. Eastern rite liturgies may be good options, again depending on what they decide to do, since they are independent of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

4. We can, as stated above, make arrangements with good clergy who are willing to give us Holy Communion outside of Mass in the traditional manner.

Patience, perseverance, and politeness are going to be our trio of weapons for getting through this enormously challenging time. There will be setbacks, but we must never compromise on the worthy treatment of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. As Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament (1614–1698) writes in The Mystery of Incomprehensible Love:
Can there be anything greater [than the Holy Eucharist]? Has Our Lord not extended His love even to excess? Ah! If we had the faith to believe it, and if we would think about how we receive a God of infinite majesty as He truly is, would we not be overwhelmed with reverence?
Let that double question sink in.

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