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April 2009

A Pernicious Practice


“Who, the day before He suffered, took bread into His holy and venerable hands.... He blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples....”


On Holy Thursday, during the first Mass, prevailing Jewish custom at such gatherings probably saw Our Lord place His Body and Blood, under the appearance of the consecrated bread, in the mouths of His disciples. Thus, apparently, was the manner in which He “gave” it to them.

Pointing out this socio-cultural practice does not go down well with the many upstanding Catholics who receive Communion in the hand and reference the Last Supper as justification. Yet even were they right in claiming that Our Lord “gave” the bread to His disciples by handing it to them, they are still not vindicated, since, rather obviously (but inconveniently), the disciples were priests and bishops, with consecrated hands.

Finding themselves snookered, Communion in the hand apologists will then clutch at other ancient straws (condemned by Pius XII as “archeologism”) to defend a practice which has wrought a dreadful toll on hearts, minds and souls these past forty years. While decrying widespread unbelief in the Real Presence, they fail to see how their own bad example helps to fuel that unbelief and its diabolic fallout - the Eucharistic “outrages, sacrileges and indifference” for which the Angel of Fatima sought reparation.

Mercifully, though, positive noises are now emanating from Rome on a regular basis. The latest official to publicly praise Communion on the tongue as a manifest recognition of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ is the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera. During a telephone interview published in a Madrid newspaper last December, he had this to say:

What does it mean to receive Communion in the mouth? What does it mean to kneel before the Most Holy Sacrament? What does it mean to kneel during the consecration at Mass?

It means adoration, it means recognising the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; it means respect and an attitude of faith of a man who prostrates before God because he knows that everything comes from Him, and we feel speechless, dumbfounded, before the wondrousness, His goodness, and His mercy.

That is why it is not the same to place the hand, and to receive Communion in any fashion, than doing it in a respectful way.

It is not the same to receive Communion kneeling or standing up, because all these signs indicate a profound meaning. What we have to grasp is that profound attitude of the man who prostrates himself before God, and that is what the Pope wants.

This continues a very welcome Vatican trend which we dare to hope will finally consign institutionalised Eucharistic appropriation/abuse by the laity to its rightful place: as one more aberrant footnote in ecclesiastical history.

And yet the Cardinal’s fine statement only touches the surface. There are still deeper considerations and consequences.

Yes, the corrosive familiarity of Communion in the hand has bred contempt for the sacred, giving rise to a casual impiety and lack of awe and adoration in our churches. It is also at the heart of resistance to the restoration of the Old Mass and tradition in general.

Even more elementally, however, in union with the myriad lay sacramental/pastoral roles it engendered, this pernicious practice has destroyed the unique stewardship of the Blessed Sacrament hitherto reserved for priests of Jesus Christ. In so doing, by rupturing the innate relationship between the Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist established by Our Lord on Holy Thursday, it has devastated priestly identity, savaging vocations in the process and shaking the very foundations of the Church.

So, to all Communion in the hand Communicants of good will, it is time to accept your unwitting complicity in this meltdown; to humbly take off the blinkers and take on board the compelling arguments in the ensuing article. A profound exposition which first appeared in The Latin Mass magazine ten years ago, it remains essential reading for serious Catholics, especially in this Easter season when the intrinsic ties between the Priesthood, the Eucharist and the Resurrected Christ are plainly set before us.




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