28 January 2014

Communion on the Tongue

There is a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance regarding the common practice of Communion in the hand and the not so common practice of Communion on the tongue. Many believe that anyone that can receive Communion can choose either modes of receiving Our Lord. Some believe that Communion in the hand is the preferred mode of reception and that Communion on the tongue is a privilege given to those that do not understand the preferred mode; and, even a privilege that can be denied.

It is true that receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist is a privilege and not a right. However, if properly disposed and not prohibited by law, sacred ministers cannot deny the Eucharist to those who seek It at appropriate times (cf. CCL 843 §1). The question is: Can a sacred minister deny the Eucharist to someone,  who would otherwise be able to receive, solely on the communicants chosen mode of reception?

According to Redemptionis Sacramentum, “it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing.” Redemptionis Sacramentum goes on to say, “Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her.”

When the second quote from Redemptionis Sacramentum is taken into consideration with section 1 of canon 843 of the Code of Canon Law, it is obvious that a sacred minister cannot deny the Eucharist to those who wish to receive on the tongue if they are properly disposed, not prohibited by law and wish to receive at an appropriate time. Communion in the hand, on the other hand, is the exception that requires further stipulations.

What are these further stipulations required for one to receive Communion in the hand? In short, a bishops conference must apply for an indult to allow Communion in the hand. Once Rome has granted this indult, each bishop must decide if this indult can be exercised in his diocese. Once this has happened, as Redemptionis Sacramentum goes on to say, “special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.” Thus, even when an indult can be exercised to receive Communion in the hand in a particular diocese, a sacred minister does have the authority to deny the exercising of this indult if there is a danger of sacrilege. If this danger is of a large scale, the pastor of a parish can forbid the exercising of this indult for the entire parish.

It is interesting that one could not exercise this indult when receiving Communion from Pope Benedict. It is even more interesting that no one can exercise this indult at a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. But… What is an indult?

An indult is a permission, or privilege, granted by a legitimate Church authority, in this case, the Holy See (i.e. the pope), for an exception from a particular norm of Church law. Thus, Communion on the tongue is a norm of Church law and Communion in the hand is an exception from this norm of Church law.

Communion in the hand would be the best known indult if everybody actually knew it was an indult. The second best known indult would be the one granted by Pope Blessed John Paul II in 1984 that authorized the celebration of the Tridentine Mass (i.e. the 1962 Missal and rubrics). (The indult for Communion in the hand is for the Novus Ordo Mass (i.e. the 1970 Missal and rubrics); thus, it does not apply to the Tridentine Mass.) The pope was hoping the world’s bishops would be generous in allowing this indult to be exercised in their dioceses, as evident in his 1988 motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei, which didn’t really happen. Thus, Pope Benedict issued his motu proprio in 2007, Summorum Pontificum, which allowed the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated regardless of the local bishops permission.

It could be argued, given the above example of an indult becoming a norm, that Communion in the hand could become a norm. An argument could be made; however, it is very doubtful that this could be possible. The 1962 Missal was never abrogated, so some question if the indult was ever really necessary. As well, the Tridentine Mass has many centuries of tradition, which is based on many centuries of tradition before that, whereas Communion in the hand, as it is now commonly practiced, has no history of tradition until the granting of indults by Pope Venerable Paul VI and his successors.

Some wonder why Paul VI and his successors granted these indults. Some even question the validity of his papacy on this and other issues. Such questioning demonstrates a lack of faith in the Doctrine of Papal Primacy and the apostolic nature of the Church as professed in the Creed. We can speculate, but it will likely be a few centuries before the benefits of these and other decisions is clearly demonstrated. Pope St. Peter did not excommunicate those that celebrated what is referred to as the Love Fest, which St. Paul so clearly demonstrated in his writings was a liturgical abuse. In the events that led to the granting of the indults for Communion in the hand, Paul VI also referred to Communion in the hand as an abuse in a handwritten memorandum in which he proposed the outline for Memoriale Domini.

Communion in the hand does have some history of tradition, but it was eventually abrogated due to excessive (and time consuming) reverence, which can be called a liturgical abuse, only in the opposite direction of the present abuse. There is even a question as to if the Twelve Apostles received in the hand or on the tongue from Christ. One must remember, however, that the Last Supper was not just the institution of the Eucharist, but also the institution of the Priesthood. Thus, it is a moot point whether or not the Apostles received in the hand since that is the normal way for bishops to receive.

To my knowledge, although someone may have done this in the last half of a century, there are no depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was immaculately conceived, receiving Her Son in the Eucharist in any other way than on the tongue.

Communion in the hand, as is commonly practice in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church today (i.e. by Roman Catholics), does have a history of tradition among heretical churches. The way most Roman Catholics receive Communion in the hand is the same way communion is practiced among sects that deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In fact, the very reason they receive in the hand is to deny the Doctrine of the Real Presence and the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.

There are some heretical sects that believe in a “Real Presence” of Christ, but deny the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, that continue to receive only on the tongue. An argument against the Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation is the fact that most Roman Catholics receive Communion in the hand, which, for these heretical sects, is a denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Communion of Roman Catholics.

This same argument is used by some members of the Orthodox Churches, which are in sacramental union with the Catholic Churches. However, these members of the Orthodox Churches use Communion in the hand to demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Church is not in sacramental union with the Orthodox Churches because Communion in the hand seems to demonstrate a denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Hence, Communion in the hand is an impediment towards ecumenicism (i.e. communion or union between East and West, or as Pope John Paul II would say, the two lungs of the Church).

There is no virtuous reason for Catholics to receive Communion in the hand as those that suggest it as the preferred mode would be opposed to the excessive reverence necessary for this mode of reception. Additionally, no one can legally deny any Catholic who is free of any impediment to receive the Eucharist, reception of Communion on the tongue if one desires that mode of reception so as to avoid the liturgical abuse.