The Diocese of Fargo is one of the US dioceses which has improperly banned Communion on the tongue, in the context of the Wuhan Corona Lockdown Virus. This ultra vires policy flies in the face of Redemptionis Sacramentum 92.
Fargo also violated Summorum Pontificum in applying this unfortunate ban to the Traditional Latin Mass, wherein it is not permitted to distribute Communion in the hand.
Responding to challenges to this power play, Bp. John Thomas Folda, responded that:
Some have said that in conscience they cannot receive Communion in the hand, and so will not receive the Eucharist at all if they cannot receive it on the tongue. This seems to elevate a personal preference or stance to a higher level than the value of Holy Communion itself. There is nothing inherently irreverent in receiving Communion in the hand; the highest authority of the Church allows it. If one’s conscience places a higher value on a physical posture or manner of receiving than on the Sacrament itself, then I would conclude that the conscience is erroneous and has been improperly formed. It would make no sense to deprive oneself of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, merely because Communion cannot be received on the tongue.
At first glance, this dismissive attitude about the sensibilities of the faithful about their reverence for the Eucharist is a bit alarming.
However, there is a lot more that is troubling in this argument.
Let’s first review a few things.
The Holy See has permitted that people may alternatively receive Communion on the hand. Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue is the rule, and reception on the hand is an exception to the rule. Communion on the hand is allowed by an indult. The norm for the Latin Church is Communion on the tongue.
The indult for Communion on the hand was granted because of widespread violation of the law.
The excuse for the violation of the law about proper distribution was founded on an erroneous archaeologism. Claims have been made for years that the original way that Communion was received was directly in the hand. However, it cannot be established that this was a universal practice in the Early Church. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386) is often quoted as writing: “placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King … receive the body of Christ.” However, this seems not to be an authentic text of Cyril. Also, reading on, the text describes dipping one’s fingers in the Precious Blood to touch one’s eyes, etc., and, as it were, consecrate the senses. A good idea?
St. Basil of Caesarea (+379) wrote about taking the Eucharist with the hand to others in time of persecution. We are today in the still relatively calm West in a time of persecution, but not like the persecutions of yore. And do you think they received the Host in their hands or in a container or cloth?
Various ancient Councils and synods strictly inveighed against Communion on the hand, threatening excommunication. Why? Because our understanding of what the Eucharist is matured over time. With that greater understanding came greater discipline. Later writers were able to put into words that greater understanding, also with rigorous tools of reason.
St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) argues in his Summa Theologiae (III, q. 82, a. 3) against lay people touching the Eucharist with their hands, saying that:
On the contrary, It is written (De Consecr., dist. 12): “It has come to our knowledge that some priests deliver the Lord’s body to a layman or to a woman to carry it to the sick: The synod therefore forbids such presumption to continue; and let the priest himself communicate the sick.”
I answer that, […] Thirdly, because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this sacrament. Hence it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency.
“Out of reverence towards the sacrament….”Bp. Folda wrote: “There is nothing inherently irreverent in receiving Communion in the hand; the highest authority of the Church allows it.”
Is Folda’s argument good? Popes, the highest authority, allow this, therefore it must be okay? The highest authority of the Church, Pope Paul IV, created the Roman ghetto for Jews. Pope Stephen had his predecessor Formosus exhumed, tried, hacked up and thrown in the Tiber. One could multiply instances of really bad decisions which were allowed, and even done, by Popes. That argument is not very convincing.
Instead, I think I will go with both Aquinas and the perennial liturgical practice of the Church which has since time immemorial consecrated the hands of priests with chrism precisely because they were to be, thereby, “proportioned” to handle the most sacred things, sacred vessels and the Eucharist. The hands of lay people are not consecrated with chrism.
Moreover, if one were to respond that, today, lay people can handle sacred vessels and distribute the Eucharist, one could respond that over the last few decades we haven’t seen reverence for the Eucharist increase or even hold steady. One factor of many, for sure, but certainly a factor. Anything that so obviously diminishes a sense of the sacred cannot be good for our Catholic identity.
In his Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger writes about gesture and posture. He underscores how important different gestures are, for they embody the “psychosomatic unity of man”. When you try to disembody this or that liturgical gesture, “the act of worship evaporates”. Our gestures and postures are not indifferent, neutral, interchangeable.
No. It is not true that there is no difference between reception of Communion on the tongue and reception on the hand. There is a world of difference. As I have been saying for a long time: We ARE our rites!
The same Pope Ratzinger distributed Communion on the tongue.
By the way, in Spirit of the Liturgy you must read carefully the section about kneeling, prostratio. Ratzinger reminds us that the inability to kneel is characteristic of the diabolical and that the Devil was often depicted as having no knees.
Let’s say that you, having pondered the sacrilege of scattering of particles of Hosts and having considered that Councils banned Communion on the hand, Aquinas explained that only the priest should touch the Sacrament (and the deacon when asked by the bishop) and that Communion on the tongue remains the Church’s preferred way of reception, want to receive only on tongue. Bp. Folda thinks that you have a poorly formed conscience. And you, having a poorly formed conscience, can’t decide for yourself according to your conscience and common sense and the Church’s clearly written law. He will decide for you, and everyone else, by banning the Church’s preferred method of distribution.
There is strong evidence that Holy Church has for well-over a thousand years considered Communion in the hand to be irreverent.
Given that fact it makes sense – pace Folda – that people might choose not receive Communion at all if the way it is distributed is (contra legem) only on the hand.
Finally, I would add as I did elsewhere, that sometimes it seems that bishops may have a dislike for practice X or Y, but they have stronger feelings about the people who desire those practices.