Wherein Fr. Z rants about repression of Communion on the tongue and about a “new normal”.

I saw a video recently of a young canonist whom I am pretty sure is a good and solid guy, well-versed.  He makes an argument that, yes, a bishop can on his own authority, because of urgent need, override the Church’s universal legislation in Redemptionis Sacramentum 92, which in clear terms states that the faithful have the right always to receive directly on the tongue.   The young canonist’s argument rests on something St. Thomas Aquinas offers regarding laws in time of pressing need.   If higher authority cannot be reached to make a decision in an urgent matter, local authority can legitimately override the law for the common good.    Therefore, a local bishop can forbid people from receiving Communion on the tongue because we are in a time of crisis.  Why?  Because, surely, the Holy See can’t be reached in a reasonable time frame and we need an answer now.

The problem with this is that, even respecting the fact that yet today the post is still considered normal means of correspondence, the local bishop doesn’t have to send a scroll with a friar on a donkey across the mountains to Rome.  The bishop can also send a fax or an email or pick up the phone.  And there’s FedEx.  When they want to have it, local bishops do have fast access to higher authority.  They are not so hemmed in by crisis circumstances that they can take it upon themselves to overturn universal legislation.

Also, it is by no means well-established that Communion on the tongue is riskier than Communion on the hand.  It is probably the other way around.

I sense in the background a brief dialogue:

BISHOP: I want to forbid Communion on the tongue. Figure out a way.
YOUNG, GAINFULLY EMPLOYED CANONIST: My feet are like wings, Sahib!

I respect the young canonist’s agile efforts.  I’m not buying.

Somewhere along the line, people in charge have hitched their minds to two notions.  First, that there is less contact between people via Communion on the hand, that it is less risky – which is false.  Second, that Communion and Mass are virtually to be equated.

In ordinary circumstances it is a wonderful thing that people can regularly, even frequently, receive Eucharistic Communion.

In years past, in fact for a very long time, Communion was not frequent.  Somehow, great saints, virtually all the saints whom we venerate today, were raised up and attained to holiness or martyrdom.  Generation after generation lived good Catholic lives by attending Holy Mass and through devotions.  They didn’t always receive Communion at Mass.

Communion was infrequent enough that the Church placed an obligation on the faithful to receive the Eucharist once a year, which usually also meant making a good confession.

Early in the 20th century, St. Pius X promoted reception of Holy Communion both earlier in life and more frequently.   Some 7 decades later, the 1983 Code of Canon Law laid down that people could receive Holy Communion, not only frequently, but twice a day, provided that the second time was during Mass.

Moreover, for decades now, the importance – heck, even the existence of – the Sacrament of Penance has been downplayed.  There has been incomplete or mollescent and even malfeasant catechesis.  Furthermore, liturgical practice, including the priest’s own ars celebrandi has been so loose, so careless, that it is hardly a surprise that studies now show that a minority of self-professed Catholics know or believe what the Church teaches.   Why and how could they?

At the same time, the “horizontal” (immanent) dimension of liturgical worship has been stressed to the point that the “vertical” (transcendent) dimension has been overthrown.  The importance of Sunday as the Lord’s day has been obliterated by Saturday anticipated Masses, not to mention sports mania.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – now broadly referred to merely as “liturgy” or “Eucharist” – has been reduced by erosion from many vectors to the gathering where you feel good, with a vague notion of being pleasantly spiritual, normally without any strong doctrinal component to the little talk the priest gives (such a nice guy), after which they put the white thing in your hands and you sing a song before leaving (a little early if possible).

We arrive at a major problem driving various policies right now during this coronavirus challenge, now more and more it seems a “planned-demic”.

Mass is now so equated with getting the white thing that there is a general sense that, if there is Mass, there has to be distribution of Communion and everyone must receive Communion.

Even for those who really do have a good understanding and devotion and are in the state of grace, there is an expectation not that Communion can be received, but that Communion must be received.  Otherwise, somehow, it isn’t Mass, or it is somewhat diminished as a Mass without either lay participation or reception of Communion.

I am wholly on board with the Council of Trent’s admonition that people should be able to receive the Eucharist frequently in way that is both sacramental and spiritual.  However, Communion is not obligatory at Mass.

Another result of this “Communion by all at every Mass” phenomenon is that, Sunday after Sunday, the Body of Christ the Church must absorb millions of body blows: sacrilegious Communions, a grave offence against the Eucharistic Lord and one which Paul describes to the Corinthians as a reason why there were people both ill and dying in their community.

Am I alone in desiring that bishops and priests resist the urge to “get back to normal”?

In the sense of Tolkien’s eucatastrophe one of the advantages to this lockdown has been millions fewer sacrilegious Communions.   I cannot help but think that that may produce benefits for our Catholic identity as churches open up again.

If only we can establish a new normal in regard to reception of the Eucharist.  For example, in the state of grace.

We mustn’t go back to what we were doing before.  If we do, I fear that we will have fallen into the Enemy’s trap.

The fact that when the Lord healed the sick, he often also exorcised, and the fact that Paul connected not discerning the Body and Blood of the Lord with physical illness and death, both lead me to believe that there is in this battle against the invisible virus enemy also a spiritual battle with the demonic.

Who knows, perhaps this cursed virus is also literally a cursed virus.

This is why I now, with permission of the bishop and his positive will, recite the Exorcism Against Satan And Apostate Angels in Chapter 3 of Title XI in the Rituale Romanum.  This is the “Long St. Michael Prayer”.  I am informed by exorcists I trust that priests can say it privately.  For public use priests must have the bishop’s permission.  And it is more effective with the bishop’s authority behind it.

We priests and bishops have to fight this battle as priests and bishops and NOT as if we were government mandarins or officials of the CDC.   WE AREN’T.   We must do what only we can do and that is on the spiritual plane.

For this reason, I make some suggestions.

When Masses open back up more widely again, dear readers, even if Communion is available, stop receiving on the hand.  I think this practice has done untold damage to our Catholic identity, our collective understanding of and reverence for the Eucharist, and has produced unfathomably numerous sacrileges through the taking of Hosts or the brushing off of particles on to the floor, etc.

If you are in a place where priests have been either innocently convinced or perhaps intimidated into denying Communion on the tongue, make a spiritual Communion until this madness passes.

Can we work to bring back publicly celebrated devotions?   

For example, how about establishing on a day of the week the recitation of the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, with Benediction, and perhaps followed by confessions?   How about more regular Stations or Rosary?  Sunday Vespers with Exposition, a brief sermon, and Benediction?  Processions?  There are a lot of people out there who do know that they should not be receiving Communion, either this week or, because of life circumstances, at all.  But they want to participate in the life of the Church too.   They can do so in these good devotions, which could be beneficial in getting themselves squared away.  However, if all they have at a parish is Mass, then the pressure to receive Communion, especially when 99.5% of the people always go, in row by row order, the temptation to go forward will be very strong.

Everyone… bottom line: Can we please work for a truly new and better normal and not go back to the way things were?

Please?

And…

GO TO CONFESSION.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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15 Responses to Wherein Fr. Z rants about repression of Communion on the tongue and about a “new normal”.

  1. Matt R says:

    I would also recommend the singing of Vespers, even recto tono, and Compline before and after periods of prayer and confessions.

    I’d also like for the sermon to proceed Vespers, as it was in the pre-Pian days. This would allow for Benediction to proceed more seamlessly, and preaching in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed is not envisioned by the traditional rubrics…

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Z., so many times you give us such great instruction on Catholicism, and this is a huge help to me and I’m sure, many other Catholics. What you write here is a step up from even that. There are a number of points here that are so true and important, you can’t help but cheer them in your mind as you read them. For some reason it’s kind of hard for me to express this, but you are a gift, and I don’t want to miss my opportunity to tell you that and thank you. God will reward you for your zeal and fidelity. May He do so in this life and the next, amen.
    I hope someday you write a book or three.

  3. Zephyrinus says:

    Dear Fr Z.
    Thank you for this storming Post. I agree 100% with all that you have commented upon
    Bring back Profundity, Solemnity, Devotion, instead of waving at everybody, guitars, and lots of “tunes”.
    In addition, I received, today, the marvellous book,”The Traditional Mass”, by Michael (Who Is Like God ?) Fiedrowicz. I ordered it from your AMAZON LINK on the Right-Hand Side-Bar. Thank You, Fr.
    in Domino.

  4. Antonin says:

    Father isn’t this paragraph a bit like archeologism – the kind the Reformers used to justify their practices and critique what they saw as excessive Eucharistic piety. [No. It’s nothing like that.]

    In years past, in fact for a very long time, Communion was not frequent. Somehow, great saints, virtually all the saints whom we venerate today, were raised up and attained to holiness or martyrdom. Generation after generation lived good Catholic lives by attending Holy Mass and through devotions. They didn’t always receive Communion at Mass.

    The 12th and 13th century saw a significant rise in Eucharistic piety driven by lay, female mystical orders such as the Beguines. This devotion led to the feast of Corpus Christi and the tradition of Eucharistic piety that didn’t exist prior. Even the Byzantine, Eastern side of the Church was more devoted to icons.

    Going back to less frequent reception will alter the unique contribution of Latin Catholicism during the last 1000 years, diminish the traditional understanding and theology of priesthood. Bishops were historically the presidents and celebrants of Eucharist with priest eventual becoming viceroys of sorts for the Bishops

    In that sense there was less reception but also less [fewer] priests.

    Monasticism (technically a lay movement) was a stronger centre of spirituality as it is in the East

  5. TKS says:

    You are right, Father. I talked to our parish secretary this morning. They are going to open up for parking lot Masses but she says since they won’t be giving Communion, why bother. She says they will continue watching on line. Serious catechesis problem.

  6. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    Yes! A thousand times yes! Why are our Bishops silent and passive when they should be speaking the truths of the Faith, but when they should simply allow the faithful to practice in accordance with Church law, suddenly they spring into action to do the wrong thing? This perversity can have only one source.

  7. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Thank you for this, Fr. Z. :^)

    It is fantastic. I am going to share it with a prayer group I occasionally attend to pray, eat, and study the Faith (we also have studied several of your blog posts in the past).

  8. Therese says:

    Bishop Taylor: “No Communion on the tongue…” No, no, no exception! None! “The only exception is those who attend the traditional Latin Mass for whom reception on the hands is not an option.”

    Okay, did everybody get that? If you wish to receive Holy Communion reverently, you know what you must do.

  9. roma247 says:

    If you are in a place where the Mass has been restored, then lucky you. Go to Mass and if they force you to receive in the hand (in most places this is the preferred way, but if you want to receive on the tongue you can wait till the end of the line…) then don’t receive and offer it up. At least you were able to be there for Mass.

    But in those places where we still can’t even have the Mass, I agree that we have to start having public devotions. For now, that probably will have to mean gathering outside your local church this Sunday, and every Sunday, and praying the Rosary together until something gives.

    I would not have recommended this at first, but now it is clear that we have to take action. The risks are too great if we don’t.

  10. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    100%
    Mass is not equivalent with communion.
    There is no reason to partake in communion every week.
    Don’t accept in the hand. Don’t go up. You don’t HAVE to go up. You are not obligated to go up every time, so don’t.
    And definitely more vespers and laudes and sext and compline.
    There are so many different things that need to be added to a prayer life that many people could be a part of now.

  11. TRW says:

    I entered the Church four years ago and I’ve never received in the hand. I am prepared to abstain from Holy Communion if necessary. I have a feeling that our bishop will “request” that people receive only in the hand. Unfortunately, many good priests will feel compelled to obey. I believe that Pope St. Pius X encouraged frequent Communion and supported giving Holy Communion to children at an earlier age because he knew that we were at war. He knew that Catholics in the 20th century would need all the help they could get. Unfortunately, I doubt he could have envisioned the lack of piety and near-total lack of catechesis that would afflict out current era. I’m a father of several small children and I’m convinced that confirmation should be done earlier(as it used to be in the Latin Church) and reception of First Holy Communion should probably go back to how it was done before the changes under Pius X at the turn of the century.

  12. tho says:

    Your articles are a joy to read, and you perfectly described what it was like from an Altar Boy’s perspective in the 1940s. Priests and Sister were always greeted with a tip of the hat, and respect for their vocation was off the charts. Reading your blog is the high light of my day.

  13. teachermom24 says:

    Our bishop has not forbidden Communion on the tongue, only strongly discouraged it. However, our priest refuses to give Communion on the tongue. We have been privileged to be at Mass because our children provide music for the live-streaming Masses. Up until we read the bishop’s recent statement not forbidding Communion on the tongue, we simply abstained from going up for Communion (which is after the Mass). Now, having read Redemptoris Sacramentum, para 91-92, and having spoken about this with our priest, we are now going to present ourselves for Holy Communion at every Mass to receive on the tongue. If our priest shakes his head and refuses us (as he has done in the past), we will move on and make a spiritual Communion. But this Sunday may be our last Mass for a long time in the church since there is talk of holding parking lot Masses or Mass in the gym, in which case we will just stay home praying fervently for the restoration of the TLM somewhere within reasonably driving distance.

  14. Salient says:

    Amen!!

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