From a reader…
Please help me to understand something about Communion on the hand. As I’m understanding it, people can receive Communion on the hand if they want to but also on the tongue if they want that and the priest or EMHC isn’t supposed to force them one way or another. Then COVID came along and people were being forced to receive only on the hand. Maybe a virus pandemic is a good reason to restrict our rights. I don’t know. I know there are arguments that Communion on the tongue is actually safer than on the hand. In normal times can a bishop force priests to give Communion only on the hand? Can a priest force that on his parish? I know several priests who have been hammered by their bishop because in homilies they expressed their preferences for Communion on the tongue (over on the hand) even though they never denied anyone to receive on the hand.
There are several issues here.
Firstly, this applies to the Novus Ordo. It is not permitted to give Communion in the hand when using the Usus Antiquior.
Next, no one is compelled to receive Communion at a given Mass. You must receive once a year, according to the law.
Next, Communion in (or on) the hand is permitted – by an indult – in those places where it has been approved by the bishop. NB: Communion in the hand is an exception to the norm. The normative way of distribution is on the tongue.
Be clear about the equivocal use of “norm”.
“Norm” can be descriptive or prescriptive. For example, in the sentence, “Weird behaviors among the Jesuits seems now to be the norm.” Sorry about that, you good guys who drop me notes. You also know what I mean. In this case, we use “norm” to describe a prevailing behavior which isn’t necessarily mandated. Or else, “Billy is above the norm when it comes to the other altar boys, since he knows not only all the Latin prayers, but all the rubrics, too.” In this case, “norm” describes the average. However, we also have in the 1st Book of the 1983 Code of Canon Law the Latin Church’s “General Norms”. Here, a “norm” is pretty much synonymous with “laws” or “canon”. A “canon” is “a standard, a measure, a rule”. Think of how “rule” also means “law”, but can also just be a way of expressing what the general state is. Hence, I like to make a distinction about “norm” as descriptive or prescriptive, depending on the context.
So, in one way, descriptively, it is the “norm” that people receive Communion on the hand. Why? Because that’s what most people do these days. However, in another way, prescriptively, it is the “norm” that people receive Communion on the tongue because that is what the Church’s true law, “norm” establishes.
An indult is a permission granted for an exception from a particular norm (prescriptive sense) in certain circumstances.
In the case of Communion in the hand, the indult was originally a grant to make licit an abuse – the abuse was Communion in the hand – that hadn’t been suppressed successfully in specific places.
Where it was granted there was to be special catechesis against Communion in the hand (the abuse). However, the Congregation in Rome started giving the indult to any bishops conference that asked! The abuse turned into the common practice (norm, descriptive sense).
Moreover, in Paul VI’s 1969 Instruction Memoriale Domini, Latin for “Let’s Let The Cat Out Of The Bag”, we read about the conditions for the granting of the indult:
The condition is the complete avoidance of any cause for the faithful to be shocked and any danger of irreverence toward the Eucharist. The following norms must, therefore, be respected.
“1. The new manner of giving communion must not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional practice.
Reading that 1969 document is a little shocking. What spectacular naiveté! The overweening anthropocentrism that drove much of the Council was strongly in play, perhaps more than ever.
Think about this. In some places the abuse of Communion on the hand was underway. So, someone in the Roman brain trust thought it would be a good idea to make the abuse licit through an indult so as to get rid of the abuse.
Let that sink in.
That’s like giving a hundred dollar bill and a new razor blade to a cocaine addict and then telling him that cocaine is bad. That’s like telling Johnny not to swing his baseball bat in the living room ’cause he will break a lamp and then giving him a golf club. That’s like telling criminals in New York City that they will be released without bail.
It all stems from that pervasive naïve optimism about the nature of fallen man that guided much of the Church’s doings from the 60’s onwards. It fueled the anthropocentric drive of some of the Council’s documents, such as Gaudium et spes. Example: remove the obligation to do X because, gee, it’s better if people do it willingly rather than out of a sense of duty. That sure worked for Friday penance, Eucharistic fasting, Sunday Mass attendance, raising children in the Faith, etc. etc. etc.
It was evident from the onset that Communion in the hand was diminishing reverence and increasing sacrilege.
In 1973 another Instruction was issued, Immensae caritatis, which addressed what Memoriale had. It reminded about reverence and care for the Eucharist.
Then again in 1980 John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Domincae cenae:
[C]ases of a deplorable lack of respect towards the Eucharistic species have been reported, cases which are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behavior but also to the pastors of the church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful towards the Eucharist. It also happens, on occasion, that the free choice of those who prefer to continue the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is not taken into account in those places where the distribution of Communion in the hand has been authorized.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in describing the manner of distribution, actually makes a statement about “appropriate reverence” and says that the whole Host has to be consumed.
The more often laws are repeated, the clearer it is that they are not working.
In 1999 a dubium was sent to Rome about Communion (Notitiae 35 (1999): 160–161) (my translation)
Q: Whether in dioceses where distributing Communion in the hands of the faithful is allowed, it is permitted to a priest or to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to restrict communicants with the obligation that they receive the Holy only in the hands, but not upon the tongue.
R. Certainly it is clear from the documents of the Holy See themselves that in dioceses, where the Eucharistic bread is put into the hands of the faithful, nevertheless the right for them to receive on the tongue remains undiminished. Therefore, they act against the norms who either restrict communicants with the obligation to receive Holy Communion only on the hands or who refuse to the faithful to receive Communion in the hand in dioceses which enjoy this indult. Attention being paid to the norms concerning the distribution of Holy Communion, ordinary and extraordinary ministers should take care in a particular way that the host is consumed immediately by the faithful, in such a way that no one leaves with the Eucharistic species in his hand. However, let all remember that the centuries-long tradition is to receive the host on the tongue. Let the priest celebrant, if there is a danger of sacrilege, not give the faithful Communion in the hand, and let him inform them about this way of proceeding.
This response is cited in the 2002 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, which defends the right of the faithful to receive Communion on the tongue and tells ministers not to distribute on the hand if there is danger of sacrilege. (There is always greater danger of sacrilege with Communion on the hand.)
Note the language, above: restrict with an obligation.
In working out how to apply the Church’s laws, we apply the interpretive principle that laws which place restrictions or obligations must be interpreted as strictly as possible. That is, they must be interpreted narrowly so as to protect people from undue obligations. On the other hand, laws which grant favorable things to people must be interpreted as generously as possible, so as to expand what people can do licitly. Odia restringi et favores convenit ampliari.
As to the restriction of the faithful with the obligation to receive on the hand – exactly what we read about above and in Redemptionis – because of COVID-1984, there was a bizzare circular letter from the CDW in August 2020 which said that in “times of difficulty (e.g., wars, pandemics) Bishops and Episcopal Conference can give provisional norms”.
Contrary to everything the Holy See has ever promulgated, suddenly – during COVID-1984 Theater – a bishop could oblige people to receive on the hand, thus restricting their right to receive according to the norm!
And just what is a “time of difficulty”? Right now there is problem of employment, businesses are having a difficult time hiring. It’s a time of difficulty. NO COMMUNION ON THE TONGUE… PROVISIONALLY! Right now, inflation driving prices up makes the times difficult. Provisionally we have to stop Communion on the tongue until the numbers change. And why, may I ask, would time of war require restriction of Communion on the tongue? It’s as if someone with his head screwed on in the right direction managed to put that “war” thing in there just to show people how weird the letter is. Figure this out. An indult to suspend a condition for the granting of that older indult which made an abuse licit so as to help to end the abuse that led to the indult in the first place.
A “circular” letter indeed. More like a Mobius strip letter. The topside is the downside.
Note that, back when, Paul VI said that an indult could be given to conferences, regions of dioceses. At the same time, just because the indult was given to a conference, a region, that didn’t oblige the individual bishops to implement the indult. Individual bishops could choose not to make use of the indult.
This is made clear in the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship’s 1969 Letter to presidents of bishops conferences En réponse à la demande (Notitiae 5 (1969) 351-353):
“The Pope grants that throughout the territory of your conference, each bishop may, according to his prudent judgment and conscience, authorize in his diocese the introduction of the new rite for giving communion. The condition is the complete avoidance of any cause for the faithful to be shocked and any danger of irreverence toward the Eucharist.”
Of course years of Communion in the hand – along with the sloppy ars celebrandi of priests, hideous music, crummy architecture and ugly vestments – has, in fact, “shocked” the faithful into numbness and irreverence toward the Eucharist.
It is pretty clear that, pace the weird CDW letter, where common sense prevails people cannot be denied Communion on the tongue because Communion on the tongue is the true norm.
Odia restringi et favores convenit ampliari took a provisional vacation, I guess.
Furthermore, if a priest is called on the carpet for expressing a preference for the norm then something is upside down, particularly if he doesn’t deny people reception on the hand in the Novus Ordo.
Let a priest express his preference for Communion on the tongue, so long as he is accurate about the law and well-grounded in theology. If another priest or the bishop himself has a contrary view, let them express their views. People can decide which side is the most persuasive.
Could it be fear that drives the bullying of people into receiving on the hand? After all, there are a lot of good reasons, and a great track record, for Communion on the tongue and rather few good reasons for reception on the hand. Mustn’t let the people in on both sides of the issue! Sheesh! They might make an informed choice!
So long as there is an indult, and the bishop upholds the indult, then people must not (at the Novus Ordo) be denied Communion on the hand (i.e., restricted by an obligation to receive on the hand). They also must not be denied Communion on the tongue.
Let them hear what Father has to say about it and then let them make up their own minds, rather than infantalize them through a condescending positivism based on a personal preference.
And may I just add that a diocesan bishop in a conference which received the indult could decide to end Communion in the hand in the diocese entrusted to his care. If he were determined to decreased the danger of sacrilege and increase reverence for the Eucharist with a campaign of catechesis and particular laws, he would be entirely within the bounds of his authority to end Communion in the hand.
Of course libs would throw a spittle-flecked nutty. There would ensue a storm of outrage and indignation and all manner of cant about “rights” and “turning back the clock”. I’d wager that that bishop would even be called a “racist” and a “homophobe”. The Rome of today would hurl lightning at that courageous bishop and probably figure out a way to sack him by Fiat, and I don’t mean the car.
Just as bishops can bully and torture priests in a thousand ways, so too Rome can bishops.
It comes down to power. It comes down to courage.