Sunday, June 22, 2008

L'Osservatore Romano article calls for end to Communion in the hand

"Historical argument favors Communion on the tongue" (, Apr. 22, 2008):
The American magazine Catholic Response has published an English translation of a provocative article, originally published in the official Vatican newspaper, calling for an end to the practice of receiving Communion in the hand.

The article by Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, originally printed in L'Osservatore Romano, examines the historical record of Catholic practice, concluding that the early Church quickly developed the practice in which lay people Communion on the tongue while kneeling.

... Kneeling to receive Communion was also a pattern established early in Church history, Bishop Schneider reports.

... The article published in L'Osservatore Romano, and now translated in Catholic Response, summarizes the more complete argument that Bishop Schneider put forward in his book, Dominus Est. That book, released in Italy earlier this year, drew special notice for two reasons. It was published by the official Vatican press, and a preface was contributed by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who said it was "high time to review" the policy of allowing laymen to receive Communion in the hand.
Bishop Schneider offers a thoughtful reflection on his book in an online interview available on Gloria.TV. A written summary of his remarks can be found in the Catholic News Agency article, "Bishop calls receiving Communion on the tongue more reverent."

The full title of Bishop Schneider’s book, recently released by Vatican Editing House (Libreria Editrice Vaticana) and not yet available in English translation, is Dominus Est: Meditations of a Bishop from Central Asia on the Sacred Eucharist. Shawn Tribe provides an unofficial translation of the Introduction by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith in "Ranjith on Kneeling for Communion during the liturgy and Communion on the Tongue" (New Liturgical Movement, January 27, 2008).

I have previously briefly addressed the history of the controversy concerning Communion in the hand in my "Liturgical Position Statement: For the Record" (Musings, December 1, 2007) [N.B.-- scroll down to "Problems of licit innovations not mandated by Vatican II" under "Examples of legitimate criticism"]. While early examples of it may be found, it was soon replaced by Communion on the tongue as a nearly universal organic development in Eucharistic piety and law. As I state in the aforementioned reference:
It is also a fact that reception in the hand was seen by certain sixteenth century Protestant Reformers as a demystifying gesture by which the laity could be disabused of their 'superstitious' Catholic belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. An example of this is the Censura of Martin Bucer (not to be confused with Martin Luther), which condemned Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's 1549 Prayer Book for retaining the Catholic practice of administering Communion on the tongue for the reason that it might cause individuals to persist in their Catholic 'superstitions' about the Real Presence.

Hence, when the practice of Communion-in-the-hand was first re-introduced in Catholic circles in modern times in Belgium by Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens in violation of the rubrics then in force under the Holy See, Pope Paul VI, although eventually lifting the ban against it, warned that the practice carried "the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine" and that the vast majority of bishops at the time believed that the discipline "should not be changed, and, that if it were, the change would be offensive to the sentiments and the spiritual culture of these bishops and of many of the faithful" (Pope Paul VI's instruction Memoriale Domini, 1969).

Note that these criticisms were raised by Pope Paul VI (as well as by the majority of the Church's bishops at the time in their voiced reservations). Of course it is true that the practice has been subsequently mainstreamed and sanctioned by the Vatican, albeit not without unmixed signals. [See the original for extensive footnotes and documentation]
[Hat tip to The Reverend James Miara, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Bronx, NY, who preached on this subject in this morning's homily at St. Josaphat Catholic Church in Detroit.]

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