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Do it yourself Sacraments? by Fr. Frederick Hauser

Communion in the hand has played a part in making the priesthood less important in the eyes of many of the faithful.

Do you look at something you have seen hundreds of times and really see it for the first time? Perhaps it is a bush that has been dormant all winter and all of a sudden it's ablaze with color, or a child who you have known for years all of a sudden is an adolescent. Very often we need someone to point these things out to us or we will never see then with our mind's eye. That sort of thing happened to me recently when I read an article on Communion in the hand in which the author pointed out what should have been obvious all along: the person who receives in the hand is his own minister of the Eucharist.

Now one thing the Church has always stressed is that a sacrament is administered by a duly authorized minister. That is usually a bishop, priest or deacon, or when needed, an extraordinary minister of Communion who is a religious or a lay person. Matrimony, of course, is always administered by the couple to each other. But when a person received Communion in the hand he administers the sacrament to himself. This is not even done by the ministers of the Mass; only the celebrant or concelebrant gives Communion to himself. The assisting ministers, be they clerical or lay, have the sacrament administered to them. Canon 910 of the Code of Canon Law states: "The ordinary minister of holy communion is a Bishop, a priest or a deacon. The extraordinary minister of holy communion is an acolyte, or another of Christ's faithful deputed in accordance with can. 230 #3."

Canon 230 #3 speaks of using lay ministers when the ordinary ministers are not available. To show the incongruity of a person administering holy communion to himself, let's apply it to the other sacraments.

In the sacrament of Baptism, the priest or deacon administers the sacrament by pouring the water on the head of the recipient while saying: "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Could you envision a priest handing the shell of water to the adult to be baptized and watching him pour the water over his own head while saying the form "I baptize me, etc."? Or in the confessional, after the penitent has confessed his sins, the priest handling him the formula while the penitent says, "I absolve me from my sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."? Can you, in your wildest fantasy, see a bishop handing the container of Holy Chrism and the formula for Confirmation to the candidate and watch him anoint himself?

And so on with Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders. The idea is ridiculous and theologically unsound, and, of course, the sacrament would be both both invalid and illicit. But we are doing this every time we give a person Communion in the hand. But, you might say, there is a difference and that is that Christ is already present in the Eucharist. That is true, but isn't He already present in the other sacraments? In the person of the priest? The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed that the priest acts "in persona Christi" when he offers Mass or administers the sacraments. Granted Christ's presence in the Eucharist is substantial while in the priest it's spiritual but the presence is not the conferring of the sacrament. A person entering a Catholic church is in the presence of Christ but, by that fact, does not receive Holy Communion. And the reception of the Eucharist is not in its being handed to the recipient, it is in the eating of the consecrated Bread. One administers the sacrament by feeding the recipient, by placing Christ on his tongue which is the beginning of the act of eating. By placing It in his hand, he feeds himself and, therefore, administers the sacrament to himself. This is an action unknown and unheard of in any other sacrament.

However, still another anomaly occurs: the sacrament conferred by the person to himself is done without a formula of words. Every sacrament is conferred with a specific form. When the celebrant or concelebrant gives Communion to himself he uses the form: "May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life." When a person receives on the tongue the form is, The Body of Christ. Amen." But when the person who has received in the hand receives the sacrament by placing it on his own tongue he says nothing! No formula of words is used. Yet every sacrament is composed of matter and form. The matter in the Holy Eucharist is the Body of Christ, but there is no form here.

What of receiving under the form of consecrated Wine? Again the person could not take the chalice and drink from it without being his own sacramental minister. The priest, or other duly authorized minister, would have to place the chalice on the lips of the recipient and gently pour the Precious Blood into his mouth. Of course, this would not be a very dignified or sanitary way to proceed, and it would be better for the person to receive under the one form. Of course he could receive by intinction when the host is dipped in the Precious Blood and placed on his tongue but that also seems a bit unsanitary and risks the spilling of a drop of the Blood. Ironically, our bishops have forbidden the custom of a person dipping his own Host in the Precious Blood and consuming it, saying that the Blood is not administered to him but he administers It to himself. If they were consistent they would see he is administering the Host to himself also. Note that in the Eastern Church, the cube of consecrated Bread is soaked in the Precious Blood and then dropped on the tongue of the recipient with a golden spoon. Upon reflection I can envision the many churches where everyone receives Communion in the hand. Since everyone is his own minister of the sacrament, it would be simpler if a number of ciboria containing the Sacred Hosts and a number of chalices containing the Precious Blood were placed on tables in convenient places in the church. Then each person could minister to himself which he is actually doing now. It would save the congregation of ordinary and extraordinary ministers who, in reality, are not administering the sacrament.

From the time of the Council of Trent in the 16th century the Church has administered Holy Communion only under the species of Bread and only on the tongue of the recipient. It was the Protestant "reformers" who in denying the priesthood of the ordained, insisted that all shared equally in the priesthood of Christ and all should receive communion under both the forms of bread and wine and should communicate themselves. The Protestant notion has crept back into the Church by giving Communion under both species and in the hand. It has helped blur the distinction between the priesthood of the laity and that of the ordained minister. I believe it has also played a part in making the priesthood less important in the eyes of many of the faithful. But that has been spoken of before. The important point to consider is that sacraments are administered by another. We cannot administer a sacrament to ourselves. That is not an option we can extend to anyone. When this is done in the Holy Eucharist it is in clear violation of Canon 910 and is, therefore, illicit. We must get back to administering Holy Communion on the tongue and under the form of Bread alone. The sacrament is received in the eating of the Body of Christ not in the holding of It in one's hand. Our Blessed Lord said "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." May we receive this great sacrament reverently and licitly in accord with the laws of the Church.

Reverend Frederick Heuser is the pastor of St. James Parish in Kenosha, Wis. He has a B.A. in philosophy and an M.Div. from St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee and an M.A. in speech from Marquette University. After ordination, he taught in a high school, and then became Associate Director of the Catholic Family Life Program of Milwaukee before assuming his present position. His last article in HPR appeared in January 1995.