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Excerpts from the Pastoral Statement on the Manner of Distributing and Receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion (issued for the Diocese of Sandhurst, Australia, by the Most Reverend Bishop Bernard D. Stewart, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1976)

Decline and abolition [of Communion in the hand]

Communion by hand stayed in use for nearly nine centuries. Already earlier it had begun to grow less common when reservation of the Blessed Eucharist became limited to churches and administration of the Sacrament restricted to priests and deacons. It lost favor when the doctrine of the Real Presence was doubted or denied by a number of ecclesiastics.

To make clear that at the moment of consecration the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, though the outward appearances of taste, color and form remain, to inculcate that the Sacred Host is not ordinary bread; to foster a sense of reverence and adoration of Our Lord invisibly but actually present, Communicants were not allowed to touch the Blessed Sacrament with their hands.

This major rubric should not be considered just a negative safeguard against error; it was a positive disposition to develop faith, adoration and humility in the communicant, as the Holy See has explicitly stated:

Later on, with a deepening understanding of the Truth of the Eucharistic Mystery, of its force, of the presence of Christ therein … with a driving sense of reverence for this Most Holy Sacrament and with a compelling attitude of humility in receiving it, the custom was established that the minister himself should place a Particle of the Consecrated Bread on the tongue of those receiving Communion (Instruction, Memorial of the Lord, May 29th, 1969).

For these reasons, Communion on the tongue, in use from ancient times, superseded Communion on the hand and become the only method of receiving the Blessed Eucharist, and so it has remained, sacred and unchanged, for more than a thousand years.

Four hundred years ago certain protesting sects of the West fell away from the total Eucharistic faith of the Catholic Church; they gave up the belief that at Mass the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Our Blessed Lord; they gave up adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; they abandoned the Mass and introduced a communion service by hand, standing or sitting….

Shocking Sacrileges

Doctrinal errors quickly produce practical abuses. The Holy See tells us that the irreverence's coming from faulty Eucharistic theology are many in number and spread through many places.

Numerous and widespread abuses have appeared, sometimes so serious that they cast doubts on the very Faith in the Real Presence, on the adoration and reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament (Instruction on Worship of the Eucharist, May 15th, 1969).

There is ample evidence of consecrated Hosts being discarded into a bin; because, so it is said, “the Presence does not remain when the meal is finished”; sometimes these Hosts are re-consecrated. Priests are known to genuflect at the Communion but not at the Consecration; because, they hold, “Christ is present only at the meal”. Some have affirmed publicly that they do not genuflect before the Tabernacle; because “one does not adore a box”.

Children are known to have fiddled with the Sacred Host placed into their hands at Holy Communion; adults have been seen to pass the Blessed Sacrament from one to the other in a queue.

Rightly does the Sacred Congregation ask whether people who act like this really believe in the Real Presence of Christ.

One must pass over in appalled silenced the unspeakable abominations of demonism when the Sacred Host is sacrilegiously carried off to the satanic rituals of black masses.

Sacrileges have occurred in the past and will occur in the future. But today the Holy See testifies that they are numerous and widespread; it also says that Communion in the traditional manner is a better safeguard against adulteration of doctrine and profanation.

When Faith in the Eucharist is deep and strong, acts of reparation for all these sins are made monthly on the first Friday and annually on the feast of the Sacred Heart.

Reprehensible neglect of Eucharistic Rubrics

When Faith wavers, reverence weakens and sacred ritual becomes a travesty. Actions, words and gestures designed to foster Eucharistic piety are set aside, and rubrics with no ecclesial authority have been put in their place, often to the indignation of right-minded people.

Without leave Tabernacles have been removed from their proper place on the altar (yet permission must be first obtained from the bishop); they have been perched precariously on columns or put in out of the way places (yet the rubrics require that they be positioned firmly in accessible places nobly adorned); the Sacrifice of the Mass has been offered in refectories, libraries, commons rooms of religious houses (yet it should be in the chapel, officially dedicated as it is to divine worship); people have been urged to stand around the altar (yet the Missal reserves this sanctuary area for ministers); the assembly has been invited to join in the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic prayer (yet the rubric restricts it to the priest); celebrants have divided the Sacred Host at the Consecration (whereas it should be done only at the Communion); it is taken for granted that it is obligatory to offer Mass facing the congregation (yet there is no such obligation); but the real recommendation to make an external act of adoration when receiving Holy Communion standing is frequently ignored, the religious significance of the sign of peace often yields to mundane or profane or romantic salutations; the latest hit tunes frequently replace sacred music; behavior in church sometimes reflects the conduct of the market place or coffee bar rather than that of a house of prayer.

The list makes painful reading, but not to everyone. People who approve these happenings are gladdened; those who disapprove feel offended. But everyone is astonished at the speed with which it happened. Only by looking back does one see the pattern of deed and omission which brought it about.

The impetus comes first from the heralds of new Eucharistic thinking, based, they claim, on Vatican II even though the Holy Father rejected a lot of it. The Pope also said that ideas calculated to upset the faithful were deliberately propagated by writing and by word—and that includes the current technique of aid-texts, seminars and workshops. Once the ideas were sown, the desire for experimentation followed; but on a limited, controlled scale, it was said. Instead the gates were opened wide by a rush to do “what everyone else is doing”.

One might ask why it is not stopped by those who have the capacity or the authority to stop it. The will to stop it might have been weakened by human respect, especially when those who do try become isolated and denigrated....

Comparison between the two methods

From what has been said especially by the papal and official documents quoted above, the following considerations clearly emerge.

First, the traditional method is a matter of most ancient customary law which holds in every diocese of the Church; the new method is an exception from this law and is lawful only with permission granted for proper reasons.

Second, the Holy Father earnestly exhorts all bishops, priests and faithful to keep to the traditional method; but in order to help Episcopal conferences to discharge their difficult pastoral office he permits the new method under certain circumstances. (Where these conditions are judged by the bishops not to exist the new method is not permitted, as it is not permitted for example in Italy, the United States, Eire.)

Third, the new method was introduced illegally; an indult was given in places where it had become an accomplished fact and could not be easily removed.

Fourth, no Bishop may disallow the traditional method in his diocese, but even with the papal indult any bishop may disallow Communion in the hand; he may withhold the permission from certain people and certain places; if given it may be withdrawn, as has happened.

Fifth, one may promote the traditional manner; for, it is normal and customary: one does not promote the exceptional method. [emphasis added]