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“Communion in the Hand: Documents and History” – Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise, San Luis, Argentina explains his decision to ban this sacrilegious practice

"Although the Church recognizes legitimate change, it nonetheless considers that 'the temerity and daring of those who introduce novel liturgical practices, or call for the revival of obsolete rites out of harmony with prevailing laws and rubrics, deserve severe reproof'. We must keep in mind that reversing the course of a development and returning to a previous phase, is not a development but rather a corruption.

"Therefore, to say that 'Communion in the hand is not a novelty', that 'we only do it as the Apostles, as the first disciples did, and as the Christians did for almost one thousand years' (The Living Bread, p. 15) with the purpose of 'dispelling fears', is not a valid argument. It is not true that we will 'only' do it as the Apostles did. As we have just seen, the return to an ancient manner is not in itself a reason for tranquility. Even less so when that manner was first abandoned and finally forbidden, due to its imperfection."

"Retired from his Vatican positions, Archbishop Bugnini, in his work The Liturgical Reform, gives us abundant data on the history of the introduction of that practice, of which we summarize the principal parts: starting with the liturgical reform, the practice of giving Communion in the hand of the faithful was abusively introduced in some nations (Germany, Holland, Belgium, France). From the beginning there was a firm opposition from the Holy See. On October 12, 1965, the 'Consilium' wrote to Cardinal Alfrink: 'preserve the traditional manner of distributing Holy Communion [...] the Holy Father ... does not consider it opportune that the sacred Particle be distributed in the hand and later consumed in different manners by the faithful, and therefore, he vehemently exhorts [that] the Conference offer the opportune resolutions so that the traditional manner of communicating be restored throughout the world.' 'But--says Bugnini--these and other claims had no effect.'

"Because the Bishops found it difficult to contain the introduced practice, the consultations continued. On May 8, 1968, the Sacred Congregation of Rites had answered 'non expedire' [trans. note: 'it is not expedient']. But due to the insistent requests, the Holy Father decided that the concession be granted 'to the Episcopal Conferences that had requested it with the due cautions and under the care of the same.' The letter from the Secretary of State dated June 3, 1968 reads: 'His Holiness considers, in effect, that the bishops must be reminded of their responsibility so that they may prevent, with opportune norms, the inconveniences and moderate the indiscriminate spread of this practice which is not contrary to the doctrine but, in practice, is very disputable and dangerous. That is why when similar requests are received, they must be put to the consideration of the Holy Father and the eventual concession will be made through the Sacred Congregation of Rites.'"

"There is no doubt that Paul VI considered the change from Communion in the hand to Communion in the mouth as a real progress, and the primitive practice as a surmounted phase, not as something forgotten that we should 'rediscover'.

"'This way of distributing Holy Communion... must be preserved'. Before speaking to the Episcopate on the survey, the position of the Holy See is anticipated: the practice must be preserved for two reasons.

a) Because it is based on a practice transmitted through a tradition of many centuries. This alludes to a principle that goes back to [the times] of Aristotle: 'For the law has no power to command obedience except that of custom, which can only be given by time, so that a readiness to change from old to new laws enfeebles the power of the law.' (Politics, II, c. 5, 1269a); this same doctrine is later restored by Saint Thomas (cf. S. Th., I-IIae, q. 97, a. 2).

b) But above all, because that liturgical gesture 'means the reverence of the faithful Christian toward the Eucharist.' Note the force of this expression used after saying that the Church 'affirms by the very rite itself its faith in Christ and its adoration of Him' (MD, [1]). This meaning of reverence was so well known that Protestant reformers, such as Martin Bucer, counsellor of the Anglican reform, strove to change the practice and introduce Communion in the hand so that their faithful would not think that Christ was present under the form of bread.

"It would be to deceive the faithful to make them think that receiving Communion in the hand would identify them more with the spirit of the primitive Church."

"In relation to what 'each form can express', according to the Magisterium, Communion in the mouth expresses 'the reverence of the faithful' and 'Communion not of common bread and wine but of the Body and Blood of the Lord', while Communion in the hand can come to express irreverence or erroneous doctrines toward the Real Presence or the priesthood."

"'taking into account the warnings and advice from those whom 'the Holy Spirit has placed as Bishops to rule the Church', the Supreme Pontiff has not considered it opportune to change the manner which was received a long time ago (...), of administering Holy Communion.' In synthesis, this is what the Instruction Memoriale Domini wants to communicate, that is to say, the purpose of the document; everything that comes before is arranged in order to explain 'the reasons and circumstances that support the manner in which the Apostolic See proceeds' (MD [Previous clarification], p. 7). The consultation has done nothing more than confirm the Pope's opinion already expressed in [8]. This is affirmed by Paul VI himself in the autographed draft in which he ordered that Memoriale Domini be written and in which he says that 'they give' the results of the bishops' consultation which confirm the thought of the Holy See concerning the inopportunity of the distribution of Holy Communion in the hand of the faithful, indicating the reasons (liturgical, pastoral, religious, etc.). Therefore, the norm in force remains confirmed.'

"This decision agrees with the doctrine of Saint Thomas, who teaches that 'human law should never be changed, unless, in some way or other, the common weal be compensated according to the extent of the harm done in this respect' and this occurs: 1) when a very great and evident benefit is provided by the new enactment; 2) when there is great necessity; 3) when the law in force contains a manifest iniquity; 4) when its observance is harmful to many (S. Th., I-IIae, q. 97, a. 2 c.). None of those motives were given to change the law on the manner of administering Communion.

"Furthermore, in the 'status quaestionis' sent to the bishops, they were warned: 'It seems that this new practice instituted here and there is the work of a small number of priests and lay persons who seek to impose their own point of view on the rest, and to force the hand of authority. To approve it would be to encourage these people who are never satisfied with the laws of the Church.'"

"Cardinal Gut, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship who signed MD [Memoriale Domini], in an interview published on July 20th, 1969 also gave testimony of those difficult times: 'Until now, bishops were allowed to authorize practices, but the limits have frequently been violated and many priests have simply done whatever they wanted to do. In this case, what has sometimes occurred is that they have imposed their own points of view. These initiatives, taken without authorization, frequently could not be suppressed because they had spread too widely. With his great kindness and prudence, the Holy Father has frequently ceded, and many times he has done so against his will.' When remembering the situation of the Church during those years, we understand why MD said that the pastoral work is 'much more difficult than ever because of the current situation.'"

"If the legislation did not change [that Communion on the tongue is the lawful practice], the obvious conclusion is that the only reason for the extension of the rite [of the practice of Communion in the hand] is that the Bishops did not listen to the vehement exhortation of Paul VI to diligently submit to the law in force and again confirmed (MD[16])."

"In conclusion, even if there should exist a General Decree of the Conference of those spoken of in c. 455 '1, this decree could never modify the restriction placed by the Instruction but it should always be maintained within the frame placed by the delegating authority. But the case does not apply here because the Pastoral Letter ('En réponse'), by which the indult is conceded, does not give the faculty of applying it to the Episcopal Conference, but rather to the bishop for his diocese. Besides, if he does not do so, the universal law that forbids Communion in the hand remains in force. Therefore, when a diocese does not accept the indult, it is not the bishop who forbids Communion [in the hand], but rather the Pope. This is what is deduced from 'an attentive study of the documents'."

And now the reasons that militate against receiving Communion in the hand:

1. It is an important disciplinary change that runs the risk of disorienting many of the faithful who do not see the need, and who have never met with this problem. There are already many changes in the field of liturgy and of the sacraments that have yet to be completely assimilated by all of the Christian community; the establishment of a new manner of receiving Communion would require a serious catechetical instruction that cannot be carried out at the same time all over.

2. It appears that there is a new practice established here and that it is the work of a small number of priests and laypersons that look to impose their own point of view on others, and force the hand of authority. To approve it would be to encourage these persons who are never satisfied with the laws of the Church.

3. And above all a decrease of respect to the Eucharistic worship should be feared. To receive Communion in the hand would seem to many to be less dignified and less respectful. Will everyone who will receive Communion in the hand have clean hands? The children also?

4. One should also ask oneself, with uneasiness, if the fragments of the Consecrated Bread will always be picked up and consumed with all the respect It deserves. If even now, when a paten is used, it is so easy that fragments fall and are dispersed, what will happen to the Particles in the hands of the faithful, of those who do not have the delicacy and the awareness to quickly pick them up?

5. Furthermore, should not an increase of desecrations and irreverences on the part of ill-intentioned persons be feared, or of those of little faith? Ill-prepared and poorly instructed people who receive the Eucharistic Bread in their hand, will they not end up equating It to ordinary bread, or to simply blessed bread?

6. By easily giving in to this very important point of Eucharistic worship, the danger exists that the audacity of the 'renovators' will dare so much as to be directed towards other sectors, which would bring about an irreparable damage to the faith and worship of the Eucharist."

"With all of this information we are able to know with clarity the mind of the legislator which we could express with the same words used by Paul VI (which he signed) and in which he ordered the writing of Memoriale Domini: 'give a summary notice of the results of the consultation of the bishops which confirms the thinking of the Holy See as to the inopportunity of distributing Holy Communion in the hand to the faithful, indicating the reasons (liturgical, pastoral, religious, etc.). Therefore, the norm in force remains confirmed.'"

"The 'fundamental sense of the ecclesiastical.' It is said in Fundamentos: 'we find ourselves surrounded by countries which have already accepted the use of the two praxis. To limit ourselves to Communion in the mouth attracts attention and generates confusion...'. If that 'fundamental sense of the ecclesiastical' would have always been kept in mind, and by all, the Episcopal Conferences would have heard the vehement exhortation of Paul VI to 'diligently submit to the law in force and again confirmed' keeping in mind 'the common good of the Church' (MD [16]) and the practice would not have spread. Knowing the history of this clandestinely reintroduced rite, and spread based on equivocations and confirmed through incessant disobediences, we cannot doubt that 'the fundamental sense of the ecclesiastical' is what was lacking in those who, throughout twenty-seven years, have been imposing a practice that the Pope did not want to authorize because he considered it dangerous for the good of the Church (MD [12]), until they finally achieved the spreading of it throughout the world."

"Therefore, the habitual reading of the document is false according to which, in face of the diverse petitions and the results of the consultation to the bishops, the Pope decided to concede the practice of both rites to the Episcopal Conferences that requested it. In reality, the purpose of MD was not to be instrumental for the adoption of Communion in the hand but rather to maintain its prohibition. All of the reasons adduced to by the Pope for this are of great weight; they have a solid basis and enjoy permanent validity as they confirm the preoccupation to avoid all that has the appearance of irreverence towards God, really present in the Eucharist. The introduction of this change is of enormous importance because, given that the treatment of the Eucharist is pedagogic, the lack of preoccupation for the Particles damages the doctrine. Communion in the mouth, on the other hand, is a sign of the real and substantial presence of the Lord and of the essential distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood.

"The danger of desecration is frequently minimized, saying that it always existed.

"Concerning involuntary profanations of Communion in the mouth, the risk is practically nonexistent with the use of the Communion paten, the prescribed purifications in the missal and the natural care when giving and receiving the sacred Species. With Communion in the hand, a miracle would be required during each distribution of Communion to avoid some Particles from falling to the ground or remaining in the hand of the faithful.

"As to the voluntary profanations no one can deny that the circumstances are considerably facilitated for whoever wishes to steal a consecrated Host. It is said that during all epochs inevitable sacrileges were committed and this is true, but in such a scarce number that it did not motivate a special legislation on the part of the Holy See, because the manner itself of giving Communion impeded removal of the Hosts. Whereas now, as prior to the 10th Century, special recommendations from the ecclesiastical authorities are necessary to avoid it.