“Among all the sacred mysteries that Our Lord and Savior entrusted to us as the most certain instruments of Divine Grace, there is none that can be compared with the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Therefore, there is not to be feared any graver punishment from God for any sin, than that something so full of holiness or, better said, than that which contains the very Author and source of holiness, be not treated in a holy and religious manner by the faithful. “
Catechism of the Council of Trent Part II
Much of what I have written here has been written or spoken somewhere else before, but if you are an average lay person like me, it is likely you have never heard it. Some of this may shake you. It did me. This is already a topic that seems to evoke a lot of emotions. It might make you angry, or sad. I actually hope that it does stir something in you, and that you don’t come away indifferent. I pray that by the time you finish reading this, you will have a conviction that you did not possess before. You might say a short prayer to the Holy Spirit before reading for the grace of discernment, as we should always do. There is a lot to read here, but I hope you will stick to the end. It is the most important part.
Sharing what I have learned
As I said, I am a lay person, with no degree in Theology or anything Church related. I only want to present what I have learned, hopefully in a way that you can follow. A simple request, and the response that followed has led me on what has felt like a journey. Actually it is a continuation of a journey that led me straight to the Eucharist in a profound way a few years ago. This time the Lord turned me onto a path.
It just felt like He was saying “Look this way, and see what you will find.” I am sharing what I found, because I want to defend my Lord, and to see Him loved and respected as He deserves. But also because you have a right to know too. If something I have written is incorrect, or if it contradicts something from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, then I will admit my error, and submit to the Church. I only wish to present the truth, and have done my best to use verified quotes, documents and sources.
No judgment, only information
The norm in the U.S. is to receive Holy Communion standing, and in the hand. Many people receive the Eucharist this way with reverence. I used to. So, let me be clear that I am not judging anyone who prefers to receive the Eucharist this way or saying that you are wrong.
But like I was, you may be unaware that the reintroduction of Communion in the hand came about from disobedience. Pope Paul VI did not want it, and the majority of Bishops at the time did not want it. It was not a reform of Vatican II. You may be unaware that the Church gives preference to the traditional standard of receiving on the tongue and kneeling for very important reasons. And finally, that renewing our reverence for Our Lord in the Eucharist, can work miracles, move hearts, and revitalize the Church. These are bold statements, I know, but I wouldn’t be making them if there wasn’t truth behind them. However, the main reason is that I believe…no, I am certain, that giving profound respect and reverence for the Lord, in every way possible, is what we NEED to do now.
“There are groups, of no small influence, who are trying to talk us out of kneeling.”
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) The Spirit of the Liturgy
First to clarify that kneeling and receiving on the tongue is always allowed in the U.S. Believe it or not, some priests will tell you that it isn’t.
The norm established for the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling. 2011 USCCB General Instruction of the Roman Missal (160)
…The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed, in the hand, the choice lying with the communicant. GIRM (161)
“Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, as his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognition of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her.” Redemptionis Sacramentum (92)
For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” Romans 14:11
Pope Paul VI and Memoriale Domini
We may always receive Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. It is the posture of receiving in the hand that is a “choice” that was very reluctantly allowed by Pope Paul VI by an “indult”, which means it was an exception to the law. And it carried with it several strict conditions. It was tolerated, by a Pope who did not approve of it, after Bishops from some European countries were promoting Holy Communion in the hand without permission, a clear liturgical abuse.
This was very serious because with their blatant disobedience they were in effect separating themselves from the Holy See. Because it was serious, the Pope sought the counsel of all the Bishops, and also gave them a survey. The result found the majority were against Communion in the hand. 1233 opposed, 567 in favor, and 315 in favor with reservations.
“…among those in favor there were many that were not in agreement…but who nevertheless did not see another way to solve the situation of defiance”. Bishop Juan Rodolpho Laise Holy Communion, Communion in the Hand
In the document from Pope Paul VI to follow, Memoriale Domini , The Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion (May 29,1969), the Pope makes clear, “Therefore, attentive to the advice of those whom ‘the Holy Spirit has place to rule over’ the Churches, in view of the seriousness of the matter and force of the arguments… the time honored way of administering Holy Communion should not be changed.”
What he calls the “traditional” practice, must be upheld as it “ensures more effectively that Holy Communion is distributed with all due respect, decorum and dignity, so that the danger of profanation of the Eucharistic Species is prevented… so that finally the diligent care is preserved, which the Church always recommended regarding fragments of the consecrated bread: ‘What you have allowed to fall, think of it as though one of your own members were amputated.’”
Correction with an exception
In this document the pope tried to correct these wayward Bishops, “The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and faithful to submit diligently to the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed…” He warned of his great concern for abuse of the Eucharist with Communion in the hand saying, it “carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering holy Communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the August sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.”
However later in the document, the pope makes an exception for some countries, “where a contrary usage, that of placing Holy Communion in the hand, already prevails…” and he gives other specific guidelines. Many have criticized the Pope for this, called him weak. But if we really want to understand and see the whole truth, we should look at the whole puzzle and not just focus on pieces.
Coercion and heresy
(Servant of God) Father John Hardon, (who had a close working relationship with and was commissioned by Pope Paul VI to write The Catholic Catechism in 1975), had this to say, “Pope Paul VI was coerced to allowing Communion in the hand. And the way he was coerced was, especially in Holland and Northern France….the Bishops just told the people, from now on you can put your hand out and receive Holy Communion. There was no papal permission. And so Pope Paul VI had a very simple, but sad choice. By then the Dutch hierarchy had already published their catechism…full of heresy, published by all the Bishops of Holland. So, Paul VI, as I say, had the sad choice. It happened in the 16th century.(meaning schism) My twenty-eight years working for the Holy See, I can tell you Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II want to avoid, as far as it is humanly possible, the loss…hear it…of whole nations of the Catholic Church…do you still hear me…which happened in the 16th century.” (link to video, Theology for the Laity Lesson 3)
In an address to the Consilium, Pope Paul VI, laments the Bishops actions, “which cause no little concern and sorrow….We are referring to the mentality of many who receive with displeasure anything that comes from the ecclesiastical authorities or what is laid down by law. This is why in liturgical matters even the Episcopal Conferences, on their own intitiative, sometimes end up going farther than what is right. It also happens that arbitrary experiments are conducted and rites are introduced which openly contradict the norms of the Church.” (quote from Holy Communion, Communion in the Hand by Bishop Juan Rodolpho Laise)
I put that line in italics, because I think it is a key element here to what has happened, and I will refer back to it later.
Avoiding a schism
This information truly stunned me. In my ignorance, and naivete, I thought Pope Paul VI, simply gave permission for a request. But, what really happened was a lot more complicated. In 1966, disobedient Dutch Bishops published their own heretical catechism. This was after the Pope had already attempted to correct them, over and over. The Holy See demanded certain corrections which they at first refused. Among other things, the Real Presence of the Eucharist was left in doubt in the catechism. Communion in the hand was being promoted illicitly. And his encyclical, Humane Vitae (with it’s infallible teaching on artificial birth control) was also being rejected by these Bishops, and others.
This is what the Pope was dealing with. I can only imagine the pressure. After careful consideration, prayer, and discernment, he decided on the indult, with specific conditions, as a solution to the problem. He did what he could, putting the responsibility onto individual bishops’ conferences and individual bishops in countries where this was already widespread, and out of control. And in doing so, was trying to avoid a major break in the Church.
And it made me wonder what else Popes may have given permission for in order to avoid a schism. That fact gave me more understanding and clarity about what has been allowed in the past fifty years.
Don Federico Bortoli, author of La distribuzione della Comunione sulla (The Distribution of Communion in the Hand, his doctoral dissertation in Canon Law) stated in a 1P5 article, that in thoroughly examining Memoriale Domini, it is clearly understood that Communion on the tongue is “the traditional and universal discipline, and that “the document does not equate the two forms”:
There is an important point to review thus far, and it may be one not easy for some to hear. We have often heard that the two ways to receive Holy Communion are equal. But this definitely made me look back on what Pope Paul VI, (and other Popes) have said. How can they be equal when the Pope is urging bishops to submit “diligently” to the confirmed “law” of Communion on the tongue? Or when he says that the “traditional” manner “ensures more effectively” that Holy Communion is distributed with “respect and dignity”? And that he is worried about “dangers” with Communion on the hand? This is not at all what we have been told.
To continue….along with Memoriale Domini, a pastoral letter (En response a la demande) was sent to all the Bishops’ Conferences of the world where the indult was “allowed” to be shared with their Bishops. However, at least in one part of the world, some Bishops never got Memoriale Domini or this letter. What Bishops in Argentina received was a letter from the Argentine Bishop’s Conference on Communion in the hand.
According to Bishop Laise,“The contents of that letter led one to believe that this practice should be applied automatically and in an obligatory manner in all of the dioceses…” Bishop Laise was surprised there was no decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship, so he requested it. After repeated request to various officials he was finally sent (informally) a fax of this Decree. He said, “It unveiled a very different reality from what until that moment it had appeared to be…”.
After reading it, he was made aware of Memoriale Domini, and the accompanying pastoral letter. He discovered that the Pope had “ clearly stipulated that the prohibition against giving Communion in the hand had been introduced through abuse, and firmly established in such a way that bishops of the local Episcopal Conference considered that there is no other remedy than to tolerate it, ‘the Holy Father….grants that…’each bishop, with his prudential judgment and according to his conscience, may authorize in his own diocese the introduction of the new rite for distributing Communion.’” (Holy Communion, Communion in the Hand by Bishop Juan Rodopho Laise)
Bishop Laise concluded that this practice was not a reform of Vatican II, and “not willed”, but only “tolerated” by the Holy See, after the Pope received “insistent and tenacious pressure”, and the “practice had been extended in an abusive way”. (Ibid, Bishop Laise)
“I also carefully verified that no document of the Holy See existed after Memoriale Domini in which the possibility of introducing this form of receiving Communion had in any way been extended.” (Ibid, Bishop Laise)
A brave Bishop
While these words of Bishop Laise, further supported Father Hardon’s statement, they also shocked me. Bishop Laise was a strong defender of Our Eucharistic Lord, by all accounts a holy, brave bishop. After careful review of the facts and documents, and discovering that as a bishop he could in conscience refuse it. He was the only bishop in Argentina to make the judgment NOT to allow Communion in the hand in his diocese of San Luis at that time. And he had the support of his priests, and his flock.
Before I go on, let’s summarize a few things Bishop Laise points out.
- The Argentine Bishops Conference sent the Bishops a letter saying that this practice of receiving Holy Communion would happen immediately, and that they were obligated to comply.
- Bishop Laise asks for the Vatican decrees, documents whereby this order came. Memoralia Domini and its accompanying pastoral letter, meant for the Bishops, was not given to him until he repeatedly asked for it. And then it was never formally sent, but faxed.
- The documents revealed something quite different than what he was told by the Argentine Bishops Conference.
- Not only is Communion in the hand not willed by the pope, but only those countries where the abuse is already out of hand, may apply for the indult.
- It was not part of the reform of Vatican II.
- Even if the indult is accepted in a country, an individual Bishop does not have to comply. Not only that, but if he doesn’t, he is not out of communion with his fellow bishops. He is in line with the Pope and the Magisterium of the Church.
And that last one he had verified by the Holy See, with documentation to prove it. If you want to see all the documentation on this, I highly recommend that you read the book.
In Canada, and the rest of the world…
Then in other countries, Bishops’ conferences also requested indults, even though Communion in the hand had not prevailed there saying it was the desire of the people. For example, in the Canadian Bishop’s, Internal Communication Directive (March 1970), members were told of the “ faithful’s desire to see re-established the venerable custom of receiving the Eucharistic Bread in their hands”.
However, Archbishop Philip F. Pocock, of Toronto, had a different perspective. “To my knowledge”, the Archbishop said in a letter to clergy and religious, “there has been no popular demand on the part of the bishops, clergy or laity on this liturgical change.” (“Communion in the Hand granted in Toronto; No Popular Demand”, Catholic Transcript, July 31, 1970)
Meanwhile, indults were being granted left and right. “Cardinal Knox, who was prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, also acceded to the demands of the other bishops’ conferences. It is a fact that the interpretation of Memoriale Domini by Cardinal Knox was not correct.” Don Federico Bortoli “The True Story of Communion in the Hand Revealed” (from 1P5 article The True Story of Communion in the Hand Revealed)
Do you see a pattern developing?
“…a question remained: Since Memoriale Domini was the only legislation in force, how was it that in almost all the dioceses of the world they adopted the practice that was clearly advised against, as if it were merely an option proposed, and even recommended, by the Church?” (Holy Communion, Communion in the Hand by Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise)
Let all that sink in before we look at Communion in the hand in the U.S.
The U.S. follows
So, now you are probably wondering how did it come to be a practice here? The U.S. was actually one of the last countries to obtain the indult. The President of the NCCB in the 1970s, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, (who was known as the “Bernardin Machine” because it was said that he knew what he wanted the conference of bishops to do, and how to get them to do it.) tried three different years to get it voted through. As country after country adopted it, and news of the new practice was spreading around the world, polls of the laity were being taken in the U.S. (Again, the will of the Holy See was that it may be permitted only if it was already widespread.) Some places it was being promoted without approval. And the reasoning, that the U.S. should follow what was happening in the rest of the world, gained momentum.
There was one wise Bishop (Romeo Blanchette), who asked at the 1977 conference, that all the Bishops be polled to determine if the practice had already “prevailed” in their diocese. (As per the Holy See’s directive) Even though the motion was seconded and supported by other Bishops, it was dismissed. The reason? Bishops didn’t want to admit that the practice was already being promoted in their diocese unlawfully according to this article. Bernardin called for the third vote, and there were still not enough. So, a mail vote was sent to all the absentee Bishops. Enough votes came in to pass with the 2/3 majority needed.
Some say it was illegal, some call it a parliamentary trick. I don’t know enough to say. But about those who say that a mail in vote was never done before, I did not find that to be true. It was actually not uncommon. Still the Bishops who were mailed, didn’t get to hear both sides of the debate at the time the vote was taken, and the part about it already being a widespread established practice was apparently overlooked.
The most important question may not be how it happened, but why? Why would any Bishop or Bishop’s Conference push so hard against the opinion and counsel of fellow Bishops, and the Pope, and hundreds of years of Sacred Tradition for a change in posture to receive Holy Communion? And why was it presented to some as a mandate rather than an option? Why were our Churches stripped of Communion rails with lightning speed, effectively forcing the faithful to stand? There was nothing about this in any Vatican II documents as many were led to believe. How many Bishops were made aware that they could refuse to implement Communion in the hand in their individual dioceses?
Since the whole thing started because of pride, disobedience, and rebellion, with some dishonesty thrown in there, it sounds like the influence of that ancient tempter… with a plan.
“Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated Host”
(Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship)
Everyone is doing it…
The end result was that most of us just did what we were told was a “good” change. (And I am sure that many clergy and faithful alike sincerely thought so.) “This is the way we do it now. Hold your hands out like this for the Eucharist.” Although there was much talk about catechizing the faithful, I doubt if any of us were given important catechesis on particular care for the Eucharist received in the hand.
For example, how many were told that we should check our hands for particles because each is still the Real Presence of Jesus? We weren’t told of the Pope’s warnings of the dangers of Communion in the hand, like possible sacrileges, or loss of fragments etc. Or that this was a concession only tolerated by the Pope, after heretical Dutch Bishops started it in their dioceses without permission. And we weren’t told that the Bishops of the world overwhelmingly voted against, and were concerned about it too.
While it was conveyed in some dioceses that Communion on the tongue was still the tradition, and our right as per Mermoriale Domini, there were already problems and priests who were refusing people Holy Communion as early as 1977. The USCCB just made it the norm, as was done all over the world. A minority of liturgy reformists jumped in. And what we were given was a bunch of flowery propaganda, not outright lies, mind you…. but all the wonderful reasons why this was a better way to receive the Eucharist… a return to an ancient posture…and lots of convincing words that this was good.
“The materials given parish priests for the catechesis of the faithful were historically flawed and totally one-sided.” Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas publisher and editor, in the forward for, Dominus Est- It is the Lord! by Bishop Athanasius Schneider
Kneeling is “necessary”
In the years to follow, some people in the U.S., were still told they may not kneel, or receive on the tongue. Some were even refused Holy Communion. This was partly caused by what was previously in the U.S. General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Paragraph 160 at that time. While not prohibiting a communicant to kneel, it marked them to be catechized on the “reasons” for standing.
People being “catechized” in the Communion line, or refused Communion caused a deluge of complaints to the Vatican. And the GIRM was corrected. Here are excerpts from two letters in response from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (2002) :
“The Congregation in fact is concerned at the number of similar complaints that it has received in recent months from various places, and considers refusal of Holy Communion to a member of the faithful on the basis of his or her kneeling posture to be a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful, …..there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for Holy Communion at Mass, except in cases presenting a danger of grave scandal to other believers arising out of the person’s unrepented public sin or obstinate heresy or schism, publicly professed or declared.” Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez Prefect
“…while this Congregation gave the recognitio to the norm desired by the Bishops’ Conference for your country that people stand for Holy Communion, this was done on the condition that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. Indeed, the faithful should not be imposed upon or accused of disobedience and of acting illicitly when they kneel to receive Holy Communion.” Mons. Mario Marini Undersecretary
The laity have rights
The arm of the Church responsible for Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments says, kneeling for Holy Communion is “one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful”. It is not illicit and “we should not be imposed upon”. But if we desire to kneel, many of us cannot…because our Communion rails are gone.
And speaking of rights….according to Canon 212 s.-3 “Christ’s faithful are totally free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desire to the Pastor of the Church. According to their own knowledge, competence, and position, they have the right, and indeed sometimes the duty, to present to the sacred Pastor; their opinions regarding those things that pertain to the good of the Church.”
This means you have the right to speak of your spiritual needs to your Bishop or your pastor, on anything that is “for the good of the Church”. More on this at the end.
From the Vatican website :
“From the time of the Fathers of the Church, a tendency was born and consolidated whereby distribution of Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is two-fold: a) first, to avoid, as much as possible, the dropping of Eucharistic particles; b) second, to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”
“Kneeling indicates and promotes the adoration necessary before receiving the Eucharistic Christ.”
So, you are always and everywhere “free to kneel” (Cardinal Arinze).