Fr John Zuhlsdorf blogs — I saw a video recently of a young canonist whom I am pretty sure is a good and solid guy, well-versed. He makes an argument that, yes, a bishop can on his own authority, because of urgent need, override the Church’s universal legislation in Redemptionis Sacramentum 92, which in clear terms states that the faithful have the right always to receive directly on the tongue. The young canonist’s argument rests on something St. Thomas Aquinas offers regarding laws in time of pressing need. If higher authority cannot be reached to make a decision in an urgent matter, local authority can legitimately override the law for the common good. Therefore, a local bishop can forbid people from receiving Communion on the tongue because we are in a time of crisis. Why? Because, surely, the Holy See can’t be reached in a reasonable time frame and we need an answer now.
The problem with this is that, even respecting the fact that yet today the post is still considered normal means of correspondence, the local bishop doesn’t have to send a scroll with a friar on a donkey across the mountains to Rome. The bishop can also send a fax or an email or pick up the phone. And there’s FedEx. When they want to have it, local bishops do have fast access to higher authority. They are not so hemmed in by crisis circumstances that they can take it upon themselves to overturn universal legislation.
Also, it is by no means well-established that Communion on the tongue is riskier than Communion on the hand. It is probably the other way around.
I sense in the background a brief dialogue:
BISHOP: I want to forbid Communion on the tongue. Figure out a way.
YOUNG, GAINFULLY EMPLOYED CANONIST: My feet are like wings, Sahib!
I respect the young canonist’s agile efforts. I’m not buying.
Somewhere along the line, people in charge have hitched their minds to two notions. First, that there is less contact between people via Communion on the hand, that it is less risky – which is false. Second, that Communion and Mass are virtually to be equated.
In ordinary circumstances it is a wonderful thing that people can regularly, even frequently, receive Eucharistic Communion.
In years past, in fact for a very long time, Communion was not frequent. Somehow, great saints, virtually all the saints whom we venerate today, were raised up and attained to holiness or martyrdom. Generation after generation lived good Catholic lives by attending Holy Mass and through devotions. They didn’t always receive Communion at Mass.
Communion was infrequent enough that the Church placed an obligation on the faithful to receive the Eucharist once a year, which usually also meant making a good confession.
Early in the 20th century, St. Pius X promoted reception of Holy Communion both earlier in life and more frequently. Some 7 decades later, the 1983 Code of Canon Law laid down that people could receive Holy Communion, not only frequently, but twice a day, provided that the second time was during Mass.
Moreover, for decades now, the importance – heck, even the existence of – the Sacrament of Penance has been downplayed. There has been incomplete or mollescent and even malfeasant catechesis. Furthermore, liturgical practice, including the priest’s own ars celebrandi has been so loose, so careless, that it is hardly a surprise that studies now show that a minority of self-professed Catholics know or believe what the Church teaches. Why and how could they?
At the same time, the “horizontal” (immanent) dimension of liturgical worship has been stressed to the point that the “vertical” (transcendent) dimension has been overthrown. The importance of Sunday as the Lord’s day has been obliterated by Saturday anticipated Masses, not to mention sports mania. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – now broadly referred to merely as “liturgy” or “Eucharist” – has been reduced by erosion from many vectors to the gathering where you feel good, with a vague notion of being pleasantly spiritual, normally without any strong doctrinal component to the little talk the priest gives (such a nice guy), after which they put the white thing in your hands and you sing a song before leaving (a little early if possible).
We arrive at a major problem driving various policies right now during this coronavirus challenge, now more and more it seems a “planned-demic”.
Mass is now so equated with getting the white thing that there is a general sense that, if there is Mass, there has to be distribution of Communion and everyone must receive Communion.
Even for those who really do have a good understanding and devotion and are in the state of grace, there is an expectation not that Communion can be received, but that Communion must be received. Otherwise, somehow, it isn’t Mass, or it is somewhat diminished as a Mass without either lay participation or reception of Communion.
I am wholly on board with the Council of Trent’s admonition that people should be able to receive the Eucharist frequently in way that is both sacramental and spiritual. However, Communion is not obligatory at Mass.
Another result of this “Communion by all at every Mass” phenomenon is that, Sunday after Sunday, the Body of Christ the Church must absorb millions of body blows: sacrilegious Communions, a grave offence against the Eucharistic Lord and one which Paul describes to the Corinthians as a reason why there were people both ill and dying in their community.
Am I alone in desiring that bishops and priests resist the urge to “get back to normal”?
In the sense of Tolkien’s eucatastrophe one of the advantages to this lockdown has been millions fewer sacrilegious Communions. I cannot help but think that that may produce benefits for our Catholic identity as churches open up again.
If only we can establish a new normal in regard to reception of the Eucharist. For example, in the state of grace.
We mustn’t go back to what we were doing before. If we do, I fear that we will have fallen into the Enemy’s trap.
The fact that when the Lord healed the sick, he often also exorcised, and the fact that Paul connected not discerning the Body and Blood of the Lord with physical illness and death, both lead me to believe that there is in this battle against the invisible virus enemy also a spiritual battle with the demonic.
Who knows, perhaps this cursed virus is also literally a cursed virus.
This is why I now, with permission of the bishop and his positive will, recite the Exorcism Against Satan And Apostate Angels in Chapter 3 of Title XI in the Rituale Romanum. This is the “Long St. Michael Prayer”. I am informed by exorcists I trust that priests can say it privately. For public use priests must have the bishop’s permission. And it is more effective with the bishop’s authority behind it.
We priests and bishops have to fight this battle as priests and bishops and NOT as if we were government mandarins or officials of the CDC. WE AREN’T. We must do what only we can do and that is on the spiritual plane.
For this reason, I make some suggestions.
When Masses open back up more widely again, dear readers, even if Communion is available, stop receiving on the hand. I think this practice has done untold damage to our Catholic identity, our collective understanding of and reverence for the Eucharist, and has produced unfathomably numerous sacrileges through the taking of Hosts or the brushing off of particles on to the floor, etc.
If you are in a place where priests have been either innocently convinced or perhaps intimidated into denying Communion on the tongue, make a spiritual Communion until this madness passes.
Can we work to bring back publicly celebrated devotions?
For example, how about establishing on a day of the week the recitation of the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, with Benediction, and perhaps followed by confessions? How about more regular Stations or Rosary? Sunday Vespers with Exposition, a brief sermon, and Benediction? Processions? There are a lot of people out there who do know that they should not be receiving Communion, either this week or, because of life circumstances, at all. But they want to participate in the life of the Church too. They can do so in these good devotions, which could be beneficial in getting themselves squared away. However, if all they have at a parish is Mass, then the pressure to receive Communion, especially when 99.5% of the people always go, in row by row order, the temptation to go forward will be very strong.
Everyone… bottom line: Can we please work for a truly new and better normal and not go back to the way things were?
GO TO CONFESSION.