Communion in the Hand: Documents and History

Communion in the Hand: Documents and History
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Product ID : SY841
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Most Rev. Juan Rodolfo Laise

A very factual and well-documented, well-researched book that is readable and respectful of the subject matter.

8.5 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches, 108 pages

From Bishop Laise’s Preface to the 2013 Edition:
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.

On the other hand, from the outset priests and faithful asked me, by various means, that this resolution not be applied in the diocese of San Luis.

For August 8, that is to say some days before the date foreseen by the president of the episcopal conference for the start of the practice in question, I called a priests’ meeting. During that meeting I presented the priests, both at the same time, the decree from Rome and the content of the Instruction Memoriale Domini. Unanimously they agreed that, for the good of the faithful, the discipline should be respected that was clearly confirmed by the Pope, that is to say, the practice of giving Communion exclusively on the tongue should be maintained. Likewise they affirmed that in the diocese there were none of the cases of abuse required by the legislation for considering the possibility of the application of the indult, for which reason it was not justified even to present the option of accepting the indult in order to permit the faithful to receive in the hand.

The result of this meeting was a diocesan decree in which I decided to reiterate the solicitude of the Pope in the documents in which he legislated with respect to submitting oneself promptly to the law in force, as he himself asked, maintaining the prohibition of Communion in the hand.

Nevertheless, 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?

Seeking an answer to this question, and to defend the grounds for my decision – which at that time was an object of controversy within some Argentine ecclesiastical sectors that spoke out even in a public manner, before the communications media – I encouraged a deeper investigation of the history of this usage. And the results of this investigation are found in this work.
Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB states:
Since the feast of Corpus Christi in 2008 communicants at papal Masses who receive from the Holy Father kneel and receive the host on the tongue. According to his Master of Ceremonies this reform, which has drawn considerable comment, is intended by Pope Benedict "to underline the validity of the norm" of this practice “for the whole Church.”

The fact is though, receiving Holy Communion on the hand is the norm if by "norm" we understand what is the usual and widespread practice. The Holy Father's point, however¯made by means of personal example¯is that that the traditional practice is the liturgical norm, has continuing value and should by no means be left behind.

The history of the introduction of the “indult” or special permission to receive Holy Communion in the hand is interesting and is today largely forgotten. In the late 1960's some priests introduced the practice without authorisation as a supposed return to early Church custom and to promote a supposedly "more mature" attitude towards receiving the Eucharist. Paul VI ordered a survey of the bishops on the question: the majority did not want the practice introduced, fearing a loss of reverence and faith. Paul VI concurred and an Instruction was issued in 1969 insisting on the traditional practice, but allowing bishops to ask for the new practice to be authorised where they thought that it had taken root and could not be stopped. Disobedience was rewarded. Then other countries got in on the act, asked for the permission also, and the exception which so distressed Paul VI rapidly became the norm.

This book is a case study. Argentine Bishop Rodolfo Laise declined to introduce Communion in the Hand into his diocese when the other bishops of his country did so in 1996. This was seen as controversial and un-collegial. Bishop Laise, however, judged in conscience that it would not be good for his diocese. Here he presents both his reasoning and the relevant local and Roman documents bearing on his decision. Whilst his book may seem a little technical and certainly could have benefitted from more editorial work, it is both a testament to the faith and vigilance of one bishop and provides much material with which one can begin to understand Pope Benedict's reinvigoration of the traditional practice.

It could be called “an historical examination of conscience,” because it demonstrates the stampede of this fashion, originating in 1960's disobedience and based on a faulty understanding of the practice of the early Church (underlined so well by Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his little book Dominus est–It is the Lord), through the deep apprehension and disapproval of Paul VI, to its triumph by Indult but a decade or so later. I say “examination of conscience” because the 1969 Instruction (n. 12) warned that such a change was not just a matter of discipline, but involved the danger of a loss of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament, the risk of profanation of the Sacred Host and of "adulterating" belief in the real presence. Whilst many today no doubt receive Holy Communion in the hand reverently and with undiminished faith, it cannot be denied that all three of these dangers have taken root. It is difficult to maintain that the new practice is, if not the cause itself, at least a significant contributor to the effect.

This explains Bishop Laise's stance. As the pastor of a diocese, realising that “the Holy See had never desired this new practice” and that it was never “a part of the liturgical reform”, and because his priests asked him not to introduce this practice “for the good of the faithful”, he reinforced the traditional practice. This is one bishop who thought, prayed, consulted and studied the question deeply before deciding on the matter. It seems that in many other countries the bishops en masse simply accepted Communion on the Hand as another integral part of the new liturgy. It has become that, even though in fact it is not.

That is the point behind the Holy Father’s practice, which is becoming more widespread, even in St Peter’s Basilica. Communion in the hand is very much a ‘live issue’ today, and rightly so, for how we pray, how we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, expresses and teaches what we believe.

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