15 May 2017

Communion in the hand

The admirable bishop emeritus of Richbourough, Mgr Edwin Barnes, in his admirable blog Antique Richborough, has raised the question of how 'traditional' receiving in the mouth is.

The short answer is in Jungmann Volume 2 pp374 ff; summarised thus: "the method dates substantially from the ninth century".

More than a millennium is quite a long time ... and I might add a point made by Dom Gregory Dix, when he was dealing with Reservation in a Tabernacle on or behind an Altar: that a common custom which has grown up separately in both the East and the West has a lot to be said for it. This also applies to the feeling that it is safer to put the Sacred Species into the mouth of the recipient. I say 'safer' because I get the impression from Jungmann that fear of the Host being taken away, rather than 'reverence', has a lot to do with the evolution of both the Western and Eastern customs.

[That is explicitly why Cranmer, in his 1549 Prayer Book, ordered the retention of Communion directly into the mouth (I suspect that, in 1552, the Communion Service was so desacralised that such apprehensions lost their force).]

This is still a reasonable apprehension. Perhaps not so very much in an ordinary stable congregation of decent devout people, but in some other circumstances. At Lancing, at Confirmations, one had to be constantly on the look-out for people from the extended families of the confirmati trying to take the Host away as a memento of the occasion. I remember once having to follow a recalcitrant woman down the church, insisting that she either consume or return the Host. I have heard of  'albums' from Weddings and Confirmations with Hosts neatly preserved behind sellophane! And the scrimmage that happens at big out-door papal Masses ... I watched the Fatima ceremonies on Vatican TV Player ... well, the less said about all that the better.

As we of the Patrimony might put it, "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance to be included in collections of souvenirs, but to be received with Faith".

So what about 'reverence'? I agree with Mgr Edwin about the complete decency of the traditional Anglican practice ...

... did I say 'traditional'? That's not really quite right. Pre-Tractarian prints make clear that earlier Anglican practice was to take the cube of leavened Bread from the Minister with the fingers. The more modern way represents an originally Anglo-Catholic appropriation of the practice described by S Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catecheses Mysticae (but shorn of the fancy bits about touching your eyes with the Host before consuming It). The custom spread, like so many things, from Tractarian practice to being the normal C of E custom.

Accordingly, Anglicans have commonly come up to the Communion Rails, knelt down, and received the Host onto the right hand which is supported by the left hand as by a throne, and received by lifting the palm of the hand to their mouths, and then checked, as S Cyril insists, that no crumb remained ("be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with what is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no particles are lost?").

That culture just has to be judged reverent, seemly, and decent. There, I agree with Bishop Edwin 100%.

However, to be completely frank and entirely personal: I find the 'mainstream' English Catholic practice quite upsetting. I am well aware that it is not for me to judge others, to whose devout interior dispositions I have no direct access. But the practice of approaching Holy Communion, making no act of reverence, receiving It onto the hand and then strolling away, meanwhile nonchalantly transferring the Host to the mouth, seems to my subjective Anglican eyes totally, and grossly, irreverent.

11 comments:

Nicolas Bellord said...

For elderly people there is a bit of a dilemma. First of all for many of us genuflecting or kneeling down without a communion rail to give one support is often impossible. Secondly if one stands and shuts ones eyes (as I was taught to do many years ago) one tends to wobble which makes it difficult for the priest and can have disastrous results as I have experienced. Please may we have altar rails back if only in the interests of health and safety which now seems to take precedence over anything like the real presence in the minds of the clergy.

Dorothy B said...

Agreed, Mr Bellord. Kneeling is very painful for me, and I have to receive standing, even when there is an altar rail. I have taken to keeping my eyes open when receiving on the tongue, to avoid the wobble. My parish priest kindly administers the Sacred Host to me with no problems. And God bless that fine priest, Fr McCarthy of Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire, who travels quite some distance to offer the Traditional Latin Mass so beautifully for his traditional congregation in Cheltenham. He is so very understanding of those of us who have become rather creaky.

Hannes said...

Did communion rails exist in Anglican churches already in pre-Tractarian times?

Rose Marie said...

I count the removal of altar rails and the near insistence that Holy Communion be received standing and in the hand as one of the worst abuses the laity has suffered in the "renewal" of the liturgy. It is surely one of the "devastations" referenced by Cardinal Sarah in his message to the Summorum Pontificum Conference in Germany on March 31, leading to the loss of reverence and sacrality. And it must also be one of the "deformations" cited by Pope Benedict XVI in the cover letter to bishops for Summorum Pontificum itself. Bishop Athanasius Schneider travels the world asking for the restoration of Communion kneeling and on the tongue, to heal the "disease of the heart" from which the Church suffers.

Thank you, dear Father, for keeping this matter before us.

Ben of the Bayou said...

My dear Father Hunwicke,

I have been reading your blog for some time now, quite often happily. On occasion, I take a different view, but this is your blog and so I take that into account. Besides, two people will not always (nor even often) agree.

However, never have I so strenuously disagreed with you as I do on this topic. I cannot think of a more mistaken view on the manner of receiving Holy Communion than that of the hand. If it is so that the primary concern was the danger of absconding with the Sacrament, how is it that even the attendant Clergy did not receive in the hand? How is it that the Pope of Rome was communicated by mouth when not pontificating himself? It is outrageous, to my mind, that any support should be given to so grossly irreverent a practice as Holy Communion in the hand.

The CDW under Blessed Pope Paul VI, Memoriale Domini (1969), gave seven reason why the practice of Communion directly on the tongue ought to be maintained, including:
1. "The vast majority of Catholic Bishops believe it should be thus maintained"
2. It properly expresses the faithful's reverence for the Sacrament
3. "It is part of the preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord"
4. It proves the *faith* of the Church in the Real Presence
5. It ensures "the due respect, decorum, and dignity" owed to the Lord in the MBS
6. It removes the danger of profanation
7. It ensures diligent care for the fragments of the Sacrament

I can tell you as one who distributes the Body of the Lord aoat daily, that Communion in the hand is never to rarely done respectfully. I beleive it is an abomination that cannot be quickly enoughed annihilated.

As for Cramner, I can only say that I depend on the authority of Duffy (Stripping, but I don't have the exact reference at hand) that Cramner and his associated goons insisted on Communion in the hand to destroy faith in the Real Presence.

Richard Ashton said...

I am a catechist for 7-8 year olds preparing to make their First Holy Communion. A few of them choose to receive on the tongue. It is an inspiring sight.
How I wish the clergy would encourage it.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

I count the removal of rood screens and replacement with altar rails one of the worst abuses the laity have suffered since Trent.

Jesse said...

@Hannes: Indeed they did! Archbishop Laud lost his head for — among other things — having insisted on their restoration in the early seventeenth century. After the Restoration, they became nearly universal. And in an interesting addition to this discussion, J. Wickham Legg informs us that the Houseling Cloth continued in use in several Anglican churches, possibly into the late nineteenth century. It was retained in the Coronation Service. (English Church Life from the Restoration to the Tractarian Movement, p. 56.) In the same place he reports the advice of Robert Nelson (1706) that communicants receive in the palm of the right hand, following the pattern described by Cyril of Jerusalem.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Ben

If you look back at my piece, you will see that I agree wholeheartedly with you about Communion in the hand as it is done in Catholic churches today. My positive remarks were exclusively concerned with the old Anglican customs ... which possibly you might not have witnessed.

I assure you that we are basically in agreement!

Matthew Roth said...

The elimination of the houseling cloth, and now the paten, which was technically mandated for the distribution of the host until 2002, have been disastrous, and the elimination of the former is grossly untraditional.

fr. Thomas said...

The paten is still mandatory:
Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) no. 93: 'Patina pro Communione fidelium oportet retineatur, ad vitandum periculum ut hostia sacra vel quoddam eius fragmentum cadat.'