12 July 2020

Communion in the Hand (4)

My cards are on the table. I think reception kneeling is the most important ritual adjunct to Holy Communion. Not that I in any way deny the very great propriety and suitability of receiving in os. It is certainly to be strongly encouraged in all three forms of the Roman Rite.

In the Church of England, before the 'Catholic Revival', reception was in manum. It had not always been so. In his first (1549) essay at a vernacular rite, Cranmer laid down that the Host should be received in the mouth. This was because people "many tymes conveyghed the same secretly awaye, kept it with them, and diversely abused it". At that stage, hosts were still unleavened bread, and round, thereby setting them aside from the common estimation of common bread. (The main change which Cranmer's rite ordered was that hosts should be broken, "and menne muste not thynke lesse to be receyved in parte then in the whole, but in eache of them the whole body of our savioure Jesu Christ". Not very Zwinglian language! My own suspicion is that this is an example of linguistic habits trailing some way behind a man's latest speculative musings.)

In his second Prayer Book, Cranmer changed things so that the consecrated Bread was delivered into the hands of the communicants. At the same time, he changed his earlier requirement of unleavened, round, hosts, to this: "it shall suffyse that the bread be such as is usuall to bee eaten at the Table wyth other meates ...". In these changed circumstances, he probably thought that nobody was now likely to bother to "conveygh the same secretly awaye".

As for kneeling, Cranmer, even at his most Zwinglian, retained it. Faced with strong pressure to rescind the practice, he tartly pointed out that, since "the Booke" had been through all its Parliamentary stages and received Royal Assent, making changes would be legally questionable. "The Counsell" contented itself with gumming their illegal "Black Rubric" (denying "anye reall and essenciall presence") into the already printed Prayer Books. Happily, a few months later Good Queen Mary was on the throne, and right-thinking people were organising big bonfires, just as, in 1549, many of them had already done once. Fire is so very cleansing.

In the Church of England, in which I ministered for more than four decades, well-instructed devout lay persoms who are not High Church communicate kneeling, with their hands stretched out, the left hand "making a throne" for the right hand ... which is flat. The host having been placed on the palm of the right hand, the worshipper brings his tongue down to the host and, using the natural moisture of the tongue, takes the host into his mouth. It is good practice to keep the palm of one's right hand clean by not having used it "to exchange a sign of Peace"; and to check, after Communion, that there are no tiny crumbs left.

I also have quite a bit of experience of the Church of Ireland, which traditionally was thought of as a rather Protestant couple of provinces, and which continued to prescribe the use of leavened bread. The amiable and civilised Ned Darling, Bishop of Limerick (and of seven other places) showed me how to prepare the bread. One rolled it flat, and then cut it into neat squares with a sharp knife. This meant that one never (in my experience) had any problem whatsoever with crumbs.

And, while the 'Catholics' down the road strolled nonchalantly around their church to collect a host and then communicated themselves with it while still walking, in the Church of Ireland the communicants reverently knelt. I know which usage seems to me the more congruent with the Eucharistic dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent!

Incidentally and irrelevantly, I am referring to Knightstown on Valentia Island, where S John Baptist's C of I Church was built by an ancestor of Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, Hereditary Knight of Kerry, Knight of Malta, Patron of the Latin Mass Society.


Fr Edward said...

Thank you very much for this series, and your conclusion.

I remember the example of my grandparents at the Holy Communion Service in the CofE. They were pretty Low Church - north end, scarf and hood, but always steady and sound. They would prepare well each month for the 8am Communion, and the fruits of their communion were evident.

They were not at all happy when I became a Catholic, let alone a priest. And yet I think it was their rather old fashioned and beautiful notion that we were all pulling in the same direction, that brought them happiness at my ordination and first Mass.

Shaun Davies said...

All you say about the Church of Ireland is correct. Reverence was important and, I think,kneeling at the rails would still be the norm. I was brought up (until 19) in the Church of Ireland - but would say that I never had any teaching on the Eucharist of any kind. I was present for usually two or three services every Sunday - two with sermons - for many years in a variety of Churches and never once heard any explanation of the Holy Communion.This all helped me move towards "Rome". Fasting Communion would have been the norm with few celebrations apart from the 8 a.m. early celebration. I think I can remember my parents telling me that you "didn't eat before Communion". There was very little teaching of any kind in the Church of Ireland, despite its unfounded reputation for being High in doctrine and Low in practice. Most churches (with a few fine exceptions) resembled a synagogue with no Christian symbols. I am told that the "high" Canon A.R.B. Young of Ballybay once got away with introducing and stained glass window in his church as it depicted Moses, wearing a beard and so couldn't be mistaken for "the Virgin Mary".

Scribe said...

Dear Father, Whenever I visit an Anglican church, I see the permanent altar rails with their kneelers, and feel saddened that in the Catholic Church we have to queue up as though we are about to be inoculated, unless, of course, we are attending a Mass in the 'Extraordinary Form.' In my own Redemptorist church, when it was still open, a few people - not all of them old - still kneel to receive, and the clergy are happy to accept this, but those Anglican altar rails are a constant reproach!

Unknown said...

I went to Mass yesterday where the celebrant dropped the host into my hands from about 6 inches above and with his arms outstretched as far as possible. I caused me considerable anxiety.