Tuesday, 6 November 2012

FIUV on the Manner of Receiving Holy Communion

Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce
Positio N. 3
APRIL 2012
From the General Introduction
These papers, commissioned by the International Federation Una Voce, are offered to
stimulate and inform debate about the 1962 Missal among Catholics ‘attached to the
ancient Latin liturgical tradition’, and others interested in the liturgical renewal of the
Church. They are not to be taken to imply personal or moral criticism of those today or
in the past who have adopted practices or advocated reforms which are subjected to
criticism. In composing these papers we adopt the working assumption that our fellow
Catholics act in good will, but that nevertheless a vigorous and well-informed debate is
absolutely necessary if those who act in good will are to do so in light of a proper
understanding of the issues.
The authors of the papers are not named, as the papers are not the product of any one
person, and also because we prefer them to be judged on the basis of their content, not
their authorship.
The International Federation Una Voce humbly submits the opinions contained in these
papers to the judgement of the Church.
The Manner of Receiving Holy Communion: Abstract
The Instruction Universae Ecclesiae makes it clear that Holy Communion is to be
received kneeling and on the tongue at celebrations of the Extraordinary Form.
Reception on the tongue is, in fact, the universal law of the Church, from which
particular Episcopal Conferences have received derogations. The value of kneeling to
show one’s humility in the presence of the sacred is affirmed in innumerable texts of
Scripture and emphasised by Pope Benedict XVI in his book ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’.
The moment of receiving Holy Communion is the most appropriate of all to show this
attitude. Reception on the tongue, while not universal in the Early Church, became so
quickly, and this reflected the great concern shown by the Fathers that particles of the
host not be lost, a concern reiterated in Pope Paul VI’s Memoriale Domini. In
conclusion, the traditional manner of receiving Holy Communion, which evinces both
humility and childlike receptivity, prepares the communicant for the fruitful reception.
Further, it conforms perfectly to the general attitude of reverence towards the Sacred
Species to be found throughout the Extraordinary Form.
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1. As with the issue of service at the altar by men and boys,1 the question of the manner of
receiving Communion at celebrations of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is
settled by the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (2011), which upholds the bindingness, in
celebrations of the Extraordinary Form, of the liturgical law in force in 1962.2 This
specifies that Holy Communion is to be received by the Faithful kneeling and on the
2. Whereas service at the altar by females has been permitted in the Ordinary Form at the
discretion of the local Ordinary, the prohibition on the reception of Holy Communion
by the Faithful in the hand was expressly reiterated by Pope Paul VI,3 who merely noted
that applications for a derogation of the law would need to be made by an Episcopal
Conference to the Holy See. To explain the value of this practice, as this paper seeks to
do, is to explain the value of the Church’s own legislation.
3. As Pope Benedict XVI has observed, ‘Kneeling does not come from any one culture—it
comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God.’4 As he goes on to elaborate, kneeling
is found in numerous passages of Scripture as a proper attitude both of supplicatory
prayer, and of adoration in the presence of God. In kneeling, we follow the example of
Our Lord Himself,5 fulfil Philippians’ Hymn of Christ,6 and conform ourselves to the
heavenly liturgy glimpsed in the Book of Revelations.7 The Holy Father concludes:
It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture—insofar as it is a culture,
for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One
before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture.
The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no
longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost,
kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship
with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in
union with Jesus Christ Himself.8
4. It remains to observe that the moment of one’s reception of the Body of Our Blessed
Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is an appropriate moment to kneel, and doing so is a very
longstanding tradition in the West,9 replacing other gestures of reverence.10 Blessed
1 FIUV Positio 1: The Service at the Altar of Men and Boys
2 Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (2011) 28
3 Instruction Memoriale Domini (1969): ‘the Supreme Pontiff judged that the long received manner of
ministering Holy Communion to the faithful should not be changed’
4 Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger) ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ (San Francisco: Ignatius
Press, 2000) p185
5 Luke 22.41 (during the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane).
6 Philippians 2:10: ‘That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow’:
7 Revelations 5:8
8 Pope Benedict XVI op. cit. p194.
9 In the West, the development of kneeling for Communion can be traced back at least to the 6th Century:
see Athanasius Schneider ‘Dominus Est’ (Pine Beach NJ: Neman House Press, 2008) p27. It became
general, and then universal, between 11th and 16th Centuries: Joseph Jungmann ‘The Mass of the Roman
Rite: its orgins and development’ (English Edition: New York: Benzinger, 1955) Vol II p376.
10 Jungmann gives the examples of approaching Communion barefoot, genuflecting, a three-fold bow,
and kissing the ground, or the priest’s foot (op cit., pp377-8).
Pope John Paul II reminds us that the proper attitude in receiving Holy Communion is
‘the humility of the Centurion in the Gospel’:11 this attitude is both manifested and
nurtured by the recognised posture of humility, of kneeling. The requirement, in the
current discipline of the Church, that a ‘gesture of reverence’ be made before Holy
Communion is received,12 is fulfilled in a most natural and unforced manner by
receiving while kneeling.
On the Tongue.
5. The reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, as opposed to in the hand, while not
the exclusive practice of the Early Church, does go back to the earliest times. It is
attested by St Ephrem the Syriac13 and the ancient Liturgy of St James,14 is mentioned
at least as a possibility by Pope St Gregory the Great,15 and was mandated by the
Council of Rouen c.878.16 Our Lord seems to have placed bread directly in the mouth of
Judas at the Last Supper,17 and may have used the same method for the Consecrated
Species. The spread of this method throughout the Church (with distinct variants for
East and West) derived naturally from the great concern of the Fathers that no particle
of the consecrated Host be lost. St Cyril of Jerusalem (invariably cited for his
description of Communion in the hand)18 cautions that fragments of the Host should be
considered more precious than gold dust;19 a similar concern is shown by Tertullian,20
St Jerome,21 Origen,22 St Ephrem,23 and others.24 This concern is rooted in Scripture, in
11 Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) 48: ‘cum demissione centurionis in Evangelio’
12 General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002) 160.
13 St Ephrem the Syriac Sermones in Hebdomeda Sancta 4, 5: ‘Isaiah saw Me [sc. Christ], as you see Me
now extending My right hand and carrying to your mouths the living Bread.’ The reference is to Isaiah’s
vision of the live coal with which the angel touched his lips (Isaiah 6.6-7).
14 Bozestwennaya Liturgia Swjatago Apostoloa Iakowa Brata Boziya I perwago bierarcha Ierusalima
(Roma-Grottaferrata, 1970) p151: ‘The Lord will bless us, and make us worthy with the pure touchings of
our fingers to take the live coal, and place it upon the mouths of the faithful, …’
15 Pope St Gregory the Great, Dialogues 3,c. 3: ‘after he had put our Lord’s body into his mouth, that
tongue, which long time before had not spoken, was loosed.’ The context is the cure of a sick man, who
may not have been able to put the Host into his own mouth; again, it was the man’s tongue, among other
things, which needed to be cured. Nevertheless the text does not indicate any surprise at the putting of the
host directly into a man’s mouth.
16 Council of Rouen, Chapter 2: ‘let him [sc. the priest] place the Eucharist in the hand of no layman or
woman, but let him place it only in his or her mouth with the following words: “Corpus Domini et
Sanguis prosit tibi ad remissionem peccatorum et ad vitam aeternam”.’ (‘nulli autem laico aut feminae
eucharistiam in minibus ponat, sed tantum in os eius…’) Mansi 10:1199f. Cf. Joseph Jungmann ‘The
Mass of the Roman Rite: its origins and development’ (English Edition: New York: Benzinger, 1955) Vol
II, pp381-2.
17 John 13:26-27: ‘Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped
the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the morsel, Satan entered into him.’
18 St Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catechesis 5, 21f
19 Mystagogical Catechesis 5, 2
20 Tertullian De Corona 3: ‘We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon
the ground.’
21 St Jerome In Ps 147, 14: ‘…if anything should fall to the ground, there is a danger.’
22 Origen In Exod. Hom. 13, 3: ‘…when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise
every care lest a particle of it fall.’
23 St Ephrem Sermones in Hebdomada Sancta 4, 4: ‘…do not trample underfoot even the fragments. The
smallest fragment of this Bread can sanctify millions of men…’
24 Notably, from the Canons of the Coptic Church: ‘God forbid that any of the pearls or consecrated
fragments should adhere to the fingers or fall the ground!’ Collationes canonum Copticae (Denzinger,
Ritus Orientalium I, p95)
the command of Our Lord to the Disciples following the Feeding of the Multitude, a
type of the Eucharist: ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, lest they be lost.’25
6. This concern is reiterated, and linked to the value of reception on the tongue, by the
Instruction Memoriale Domini (1969), which summarises a number of considerations in
favour of the traditional manner of distributing Holy Communion:
In view of the state of the Church as a whole today, this manner of distributing Holy
Communion must be observed, not only because it rests upon a tradition of many
centuries but especially because it is a sign of the reverence of the faithful toward
the Eucharist. The practice in no way detracts from the personal dignity of those
who approach this great Sacrament and it is a part of the preparation needed for the
most fruitful reception of the Lord’s body.26
This reverence is a sign of Holy Communion not in “common bread and drink”27
but in the Body and Blood of the Lord. …
In addition, this manner of communicating, which is now to be considered as
prescribed by custom, gives more effective assurance that Holy Communion will be
distributed with the appropriate reverence, decorum, and dignity; that any danger of
profaning the Eucharistic species, in which “the whole and entire Christ, God and
man, is substantially contained and permanently present in a unique way,”28 will be
avoided; and finally that the diligent care which the Church has always commended
for the very fragments of the consecrated bread will be maintained: “If you have
allowed anything to be lost, consider this a lessening of your own members.”29
7. The possibility that Holy Communion in the hand might lead to a ‘deplorable lack of
respect towards the eucharistic species’ was confirmed by Bl. Pope John Paul II.30 The
danger of deliberate profanation of the Blessed Sacrament, also noted in Memoriale
Domini, has also sadly become evident, in an age in which sacrilegious acts can be
made public on the internet to the scandal of Catholics all over the world. This issue is
raised again by the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), which again refers to
the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament exclusively on the tongue as the effective
If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in
the hand to the faithful.31
8. Bl. Pope John Paul II raised a related issue when he wrote ‘To touch the sacred species
and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained’.32 He links
this to the consecration of the hands of the priest.33 This recalls a famous passage of St
Thomas Aquinas, cited in this regard in an official statement of the Office for the
25 John 6.12. Cf. Matthew 14.20 and 15.37; Mark 6.43 and 8.9; Luke 9.17
26 [Footnote 6 in Memoriale Domini (MD)] Cf. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 98, 9: PL 37, 1264-
27 [Footnote 7 in MD] Cf. Justin, Apologia I, 66: PG 6, 427; cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1.4, c. 18. n.
5: PG 7,1028-1029.
28 [Footnote 9 in MD] Cf. ibid. n. 9, p. 547.
29 [Footnote 10 in MD] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses Mystagogicae, V. 21: PG 33, 1126.
30 Bl. Pope John Paul II Letter Dominicae Caenae (1980) 11
31 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) 92, reiterating the Congregation of Divine Worship’s
response to a dubium given in 1999, recorded in Notitiae 35 (1999) pp. 160-161
32 Dominicae Caenae 11
33 Ibid, the preceding paragraph: ‘But one must not forget the primary office of priests, who have been
consecrated by their ordination to represent Christ the Priest: for this reason their hands, like their words
and their will, have become the direct instruments of Christ.’
Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff:34
…out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is
consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the
priest’s hands, for touching this Sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone
else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the
ground, or else in some other case of urgency.35
9. Insofar as we see this traditional method as having developed over time, this is not an
argument against it but a testimony to the important considerations which consistently
led to its adoption. As Pope Pius XII famously affirmed in Mediator Dei (1948), more
ancient practices are not ipso facto to be preferred to practices which have evolved
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit over many centuries.36
10. The importance of an inner attitude of humility, stressed both by Bl. Pope John Paul II,
and by the requirement for a ‘gesture of reverence’,37 is not only a matter of decorum
before the Real Presence of Our Lord, important as that is. Rather, the grace received by
the communicant is dependent upon his or her disposition, and the cultivation of the
correct disposition, that of humility and child-like receptivity, is facilitated by reception
both kneeling and on the tongue. As Pope Paul VI emphasised: it is ‘part of the
preparation needed for the most fruitful reception of the Lord’s body.’38
11. This value of the traditional method was reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to
distribute Holy Communion himself to kneeling communicants on the tongue. The
official commentary on this decision cites both the concern about the loss of particles of
the Consecrated Host, and a concern
to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the
Sacrament of the Eucharist.39
34 Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff: ‘Communion received on the tongue
while kneeling’ (2010)
35 St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae, IIIa Q82 a3 c: ‘in reverentiam huius sacramenti, a nulla re
contingitur nisi consecrata, unde et corporale et calix consecrantur, similiter et manus sacerdotis, ad
tangendum hoc sacramentum. Unde nulli alii tangere licet, nisi in necessitate puta si caderet in terram, vel
in aliquo alio necessitatis casu.’
36 Pope Pius XII Encylical Letter Mediator Dei (1948) 61: ‘The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly
worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its
own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the
savour and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect.
They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the
consummation of the world.[ Matthew 28.20] They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse
of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.’ (Haec eadem iudicandi ratio tenenda est, cum
de conatibus agitur, quibus nonnulli enituntur quoslibet antiquos ritus ac caerimonias in usum revocare.
Utique vetustae aetatis Liturgia veneratione procul dubio digna est; verumtamen vetus usus, non idcirco
dumtaxat quod antiquitatem sapit ac redolet, aptior ac melior existimandus est vel in semet ipso, vel ad
consequentia tempora novasque rerum condiciones quod attinet. Recentiores etiam liturgici ritus
reverentia observantiaque digni sunt, quoniam Spiritus Sancti afflatu, qui quovis tempore Ecclesiae adest
ad consummationem usque saeculorum (cfr. Matth. 28, 20), orti sunt; suntque iidem pariter opes, quibus
inclita Iesu Christi; Sponsa utitur ad hominum sanctitatem excitandam procurandamque.)
37 See paragraph 4
38 Memoriale Domini
39 Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff: ‘Communion received on the tongue
while kneeling’ (2010).
Further, the traditional method is called an ‘external sign’ to ‘promote understanding of
this great sacramental mystery’.40
12. In the specific context of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the exclusive
practice of receiving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue goes hand in hand
with the great reverence shown to the Blessed Sacrament in that Form by the celebrating
priest. Two examples would be the priest’s double genuflection at the Consecration, and
the holding together of thumb and forefinger, from the Consecration to the Purification
of the Chalice. Reception of Communion in the hand would create a harmful dissonance
with other elements of the liturgy. The matter is well expressed in the Instruction Il
Padre, incomprensibile (1996), addressed to the Oriental Churches, on the importance
of maintaining the manner of receiving Holy Communion traditional to those Churches:
Even if this excludes enhancing the value of other criteria, also legitimate, and
implies renouncing some convenience, a change of the traditional usage risks
incurring a non-organic intrusion with respect to the spiritual framework to
which it refers.41
40 Ibid.
41 Instruction Il Padre, incomprensibile (1996) 53

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