Friday, June 9, 2006

Fr. Zuhlsdorf Comments on Communion in the Hand

Fr. Zuhlsdorf, in his blog, comments on the nice write-up Mike Aquilina posted on his site, Fathers of the Church, about St. Paul Tarcisius, entitled: Youth When the Church was Young. I do encourage you to follow up, as Fr. Z suggests, and read the entire article by Mike.

Fr. Z says:

Fellow patristicist and blogger … hmmm… patristiblogger Mike Aquilina posted a nice riff over at his place. I tip my biretta to him. o{]:¬) It got me thinking (which nearly always results in trouble). Here is the blurb that got me going, but you should read the whole piece.

Tarcisius was a boy of third-century Rome. His virtue and devotion were so strong that the clergy trusted him to bring the Blessed Sacrament to the sick. Once, while carrying a pyx, he was recognized and set upon by a pagan mob. They flung themselves upon him, trying to pry the pyx from his hands. They wanted more than anything to profane the Sacrament. Tarcisius’ biographer, the fourth-century Pope Damasus, compared them to a pack of rabid dogs. Tarcisius “preferred to give up his life rather than yield up the Body of Christ.” Even at such an early age, Tarcisius was aware of the stakes. Jesus had died for love of Tarcisius. Tarcisius did not hesitate to die for love of Jesus.

I always uphold the legal right, according to the Church’s legislation, of people to receive Communion in the hand, if they choose. I don’t like it, but it is (for now) a right in those places where it is permitted (it isn’t everywhere) and according to the manner described by competent authority.

Where am I going with this? People will often defend Communion in the hand by coming unto my turf (Fathers of the Church). They site beautiful texts, not without a measure of sentimentality and with no concomitant reference to social history. Mike’s blurb, though hagiographical, points to something really important: the social context.

When people say, "But Father! But Father! Back in the early Church people received in the hand! St. Cyril says so!"

Okay, that was then and this is now. The passage about Tarcisius reminds us that people could be KILLED for their relationship to the Church and possession of the Blessed Sacrament.

I think I would have very little problem with Communion in the hand in an environment in which we could be killed for receiving Communion. There is nothing like the threat of death to sharpen the mind.

However, when I see the way most people receive Communion in the hand I have to ask myself, are these people ready to DIE for what is going on in this church today? Is Mass something "to die for", to borrow a phrase?

While the Fathers are a critical source for our theological reflection, in the centuries that followed our understanding of the Eucharist deepened. Kneeling and reception on the tongue developed for good reason. In this day of reduced understanding of the Blessed Sacrament and even belief in the Real Presence, in this age of "me, my, mine, I, I, I", we need to reinforce what we confess through physical gestures.

More from the original article by Mike Aquilina:

What made the Church attractive in the third century can make it just as attractive in the twenty-first. In the ancient world and in ours, young people want a challenge. They want to love with their whole being. They’re willing to do things the hard way — if people they respect look them in the eye and make the big demands. These are distinguishing marks of youth. You don’t find too many middle-aged men petitioning the Marines for a long stay at Parris Island. It’s young men who beg for that kind of rigor.

No young man or woman really wants to give his life away cheaply. Tarcisius knew better. So do the kids in our parishes.