"The little book that will cause a great storm"
Alcuin Reid, OSB on a book endorsed by Cardinal Francis Arinze
19 December 2008
Dominus Est: It Is The Lord
By Athanasius Schneider
Gracewing £5.99 [for UK orders]
It was 1969. Paul VI was the Pope. The Congregation for Divine Worship issued an Instruction, Memoriale Domini, on the manner of receiving Holy Communion. It makes very interesting reading.
After recalling the development of the reception of Communion on the tongue as a fruit of "a deepening understanding of the truth of the Eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it", the Instruction declares that "this method of distributing Holy Communion must be retained... not merely because it has many centuries of tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful's reverence for the Eucharist.
"The custom does not detract in any way from the personal dignity of those who approach this great sacrament: it is part of that preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord," it said.
It also warned: "A change in a matter of such moment, based on a most ancient and venerable tradition, does not merely affect discipline. It carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering Holy Communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine."
And it published a survey of the world's bishops, which led it to conclude: "The vast majority of bishops believe that the present discipline should not be changed, and that if it were, the change would be offensive to the sentiments and the spiritual culture of these bishops and of many of the faithful."
For this reason it reported: "The Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering Holy Communion to the faithful." So, given that Communion in the hand is now practically universal and younger generations know practically nothing else, what happened?
A "loophole" existed. The Instruction contained the provision for bishops' conferences to make a decision to allow Communion in the hand in places where "contrary usage... prevails". And over the coming decade or so this loophole was exploited.
Today, the Instruction's warnings about loss of reverence for, belief in and even the profanation of the Blessed Sacrament have - sadly - been vindicated. It is time to look again at the question of Communion in the hand. This is precisely what a young bishop from Central Asia has done in Dominus Est.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, a patristic scholar, appointed a bishop by Pope Benedict in 2006, has raised his voice in prophetic call for the western Church to recall the importance, if not the necessity, of returning to the previous discipline of the reception of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue.
There is, of course, no question that - as Memoriale Domini itself attests - it is "true that ancient usage once allowed the faithful to take this divine food in their hands and to place it in their mouths themselves".
This fact was much flaunted throughout the 1970s, together with talk about receiving Holy Communion as mature adults, and not as children. We were encouraged to return to the primitive purity of early Church practice as we emerged from centuries of supposedly corrupt accretion in the way we worshipped.
However, in our egalitarian excitement we ignored the sober facts that, as Bishop Schneider attests, the "organic development" of the practice of receiving Communion on the tongue is nothing other than "a fruit of the spirituality and Eucharistic devotion stemming from the times of the Fathers of the Church", and that the exclusion of kneeling for Holy Communion was a feature of the Protestant theological revolt of both Calvin and Zwingli.
Indeed, no less a scholar than Klaus Gamber points out that the reception of Communion in the hand "was in fact abandoned... from the fifth or sixth century onwards".
The Church as she proceeds through time accrues wisdom. Her Sacred Liturgy, developed in tradition, is a privileged repository of the same. All but the most partisan liturgists today recognise that many of the hasty decisions taken in respect of liturgical reform and practice in the Sixties and Seventies were infected by an antiquarianism that was at best naïve and at worst unbalanced. It is time to reconsider some if not many of those decisions and to take decisive steps to correct them where necessary. Communion in the hand is one such.
Lest we think that this young bishop - whose account of his formation in Eucharistic piety under Communist persecution in the first chapter is a spiritual treasure in itself - raises his voice alone, let us be clear that the book carries the approbation of the superiors of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Arinze, who retired this month, states: "I have read the whole book with delight. It is excellent."
And Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, a true prophet of the liturgical reform of Benedict XVI, writes in the preface: "I think it is time to evaluate carefully the practice of Communion in the hand and, if necessary, to abandon what was never actually called for in the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium nor by the Council Fathers but was... 'accepted' after it was introduced as an abuse in some countries."
This little book, a brief but insightful survey of the Fathers, the Early Church, the Magisterium and the Eastern and Western liturgical rites, is capable of creating a storm - not in a teacup, but in the minds of those unduly attached to the flawed external changes made to the liturgy in what can only be described as a peculiar period in the Church's history.
That it will provoke a storm is unfortunate, for the practice it advocates is a practice of love and of humility, one from which no one who truly adores Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament ought to recoil.
But perhaps today some controversy is necessary. Future generations, though, may well wonder why we took so long to realise that it is, indeed, the Lord, and once again to behave accordingly.
This is 2008. Benedict XVI is the Pope. The Holy Father has himself already reformed the manner of reception of Holy Communion at the Masses he celebrates. Let us follow his example. It accords with the teaching of Pope Paul VI.
I have found another place online to purchase Dominus Est in addition to getting it local at the Grotto Gift Shop. Orders can be obtained in the UK from Gracewing.
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