Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Restoration: communion on the tongue

My parish priest has sent out a letter, instructing us as follows:
As you may remember from my communication of several days ago I advised that as of Advent I (Nov. 29, 2015), the mode of administration of Holy Communion will be by intinction. This is the mode by which the Body of Christ is dipped by the priest into the Precious Blood and subsequently both species (Body and Blood) are administered simultaneously. This mode of administration is the norm in the Principal Church of the Ordinariate, several of the larger established parishes of the Ordinariate, and also the largest Catholic Anglican Use parish in the U.S. So, this is not a practice that will be peculiar to Incarnation. Nor, for most of you, will there be the necessity of changing your usual practice at the Altar rail, as the vast majority (over 98% ) of parishioners here already practice reception of the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue. However, for those who do not currently receive on the tongue this new practice will necessitate that you do so, as this mode of administration precludes the option of receiving in the hand.
Back in August, he gave a long sermon on the subject, replete with horror stories. We've all heard them, and probably been witness to a few. I don't have time to rehearse them, though I am fond of the one about the old lady who spirited the species home to feed to her dog.

As a kid confirmed in the Episcopal Church, back when it was a still recognizable branch of orthodox Protestant Christianity, I'm fine with the priest's directive, since I took my first communion (and every one thereafter) on the tongue, kneeling at an altar rail. (Catholic churches used to have that rail. They seem to have disappeared prior to my entrance. I'm sure there's a story behind that too.) Back then, a fair number of Episcopalians took pride in the conviction that they "weren't that far from the Catholics." There was just this familial disagreement about the Pope's authority. My Episcopalian grandmother once averred in my presence that he was the Vicar of Christ. Don't ask the question because I don't have the answer. In any case, great reverence accompanied the reception of the bread and wine, always under both species, even though it was no more than bread and wine. They didn't know that, though, believing otherwise.

When I turned Catholic - many years and a few spiritual and philosophical somersaults later - I didn't see much of that. I won't say never, but it was pretty rare. No one knelt and most everyone seemed to be taking it in the hand. It didn't bother me much, but I continued with my old habit because it was what I knew. One of the rationales for the new method given by the Canadian bishops' conference was that it "emphasizes an active personal involvement, one of the goals of liturgical renewal." If this rationale is valid, if it is indeed meet and right that the Host pass through human hands other than the priest's, I have an idea. Simply retrain the Eucharistic ministers to go down the aisle, pausing at each pew to pass the Eucharist down the row until everybody's got one. He can still say "the body of Christ" and the row can bark in unison "Amen." If it can pass through one pair of hands, why not many? And it'll speed things up, which should please a lot of Catholics who seem to be in a hurry to get out.

There's a history of how the modern practice came to be here (which probably relies heavily on this earlier one) and of Cardinal Bernardin's subterfuge in bringing it about. Pope John Paul II didn't like the practice, and Benedict XVI really didn't like it.

Though it never exercised me much, I've never understood it. What is so important about taking it in the hand? How does that make you more of a participant or more personally involved? What can be more personal than taking the Body of the Lord into your mouth? The hand is just a way station, an interference between you and the fulfillment of a divine command. If I understand the matter correctly, the Creator of the Universe, the Maker of all things and judge of all men, allows his very holiness, his perfect innocence, to be consumed by you, allows you literally to eat His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to help eradicate the poison of sin within you. And yet - rather than being slammed to your knees in gratitude at knowing this - it is instead really really important that you first gaze upon Him as He rests in your hand, your unconsecrated hands that you probably did not wash before coming to Mass.

As I say, I don't get it. My little parish has a communion rail, by the way. These Anglican ordinariates were very close to Benedict's heart. I wonder how often, if at all, Francis thinks of them.

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