Vatican City, Mar 7, 2018 / 15:05 pm
Cardinal Robert Sarah has authored a preface for a newly published book detailing the ascendancy, in the last 50 years, of the reception of Communion in the hand. He has been thanked for his efforts with at least one call for his removal from office. The flare-up offers an opportunity to look in greater detail at the history of the means of receiving Holy Communion.
Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote a preface to La distribuzione della Comunione sulla mano: Profili storici, giuridici e pastorali (The distribution of Communion in the hand: A historical, juridical, and pastoral profile) by Father Federico Bortoli, which was published recently by Edizioni Cantagalli.
The book notes that in 1969, following the Second Vatican Council, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued an instruction which expressed that Blessed Paul VI had determined not to change the means of administering Holy Communion to the faithful – i.e., to retain distribution of the Host on the tongue to those kneeling, rather than allowing communicants to receive the Host in their hands.
The instruction, Memoriale Domini, indicated that where distribution of communion in the hand already prevailed, episcopal conferences should weigh carefully whether special circumstances warranted reception of the Eucharist in the hand, avoiding disrespect or false opinions regarding the Eucharist and ill effects that might follow, and if a two-thirds voting majority decided in the affirmative, such a decision could be affirmed by the Holy See.
Despite this instruction, and subsequent expressions of support for the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue from St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the distribution of the Eucharist on the hand has become widely adopted, especially in the West.
The Congregation for Divine Worship’s 2004 instruction on matters regarding the Eucharist, Redemptionis sacramentum, established that: “Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.”
And the General Instruction of the Roman Missal currently in force in the US simply states that “The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant.”
Using previously unpublished documentation, Bortoli's work traces the dynamics which led to the present situation, and argues that reception of Holy Communion in the hand has contributed to a weakening of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.