Argentine bishop warns priests to distribute Holy Communion in the hand

Eucaristia Pixabay 210820 Pixabay.

The Bishop of San Rafael, Argentina, warned last week that he will impose canonical sanctions on priests who distribute Communion on the tongue during the coronavirus pandemic, in defiance of a diocesan directive permitting the distribution of Communion only in the hand.

Bishop Eduardo Taussig  announced June 13 that the Eucharist in his diocese was to be distributed only in the hand, until the pandemic concluded.

The bishop asked Catholics at that time to avoid putting priests or ministers of Communion in a difficult position "by requesting communion on the tongue, either at Mass or outside of the celebration."

"And I implore you not to put them in the very painful position of having to obey the Church and the current norms and not being able to give you Communion. This is what priests have to do right now and, as faithful ministers, they are willing to comply. And if someone is not disposed to receive Communion in the hand, know that you're not obliged to do so and can make a spiritual communion," he added.

A number of priests in the diocese continued to distribute the Eucharist on the tongue after Taussig's decree was issued.

A conflict over the matter, seen to be led by faculty members of a seminary in the diocese, eventually led to the announcement that the seminary would be closed at the end of the semester, by order of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy.

Speaking to TVA El Nevado on July 27, Fr. José Antonio Álvarez, spokesman for the Diocese of San Rafael, explained that the decision to close the diocesan seminary, which according to the Argentine press has the largest enrollment in the country, was due to "the undisciplined reaction of a portion of the diocesan clergy" to the bishop's decree.

"At this time this diocese does not have the ability to supply a team of formators willing to comply with the discipline of the Church," the spokesman explained.

Despite the controversy over the seminary, priests in the diocese have continued to distribute the Eucharist on the tongue.

In his Aug. 20 message, Taussig warned that those who had acted with "disobedience have caused scandal and division."

He said his message constituted a formal canonical warning that any priest who continued to disobey his directive would face canonical sanctions.

In May, Timothy Olson, a canonist for the Diocese of Fargo and the secretary of the Canon Law Society of America, told CNA that a bishop has the authority to restrict the distribution of Holy Communion to the hand, when it is a matter of necessity.

"Ordinarily, there is no doubt that a bishop lacks the authority to restrict the reception of communion to the hand only," Olson said, but noted that "a human law that in most circumstances promotes the common good, can in an individual situation actually harm the common good."

Olson said when it comes to the liturgy, there are "some aspects that are of divine law, and thus never subject to dispensation, such as the matter and form of a sacrament."

"Other aspects of the liturgy, however, are of human law, such as which readings are to be read, or the manner of reception of Communion," he said. "Although these human laws are written to protect the dignity and efficacy of the liturgy, they are able to be dispensed in cases of urgent necessity."

"A stark example of liturgical laws being dispensed by necessity occurred in the concentration camps of World War II," Olson said. "Priests, such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, always observing the matter and form for the confection of the Eucharist, held extremely truncated Masses while imprisoned, only observing those rubrics that were possible in the situation."

Fr. James Bradley, assistant professor at the School of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America, argued that the decision to prohibit the distribution of the Eucharist on the tongue should lie with Rome, not with diocesan bishops.

More in Americas

 "The liturgical discipline of the Church, because of its importance in relation to the nature of the sacraments and the deposit of faith, is generally reserved to the Apostolic See," Bradley told CNA.

"The fact that the liturgical law is specifically reserved to the Apostolic See, except in limited cases defined by the law, means that changes to liturgical discipline and practice are not within the competence of the diocesan bishop unless the law prescribes such," Bradley said.

But Bradley cautioned against presuming the ability to dispense with liturgical laws in the Church.

"It seems to me that the fact that the liturgical law is specifically reserved to the Apostolic See, except in limited cases defined by the law, means that changes to liturgical discipline and practice are not within the competence of the diocesan bishop unless the law prescribes such," Bradley said.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.