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Speaking of the Liturgy…. July 6, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, Dallas Diocese, disaster, episcopate, Eucharist, General Catholic, horror, Latin Mass, North Deanery, sadness, scandals, sickness.

…..so, I’m reading this book I got just before the holiday.  I had  meant to read several books before getting to this one, but I took it with me when we were out of town and, having finished some other reading, started on it.  I was immediately captivated, although it is a fairly scholarly book.  It is The Banished Heart, written by Professor Geoffrey Hull of Macquarie University, Sydney.  I’ve only read the first 40 pages or so, but they are beyond interesting, they are positively illuminating.  I’m totally hooked.

Professor Hull argues (among many, many other things) that the use of (un)extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and the reception of Communion in the hand, are two of the gravest abuses of the post-conciliar times.  He establishes convincingly that, contrary to what is frequently claimed, while the early Church did allow Communion to be received in the hand, this was more a product of the environment the Church had to exist in than any kind of reverent practice.  Due to the constant persecution of the Romans, the Liturgy often had to be celebrated quick and on the fly, for the Liturgy could be interrupted at any moment.  So, Communion in the hand was permitted, but the practice was also very different.  The communicant could not touch the Host with their fingers, they had to move the Host directly from the palm of the hand to the mouth, and they were closely supervised to insure that no abuses occurred.  After this initial period passed, when many elements of the Liturgy and Theology of the Church were still in flux, being in their definitional stages, there was a conscious move away from Communion in the hand, and the practice was completely banned between the early 4th and middle of the 5th centuries, depending on the location.  It must be remembered that even many elements of core theology were still being defined at this time, and that the persecutions played a major role in how the Liturgy was celebrated, so that it is rather bizaare to hearken back to this time and trying to establish Communion in the hand as a practice somehow more fitting to the Liturgy of today, when these exterior conditions no longer prevail.

Regarding extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the practice is completely novel.  There is no evidence it has ever occurred in the history of the Church, save for these last 30 years or so.  There are countless reasons why only the priest was allowed to place the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue of the recipient – it emphasizes the Sacramental role of the priesthood and the recipient’s unworthy nature to literally receive the Body of Jesus Christ as food for their total nourishment, it shows the extreme reverence which we are to have for the Blessed Sacrament, with only those specifically consecrated to God as priests being allowed to handle it, and it heightens the Eucharistic mystery by reserving its consecration and handling by only those who are properly instituted to do so. 

After Communion in the hand was banned, and I mean banned, to have the profane fingers of an unconsecrated lay person touch the Blessed Sacrament was seen as the highest sacrilege.  The practice was completely forbidden in the Latin Church for at least 1500 years.  We must keep in mind here the organic development of the Mass.  Organically, this practice of reserving the handling of the Blessed Sacrament had evolved over the first few hundred years of the Church to become an accepted practice.  It was no medieval accident – much thought went into the development of this practice.

But, in the 1960s, liturgical revolutionaries (a term used by some of those most involved in the reform of the Mass after Vatican II) sought to ‘democratize’ the Church by doing away with reverent receipt of the Blessed Sacrament.  After all, modern man no longer went on bended knee before earthly king or prince, why should they do so at Mass?  Neither Communion in the hand nor the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion were specified by the Second Vatican Council.  Both evolved out of abuses that were later ‘normalized’ by decree for various reasons (but mostly due to pressure from various episcopal conferences, who threatened to go into schism and go ahead with these practices even without Papal sanction).  Even today, the use of ‘extraordinary’ ministers is supposed to be just that – for extraordinary occasions, but as we all see at Mass, it is anything but.  I wonder if those who now try to piously assist at Mass by being an EMHC would continue to do so if they understood the history of the Church with regards to lay people handling the Blessed Sacrament?

Get the book. 




1. John - July 7, 2011

Communion may be received either in the hand or on the tongue. Around the year A.D. 390, Cyril of Jerusalem indicated that the early Church practiced Communion in the hand when he instructed his audience: “Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hallowed thy palm, receive the body of Christ, saying after it, ‘Amen.’ Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the holy body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if anyone gave thee gold dust, wouldst thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss?” (Catechetical Lectures 23:22)

Enough said

tantamergo - July 7, 2011

I disagree. If you read my whole post, which it seems you did not, I state plainly that, yes, Communion in the hand was a practice in use in the early Church, but what must be kept in mind is that many practices and beliefs were still in flux in this period. As time went on, and theology and the Liturgy became more settled, Communion in the hand was specifically forbidden. It was seen as a deficient practice, and was extinct by the pontificate of Pope Gregory the Great. That was over 1500 years ago. That it has been suddenly ‘reinvented,’ being part of a desire to get back to the “more authentic” earliest Church, is also terribly problematic, for it ignores organic development, the progression of Divine Revelation, and the previous reasonings for the practice being forbidden!

I admire St. Cyril very much, but the Eastern Church he preserved and elevated does not practice Communion in the hand, nor extraordinary ministers. He was speaking at a very early point in the Church, and as I said the practice was abandoned within 100 years of your quoted text, because it was found to be deficient.

But thanks for the reply. I know what you’re saying, but I’m trying to get folks to see the discontinuity.

God bless!

Woddy - July 7, 2011

A quick study of St. Cyril’s works would show that the liturgy he is describing belongs to St. James, who preceded St Cyril. Thus, this would correspond to the Church’s persecution in the early 4th century, especially in Jerusalem. If you read the entire Lecture #23, where your quote comes from, it is amazing what we share with the liturgy then and now. However, I doubt that we would be “willing” to do all that they did then in today’s age. I can’t see kissing one another at the sign of peace!

2. Woddy - July 7, 2011

Also, I forgot to mention, John, that the liturgy that St. Cyril describes was the foundation for the Byzantine Rite. So, if you really want to follow that liturgy as described by St. Cyril, go to a Byzantine Church and experience their liturgy. It is beautiful! But, do not expect anything that you have at say, St. Marks.

3. Kelso - July 7, 2011

Enough said.

It is a fact admitted by many scholars of patrology that the Catechetical Lectures are dubiously ascribed to Saint Cyril. It is certain that his unorthodox successor, Patriarch John, worked in his own interpolations to these “lectures.” Saints Augustine, Jerome, and Epiphanius all affirm that Patriarch John held unorthodox views and was semi-Arian. It is preposterous to maintain that Saint Cyril, the most orthodox doctor, would write such superstitious and dangerously irreverent nonsense as “Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the holy body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members.” How could the communicant not risk “losing any of it” if he is ltouching his eyes with the Bread? There is no evidence other than this questionable section of the Catechetical Lectures that faithful Catholics in the early Church received communion in the hand. They received from the hands of a priest. Not even the deacons gave out holy communion, except when a priest was unavailable. There were always exceptions, that’s admitted, such as occurred during the persecutions, or the unordained desert hermits who may have self-communicated for a number of weeks at most, while the species of bread remained.

tantamergo - July 7, 2011

Great input, Kelso! God bless!

4. Nowadays, “we’re” smarter than St. Thomas Aquinas « A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics - July 12, 2011

[…] wrote last week about the history, or lack thereof, of the practice of Communion in the hand, which goes ‘hand in hand’ (pun intended) with Extraordinary Ministers of Holy […]

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