The post started by referencing a great little article by Father Richard Heilman entitled The Truth About Communion in the Hand While Standing. The article is worth reading in its entirety and can be debated by Catholics of good conscience on various points. Such a debate is not what interests me here, rather what I found interesting was the reaction to the article among my fellow "Catholic Defenders" (or, at least, among some of my fellow "Catholic Defenders").
|St. Padre Pio Receives the LORD|
What's the Body Got to Do With It?
The primary objection to Fr. Heilman's promotion of the traditional (and still universal) norm for receiving Communion in the Latin Rite (i.e. kneeling and on the tongue) was shrouded in a pseudo-gnostic "all that matters is your interior disposition" mentality. Those objecting to kneeling on these grounds basically were claiming that our bodies are so unimportant that any physical disposition would do for receiving the Lord as long as our inner "spiritual" disposition was correct. My response,
Certainly, interior disposition is important but so is bodily disposition. Let's not be Gnostics, "all that matters is my heart revering Jesus." The Lord comes in the Flesh, physically, in the Eucharist. We ought to, physically, show our respect. Yes, an interior disposition of reverence is necessary, but it is is not sufficient. In our Latin tradition, kneeling, not standing, is how we publicly show our love and respect for our Eucharistic Lord and it is still the norm for the Universal Church.Which lead to the objection that everyone ought to assume whatever they "feel" (don't you love the subjective content that word carries?) is the proper to show their individual reverence. To which I replied,
Contra the "everyone do what they feel like in their heart" attitude, the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal - the book that governs the celebration of the Mass) envisions something a bit different, "A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants."(42). I'm simply suggesting the traditional posture ought to be this called for "common posture." Although I do so with the caveat that the Church currently allows for both postures, even though the division this creates is undesirable.
What About the Infirm?
This lead one commenter to bring up the situation of an elderly infirm woman, suffering great sickness - indeed she is dying of her illness. This woman can't kneel. She must stand. Wouldn't it be a great lack of compassion to deny such a woman the healing presence of the Lord simply because she can't assume the traditional posture of reception of Our Lord? I responded,
"Hard cases" make for bad law. Such is true when someone tries to defend abortion by appealing to the minuscule amount of abortions in situations of rape or incest, such is true with your comment above. Are there certain extreme situations where a person can't receive in the normal way? Of course. And some people are so sick they can't come to Mass at all on a given Sunday (think of someone with the flu). But that in no way makes it okay for people to just choose to receive in a less reverent manner. We are to do the best we can. For someone with knee problems that might well mean sitting to receive. But that isn't the case for 99% of American Catholics.
|Pope Benedict XVI only distributed Communion on the Tongue|
What About Those Who Receive Kneeling, but Without a Proper Interior Disposition?
The prospect of someone receiving the Eucharist, kneeling and on the tongue, but without a proper interior disposition was brought up and contrasted with another person, who receives standing and in the hand, but well disposed interiorly. I replied,
Can someone receive kneeling irreverently. Of course they can, but again, that means nothing. That would be like saying rapists don't use contraception and loving married couples do, therefore contraception is okay. Exterior disposition is no more sufficient in and of itself than interior disposition is as we are neither mere animals nor pure spirits. We need both.What About St. Cyril of Jerusalem?
It was then that poor old St. Cyril of Jerusalem was brought up. If you ever have any conversation with anyone about Communion in the hand, you'll run into the following quote (taken out of context as we will see in a moment) from this Church Father, the quote, as presented, is,
ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM.(Cateches. Mystagog. v.(1))
When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen. 
It is important to note that this is the one and only quote from the Church Fathers that mentions anything like our modern practice of receiving Communion here in the US. There are many other quotes, from various Church Fathers, that attest to the early Church receiving the Lord in the traditional manner. It is also important to note that St. Cyril is an Eastern Church Father, thus he is describing not what was then practiced in the Latin Rite, but what was then practiced in the Eastern Church. Thus, Cyril's description has no bearing on Latin tradition. Finally, we must keep in mind that some of the works attributed to St. Cyril are thought to be fallacious. This passage comes from one of these "doubted" works. However, and most damaging of all to those who bring up this passage, is the context (remember, a text without context is a pretext for a prooftext). Let's see the full quote from St. Cyril (if it is from St. Cyril) - emphasis added,
"Approaching therefore, do not come forward with the palms of the hands outstretched nor with the fingers apart, but making the left [hand] a throne for the right since this hand is about to receive the King. Making the palm hollow, receive the Body of Christ, adding 'Amen'. Then, carefully sanctifying the eyes by touching them with the holy Body, partake of it, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it. For if you mislay any, you would clearly suffer a loss, as it were, from one of your own limbs. Tell me, if anyone gave you gold-dust, would you not take hold of it with every possible care, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it or sustain any loss? So will you not be much more cautious to ensure that not a crumb falls away from that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?Anyone who uses the St. Cyril to support Communion in the hand, but doesn't also argue for a return to rubbing Christ's Most Precious Blood all over our sensory organs is merely taking a soundbite from the saint to support a method of Communion entirely foreign to him. And, honestly, who thinks what St. Cyril says ought to be instituted immediately in all places where Christ is received in the hand? For what ever the merits of such a decision might be, we can at least admit that even Cyril doesn't describe the modern method of Communion which mirrors the way we eat everything else. Cyril's method maintains the uniqueness of Communion, albeit in a rather odd way.
"Then, after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, come forward only for the cup of the Blood. Do not stretch out your hands but bow low as if making an act of obeisance and a profound act of veneration. Say 'Amen'. and sanctify yourself by partaking of Christ's Blood also. While the moisture is still on your lips, touch them with your hands and sanctify your eyes, your forehead, and all your other sensory organs. Finally, wait for the prayer and give thanks to God, who has deemed you worthy of such mysteries."
|Does Communion in the hand lend itself to abuse more easily than on the tongue?|
Hasn't Rome Spoken on This?
Having thus failed to dispute anything Fr. Heilman presented or to make a case that Communion in the hand ought to be the most common method of reception of the Most Holy Body of Christ, the supporters of Communion in the hand turned lastly to announcing that the Church has spoken (Roma locuta est) and that the case is, thereby, closed. This is partially true and partially not. First, we must admit that the Church has, in fact, authorized both ways of receiving Communion for Catholics here in the United States. Thus, each Catholic is free to choose for himself and should not be harassed or looked down upon for choosing one method over the other. This means both that Catholics ought not be shamed for receiving standing and, what is much more likely, shouldn't be castigated or even refused Communion for assuming the traditional posture. That being said, the Church has not, by issuing an indult, set up a "separate but equal" choice between the two methods of receiving. One method can be, and in this case is, objectively better than the other. That doesn't mean every Catholic who receive in the traditional posture is holier or better than every Catholic who receives in the novel modern manner. Very holy Catholics can be found among people on both sides (as can some people that are not holy at all). The question isn't whether you or I are better, but whether the mode of reception is. That being said, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, 1 precisely in response to a question from bishops on whether Catholics must think optional changes in the Mass (e.g. Communion in the hand, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, altar girls, etc) are objectively good. The answer was a clear "no." All Catholics must admit that the Church has the jurisdictional authority to make such options available. All Catholics must admit that such options being used do not make the Mass invalid, but there is no obligation on Catholics to think such options are good (or are bad). Catholics are free to agree or disagree with each other on this point and remain good Catholics.
This last point is probably the most important of all. Catholics, like myself (and in fact almost everyone at the ordinary form Mass I attend), who choose to honor Christ by using the ancient and venerable posture of kneeling and receiving on the tongue are not to think less of those Catholics who decide to receive standing (as I did for quite some time myself). That would be to fall into the worse excesses of Pharisaism and I can only imagine what Pope Francis would have to say on that score. Likewise, Catholics who opt for the novel modern method are not to look at those Catholics who kneel for Communion as "pre-Vatican 2" or "anti-Pope Francis" or "Medieval." It is fine to "evangelize" for the traditional method, but only when done in a way that respects the freedom the Church has chosen to give in this matter and only when done with extreme charity. The saying, often misattributed to St. Augustine, In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (in necessary things unity, in uncertain things liberty, in all things charity) ought to rule the day.
1. Father Z does a great job of breaking this down HERE