Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Welshman and the issue of communion in the hand

Mass for the feast of The Ascension was glorious today (all Masses are glorious, yes, I know) but, for a sung Mass in rural Fishguard, it was glorious; we had a congregation of some 20 or 25 which is pretty good going.

For my sins I was the sole server, MC and bottle washer and all went well until Holy Communion and, in holding the communion plate I suddenly ran into trouble. 

A pair of hands was thrust out over the plate and I was faced with the dilemma; to carry on and force the plate under the chin of the recipient or to stand back.
In order to avoid any irreverence to the Body and Blood of Christ I stood back.

Next, and yet another pair of hands and yet another and another.

Slowly, very slowly, a few cogs clicked rustily into place. The hands, in each case, belonged to women of a certain age, wearing M & S cardigans and with hair styles that looked as if Mad Max had taken a pair of shears to them after a heavy session on jungle juice.

It could only mean one thing. 
They were nuns...not just any old nuns, M & S nuns you understand.

I felt like shouting: "You know what beeping rubrics are don't you?" But I didn't. not...most definitely M & S nun!

After Mass, in the sacristy, the priest told me that he had offered up the Mass for a friend of his, one Byron Harries, who died in March this year.

I knew the name but could not recall his provenance in any detail so I scurried to Google (after a post Mass feast in the local hostelry with good Catholics and much hearty laughter) - this post is beginning to sound a trifle "Aunty-ish" - sorry.

Byron Harris was a scholar and, even more, a Latin scholar. I do not know much about his life except that, for a time, he was an SSPX man, and no shame in that.

Thanks to Google I came across his link with the one man that stood firm when all around him was turgid and vile; Michael Davies (another Welshman).

And, even more, I found that Byron had done some research into communion by hand on behalf of Michael and that the researches had come out unequivocally in favour of the fact that reception by mouth is the correct way to receive the Son of God.

I am not normally, a lengthy poster. My brain tends to freeze after 300 words or more, so please forgive what, for me, must be the longest post ever (but it is the summer of the Olympics, is it not?).

Just as a teaser, here is an extract from a paper by Michael Davies, supported by research undertaken by the late Byron Harries.

The extract itself is long, very long,  but please read it all if you are able. It carries some real gems, including this one:

 "If you have lost something, and you think it might be under your bed, you kneel down 
to look underneath it. 
This does not mean anything. It is the natural thing to do.
 But kneeling can also be a very special symbol. In feudal times a man knelt before his overlord. 

He put his hands between the hands of his lord and made his oath, promising to be a true 
and  faithful  servant.  
This  is  called  paying  homage.  It  is  still  done  today  before  a  king  or queen.
 When the Queen of England was crowned in 1953, each lord of the realm knelt 
before her, put his hands between hers, and promised to be a true and loyal subject. 

 Kneeling down before another person is always a sign of respect for someone greater. 
The greatest kind of respect is called reverence. 
That is why it is a very ancient custom for men to kneel down before their God and worship Him. The Moslems, followers of the Arab prophet named Mohammed, do not only kneel down. They also touch the ground with their foreheads when they worship Allah, as they call God".

                                             MEMORIALE DOMINI 
                        Instruction on the Manner of Administering Holy Communion

                              The Congregation for Divine Worship on May 29, 1969
 "When it celebrates the memorial of the Lord, by that rite the Church witnesses to its faith and 
adoration of Christ, who is present in the sacrifice and who is given as food to those who share in the Eucharistic table. 
 For this reason it is of great concern that the Eucharist be celebrated and shared in most worthily and fruitfully, by observing unchanged the tradition that has reached us step by step, the tradition whose riches have been poured into the practice and life of the Church.
 The documents of history demonstrate that the ways of celebrating and receiving the holy Eucharist have been diverse.
 Even in our time many and important ritual changes have been introduced into the celebration of the Eucharist in order to bring it into accord with the spiritual and psychological needs of men today. 

Because of circumstances, communion under both kinds, bread and wine, which was once common in the Latin rite but had fallen into disuse little by little, has again been made a part of the discipline governing the faithful’s mode of receiving the holy Sacrament. 

At the time of the Council of Trent a different situation had arisen and was in effect everywhere; the Council approved and defended it as suited to the conditions of that period.

 With the renewal of the modes of communicating, however, the sign of the Eucharistic meal and the complete fulfilment of Christ’s mandate have been effected more clearly and vividly. At the same time a full sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist, expressed through Sacramental 
communion, has recently stirred up in some places the desire to return to the practice by which the Eucharistic bread is placed in the hand of the faithful who communicates himself by putting it in his mouth demonstrate that the ways of celebrating and receiving the holy Eucharist have been diverse. 
Even in our time many and important ritual changes have been introduced into the celebration of the Eucharist in order to bring it into accord with the spiritual and psychological needs of men today. 

In some communities and localities this rite  has even been performed without obtaining the 

prior approval of the Apostolic See and occasionally without appropriate preparation for the people. 
 It is true that, according to ancient usage, it was once permitted for the faithful to take the sacred food in their hands and themselves to place it in their mouths and even, in the earliest period, to carry the holy Sacrament with them from the place of celebration, especially in order to receive it as viaticum if they should have to suffer for the profession of the faith. 

 Nevertheless the precepts of the Church and the writings of the Fathers give abundant witness to the great reverence and prudence shown to the holy Eucharist. For “no one... eats this flesh unless first he adores,” and each recipient is warned: “...receive it and take care that none of it be lost to you”: “for it is the body of Christ.”

 In the meantime the care and ministry of the Body and Blood of the Lord was entrusted in a 
quite special way to sacred ministers or to persons assigned to this function: “After the president has completed the prayers and all the people have made the acclamation, those among us whom we call deacons distribute a part of the bread and wine and water, in which the thanksgiving has been made, to each one present and bring them to those who are absent.”

 The office of bringing the Eucharist to those  who were absent was soon entrusted to sacred 
ministers alone, for the reason that greater care might be shown for the reverence due to the Body of Christ as well as for the needs of the people. 

In the following period, after the true meaning of the Eucharistic mystery, its effect, and the presence of Christ in it  had been profoundly investigated, from a pressing sense of reverence toward this holy Sacrament and of the humility which its reception demands, the custom was introduced by which the minister himself would place the piece of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicants. 
 In view of the state of the Church as a  whole today, this manner of distributing Holy 
Communion must be observed, not only because it rests upon a tradition of many centuries but 
especially because it is a sign of the reverence of the faithful toward the Eucharist. 
The practice in no way detracts from the personal dignity of those who approach this great Sacrament and it is a part of the preparation needed for the most fruitful reception of the Lord’s body.

 This reverence is a sign of communion not in “common bread and drink” but in the Body and 
Blood of the Lord. By it “the people of God shares in the blessings of the paschal sacrifice, renews the new covenant once made by God with man in the Blood of Christ, and in faith and hope prefigures and anticipates the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of the Father.”

 In addition, this manner of communicating, which is now to be considered as prescribed by 
custom, gives more effective assurance that Holy Communion will be distributed with the 
appropriate reverence, decorum, and dignity; that any danger of profaning the Eucharistic species, in which “the whole and entire Christ, God and man, is substantially contained and permanently present in a unique way,”will be avoided; and finally that the diligent care which the Church has always commended for the very fragments of the consecrated bread will be maintained: “If you have allowed anything to be lost, consider this a lessening of your own members.”

 On this account, since some few episcopal conferences and individual bishops had asked that the usage of placing the consecrated bread in the hand of the faithful be admitted in their territories, the Supreme Pontiff decreed that each bishop of the entire Latin Church should be asked his opinion concerning the appropriateness of introducing this rite. A change in a matter of such importance, which rests on a very ancient and venerable tradition, besides touching upon discipline can also include dangers. These may be feared from a new manner of administering Holy Communion: they are a lessening of reverence toward the noble Sacrament of the altar, its profanation, or the adulteration of correct doctrine.

 Three questions were therefore proposed to the bishops. Up to March 12 (1969) the following responses had been received: 

1. Does it seem that the proposal should be accepted by which, besides the 
traditional mode, the rite of receiving Holy Communion in the hand would be 
Yes: 567 
No: 1,233 
Yes, with reservations: 315 
Invalid votes: 20 

2. Should experiments with this new rite first take place in small communities, with 
the assent of the local Ordinary? 
Yes: 751 
No: 1,215 
Invalid votes: 70 

3. Do you think that the faithful, after a well planned catechetical preparation, would 
accept this new rite willingly? 
Yes: 835 
No: 1,185 
Invalid votes: 128 
 From the responses received it is thus clear that by far the greater number of bishops feel that the present discipline should not be changed at all,  indeed that if it were changed, this would be offensive to the sensibilities and spiritual appreciation of these bishops and of most of the faithful.

Please remember Byron Harries and Michael Davies in your prayers, we need more of their ilk today.


  1. Sorry ; any time you quote calling a certain meccan gentlemen a prophet, you've lost me.Christians may use the word alah for God in more than one country, otherwise the identification is .....

  2. Superb post, Richard, and worth every word. Thank you.

    Mike - I take your point, but while I certainly do not accept that Mohammed was a prophet, I have known many Muslims, whose reverence, piety, and desire to convert put many Catholics to shame.

    They gave me no peace about apostasising to their religion and would make powerful Catholics.

  3. If you decide to have a whip round to send Sister Twin Set over to her mates in USA I will gladly chip in.

  4. Hay algo que no cierra, si está Cristo en la eucaristia, cuerpo, alma y divinidad,¿ porqué no se arrodillan ante Él?, veo una hermana tomar la comunión en la boca pero de pie,aquí en donde yo vivo, nunca se dió la comunión en la mano, sin embargo son modernistas; si tengo fe y se que allí en la hostia está Dios mismo, ¿lo voy a recibir de pie sin caer de rodillas ante ÉL?

  5. Mike- I also take your point but the title 'prophet' is part of Mohammed's title and, as such, is just a way of identifying him.
    Thank you Chris and I agree with you entirely.
    Introibo - there are just too many of them to ship out, I think a one way ticket to the Isle of man might be the answer.
    Jorge - welcome and gracias.

  6. Re: your hand-thrusting feral nun problem, I'm reminded of the late Francis Finegan SJ who when faced with the same problem leaned in close to the communicant and in a fierce whisper commanded her "Open your mouth!". She did, and he carried on as if nothing had happened. But then he had been a housemaster in a range of boys' schools and thus had faced worse than that!