Fr Peter Edwards | 23rd January 2011
At the recent monthly meeting of First Holy Communion Parents (attended by over 50 parents plus Assistant Catechists) a number of them spontaneously expressed deep concern - from their observations - at the casual and careless way in which not a few people receive Holy Communion. Others then questioned the British practice of Communion in the hand as opposed to the universal norm of Communion on the tongue and, in many countries, kneeling. It was noted that the Pope, teaching by example, gives Holy Communion only on the tongue and kneeling at all Papal Masses including in Britain last September.
It was explained that, in response to a request from the Bishops of England and Wales and few other countries (in the 1970s), Rome had granted permission for Holy Communion to be given in the hand, as an exception to the universal Catholic norm, but only on condition that there be proper catechesis (specified as "laid down by the Council of Trent" in 1562), that this practice therefore must not indicate any departure from Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and that there be neither danger or sacrilege nor of accident to the Eucharistic Species. It was felt that few of these conditions are being fulfilled.
At the end of the evening a number of other parents expressed related concerns and raised further questions, as did a significant number of Parishioners after the catechesis on these matters at the end of last Sunday's 9.30am and 5.30pm Masses (Sunday 16th January).
As a local but international community we are perhaps being challenged for failure to acknowledge the universal norms of the majority of Catholics and, if only by example or expectation, could be seent o discourage or prevent the legitimate rights of those whose national culture or personal devotion lead them to desire to receive Holy Communion on the tongue and / or kneeling. To facilitate the latter provision Communion Rails are unobtrusively restored so that those who wish to receive kneeling may do so.
While Communion in the hand was probably usual in the apostolic era, the Church's experience of profanity, accident, or casual behaviour leading to erroneous beliefs, quickly led Her to develop the custom of receiving Holy Communion directly onto the tonuge, not only as a safeguard against sacrifice, accident or heresy, but as a practical expression of people's natural devotion and homage.
The General Instruction directs that, before approaching the Minister, a sign of reverence is to be shown to Christ's Real Presence. This is normally a genuflection, or at least a bow.
In receiving directly in the mouth, the tongue should be extended slightly over the lower teeth, ensuring that the mouth is open sufficiently wide for the Minister to place the Sacred host upon the tonuge.
If receiving in the hand (permitted in the UK as an exception to the norm) the Sacred Host must be carried to the mouth with the utmost care, keeping the other hand beneath, to prevent any fragment falling to the ground. This must be done in front of the Minister (or, at most, taking one step to the side, while still facing the altar). Under no circumstances may anyone walk away with the Sacred Host still in hand, nor while conveying it to the mouth.
Furthermore, it is the right of every Catholic to be able to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, and kneeling. Nothing may be done to prevent this, and everything provided to facilitate these universal rights.
Of related concern is the observation of some people chewing on their way into Church...!
The Church's teaching on Fasting before Holy Communion (which used to be no food or drink from the previous midnight, and later relaxed to 3 hours before Communion) is currently that we have nothing to eat for one hour before Communion, the only exceptions being water or bona fide medicines, which is usually taken to mean those prescribed by a doctor, but might extend to a cough lozenge, if in real need.
This is little enough to expect in preparation, and as a sign of honour for the pre-eminent Food of Christ Himself with which He nourishes us in Holy Communion.
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