Sunday 15 March 2020

Why not receive in the hand?

With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have been requested by our bishop either to receive in the hand or make a spiritual communion.

I am grateful that he did not mandate this, as that would seem to be beyond his authority, but a request is understandable (though I understand that there is no evidence base for it...)

However, I believe that obedience is best practiced when we don't agree with, or sympathise with, the authority; but I am under the authority of my bishop (and he is generally a good chap), so I will obey.

I am also grateful that he explicitly mentioned making a spiritual communion: it makes it clear that he has some understanding of the sensitivities about this issue amongst some of his flock.

For myself, therefore (and I only speak for myself) I shall be making a Spiritual Communion for the foreseeable future.

I have noticed some odd comments on social media about people making this decision, and they show a startling lack of awareness about the considerations that might inform such a decision.

So here are some of the reasons why I will not receive in the hand.

I remember when this was introduced; the arguments used didn't convince me as a teenager: they look even thinner now, with the benefit of experience and hindsight.

Indeed, much of the reasoning seemed completely specious: Communion in the hand, we were told, reminds us that we have become temples of the living God; brings out the truth that we are sharers in Jesus' priesthood; is a more mature and adult gesture...

I defy anyone to justify such twaddle.

Paul VI himself disagreed. In Memoriale Domini, which dealt with this issue (as communion in the hand had been introduced by disobedient priests in Holland and Germany) he insisted on the traditional way of receiving. He polled the bishops of the world, who were overwhelmingly against the innovation, and he reiterated the dangers of communion in the hand, including a decline in reverence and a decline in belief in the Real Presence.

However, in a pastoral gesture, he said that where the practice was already established, the Bishops' Conference, if they wished (by a 2/3 majority) could ask Rome for permission to continue the practice.

Scandalously, not only did the bishops where the practice was established petition Rome, so did many other Conferences. And through this back door, the tradition of the Church and the clear direction from the Holy Father, and the views of the majority of the world's bishops, were all overthrown.

Since then, I have also  learned that the much-quoted lines from St Cyril of Jerusalem were very carefully selected to make it seem as though this were a return to an ancient practice.  But what St Cyril practiced was very different: immediately after the oft-quoted lines about making the left hand a throne, he continues "Then, carefully sanctifying the eyes by touching them with the holy Body...." One can see why the Church developed a more fitting manner of reception... Clearly that is not what was being reintroduced. Instead, what we were being taught to do was exactly what the Protestant reformers of the 16th Century had invented. These reformers, of course, were concerned to eliminate anything redolent of belief in 'a sacrificing priesthood possessing powers denied to the laity, or the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.'

So, given its genesis in the reformation as a gesture opposing Catholic teaching, its initial introduction in the 60s by disobedient clerics, the clear intention of Memoriale Domini and the world's bishops when the issue was addressed, and the subsequent chicanery of the E&W (and other) hierarchies in introducing this, and distributing dishonest propaganda about it; and finally, given my own observation of the truth of Paul VI's warnings of the probable consequences... no, I will not avail myself of this practice.

(For more information on this, and the source of my direct quotations, see Communion in the Hand and other Frauds, by Michael Davies)