Next month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will gather in Baltimore for their fall general meeting (Nov. 10-13). While five liturgical items top the agenda, it is interesting to note what is once again missing from the list. As reported by the Catholic News Service on Wednesday:
The liturgical items up for consideration:
– A revised translation of the ritual book “Dedication of a Church and Altar,” used whenever a new church is built or when a new altar is made…
– A first-ever official English translation of the ritual book “Exorcisms and Related Supplications,” revised after the Second Vatican Council, and promulgated in Latin in 1999 with an amended version in 2004. The main part of this book is the rite of major exorcism and includes an introduction outlining criteria for its use, which is always the decision of the bishop alone…
– A supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours of an English translation of the prayers used for the feast days of saints who have been added to the general calendar since 1984.
– Modifications to the Revised Grail Psalms, originally approved in 2010 by the Vatican. The USCCB Committee on Divine Worship recommended improving the translation and its “sprung rhythm” to make proclamation and singing easier.
The fifth liturgy-related item would authorize rewriting for later approval guidelines from its 1995 document “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities” in light of medical developments and increased awareness of challenges faced by Catholics today, such as gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease.
Unfortunately, nowhere on the bishops list of liturgical items to address is the current practice of receiving Communion in the hand. It would seem that Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan was absolutely correct earlier this year when he told the Catholic Herald:
“It seems that the majority of the clergy and the bishops are content with this modern use of Communion in hand and don’t realize the real dangers connected with such a practice. For me this is incredible. How is this possible, when Jesus is present in the little hosts? A priest and a bishop should say: ‘I have to do something, at least to gradually reduce this. All that I can do, I have to do.’ Unfortunately, though, there are members of the clergy who are making propaganda of the modern use of Communion in the hand and sometimes prohibiting receiving Communion on the tongue and kneeling…”
The Church has repeatedly stated that the universal norm for receiving Holy Communion is on the tongue. This practice was uninterrupted in the Latin Rite for over a millennium until a mere forty years ago. While the Church reaffirmed the traditional practice for receiving communion with the release of Memoriale Domini in 1969, it did permit for an exception, or indult, to be granted to episcopal conferences upon their request.
One Peter Five contributor Fr. Richard Heilman has previously written about the less than honorable means by which the bishops conference obtained a two-thirds majority vote and thereby introduced Communion in the hand to American Catholics:
In 1975 and again in 1976, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) attempted in vain to garner two-thirds of the bishops to vote in favor of receiving Communion in the hand. The following year – which coincided with the end of Bernardin’s term as president – brought one final attempt. Bernadin appointed Archbishop Quinn, who became Bernardin’s immediate successor as NCCB president, to be the chief lobbyist for Communion in the hand. During the proceedings a brave bishop requested a survey of the bishops be taken – this survey would ask each bishop whether or not Communion in the hand was widely practiced in his diocese, for without the practice’s current wide-use the first condition of the indult would not be satisfied.
Of course, everyone knew that Communion in the hand was not a previously established practice in the United States.
Though his request was seconded and supported in writing by five other bishops, Bernardin had the motion dismissed as “out of order.” The bishops then voted … only to once more fall short of the two-thirds majority. This, however, did not end the matter. Bernardin decided to (unlawfully) begin gathering “absentee votes” from any bishop he could find – including retired bishops who no longer administered any dioceses. Consequently, the number was adjusted to meet the two-thirds majority.
A 2008 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that over 40 percent of Catholics questioned view the Eucharist as only a symbol of Jesus. Some studies have reported that number even higher. We have also seen several recent high profile Satanic “black masses” promoted, reportedly using stolen consecrated hosts. The assault against Our Eucharistic Lord is unrelenting.
Will the USCCB ever revisit Communion in the hand? Now would be a good time to pray and fast for our bishops. May God grant them the wisdom, courage and willingness to address this most important of topics. Through thoughtful reflection and prayerful discernment may they finally redress this wrong committed. And may they finally demonstrate the same level of determination to repeal this indult that those unscrupulous few exhibited forty years ago when they “won” the required votes needed.
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.