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Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Memoriale Domini - a reminder

There has been some controversy regarding Archbishop Ranjith's remarks on Communion in the Hand. It is worth re-reading Memoriale Domini, an "Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion" from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship issued in 1969. The instruction noted that there was a desire in some places to return to the ancient practice of communion in the hand and that,
"Indeed, in certain communities and in certain places this practice has been introduced without prior approval having been requested of the Holy See"
The Instruction admitted that this was an ancient practice but underlined the reverence that was always shown to the Eucharist. It also recognised that at one time, people had taken communion home for those who were sick. It then summarised the historical development that took place:
"Soon the task of taking the Blessed Eucharist to those absent was confided to the sacred ministers alone, so as the better to ensure the respect due to the sacrament and to meet the needs of the faithful. Later, with a deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant."
Then comes the principal conclusion of the document:
"This method of distributing holy communion must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful's reverence for the Eucharist. The custom does not detract in any way from the personal dignity of those who approach this great sacrament: it is part of that preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord."
The point is made that this reverence shows that it is not bread and wine that is being shared but the body and blood of Christ, and underlines the effectiveness of the practice of communion on the tongue:
"Further, the practice which must be considered traditional ensures, more effectively, that holy communion is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity. It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species, in which "in a unique way, Christ, God and man, is present whole and entire, substantially and continually." Lastly, it ensures that diligent carefulness about the fragments of consecrated bread which the Church has always recommended"
Because "a small number" of episcopal conferences had asked for communion in the hand, Pope Paul VI thought that it would be good to consult all of the Bishops. A large majority were opposed to the introduction of communion in the hand; the document gives the figures and then says:
"From the returns it is clear that the vast majority of bishops believe that the present discipline should not be changed, and that if it were, the change would be offensive to the sentiments and the spiritual culture of these bishops and of many of the faithful.

Therefore, taking into account the remarks and the advice of those whom "the Holy Spirit has placed to rule over" the Churches, in view of the gravity of the matter and the force of the arguments put forward, the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering holy communion to the faithful.

The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church."
It would have been fine if the document had ended there. Unfortunately, the concession was granted that if communion in the hand had come to prevail in a particular country (illegally, as the document had already noted), the bishops should weigh matters carefully
"taking care to avoid any risk of lack of respect or of false opinions with regard to the Blessed Eucharist, and to avoid any other ill effects that may follow."
If they then reached a two-thirds majority, they could apply to the Holy See which would "examine each case carefully etc" for permission.

Bishop Ranjith is not therefore contradicting anything of Memoriale Domini when he says that the outcome of allowing communion in the hand has led to "a certain loss of faith in the real presence" and reduced the "sense of profound adoration". Indeed it was the risk of this happening which led Pope Paul VI to determine that "the present discipline should not be changed".
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