“After the consecration of the bread and wine, Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is really, truly, and substantially contained in the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the outward appearances of sensible things.”—Council of Trent, Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist, Chapter 1
The rise in Catholic disbelief in the Real Presence cannot be attributed to a singular event, but the following were likely contributors: the watering down of the liturgy, loss of sacred music and architecture, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, decades of poor catechesis, and above all, Communion on the hand. After 1969, when Pope Paul VI granted permission for the first countries to begin distributing Communion in the hand, the indult spread throughout the world like wildfire. It became so normalized that priests would sometimes refuse to give Communion to those who wanted to receive on the tongue.
In order to safeguard the rights of the faithful, the Congregation for Divine Worship reaffirmed that “each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.” When a certain plague arrived on the scene last year, bishops used canons 223 and 381 to suspend particular rights of the faithful, including this one. Whether or not bishops should be restricting Communion on the tongue is not the question I endeavor to answer today. Rather, my question is this: should Catholics who prefer to receive on the tongue switch to receiving on the hand under the current circumstances?
Where I live, this has been a real scenario for over a year. Since churches reopened, the archbishop ruled that Communion is only to be received on the hand. For many Catholics, this was not a problem: that’s how they received before anyway. But for the more traditionally minded, decisions had to be made. Some gave in and went back to the Novus Ordo because they longed to receive Our Lord. Others found alternatives in Ukrainian Catholic parishes or the Anglican Ordinariate. And still others waited, praying that this ludicrous treatment of Our Lord would be brief. What began as a matter of conscience became an issue of spiritual starvation.
So what is the answer to that question? Since we know that a well-formed conscience is important for the life of the soul, we might begin there and say that Catholics who have chosen in good conscience to abstain are well within their rights. However, the Church also has six precepts that serve as minimum requirements to guide us, and one of those is to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, during the Easter season. Conscience cannot overrule law. Even so, ecclesiastical authorities cannot mandate that a Catholic receive Communion in the hand.
Some might counter that these are unprecedented times for the Church, implying that we are dispensed from the aforementioned precept. Others might further argue that this is a case of prizing man-made tradition over the Body of Christ and that if Communion is being made available to us, we should put aside our personal feelings out of humility and receive gratefully. While I continued to turn these objections over in my mind and search for answers, another recent debacle caught my attention, namely, American bishops.
As I watch bishops south of the border discuss offering Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians, it appears that what was once a small, hairline fracture separating their actions from the words they profess is now a chasm. Princes of the Church no longer treat the Eucharist as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords; where is their faith? Can we trust that their allegiance lies with the Maker of Heaven and earth if they choose to dishonor His Body? How should we treat His Body if this is the example our leaders are setting?
To those who argue that we are clinging to man-made traditions, I answer that these traditions are what helped to preserve Catholic belief in the Real Presence for ages past and conveyed the mysterious truth about Who we worship. We continue holding on to these practices not out of selfishness or vanity but out of reverence for the God who loves us more than we can comprehend. Every Catholic I know who has chosen to abstain from receiving the Eucharist for the present is not puffed up with pride at his own holiness; he knows that he is dust and that he is not worthy to welcome the Lord under his roof.
To those who stated that these are unprecedented times, I heartily agree. But one does not throw himself off the ship just because there is a storm. We must remain faithful to Christ and to His Church, even through the trial of being betrayed by those who ought to be acting as shepherds to our souls.
If we have reached the point where the Eucharist is no longer treated as the Body of the Lord by most Catholics, even among the hierarchy, then we are in need of a new kind of rebellion: a return to tradition, revering Him as He ought to be revered and abstaining from taking Him into unclean hands. Numerous Catholics, by their refusal to regularly receive Communion in the hand, are saying, “I would rather starve than risk abusing the Body of Christ.” Like the saints and martyrs before us who gave their lives upholding the dignity of this great Sacrament, we call upon the Lord and wait for Him with expectant hearts.
[Image: The Communion of the Apostles (Eucharist Altarpiece) by Justus van Gent]