Published in Fairfield County Catholic by Father Greg J. Markey Pastor, Saint Mary Parish Norwalk
The beginning of each year is often a time of “New Year Resolutions,” and a wonderful resolution for 2009 would be to start exercising the option of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue in Mass. Let me explain why. This past summer, Catholics were horrified when a professor at the University of Minnesota willfully desecrated the Eucharist. On the Internet, Professor Paul Zachary Myers invited anyone to obtain for him a consecrated Host from a Catholic Church so that he could desecrate It. A man read about the request and took a Host from the London Oratory, videotaping himself taking It from the Mass. He then sent the Host to Professor Myers and posted the video on the Internet. Professor Myers proceeded to drive a rusty nail through the Host in order to show the “absurdity” of the Catholic belief in the True Presence, and posted photos of the event on his website. Unfortunately, the event set off a series of copycat crimes, and these desecrations are all over the Internet.
I have offered Mass in reparation for this sacrilege, and I know that many good Catholics have also done forms of prayer and penance in order to console the wounded heart of Our Lord. Last year, here at Saint Mary’s, we found a Host under one of the pews in the church. I know from other priests that this happens every once in a while in other parishes as well. These incidents remind us that it would certainly be more difficult for people to take the Host improperly if everyone were receiving Holy Communion on the tongue. As the Catholic Church teaches, “If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 92).
Many people born prior to the Second Vatican Councilwill remember when everyone received Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. This has been the long-held practice for thousands of years (although during certain periods of the early Church it did allow Communion in the hand). While many think that it was Vatican II that called for this change, it is important to note: Vatican II never called for Communion in the hand. Communion in the hand was the result of disobedience which forced the hand of the Church (no pun intended!).
Furthermore, if one does receive Communion on the hand, there is always the danger that particles may remain in the hand. The Council of Trent infallibly teaches that Our Blessed Lord is truly present, even in the particles (Chapter VIII, Canon 3).
For this reason, the priest always purifies his hands of particles at the end of Mass, and uses a corporal (a small white cloth meant to catch the corpus, or body, of Our Lord). This past year, Pope Benedict XVI asked that, from now on, all who receive Holy Communion from him must receive It on the tongue and while kneeling. I am sure that, by insisting on this ancient practice, the pope is trying to foster a deeper respect for the Eucharist as well. While both practices are permitted in most dioceses, I encourage parishioners to give prayerful consideration to following Pope Benedict’s lead by receiving Holy Communion on the tongue in the New Year.