by Rev. David Angelino
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In my previous column I wrote about the recent Pew study and the misunderstanding of a large percentage of Catholics who attend Mass weekly regarding the Sacred Eucharist, and would like to continue reflecting on what the Second Vatican Council called the “source and summit of the Christian Life,” which is the Eucharist (Lumen Gentium 11). After the Consecration at Mass, the bread and wine are no longer bread and wine but the true and substantial Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1651).
In that article I mentioned that in the United States, we have an indult to receive Communion in the hand. An indult is a term from Canon Law meaning special permission to deviate from the law. They are generally given for a specific time period or for a specific number of cases and can be revoked by the Holy Father at will. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that indults are “general faculties, granted by the Holy See to bishops and others, of doing something not permitted by the common law.”
In this specific case, the indult grants permission to depart from the world-wide liturgical norm of receiving Communion on the tongue. If you travel to other parts of the world, it will be hard to find someone who receives on the hand (in fact, at Masses Pope Francis celebrates St. Peter’s in Rome, priests are only permitted to give Communion on the tongue).
This special papal permission was granted in 1977 by Pope Paul VI, and it would be good to review some of what was said when this permission was given. Responding for the pope, the Congregation for Divine Worship (which oversees how the Sacraments are celebrated) said that where Communion is given in the hand, “care must be taken not to allow particles of the eucharistic bread to fall or be scattered. Care must also be taken that the communicants have clean hands and that their comportment is becoming” (Notitiae 5, emphasis added).
Permission to receive Communion in the hand has been granted, but we need to take care that the instructions that go with it are followed. I would like to call particular attention to the first part of the quote and elaborate some. It is very easy for particles of the Sacred Host to remain on the palm of the hand or on the fingers when bringing the host to the mouth. These particles can be very small, are rarely felt, and can be difficult to see, so extra care must be taken that none of them are dropped or stepped on (or even brushed into pockets and washed in the laundry). (It is for this reason too that I hold my thumb and index fingers together after touching the Sacred Host.)
I have seen such care taken by some religious sisters, and among the faithful too, who lick the palm of their hand and their fingers just in case any particles were left. If this seems like a lot of work, the practice of receiving Communion on the tongue is actually still the norm throughout the world and greatly reduces the risk of any accidental desecration of the Eucharist. Let us all be mindful of Who it is that we receive and take special care each and every time.
May God bless you,
Fr. David Angelino