In his 2014 interview with the Catholic Herald UK, Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan spoke of the great crisis facing the Church today, due in large part to the widespread mistreatment of the Eucharist. Bishop Schneider noted:
To my knowledge and experience, the deepest wound in the actual crisis of the Church is the Eucharistic wound; the abuses of the Blessed Sacrament…
There is…the question of the objectively irreverent reception of Holy Communion. The so-called new, modern manner of receiving Holy Communion directly into the hand is very serious because it exposes Christ to an enormous banality.
This isn’t simply the opinion of Bishop Athanasius Schneider either. While few bishops have spoken out against the modern practice, and many episcopal conferences permit it, Rome has itself acknowledged the inherent problem with distributing Communion in the hand. The Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff has weighed in on this very matter. From the Vatican’s website:
From the time of the Fathers of the Church, a tendency was born and consolidated whereby distribution of Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is two-fold: a) first, to avoid, as much as possible, the dropping of Eucharistic particles; b) second, to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
It is for this very reason that the Holy Father returned to the traditional practice of giving Communion on the tongue at papal masses.
While others have written about the widespread loss of belief in the Real Presence over the last forty years (a view supported by multiple studies), it is the Vatican’s first point of emphasis that should be of immediate concern to us. Put simply, receiving Communion in the hand leads to a loss of Eucharistic particles resulting in profanation of the Blessed Sacrament.
Bishop Schneider has addressed this concern as well:
There is the grievous fact of the loss of the Eucharistic fragments. No one can deny this. And the fragments of the consecrated host are crushed by feet. This is horrible! Our God, in our churches, is trampled by feet! No one can deny it.
A priest and a bishop cannot say this practice is ok. Here is at stake the most holy, the most divine and concrete on Earth.
In recent years I have heard this concern dismissed, even doubted, by those advocating for the modern practice. Some see these prophetic warnings against profanation as a form of scrupulosity, a rigidity that is over-the-top in its concern for the Eucharist. It appears that many have forgotten that Our Lord is “present whole and entire in the smallest portion of the Holy Eucharist…”(Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 22).
Indeed, a defense of Communion in the hand requires us to believe one of two propositions. Either:
- The Vatican and Bishop Schneider are being dishonest when they say that fragments of Our Eucharistic Lord are lost when Communion is distributed in the hand; or…
- Particles are lost but we simply do not care because Catholics are used to this modern practice and we cannot ask them to change now. In other words, fear of Man instead of fear of the Lord.
A dialogue about this matter of grave importance is needed now more than ever. The very fact that few are interested in having the conversation should concern us. As Bishop Schneider has said, “fragments of the consecrated host are crushed by feet…Our God, in our churches, is trampled by feet!”
A priest recently shared something with me that I believe few of the laity know, but which demands to be known. He said that at every Mass…every Mass…he sees particles of the host floating in the sacred chalice after rubbing together his thumbs and fingers, and after brushing off the paten. Here we are not simply speaking of that which is too small to see. No, these pieces are actually visible to the naked eye!
I have since asked nearly a dozen other priests about this and have received back the same answer. To a man each one said that they also see or feel fragments of Our Lord at every Mass. Unfortunately, the care they take to prevent the loss of particles on the altar cannot be duplicated when distributing communion in the hand. I am convinced that many of the laity have not fully realized this yet. It also seems to me that it is unfair for a bishop to ask obedience from his priests in a matter of profanation of the Eucharist. And yet, until bishops end this irreverent practice in their dioceses once and for all, that is indeed what is happening.
As stated earlier, either we believe pieces of Our Lord aren’t being lost and trampled, or we choose not to care. Our bishops no doubt see and feel fragments when offering the Holy Mass. Therefore, it seems to me that they have chosen the latter and not the former. And if so, how can we then not acknowledge that it is fear of Man which is preventing the Church from ending this profane practice? In the end, Our Eucharistic Lord should never be viewed as acceptable collateral damage because we are afraid to do what we know is right.