Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Intimate and Conscious

There’s an interesting article by Patricia Snow about Communion in the hand over at the On the Square section of the First Things website. She covers a lot of ground in a relatively short piece. Among other things, she points to the unity of liturgical symbolism that is lost when Communion is given in the hand, particularly the cleansing rituals that are supposed to ensure that no crumbs of the sacred species are casually left to be trampled upon.

I choose to receive Our Lord on the tongue, but I admit that my thought has always tended toward the subjective. Why do I receive him this way, and so I never gave much thought to the appropriateness in the general sense of Communion in the hand. The Church, so my thinking went, had decided that it was OK, and that was good enough for me. The Church, of course, can make bad decisions that do not affect doctrine itself, but might have the effect of undermining the way in which the doctrine is received or perceived. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the Church decided to take back some of the allowances that have been granted to U.S. Catholics over the last forty years.

As for my subjective reasons, they are summed up well by this paragraph from the article:

So why, once Communion in the hand was permitted in the United States, did it so swiftly and almost universally become preferred? The answer is obvious. For a twentieth-century American, receiving on the tongue seems difficult. It is undignified and dependent, uncomfortably intimate and interior. By an act of the will, one must set aside one’s pride and embarrassment and make a conscious decision to see the priest as Christ.

It is intimate. It is conscious. It reminds me that what I am receiving is not mere bread.

I am not an absolutist. When the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion is two feet shorter than I am, I usually receive in the hand. When experience has taught me that the EMHC is going to try to throw the host into my open mouth from six inches away, lest there by any incidental contact, I will receive in the hand rather than risk his or her missing the target. But in these cases, I’m reduced to questioning whether that person should really be distributing the Body of Christ

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