No, it has not. For the Church is indefectible. So it is not possible for the Church to go astray by means of a discipline that leads to heresy or that causes grave harm to the Church. This cannot be the case, for the Church, in Her exercise of both swords, spiritual and temporal, that is to say, in Her decisions on both doctrine and discipline, is preserved by the Holy Spirit from every grave error. Even the non-infallible teachings of the Church cannot err gravely. Similarly, even the decisions of the Church on discipline or various matters of prudential judgment cannot err to a grave extent. Therefore, every decision of the Church on discipline is free from the type of error that would either lead the faithful into heresy or would cause grave harm to the Church. To say otherwise is to reject the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church.
But there are certain shepherds who, not content with a humble role in the Church, have decided to usurp for themselves the role of Christ. They speak as if they were the head of the Church, as if they were Christ himself. They judge and condemn Popes and Councils. They accuse the Church of grave errors that have supposedly led the faithful into heresy and have caused grave harm to souls and to the Church. They make these false accusations against the spotless Bride of Christ so that they can be the judges of all things, in place of Christ.
The claim is that the Church, by permitting Communion in the hand, has caused the faithful to be led into heresy — by losing faith in the Real Presence of Christ. A further claim is that this change in discipline and other changes in liturgical form, have caused the faithful to become lukewarm and then to fall away from the true Faith — because the Church supposedly made bad decisions on discipline.
For example, Bishop Athanasius Schneider says (in his interview with Taylor Marshall) that Communion in the hand causes thousands of particles of the host, each particle of which is Christ, to be lost. Then the faithful lose their faith in the Real Presence, and they fall away from the true Faith. So this alleged error of discipline leads the faithful into heresy and causes grave harm to the faithful and the Church.
But of course this claim is an accusation against the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church. It is an accusation against Christ, who promised to keep the Church indefectible. Schneider is saying that the Church erred gravely in discipline, causing grave harm to herself. If that were so, then the Church would have lost Her indefectibility. He also claims that Vatican II taught heresy, that Pope Francis taught heresy, and he implies that the other Popes since Vatican II taught heresy, since they taught what the Council taught. By accusing the Church of grave errors in doctrine and discipline, Schneider implies that Jesus Christ either LIED when He said the Church is indefectible, or that Jesus Christ tried to keep the Church indefectible and FAILED.
You cannot believe Schneider and believe Jesus Christ. You cannot follow Schneider and also follow Christ and His Church. For Schneider makes grave accusations against the Church, which imply grave accusations against Christ.
Some Catholics think that the Church is only infallible when an Ecumenical Council issues a dogma or a Pope uses Papal Infallibility. They think the Church can err to any extent otherwise. But that view is false and heretical. In fact, the Magisterium teaches that Ecumenical Councils are infallible in all that they teach, when that teaching is approved by a Pope. (A teaching of a Council not approved by a Pope is not truly of the Council.) Moreover, the Pope is preserved from grave error, even when teaching non-infallibly. And the Popes and Councils are preserved from grave errors in discipline. It is not possible for a Pope or Council to err on discipline in such a way that the faithful would be led into heresy, or that they would be gravely harmed, or that they would in any way be led away from the path of salvation. For the Church, the Pope, the Councils, and the body of Bishops led by the Pope are each and all indefectible.
Whoever says otherwise has lost his faith in Christ.
Now I understand that the supporters of Marshall and Schneider have their arguments, as to why Communion on the tongue is better. Perhaps it is better. But the Church has the authority of Christ. The conservative Catholic subculture does not have the authority of Christ. Individual Bishops, such as Vigano or Schneider, do not have the authority to judge the Church or the Popes or the Councils, and decide when they have gone astray. And when the Pope decides, no argument prevails over his authority.
When the Rome decides a question, the case is closed. No argument, however scholarly or intelligent prevails over the authority of Peter. Recall that Paul was a great scholar and Peter a lowly fisherman. But when Peter decides, Paul must obey. Paul was never Pope; Peter was. You can prefer Communion on the tongue, but you cannot accuse the Church of going astray for not adhering to your arguments and your opinions.
The unanimous opinion of all the conservative Catholics cannot withstand the decision of the Vicar of Christ. And it doesn’t matter if the Pope is liberal like John 23 or Francis. It doesn’t matter if the Pope is Vigilius, who, before he became the true Pope, was a manifest heretic and an antipope. (As soon as he became true Pope, the grace of God vanquished all heresy and all grave error from his heart and mind, and he taught the faith unfailingly.) Once the Pope or a Council makes a decision on doctrine, the case is closed. And if they decide on a matter of discipline, the case is closed until another Pope or Council changes the discipline.
The unstated assumption of the papal critics and the conciliar critics is that the conservative Catholic subculture has the role to oversee Popes, Councils, and the Magisterium, and the Church as a whole, as if only that subculture were indefectibility and all the rest of the Church could go astray.
Notes about Communion in the Hand
If a particle of a host is so small that it is no longer bread, it is no longer Christ. The same is true for wine. The smell of bread and wine is molecules from the consecrated hosts, but it is not Christ. And when the consecrated bread and wine are dissolved and broken apart in the stomach, they are no longer Christ. So a very small particle might not be Christ. And in any case, Christ is glorified, and He is not harmed by falling to the floor on occasion during Mass.
I recall at Mass when I was at college, a woman would approach to receive Communion. She was blind and had a guide dog who would bring her up to Communion. And when she received Communion, the dog would lick the particles of the host from the floor. Clearly, the dog was a devote Catholic, who only received on the tongue!
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Isn’t it possible that:
– The Holy Spirit guides the Church
– The Church is indefectible
– The Church can institute disciplines which, while not inherently evil or definitively leading to heresy, may not be optimal from every perspective
The collapse of belief in the real presence is well documented (and worse than it is documented, since so many Catholics have left the Church altogether). It seems very hard to deny the conclusion that communion in the hand played a role in it. Lex orandi lex credendi.
Yet is may not be an error so much as something which had both good and bad effects, with the bad effects tolerated but undesired, with the good effect being avoiding schism (for example) and the bad effect being the loss of belief in the real presence.
Quick personal anecdote: in my youth, I was raised Catholic but never had strong faith and my family largely stopped going to Mass after I had my First Communion. I remember being shocked to hear in AP European History a decade later that Catholics believe the Eucharist actually becomes the body and blood fo the Lord. Maybe I still wouldn’t have gotten it had communion been on the tongue. But I’d like to think it’s more likely that I would have.
“The Church can institute disciplines which, while not inherently evil or definitively leading to heresy, may not be optimal from every perspective” — Yes, that can happen. But it cannot lead to heresy and grave harm, as the Spirit protects decisions on discipline as well as doctrine. And, no, I don’t think it is obvious or undeniable that the lack of faith is due to Communion on the hand. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had all the details of exterior worship, but they lost love and faith. So you can lose faith and still take Communion on the tongue, as proven by the schismatics who reject Vatican II and reject Pope Francis. They have lost faith, yet they take Communion on the tongue.
Honestly, thank you for this article. I had to recently stop reading a couple catholic news sites because they were promoting communion on the tongue because they viewed communion on the hand as sinful and sacrilege. If my bishop tells me to wear green and purple, even though he legally cannot force me, I will wear green and purple. How much more will I hold fast to what they have taught me concern more faith based disciplines. The Church has been clear communion on hand is not a sin.