Is Communion on the Tongue a Right?

The term “right” as applied to the faithful with respect to the Church is used more than a few times in the document of the CDW that speaks of the Mass and holy Communion. One such right is here:

“Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her.” [Redemptoris Sacramentum 92]

Priests are directed by the CDW to give Communion in the hand if the communicant wishes and permission has been given, as in the United States, by the Apostolic See and the Bishops’ Conference. Then the communicant also has the right to receive Communion on the tongue, always.

However, such rights are not to be read in isolation from the teachings of the Church on the Roman Pontiff, the Bishops, and the Church’s authority over doctrine and discipline. Since the authority of the Roman Pontiff is the authority of Christ, he has the absolute authority to restrict Communion to either only on the tongue or only in the hand. Any rights granted in Canon law or other documents are under the authority of the Roman Pontiff. And while the Pope does not have the authority to change immutable divine law, nor to change the truths of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. But as to whether Communion on the tongue is an immutable part of the Sacrament, this is already clear.

“The most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand. The history of the liturgy, however, makes clear that rather early on a process took place to change this practice.” [Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff]

The fathers and Saints of the Church often preferred Communion on the tongue, and so the Church grants to the faithful, for good reasons, the right to Communion on the tongue. But that right can be restricted by the Church, as it is not an immutable right of divine law. It would not, for example, be the case that the Sacrament would be invalid without reception on the tongue, the way that it would be invalid if the proper words are not said at the consecration or if improper matter were used. The mode of reception is therefore a right granted by the authority of the Church, and so it can be restricted by the Church.

The pandemic gave the Church good reason to restrict Communion on the tongue. In many places, this restriction has already been lifted. Those who disobeyed the Church and refused to receive their Lord, unless the Church bowed to their demands on the mode of reception committed blasphemy against the Lord. How dare you dictate to the Lord Jesus and to His Church, which exercises His divine authority the mode by which you will receive the King of kings, the Son of God, He through whom all things were created! The pride of this schismatics knows no bounds.

The Roman Pontiff and the Church have the right and in some cases of severe necessity the duty to restrict the mode of reception of Communion. When the Church did so, some Catholics refused to receive Communion at all. That is a direct insult to our Lord. Refusing to receive the Lord Jesus because the mode of reception does not match the understanding of your fallen sinful mind, and in direct opposition to the orders of the Church is sinful disobedience and direct blasphemy — as if you were above the Lord Jesus, who is received in Communion, to dictate to Him how He is to be received. Or do you not believe that the Church is both human and divine, and that She exercises the authority of Christ himself. It is Christ, through the Church, who says to you, at one time or another, receive only in the hand, or receive only on the tongue, or you may choose.

Then the above often misquoted rule about reception of Communion also states that if the communicant wishes to receive on the hand, the priest is to administer Communion on the hand (where the Holy See and Bishops permit). Those priests who refuse to give Communion in the hand are putting their own judgment above the authority of Christ exercised by the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops, who are the successors to the Apostles. They act as if the Church were not Apostolic, and they obey a certain subculture in the Church instead of obeying Christ acting through His Church.

It is also hypocrisy to say that the faithful have the right to receive on the tongue, but not the right, as granted by the Church, to receive on the hand, if they wish. The Church grants such rights, and the priests must obey. But some conservative priests obey only the conservative subculture, and not the Church. They sin gravely against the vow or promise of obedience, and they commit the sin of formal schism, by putting their own judgment above the authority of the Church.

Teachings from the CDW, Redemptoris Sacramentum:

Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty. Yet God has not granted us in Christ an illusory liberty by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do that which is fitting and right.[18] This is true not only of precepts coming directly from God, but also of laws promulgated by the Church, with appropriate regard for the nature of each norm. For this reason, all should conform to the ordinances set forth by legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

We do not have the liberty to do as we wish with Christ in the Eucharist. Our liberty is to do what is decided by the “laws promulgated by the Church”. We are to show regard for each norm. We are to conform to the rules set by Church authority. All these teachings of the CDW are ignored by those who shout that they have a right to Communion on the tongue. We also have a duty to obey the Church.

On the contrary, it is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. Likewise, the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church’s Magisterium. Finally, it is the Catholic community’s right that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factions in the Church.

It is our right that the Liturgy be “as the Church wishes” not as a subculture wishes. We have the right that the Mass be celebrated according to the entire doctrine of the Magisterium. And we also have the right to rules for the Mass that exclude whatever might cause divisions and factions in the Church. Thus, the restriction of the Traditional Latin Mass, or perhaps a rule that all priests must sometimes concelebrate and sometimes say the Novus Ordo Mass, would be useful to end these divisions.

For those who attend TLM follow their own rules, ignoring and rebelling against the Roman Pontiff himself and the laws and rules of the Church. They do not obey the local Bishop, if he tells them to receive on the hand, or to concelebrate, or to say the Novus Ordo Mass.

Christ’s faithful have the right that ecclesiastical authority should fully and efficaciously regulate the Sacred Liturgy lest it should ever seem to be “anyone’s private property, whether of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated”.

It is our right to have the Liturgy regulated by Church authority, rather than by a subculture, many of whose leaders are laypersons without theology degrees, who simply have a media outlet under their control or a large following online. It is absurd that such persons, really whether they have a degree or not, whether they are ordained or not, should rise up against the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops to decide the supposed correct answer to all questions on doctrine and discipline.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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