Last Sunday, 18 January, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Luneta Park in Manila, which by all accounts appears to be the largest gathering of humans in all of history. Because of this event’s high profile, the world has now seen the sordid sight of Holy Communion being handed from person to person, passed like a football, in order to reach would-be communicants deep in the throng. Incriminating footage is show below.
OnePeterFive, a stalwart edifice in the Catholic blogosphere, quickly addressed the issue. Steve Skojec, founder of the website, wrote:
Some have gone so far as to describe what you are seeing here as a “desecration” of the Eucharist. While I doubt this is intentional, I find it hard to dispute that description. Whatever the case, I can’t see a way any Catholic who believes in the Real Presence would find this appropriate.
Skojec’s criticism was immediately picked up by Philippine media, and in response, Socrates Villegas, President of the Philippine Bishops’ Conference and Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, defended the occurrence. Speaking in the common “Taglish” (Tagalog-English) vernacular, Villegas, with incredible nonchalance, replied to Philippine news outlet GMA:
Archbishop Villegas: Under normal circumstances, hindi dapat mangyari ‘yon, pero extraordinary ang situation natin sa Luneta– six million people… Sa ganu’ng pagkakataon, kailangan nating tulungan ang isa’t isa na makatanggap ng communion.
Under normal circumstances, it shouldn’t have happened, but our situation at Luneta was extraordinary– six million people… In such a case, we must [kailangan nating] help one another receive communion. (emphasis added)
The sheer lunacy of the Archbishop’s statement cannot but trouble the hearts of Catholics who faithfully love and appreciate the Eucharist for what it really is: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, whole and entire, of Christ Jesus. Citing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, authoritatively affirmed back in 2004:
Non licet ipsis fidelibus sacram hostiam neque calicem sacrum “per semetipsos accipere eo minus de manu in manum inter se transmittere”.
It is not licit for the faithful ‘to take… by themselves… and, still less, to hand… from one to another’ the sacred host or the sacred chalice. (Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum 94; cf. Missale Romanum, Institutio Generalis par. 118)
The idiocy of the situation at Manila is further compounded by the fact that, as we now have learned, many hosts were dropped and left in the mud of Luneta Park. As recounted in the great blog Pinoy Catholic— run by folks worthy of the titles “Pinoy” and “Catholic”– the author of that particular article wrote:
I have talked to some EMHCs [extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion] and even nuns who were stationed at the Communion Stations. I asked them for their “experiences”.
They found Hosts in the mud!
We have had a mega-Mass before in 1995. I was there. It did not happen….
I have to look at the history of the Church, Her legislation, tradition and patrimony if there is such a thing as “extraordinary moment to receive Holy Communion”.
There are 6 to 7 million reasons that the archbishop and those supporting this Host passing can cite. But there is only one reason why we should not do this.
I too have questions for Archbishop Villegas and any others who might take his side. First: what is so extraordinary about this Mass that doesn’t occur in “normal circumstances”?
Next, I echo Pinoy Catholic’s implicit assertion that there is no such thing as an “extraordinary moment” when it comes to receiving the Eucharist; and so I ask a second question: why is it OK to create situations where consciously exposing the Blessed Sacrament to desecration is acceptable?
Obviously, the “extraordinary” character of the Luneta Mass boils down to two factors: (1) it was a Papal Mass, and (2) there was an extremely large number of people present. If we accept the Archbishop’s logic, don’t we essentially say that, because the Pope presided, the content of the Eucharist is somehow “more special” than in “normal circumstances”? This, of course, is heretical: each host validly consecrated by a priest carries the full presence of the whole Christ.
Or do we say — again, following Archbishop Villegas’ reasoning– that because so many people are present, which always increases the threat of desecration, it is nonetheless acceptable to expose the Eucharist to desecration? This is a paradox incapable of resolution.
Neither of these factors address an even more important and underlying issue, one that has sadly been lost among most Catholics in the last forty years– namely, that not receiving Communion at Mass, even while in a state of grace, is not necessarily a bad thing. Just as somebody can fulfill the Sunday obligation without receiving Communion, so too does faithful attendance at a Papal Mass not necessarily require reception of the Eucharist. The point of attending a Mass is not primarily to receive Communion; the point is to piously witness, as the Virgin Mary and St. John piously witnessed, the oblation of Calvary. Back at Skojec’s article at OnePeterFive, we find:
I’ve got a poor head for logistics, so I won’t make concrete suggestions except to ask: does the value of these large papal Masses outweigh the offenses against the Blessed Sacrament that occur during them? I’ve heard stories about consecrated hosts brought home from World Youth Day and put in scrapbooks, or sold as memorabilia on Ebay. We already have seen the rise of Satanic Masses which desecrate the Eucharist – requiring hosts that are easily obtained from venues where nobody will notice them being stolen.
But if these Masses are deemed a necessary witness of the faith, then perhaps if communion can’t be distributed in an appropriate fashion, it should not be distributed to the entire gathering. We do not need to receive communion at every Mass we attend. In fact, if we are not properly disposed, we should not receive, even if we are in a state of grace. Personally, I find the idea of seeing my Lord handled like a beach ball at a concert more than sufficient to cloud any sense of proper disposition.
Skojec makes a good point. The willingness of people to pass the sacred Host to and fro like common food indicate a lack of proper disposition to receive the Eucharist. Against Archbishop Villegas, we must indeed affirm that, in mega-Masses, hindi kailangan natin makatanggap ng communion— we do not need to receive communion. Skojec continues:
How many of those hosts were unintentionally dropped and stepped on, to say nothing of the lost fragments? How many were pocketed and brought home? How many were received by those who were non-Catholic, or were not in a state of grace? There’s simply no reasonable way I can conceive of for a Mass with over a million people in attendance to handle distribution of communion properly. It is a wonderful thing to yearn for our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar and to desire to be present with the Vicar of Christ in a public Mass. But that yearning should be accompanied by a deep and abiding sense of propriety, a desire never to offend Him or profane His sacred body, even by accident.
Above, Pinoy Catholic already referred to the closing Mass of World Youth Day 1995 (now the second largest Papal event, after Luneta Mass 2015) in which, unlike last Sunday, hosts were not passed from person to person, and accordingly, nothing was left in the mud. Interestingly, at Pope Francis’ Mass in Tacloban (the city hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda), Communion was NOT distributed to the faithful due to inclement weather. How do we make sense of this? We can take measures to protect the Eucharist from the rain at Tacloban, but we can let hosts disintegrate in the mud of Luneta?
In “normal circumstances” as Archbishop Villegas put it, hindi dapat mangyari ‘yon— this should not happen; but if the Pope presides at Mass, we can then suddenly disregard our usual diligence in safeguarding the Holy Eucharist? This is ultramontanism and hero-worship gone awry. Everything about this indicates a lack of reverence for the Eucharist. In a society obsessed with celebrities– and nowhere is this more true than in the Philippines– it seems as if all bets are off and all propriety is thrown to the wind. The Eucharist consecrated by the Pope– the biggest celebrity of all– becomes a commodity, and everybody wants a piece of the pie. One who holds this mindset implicitly regards the Pope as more important than Him in whose place the Pope stands. And the fact that this all happened under the nose of the Supreme Pontiff certainly doesn’t help the cause of true sacred liturgy. Passing the Host like a hot potato is no expression of bayanihan; it is a sacriligious objectivization of Him who is the true subject in the liturgy.
Let us turn again to Pinoy Catholic. The title of the blog post we have cited, “Communion in the Hand is the culprit”, says it all. Communion in the hand is absolutely the problem. This method of receiving Communion is permitted only by indult— meaning that it is granted as an exception to the law. The normative manner of receiving the Eucharist is directly in the mouth; this is the tradition of the Roman Church as well as of the Eastern Churches (both Orthodox and Catholic). The threat of hosts being taken away or falling into mud is reduced exponentially if the traditional manner of receiving Communion is imposed and enforced. Even if a person in mortal sin approaches the Communion line, at least the Eucharist would be consumed immediately, guarded from greater public desecration. The only canonized Philippine saints, Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod, received the Eucharist in the same traditional manner; if they did it, why can’t we? Pope Paul VI, who opened communion in the hand as a possibility (against the majority of bishops at the time; see postscript below), nevertheless demanded that the new method of receiving communion be allowed if and only if there is zero risk of desecration (see HERE and HERE).
In the era of Spanish domination, Luneta was a place of execution. In 1872, the priests Mariano Gomez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora (collectively known as “GomBurZa”) were strangled to death at Luneta on false charges of subversion, and their deaths lit the first sparks of Philippine nationalism. The polymath and national hero Jose Rizal, having been charged unjustly with sedition, was executed here by firing squad in 1896 (wherefore the place is officially called “Rizal Park”). Throughout the centuries, Luneta has witnessed the fall of too many innocent victims sent quickly into the ground without anybody to defend them.
In our times, another innocent Victim has been ignominiously immolated and indecorously thrown into the dirt of Luneta. In his divine nature he suffers no more, for he has been raised to the right hand of the Father; in his human nature, however, he languishes in the pain of sacrilege each time his most precious Body and Blood are desecrated. In Rizal’s time, and up to just a few decades ago, such abuses against the Eucharist were unthinkable, since everybody received Holy Communion in an unmistakable posture of humility. Today– in a country where the Catholic faith once flourished in both word and deed, liturgically and pastorally– profanation of the Blessed Sacrament has tragically become a common phenomenon.
In this way, the Philippines has certainly become, in the words of Rizal, nuestro perdido Eden.
Miserere nostri, Domine, quia peccavimus tibi.
Panginoon, maawa ka.
In the late 1960’s,the practice of communion in the hand (unauthorized at the time) had already arisen in many countries, especially in Western Europe, against the teaching and tradition of the Church and with no basis in the Second Vatican Council (whose “spirit” was often cited to justify undue liturgical changes). Pope Paul VI sent a survey to all the bishops of the world on the question of permitting communion in the hand. The instruction Memoriale Domini of the Congregation for Divine Worship, dated 29 May 1969, summarized the findings of the survey.
1. Do you think that attention should be paid to the desire that, over and above the traditional manner, the rite of receiving holy communion on the hand should be admitted?
Yes, but with reservations: 315
Invalid votes: 202. Is it your wish that this new rite be first tried in small communities, with the consent of the bishop?
Invalid votes, 703. Do you think that the faithful will receive this new rite gladly, after a proper catechetical preparation?
Invalid votes: 128
With such overwhelmingly clear responses, I scratch my head as to why communion in the hand has become the de facto (not de jure) norm in the Church. In fact, on the basis of these survey results, Memoriale Domini remarks:
From the returns it is clear that the vast majority of bishops believe that the present discipline should not be changed, and that if it were, the change would be offensive to the sentiments and the spiritual culture of these bishops and of many of the faithful.
Therefore, taking into account the remarks and the advice of those whom “the Holy Spirit has placed to rule over” the Churches, in view of the gravity of the matter and the force of the arguments put forward, the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering holy communion to the faithful.
The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church.
Now, strangely, despite “emphatically” urging all the faithful “to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has been confirmed”, the instruction goes on to say:
Where a contrary usage, that of placing holy communion on the hand, prevails, the Holy See—wishing to help them fulfill their task, often difficult as it is nowadays—lays on those conferences the task of weighing carefully whatever special circumstances may exist there, taking care to avoid any risk of lack of respect or of false opinions with regard to the Blessed Eucharist, and to avoid any other ill effects that may follow.
What a strange and confusing document. It essentially says, “communion in the hand is not OK, but it really is OK”. Memoriale Domini goes on to enumerate the many ways that communion in the hand can be administered. Above all, introducing communion in the hand requires proper catechesis, whose end result
should be to remove any suggestion of wavering on the part of the Church in its faith in the eucharistic presence, and also to remove any danger or even suggestion of profanation.
No matter which method [of receiving communion] is adopted, one will be careful not to allow any fragment of the host to fall.
Based on the footage from Luneta, it seems that the “ill effects” and “danger or suggestion of profanation” has not been mitigated. In fact, such ill effects, dangers, and suggestions have increased since 1969. Memoriale Domini is both an indult (an exception to a norm) and a rescript (retroactively permitting what was once forbidden), essentially sending the message that if you keep doing forbidden practices, the Church will eventually legitimize it. The Church’s experiment with communion in the hand has been an unquestionable disaster, and blame lies squarely with Pope Paul VI who, against the better judgment of the majority of bishops, introduced a practice which has led undeniably to greater sacrilege and a diminishing of faith in the Real Presence.