The Church in the Process of Losing
its Faith in the Holy Eucharist
by Father Ovila Melancon, C.S.C.
Father Ovila Melancon is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. After his ordination on January 29, 1939, Father Melancon exercised his ministry at the Oratory of St. Joseph, in Montreal, for two years. He was also chaplain for nuns for 22 years. He preached for various religious communities and homes for the aged.
He is a well-known author and has published over 40 books. He has also contributed to numerous magazines, such as 'The Eucharistic Review for the Clergy', 'The Review of the University of Laval', 'The Weekly Review of Religion in Quebec', 'The Dominican Review', 'Culture', 'Life of Religious Communities' and others.
Father Melancon recently sent in this article for our readers.
It happens sometimes that the truth can be asserted only with profound anguish. In our time, the truth is this: there is a very serious lessening of true faith in the Holy Eucharist. And this is quite obvious. And this is happening not only among the faithful at large, but most markedly among the clergy. Clearly, sound doctrine and authentic pastoral care are threatened. To point this out has become a matter of highest urgency.
In doing so, I, as a theologian of long-standing, am keenly aware, in my conscience, that I am performing a sacred duty and exercising my rights (Code of Canon Law, canon 212). Again, as a theologian, I have a certain authority as I expound matters of Catholic faith and discipline, and this by virtue of the principle of subsidiarity. Pope John Paul II, in his statement of June 28, 1980, has expounded this principle with his usual clarity. If need be, another clear statement can be referred to, that of Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa theologiae: he argues that when there is danger for the faith, superiors must be corrected by inferiors, and this, even publicly (2-2, q.33, a.4, sol. 2).
To some, all this may not be evident. However, in fact, the problem assumes the utmost gravity since it is an assault, a direct assault on God Himself. Is not Jesus Christ Himself, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, the very Word of the Father, His beloved Son whose infiniteness He shares in the unity of the Holy Spirit? Thus, the less than lukewarm attitudes toward the Eucharist and the utter lack of respect for Jesus in this sacrament are most evident signs that we have in the Church today a tragedy of immense proportions.
Desecration of the Holy Eucharist is and has always been considered in the Church as an abomination. The new Code of Canon Law rightly maintains the pain of excommunication reserved to the Sovereign Pontiff, in cases of intentional desecration (canon 1367). In our own time, there are cases of desecration which are not perceived as such by both clergy and laity, so widespread are the doctrinal aberrations that have crept into what we have come to know as liturgical reform, called for by the Second Vatican Council.
On Irreverences in Our Churches
In too many churches and chapels, it has become common practice to converse out loud and laughingly, as if one were in an air terminal, a kitchen or a living room. It is said that it is all quite permissible, but no one can really bring forth any sound reasoning that might justify all this. No official document can be produced that might authorize such bad habits, which are so contrary to the traditional way of behaving in church. The Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council reminds us all that Jesus, the Lord, is truly present in the highest degree of His very being in this greatest of all sacraments (no. 7).
One can seriously wonder whether such unbecoming behavior has not seriously contributed to the emptying of so many churches. Indeed, how can the faithful be attracted to pray in church and adore there the Blessed Sacrament, when they witness such evident disrespect? Some say: "But everybody is doing this." Because everybody does it, that does not make it right. The conclusion is clear: our principle of conduct should not be: "Everybody is doing it"; rather it must be: "We do that which is the right thing to do." Mystical writers note that beginners in the spiritual life are sometimes inclined to excessive familiarity with God. However, when the Holy Spirit has brought them to a higher level and has rid them of these excesses, they are led to tearful repentance for behaving without due respect in the face of our infinitely loving God.
Consider Jesus chasing all those business people out of the Temple at Jerusalem. He declared: "My house will be called a house of prayer; but you are turning it into a robbers' den." (Matthew, 21, 13) To those who make of our churches places of entertainment, one could say, paraphrasing Jesus' words: "My house will be called a house of prayer; but you are turning it into a recreation hall." Those who do these things remind me somehow of chameleons, whose colors change as the surroundings change. Their faith can be described as badly nourished, severely anemic, indeed, on the verge of total extinction. Some liturgical celebrations take on at times the manner of a party, rather than the celebration of the Paschal mystery with, at its center, Jesus crucified and dying as the High Priest of the New Covenant, in blood.
And all this happens frequently, especially at charismatic gatherings, and more so at the very moment that precedes reception of the Sacrament itself. Then, a kissing party unfolds, a free-for-all, while the Lord of lords is left alone on the altar! . . . One can hardly imagine such a performance in the presence of the Holy Father, the Governor General or the royal family . . .
And there is another aspect to these kissing sessions. Priests lead the way or follow, dressed with liturgical vestments. All have a right to be scandalized, and all should at least be surprised, if they have a trifling understanding of the sacred realities of the Mass. Priests, in particular, should have no need for such outbursts of misplaced affection. The true embrace of Jesus is their eternal privilege and will be their eternal bliss. The love of Jesus and the love for Jesus has its consecration in a vow, that of chastity.
Chewing the Host at Communion
Now in this matter of chewing the Host, we have another practice that many are and have been endeavoring to adopt and to be adopted by the faithful: chewing the Host as you would ordinary food! . . . To do this is to have small pieces of the Host get caught in one's teeth and for hours perhaps. The infinite majesty of Jesus seems to demand that He not be chewed up as ordinary food.
Genuflexions That Are Mandatory
The Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and for Divine Worship issued an instruction on April 17, 1980. We are told to maintain the venerable custom of genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament. Real meaning must be there (no. 26). It also asks that when the faithful receive Communion standing up and in procession, a sign of reverence be made just before reception of Communion (no. 11). This is very rarely done anywhere. In the General Norms in the Sacramentary of Pope Paul VI (April 3, 1969), specific directives are given with respect to genuflexions (no. 253). If the Blessed Eucharist is reserved in a Tabernacle in the sanctuary, genuflexions are to be made before and after Mass, and whenever one passes in front of the Tabernacle.
Communion by Intinction
The instruction of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and for Divine Worship of April 17, 1980 (no. 9) gives precise directives in the matter also. It reminds us that the Eucharist is a gift of the Lord. Also that it is NOT PERMITTED for the faithful to take the Host and the Chalice. Here again, at charismatic meetings, this is done and is done often. Corrections are obviously called for.
Referring again to the General Norms of the Sacramentary of Pope Paul VI, clear directives are given in the matter of giving Communion. A paten is to be held under the chin (nos. 246 and 247). Now consider the possibilities when the faithful dip the Host into the Precious Blood: sometimes they dip their fingers as well. Sometimes drops fall either on the altar or on the floor. To subject Jesus and His Precious Blood to this is nothing less than abominable, even sacrilegious.
On the Very Grave Question of Particles of the Host
Let us begin with a definition of a dogma of faith, from the Council of Trent. This is from session 13, chapter 3. The formula is clear: Christ is totally present under the species of the bread and as well UNDER THE SMALLEST PARTICLE of the species of the bread. It must be emphasized that this is a dogma of faith; this definition then is not open for debate or discussion, much less can it be rejected or contradicted, neither by liturgical experts, nor by theologians, nor by Roman Congregations, nor by the Sovereign Pontiff himself, nor by any other ecumenical Council.
And so, on March 26, 1929, the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments published a very explicit document. In it, it is stated that in the administration of the Holy Eucharist, the same careful attention must be exercised to avoid that particles of the sacred Hosts be lost, because in each one of these particles the Body of Christ is present in its total integrity (see Actes de S.S. Pie XI, Paris, Bonne Presse, 1934, t.5, p. 235-236). Now, Christ is man and God also, indeed, Christ having two natures, human and divine, is only one person, and that person is the Word of the Father. It follows that God is present in the smallest particle of all consecrated Hosts.
There is another conclusion: the infinite reality of Jesus in all or any of these particles is beyond understanding. It is infinitely more than all material wealth, beyond the sum total of the created universe. It is infinitely more than the entire human race assembled together, even though there be among them countless priests, bishops, Popes or saints. It is infinitely more than all the blessed in Heaven, the myriads of angels, more than the excellence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who referred to Herself as God's humble servant. To repeat, to NOT consider one of these particles as truly God Himself is to fall into heresy and to practice an abomination beyond words.
Now, the problem in this day and age is simply this: most priests and bishops take no heed at all of these particles of the Holy Eucharist. The false notions behind this practice are subtle. At the beginning of the liturgical renewal, it was said that the priest was no longer obliged to keep his thumb and index-finger joined between the moment of the consecration until communion. But it was also said that the priest should remove any particles by rubbing them together over the chalice. This permission was not followed, in practice, in the way in which it was given and intended. We seldom see priests or bishops join thumb and index-finger any more. Nearly always the rubbing of thumb and index-finger over the chalice is omitted entirely.
The consequences are staggering: particles of consecrated Hosts are all over, on the altar, on the pages of the Sacramentary, on the base of the chalice, outside the cup itself, on the covers of the ciborium, and many other places, even on the floor. And this is how Jesus becomes scattered about, trodden under foot, in short, treated with such disrespect that the word abomination is not strong enough.
And now, about the manner of receiving Communion at concelebrations. After the publication of the New Sacramentary, it became known that the concelebrants could communicate with or without a paten for each concelebrant. Again, the less perfect! . . . The result is all less perfect, with all the possibilities relative to the particles.
Eucharistic Particles and the Cleansing of Sacred Vessels
In the General Norms of the Sacramentary of Pope Paul VI, we find the rule for purification of the sacred vessels used to celebrate Mass (no. 120). When the distribution of Communion has come to an end, the priest is to gather the particles, to purify the paten and the ciborium over the chalice. Then he is to purify the chalice and wipe it with the purificator.
In the same General Norms of the Sacramentary, in paragraph no. 237, it is clearly stated that each time a particle of the Host remains on the fingers, and this happens especially after the breaking of the Host and after giving Communion, the celebrant will loosen it from his fingers onto the paten, and that, if need be, will wash his fingers. In addition, the celebrant is to gather up any particles that happen to be outside the paten.
Now, there is more. Paragraph 238 of the same General Norms indicates that the sacred vessels are to be purified by either the priest, the deacon or the acolyte after Communion or after the end of the Mass, if possible at the credence-table. This purification is done, that is, that of the chalice, with wine and water or with water only. The ablution is to be consumed by the minister who has done the purification. Ordinarily, it is stated, the paten also is to be wiped with the purificator.
Therefore, these sacred vessels cannot be washed in the sacristy piscina or sink, as if one were simply washing dishes . . . The same sacred vessels are sometimes just left there on a table, without a corporal, and you can see at a glance drops of the Precious Blood in the chalice, and, in the ciborium, particles and even larger pieces of consecrated Hosts, that will be laid down into the sacristy piscina or sink.
Another remark. When the Sacramentary indicates the paten to be wiped with a purificator (no. 230), this presupposes necessarily that the paten has already been purified either with the index-finger or with the thumb over the chalice, as indicated in paragraph no. 120, which was quoted earlier in this text. The contrary practice is widespread and so, again, the particles are scattered about, literally, all over the altar and even on the floor. Another abomination quite beyond words.
In the matter of extraordinary ministers of Communion, there is an additional requirement. This was clearly indicated by the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and for Divine Worship, in determining the rite to be followed by these extraordinary ministers. In part, it states that, when Communion has been distributed, this minister purifies his fingers and returns to his place (see Esprit et Vie, April 19, 1973, p. 256). What is mandatory for the extraordinary ministers applies equally to priests or deacons, who are ordinary ministers of Communion.
This is a further clarification given by the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship of April 17, 1980. Simple baskets are not to be used, nor any common containers, anything that is ordinarily used for ordinary purposes, or containers that are of inferior quality or lacking in artistic beauty (no. 16).
In conclusion, let us consider a statement by Mr. Paul Bouchard, director of the journal "L'Informateur". After attending a Mass during which the celebrant paid no attention whatsoever to the consecrated particles, he expressed his astonishment to a theologian. The reply was this: "Jesus, in choosing bread, knew well in advance that he was taking this risk of the particles. Therefore, let us not be too concerned about these." "To this I answered", continues Mr. Bouchard: "When He became man, Jesus also knew that He was taking a risk. We rewarded His risk-taking by having Him nailed in crucifixion. Why do this all over again with those who, knowing not what they are doing, drive nails once more into His Sacred Body" . . .
Communion in the Hand
Here is something else and this something else has reference to particles of the Eucharist again. Communion in the hand became a widespread practice, while it should be done only exceptionally. This authorization was granted by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (May 19, 1969), for areas where the practice already existed. It was given to help Episcopal Conferences to perform their pastoral tasks, which are so difficult in present-day circumstances (see Documentation Catholique, July 20, 1969, p. 671). Please note that this permission was given after giving a reminder, namely that Communion on the tongue MUST remain the traditional manner of giving Communion to the faithful (op. cit., p. 670).
In the very same document, it is affirmed that it is a DEEPENING OF THE UNDERSTANDING OF OUR FAITH in the Holy Eucharist which led to this practice of giving Communion on the tongue. It becomes quite astonishing to see Communion in the hand so wide-spread. Such a practice is not in conformity with the spirit, and yes, with the letter of the permission which Pope Paul VI granted.
And so, in accordance with all the arguments relative to particles of consecrated Hosts, one is led, in pure logic, to conclude that Communion in the hand is absolutely inadmissible. The evidence is clear enough. In the practice of Communion in the hand, particles of the Host inevitably break off, to a greater or lesser degree of course, and, inevitably again, down they go to the floor. They get trodden under foot and so Jesus finds Himself trodden under foot. Remember, in the words of the Council of Trent, Christ in His totality is present in the SMALLEST particle. Let the reader of this text draw the conclusions . . .
To be precise, Communion in the hand is permitted. However, let us have no false interpretations in the practice we have just examined together. His Holiness Pope Paul VI granted this permission, knowing that the vast majority of the bishops everywhere were strongly opposed to this. He was concerned about some who were disobedient; that was the primary concern.
He granted this request regretfully, under pressure from left-wing so-called theologians, with very little real faith. But he had clearly said that the traditional manner for the faithful to receive the Eucharist was and must remain to receive it on the tongue. Consequently, Communion in the hand, even when it is approved by entire Conferences of Bishops, is absolutely contrary to the letter and spirit of Pope Paul VI's limited permission. And we witness with sadness, profound sadness, the horrifying consequences, the desecration of the Eucharist, which goes on and on . . .
In this context, Mr. Marcel Clement, the editor-in-chief of the periodical "L'Homme Nouveau", was able to write the following: "More and more those who receive Communion in the hand have the idea that in doing so they are obeying directives of the last Ecumenical Council and that those who receive Communion on the tongue are somehow disobeying this same council. In fact, the contrary is true! So then, why have so many lay persons and so many religious been instructed to receive Communion in the hand, supposedly, in obedience to the directives of the council? They do not know that Rome gave permission in the first place only to placate the disobedient."
Thanksgiving After Mass
The Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and for Divine Worship (April 17, 1980) recommends to the faithful that they not omit a suitable thanksgiving after having received Holy Communion (no. 17). And the new Code of Canon Law requests this of all priests. Here, in the official translation, is the text of canon 909: "A priest is not to omit dutifully to prepare himself by prayer before the celebration of the Eucharist, nor afterwards to omit to make thanksgiving to God."
To Keep the Blessed Sacrament at Home is Forbidden
The new Code of Canon Law, in canon 935, has the following: "It is not lawful for anyone to keep the Blessed Eucharist in personal custody or to carry it around, unless there is an urgent pastoral need and the prescriptions of the Diocesan Bishop are observed." This unlawful practice is spreading and some say that they have the permission of a priest. No priest can grant such permission.
Access to a Tabernacle
Here again there are abuses. Everyone should know that all the former directives of the Holy See in respect to this have been repeated in the new Code of Canon Law (Canon 938). Of course, permission is available for lay persons to open the Tabernacle, in very specific cases, such as for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and its reposition. No permission can be granted to open the Tabernacle just for the purpose of adoration.
Here is more from canon 938 which was referred to a few lines earlier: "The Tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is habitually reserved should be sited in a distinguished place in the church or oratory, a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer" (par.2). "The Tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is habitually reserved is to be immovable, made of solid and non-transparent material, and so locked as to give the greatest security against any danger of profanation" (par.3). "The person in charge of a church or oratory is to see to it that the key of the Tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, is in maximum safe keeping" (par.5). Moreover, the key must be kept by the priest in charge, or by an extraordinary minister of Communion. (Ritual for giving Communion outside of Mass, published by the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and for Divine Worship, 1979, no. 10.)
Abuses in the Eucharistic Celebrations
Referring again to the instruction of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and for Divine Worship of April 17, 1980, we find a notable remark in the preamble about these abuses which are frequent and numerous in many regions of the Catholic world. A notable fact: a great many priests use eucharistic prayers which are not authorized. Another abuse: some priests use ordinary drinking glasses which are most certainly not permitted. We know the rest: these same glasses are afterwards used for ordinary purposes. These priests show they lack the proper sense of the divine in the liturgy.
Let us go back to the book of the prophet Daniel. There, in the fifth chapter, we have the banquet which King Belshazzar gives his court. The silver and gold cups, taken from the Temple at Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar, were brought in: all drank from these cups, the king, his noblemen, his wives, his singing women . . . Suddenly there is a hand writing on the wall: MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN . . . Try now to see the connection: sacred things are for sacred purpose, that is very clear. Conversely, profane objects are what they are. Most of us cannot help but be surprised, to say the least, when a priest uses ordinary drinking glasses for Mass.
Now a word about the conduct of bishops in all these matters. Very seldom indeed do they speak up to correct these abuses in the celebration of the Eucharist, all of which are quite contrary to the laws of the Church.
And then there are these so-called Commissions on Liturgy, both at the national level and at the diocesan level. Seemingly, they never have a word to correct abuses; they rather strive to create new fashions, some of which are themselves abuses.
Let us hope that these remarks will have salutary results and will be accepted by those in authority. For this, real, authentic, divine faith in Jesus, always present in divine Majesty in the Eucharist, is absolutely required. Is not the Church in the process of losing its faith in the Holy Eucharist? . . .