Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Frequent Communion a Rupture

Interesting stuff on the blogs about the order of the sacraments. Liverpool Archdiocese wants to restore them to what they were before that old innovator Pope St Pius X interfered by allowing the reception of Holy Communion before Confirmation.
Fr Hunwicke praises the move, Fr Sean has reservations, especially about removing Confirmation as a sacrament conferred by the Bishop.
I am an old trad and therefore favour most things from the first millenium. I certainly see the move by St Pius as being an act of rupture and quite a serious one which prepared the way for even more ruptures in the rest of the 20th Century. That being said, I must say the continuous catechetical process Liverpool proposes would fill me with terror if I were a lay person.

The main reason the Sainted Pope Pius broke with the ancient Tradition was because of his own Eucharistic piety: simply put he wanted to start a habit of not only regular but also frequent reception of Holy Communion. The assumption today is that this is always a good thing but it strikes me that from St Paul onwards the Church discouraged frequent communion thinking it lead to laxity. At the very least that at the Eucharist there were always those who did communicate and those who didn't:
"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
The Fathers are continually pressing for more and more reverent Communion, I am no patristic expert but it seems that by the fourth century very very few people ever received Holy Communion, except as part of initiation in the East and Viaticum in the West, if they were fortunate enough. The division between communicants and non-communicants shaped the ecclesiastical structures for both East and West. By 1000 AD Holy Communion was something for priests and monks and nuns, widows and virgins, and in the West was certainly one of the reasons for the imposition of celibacy (but let's leave that bone alone here).

John 6 of course says, "unless you eat... we will not have Life", but many would suggest this meant receiving once in one's lifetime, as seems to be the practice for many Orthodox who receive communion in infancy at Baptism after Confirmation and rarely ever again. This too is the reason, presumably, why most ancient Missals, like the Roman Missal simply do not have Rite of Communion for the Laity, it just did not happen very often. It was only after the Great Schism that the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) issued the Paschal Precept, which ensured - for the law abiding - at least an annual Communion, despite the statements of various Synods, as far as I know, this never happened in the East.

Getting back to the "Confirmation Debate", it seems that priests always Confirmed those who hadn't been Confirmed before giving Viaticum and Extreme Unction.


Michael.Petek said...

Is not frequent communion an expression of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus?

Richard Collins said...

Becoming a Soldier of Jesus Christ at the tender age of five or so would seem a shade premature especially as one would not be borne up by the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
I think Pope St Pius X was on the right track (well, of course he was right, he was guided by the Holy Spirit).

Nathan said...

Very intriguing post, Father. I've thought that, in very broad terms, the practice of the laity receiving Holy Communion often varied due to the state of the Church vis-a-vis the world.

It appears to me that in the early Church, when the laity had to be prepared at anytime to be martyred and the external culture was that of the declining Roman Empire, frequent Holy Communion was essential. During the long reign of Christendom (especially in Europe), frequent Holy Communion would be less essential, since most were living in a Christian culture. Pope St. Pius X, while probably basing his decree on his on personal love for Christ in the Holy Eucharist, fortunately turned the Church toward increasing lay reception of Holy Communion at the precise time that Christian culture would be overcome by modern secularism.

Understanding the problems with unworthy reception plaguing the Church today, could perhaps the Holy Spirit be pouring out the gift of counsel in this regard so that the Faithful, having to live in a morally poisonous culture, would be able to frequently partake of the Antidote?

In Christ,

Sixupman said...

Surely the 'age of reason' and then Confession are the critical points of development. It is this lack of teaching of right and wrong, from an early age, together with its relationship to, eventual, reception of Communion which bedevils the Church to-day. When that 'reason' becomes developed, then Confirmation.

That Confirmation, by other than a bishop, it just one more factor in the diminution of the sacraments.

How many partake of Communion to-day and have not been to Confession and in a certain 'state of grace. Recently a priest in Australia, I think, posted a notice in the pews regarding being in a 'state of grace' prior to reception and all hell let loose among the congregation.

If you do not receive the grounding as a child, the sacraments become devalued. However, my arguement is scotched by virtue of people of my own age acting in a manner which I find anathema as such contravenes that which I was taught by priests and teachers alike.

Adulio said...

I am inclined to agree with you Father - that frequent communion was ill-thought by St. Pius X. This does not cast any aspersions on his character but is yet another example, of how a prudential decision of the Pope is not always for the best. As you rightly point out, many saints lead holy lives without the need for receiving communion at every mass they went to (unless they were priests). The same should be possible for today.

We must also remember that St. Pius X dealt with a different church (in terms of practice of the faith) to what our current Holy Father has to deal with now. I do not think, that even St. Pius X (or even Blessed John XXIII) could have imagined what sorrows would befall the church of today.

Richard said...

I tend to gravitate to medieval practice; once a year, with confession beforehand, seems quite adequate.

Certainly I have read of medieval pastoral advice that monthly communion might be appropriate for the particularly devout, but not for most of us.

I wonder what they would have thought of today's almost automatic weekly communion.

Et Expecto said...

Surely this is a matter to be decided by the universal Church and not by individual bishops.

Mercury said...

Father, I don't understand ... are you saying the Jansenists were right? I've understood it that St. Pius X basically said anyone who is not in a state of mortal sin should approach the sacrament to receive it with loving reverence, because it IS a remedy for sinners, not just a gift for Saints.

I think the bigger problem is that so many people no longer go to confession. But why should someone who makes the effort to attend Mass daily and receives the sacrament if Penance regularly not approach Christ in the Blessed Sacrament?

Mhairi said...

Nathan, Your last sentence is spot on. I firmly believe that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ every Sunday gives me real strength during the rest of the week.

As for being worthy to receive - not even Pope Benedict is worthy. It is precisely because we are unworthy sinners need Christ that we receive.

As for being reverent, that attitude goes without saying - or should do.

Anonymous said...

Why not restore the ancient practice of communicating infants? This is still practiced in the east.


Anagnostis said...


The "Soldier of Christ" aspect in the Latin Church is(like devotion to the the Sacred Heart)a late arrival, a consequence of the separation of chrismation from baptism in the West, and the postponement of the former until adolescence.

Traditionally, Chrismation (confirmation) is entry into the mystery of Pentecost (as Baptism is entry into the mystery of Pascha).

All things considered, I don't believe the legacy of Pius X is a happy one, either in this respect or in several others, but that's for another thread, perhaps.

Jacobi said...

In the 50s, when I learned my Catholicism, the requirement was to receive Communion at least once a year and that at Easter or thereabouts. To do this you had to be in a state of Grace, which usually that meant Confession and Communion, constituted Easter Duties. I believe this still is still the case.

Pius X, whatever his reasons for calling for frequent Communion must be turning in his grave. Communion is now received "as of right" by whole congregations, many of whom have not seen the inside of the Confessional in years and who would not know what a State of Grace was.

It is not really their fault. Catholic education in the 70s and 80s simply did not teach such things so we now have so many nominal Catholics including Catholic parents who are ignorant of their religion.

In a real sense the responsibility lies with the clergy, given that the Catholic education system has failed. But in twenty or thirty years of listening to sermons I do not recall a single one dealing definitively with specifics of Catholic doctrine.

But direct teaching by the clergy is now the only way these distortions can be put right. So over to you, the clergy. The ball is in your court!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mercury, I say nothing of Jansenist, only frequent communion seems not to be of the Tradition, and seems to be part of rupture not continuity, it predates Jansenism by over a thousand years.

I am a son of the 21st Century, I am really just being provocative and trying to suggest why Pius X did something unprecedented.

Simon Platt said...

Under Bishop Brewer we had a period in Lancaster diocese during which confirmation was conferred by parish priests each year at Pentecost. It was supposed to be a sign of unity - confirmations all taking place at the same time across the diocese. Of course it was quite the opposite - confirmands did not receive the sacrament from the bishop; indeed, we saw the bishop even less often than before.

This foolish experiment was abandoned after a few years.

Simon Platt said...

I recently met a priest - funnily enough of the Diocese of Liverpool - who explained that never assisted at mass without receiving communion.
That struck me as rather odd, especially as he would always (I suppose, indeed hope) have celebrated his own mass on the same day.

Mercury said...

Fr. Blake - here is an article by Fr. John Hardon, S.J. He was an amazing priest, scholar, and catechist, and a champion of orthodoxy par exellence:


He traces the history of the tradition from Apostolic times to today (or at least until the late 20th century), and is in favor of frequent reception as long as a person is in the state of grace. Of course he was also a tireless advocate for frequent Confession as well.

Like I said, and like other posters have noted: the problem is not frequent reception - it's infrequent confession.

Also, is it really always the best idea to go back to the Middle Ages for guidance? Sometimes they had it right, sometimes not - just like any age.

John Lamont said...

In defence of St. Pius X; one ought not to receive communion if one is in a state of mortal sin. But it is not normal for a practicing Catholic to be in a state of mortal sin, so there does not seem to be a reason why most practicing Catholics should not receive frequent communion; indeed there is a reason for them to do so, which is that frequent reception of communion will make it less likely for them to fall into mortal sin, and conduce to their growth in holiness. The Jansenist idea that something additional to being in a state of grace should be required for communion - where that something is thought of as rare, and as being more demanding than approaching communion with normal reverence and right intention - is really disguised pride; it assumes that there is something more we can do than not be in a state of mortal sin, in order to be worthy of communion. But in fact that is false; not being in mortal sin is the nearest approach to worthiness we can get - no-one can really be worthy of receiving communion in the full sense.

As for the history that Fr. notes: I wonder how much that might have had to do with availability of priests and similar considerations.

Anonymous said...

I think the 'hermeneutic of rupture' is overplayed here. Read for example the Catholic Encyclopedia on the history of frequent Communion. It's sad I think that some Trads, referring not just to this discussion, seem to be neo-gothic aesthetes and carrying it over into liturgical and theological matters.

Pastor in exile

manalive said...

If priests and bishops had not given up on preaching about mortal sin and confession after the Council, then frequent communion would not be a problem, since people would know to go to confession so as to receive in a state of grace.

In any case, I don't think you can paint St Pius X as some sort of radical innovator in promoting frequent communion. In the second chapter of Trent's decree on the Eucharist, we read:

"Wherefore, our Saviour... would also that this sacrament should be received as the spiritual food of souls, whereby may be fed and strengthened those who live with His life who said, He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me; AND AS AN ANTIDOTE, WHEREBY WE MAY BE FREED FROM DAILY FAULTS, AND BE PRESERVED FROM MORTAL SINS. He would, furthermore, have it be a pledge of our glory to come, and everlasting happiness, and thus be a symbol of that one body whereof He is the head..."

One should proceed with caution when addressing this issue. It should be noted that among the Congregation of the Holy Council's declarations on 16 December 1905 was this:

"...after the promulgation of this decree, let all ecclesiastical writers abstain from any contentious disputation about dispositions for frequent and daily communion."

On the side of the angels said...

I don't understand this argument:

The so-called 'rupture' argument is specious.
It's backwards thinking.

Pius X was childlike - and possessed the truthful simplicity inherent within it - so it was only natural for him to address the issue on a fundamental objective level.

Holy Communion is precluded solely to those in a state of mortal sin, of ongoing scandal or of ignorance - those unworthy to approach the altar and those unable to sincerely utter the 'Amen' - so axiomatically there is NOTHING to prevent a Child's reception of communion once they are aware of what it truly is!

Yes canonically and ecclesiastically Confirmation is an initiation of those who have achieved the age of discretion - but in a western world which has introduced socio-cultural extension of childhood into a phenomena two to three times the length of its 'traditional' period

[think of the local student protests where 'children' in their twenties were dropped off by their parents with packed lunches, bottles of water and when the police kettled them the parents flooded the police switchboards with reprimands and demanding to know when their children will be home? Before the second world war 14 yr old boys were working men] ;

The age of discretion and accountability are now no longer congruent with the age of responsibility and independence - it is unjust and unworthy of us to initiate those who are not truly able to acknowledge, affirm and dedicate their lives to their baptismal duties and responsibilities.

The 'soldier of Christ' perspective may be a late arrival - but it accentuates the very nature of entering freely and responsibly into the Pentecostal Mystery and mission. ++Kelly's 'appeal to tradition and theology' falls at this point.

The repeated practice itself has complemented, supplemented and vindicated the overflowing graces and living symbolism and accentuated witness - what might not necessarily have possessed that which was a compounded initiation rite has now taken up that mantle by Catholic praxis - and nothing which is resultantly good, pure and true should ever be restricted

- We MUST agree with Aquinas that where the Holy Spirit exercises grace is His Domain - and the exigents and accidentals which enter History are parts of divine providence - we are guided, moulded by it; and we are forbidden from countering it if it neither acts contrarily or limits fulfilment to its ultimate end.

When a Spiritual initiation rite coalesces with the socio-cultural initiation into adulthood [inadvertently accentuating the classical communal initiation - the Judaic Barmitzvah, the Roman manly gown, the Greek mentoring, the hindu 'second birth' etc]
and thus the inherent dignity, symbolism and beauty of it becomes accentuated on so many levels ?

It becomes not merely commendable - but a gracious 'accident' - Christianity has a tradition of sacralising the pagan and the limited grasps towards the eternal; why should it not involve itself within that which invites it in?
A traditional rite of initiation becoming sacralised by being superseded and transformed into pentecostal initiation.

We liked it
We did it!!!
It was good.
So why change it for no other reason than...well?
What exactly is their reasoning?
Qui Bonum?

..and why enforce an accountability and responsibility upon a child [something the sacramental grace demands] - and extracting an adult response from them - merely because they have arrived at the age of discretion ?

If it does not benefit - it should not be changed - and vice-versa.
That's what St Pius X understood!

On the side of the angels said...

Fr Ray - I'm afraid you're going to have to forgive me but I'm going to challenge your education on the issue of frequent Lay reception of Communion throughout the history of the Church .

I too endured the historicism and revisionism in both seminary and in three universities that it was practically non-existent until 1906 [it's one of the modern liturgist's/professional laity/modernist academic's equivocations to justify the abolition of exposition of and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament]

It's not true!
For the 1st Thousand years of the Church Holy Communion was received frequently. Only in the medieval and post-jansenist eras was it limited.
My battered copy of the 1608 Introduction to the Devout Life has St Francis de Sales constantly recommending daily communion.
Don't believe the revisionism that 'it was never thus' - It almost always was! And even when it wasn't the saints and doctors of the Church still recommended it.


Fr Ray Blake said...

Interesting, the press for weekly, even daily confession seems to be a Counter Reformation thing. Philip Neri encouraged daily confession because a Jesuit at the Gesu encouraged daily Communion.
Pre-Trent Confession and Communion went together, almost to the point of priests going to the altar with a confessor and interrupting the Canon to confess before the Consecration.

In many Orthodox Churches few would go to Communion without confession and doing penance.

If you have evidence that there was daily or even weekly Communion before Trent and esp. the Patristic period I would like to see it.

Anagnostis said...

It is a very interesting question, this - but it's really two questions: frequency of communion, and what happens when chrismation is separated from baptism.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, efforts are made to get more of us adults to communicate more frequently than has been the case, I suppose, since time immemorial. My parish priest brings up every week the desirability of regular confession and communion, while insisting that the latter should never be approached without the former; also, by "frequent", he means somewhere between 4 and 12 times a year! Adults must be properly prepared - which means, in addition to confession, keeping the Wednesday and Friday fast, fasting the day before and from midnight(Saturday, usually), abstention from marital relations and the reading of lengthy office of preparation at Compline on Saturday.

Children, on the other hand, communicate from infancy, immediately following baptism and chrismation (confirmation) and continue to do so weekly until around 12 years old, I guess. It isn't therefore unusual to attend Divine Liturgy at which only the children and one or two adults communicate. I think the Russian practice differs slightly, insofar as confessions are regularly heard before Divine Liturgy, during the chanting of the Hours, so that more of the adults appear to communicate much more regularly.

My intuition, for what it's worth, is that for spiritual slackers and mediocrities like me, half-a-dozen times a year, with careful preparation, is probably about right. That's rather more than I actually achieve!

As I write this, I'm struck by the recollection that St Mary of Egypt, for example, as far as we know, communicated only once in her adult life.

Michael Petek said...

Father, I would submit that the test for rupture and continuity is this.

A change in practice works no rupture if there are valid reasons for it.

Rupture is where there is an intervention which defeats the valid celebration of the Mass, so that there is no longer (locally) any traditio of the real, true and substantial Presence of Our Lord.

On the side of the angels said...

Father - follow the link I provided.

Ecclesia Anglicana said...

There is ample evidence that weekly communion was the norm in the patristic period. And the custom existed of taking the Blessed Sacrament home so one might receive communion daily. It was only in the 6th-7th centuries that communion began to become less frequent.

Some of the Fathers, East and West, urged daily communion, e.g.:

"To communicate also every day, to receive one's share of the sacred body and precious blood of Christ, is an excellent and beneficial practice..."
St Basil of Caesarea

"You hear it said that every time the sacrifice is offered, the Lord's death, resurrection and ascension are represented, the forgiveness of sins is offered, and yet you do not receive this bread of life every day?"
St Ambrose of Milan

Fr Ray Blake said...

"Some of the Fathers, East and West, urged daily communion"

Yes, some people did, but normally I suspect because most people didn't.
The patristic period was not a mono-culture.
In Skete it seems that monks might receive annually. The growth of Feast days seem to be linked to days on which communion was received.

I have a recollection of someone speculating that many of St Augustine's hearers were not baptised, or were penitents or for some reason were not able to receive Communion, that in fact much less than a quarter would receive communion regularly, possibly more as Anagnostis does rather than as a modern English Catholic might.

Interesting, only a third or so of our Polish community seem regularly to receive communion, when fasting was more rigorous there would have been even fewer.

Anagnostis said...

I've heard before about this alleged practice of taking the Most Holy Body home, so as to communicate at will, between Liturgies; I must say, I'm extremely sceptical. Is it not more likely that what was carried out of the church was antidoron, bread prepared for the offertory, but not consecrated? It's our practice today to receive antidoron after the Divine Liturgy and to break our fast with it during the week.

I was about to comment on the quotation from St Basil the Great, before reading the following reproach from Fr Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory. I'll let it speak for itself, and not say any more!


Pablo the Mexican said...

On the Side of the Angels,

I'm going to follow the link as well.

Thank you for providing it.


On the side of the angels said...

Fr Ray - somewhat confused : Augustine was a hearer for nine years - but the hearers were manichaeans weren't they? [It's been twenty years since I read Peter Brown and I haven't bothered to consult anything online so I've probably utterly embarrassed myself]

Agreed that it was always a more patchy series of socio-cultural traditions and praxes - but it's very different from saying it simply didn't exist before 1906 - which is what a lot of modern day 'liturgists/academics/liverpudlian mouthpieces' are arguing...

Edward said...

I am surprised that Archbishop Kelly is continuing with this folly. He introduced it on becoming bishop of Salford in 1984. It hasn't led to an increase in faith. Mass attendance and priestly vocations have continued to plummet at the same rate as the rest of England and Wales.
I believe that the current bishop, Terence Brain, was encouraged on by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to discontinue the practice. In fact they even made him a consultor, which is odd given that he has no liturgical background.

tubbs said...

Hmmm, and no one has brought up the old tale of Jansenism-in-the-English-seminaries (in exilio) making an old codger like Fr. Ray on the side of infrequent communion.
This is one of the things I love about being an R.C. - the dynamic tension.

A Sinner said...

In the Orthodox Church, St Nicodemus made a strong case for restoring more frequent communion in the 18th century.


He cites Apostolic Canon number 9:

"All the faithful who come in and hear the Scriptures, but do not stay for the prayers and the Holy Communion, are to be excommunicated, as causing disorder in the Church. "


Richard said...

Pastor in exile said that "some Trads ... seem to be neo-gothic aesthetes"

But he said that as if it's a bad thing!

Actually I find that most Catholic 'Trads' seem to be stuck in Counter-Reformation Baroque, which never appealed to me.

One of the reasons I like this blog is that Fr Blake seems to be rooted in something much earlier.

Joel said...

I don't like the notion that modern man often holds: that if I can do something, I will. God forbid anyone receive communion because they felt it was "their right".

More often than not, arguments for less frequent reception is on the human level. I stopped receiving daily because approaching the altar it started to feel about as solemn as queuing up at a deli. "Going through the motions" as they say.

The one I don't feel comfortable with is "if you're in a state of mortal sin, by all means receive communion, but go to confession at the nearest opportunity". Bollocks to that. You're either in a state of grace or not. God might be outside time, we are not.

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