The Provost of the Birmingham Oratory has said questions remain over the decision by the Bishops’ Conference to require Communion in the hand only.
In a homily delivered on Sunday, Fr Ignatius Harrison asked how detailed the consultation between the bishops and the Government on the issue was, and whether there is any conclusive evidence Communion on the tongue is more of a contagion risk.
Last week, the Birmingham Oratory announced with “sadness and distress” that it had been forbidden from distributing Communion on the tongue. The oratory’s main Sunday Mass is in the Extraordinary Form, which does not permit Communion in the hand.
In his Sunday homily, reproduced in full below, Fr Ignatius Harrison also said:
• The Bishops of England and Wales appear not to have considered the Traditional Latin Mass.
• The universal law of the Church says that every communicant may always choose how to receive [in the ordinary form].
• However, Communion in the hand is not permitted at the TLM.
• The Oratory had tried to continue with its previous custom, but there were complaints to the archdiocese leading to the archbishop reiterating the prohibition.
• The Oratory Fathers hope to seek the archbishop’s approval to give Communion in both ways as a separate rite after Mass.
• For the time being, those attending the TLM at the Birmingham Oratory will be asked to make an act of Spiritual Communion.
In a statement issued last week, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Birmingham said: “In light of public health guidance, since public Masses were permitted again, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Guidelines have provided a safe and reverent, temporary means of celebrating public Mass, including guidance on the distribution of Holy Communion.
“The Guidelines are shared with all clergy and are to be followed by all clergy in the Archdiocese of Birmingham at the celebration of Public Mass, without exception, until further notice. The Guidelines are regularly reviewed and amended in light of public health guidance.
“We all hope and pray the day will come soon when these temporary and distressing restrictions to the celebration of public Mass are no longer necessary for the common good.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,
I am speaking at all Masses this weekend about the current situation regarding the reception of Holy Communion in our church.
The facts are as follows. The Bishops of England and Wales have been in extensive dialogue with the government concerning health and safety requirements necessary because of the Covid pandemic. The bishops have issued guidance for all Catholic churches in England and Wales, and the archdiocese of Birmingham and all its parishes are no exception.
The instruction for all parishes came to us in June, for implementation as and when churches would open again for public Mass. The instruction was, and remains, clear, that for reasons of possible contagion, Holy Communion should only be received on the hand, not on the tongue.
The Fathers were struck by the fact that apparently no consideration was given to celebrations in the traditional rite, the Extraordinary Form. It is of course possible that consideration had been given, but had not been made public. Anyway, we assumed, but wrongly, that an exception could be made in E.F. Masses. We assumed this because the universal law of the Church says that every communicant may always choose how to receive, and also, it is not permitted to give H.C. on the hand in the traditional Mass.
We also hoped, again wrongly, that if we continued quietly and discretely with our previous custom, we would not be causing any trouble. But in the light of some complaints made to the archdiocese, the previous instruction was reiterated, courteously, and unambiguously. The Fathers therefore felt that our duty was, and is, to comply with the Archbishop’s instruction, albeit thirty days late. (Our church re-opened on Sunday 5th July.)
In correspondence that I and a number of you have already had with the diocese, it is clear that they are united with us in hoping that the present restrictions are temporary. We are also assured that they will be reviewed as soon as circumstances permit. I believe this to be true.
I must also emphasize that the Archbishop has not singled out the Oratory parish for harsh or special treatment, and that he himself has never shown us anything but kindness. Indeed, as you will remember, His Grace has himself celebrated the traditional Mass here on several glorious occasions, and with kind words of encouragement. I recall especially the splendid pontifical Mass of thanksgiving which he celebrated here after the canonization of St John Henry.
We therefore believe that the virtue of obedience must be our guide, and that compliance is the proper way to proceed. We also hope to seek His Grace’s temporary permission to give Holy Communion (in both ways) as a separate rite, after every Mass, until all restrictions can be lifted. I did not know this before, but have since been told, that this is already the practice in a number of other churches, both in this country and abroad, for the faithful who prefer to receive on the tongue. I am told this is what happens in Portsmouth and Shrewsbury dioceses.
Meanwhile, H.C. will not be given on the hand at E.F. Masses. We know your sensibilities too well for that! And as the current instruction is clear that H.C. may not at this time be given on the tongue, I ask you please to make a devout act of spiritual communion. I ask you to implore the Lord that this injustice may soon be remedied.
Larger questions remain. How detailed was the consultation between the Bishops Conference and the government about this particular matter? Is there any conclusive evidence that communion on the tongue is more of a contagion risk than communion on the hand?
My dear brethren, let us pray for our shepherds. Let us offer up to heaven any hardship and disappointment that we may feel, in union with the sufferings of the Redeemer. Prayer and penance are never wasted. The Cross of Christ is the healing of all woes. A blessing I wish for you all.