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Communion in hand is permitted, but this doesn’t mean it’s good

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

February 19, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The highly-publicized Father Edwin Dwyer case suggests that, in more and more places, the “Francis Effect” will take the form of a heightened clamp-down on any efforts to reintroduce elements of Catholic tradition—not just in liturgical practices, but in doctrinal and moral teaching as well. This effort to stymie or suppress the rediscovery of Catholicism on the part of younger generations looking for identity, clarity, and beauty is being led by older bishops and clergy who grew up under the hermeneutic of rupture and who believe that they must remain committed to the Vatican II program at any cost.

A reader recently wrote to me with his concerns about what he is seeing in his diocese.

Dear Doctor,

You’ve written on the link between “conservative” Catholics and philosophical liberalism, but I’m recently been thinking, due to an article by Fr. Chad Ripperger, about the link between “conservative” Catholics and philosophical positivism.

In my diocese, I’ve heard that an effort is being made to defend the practice of communion in the hand against the reintroduction of communion on the tongue. People are being told: “Since both are permitted by the Church, you can’t say that one is better than the other.”

Clearly there is a leap in logic here: if two things are permitted, that doesn’t mean one isn’t better than the other. Marriage and religious life are both permitted to single Catholics of a certain age, but the Church has always taught that the latter state is better than the former. 

Nevertheless, I think the policy line evinces a deeper problem: the presupposition of conservatives that “might makes right”—that a thing’s being posited as licit by the competent authority makes it morally good (or, at least, in no way objectionable). It seems that recourse to what is stipulated in the law is the beginning and end of any discussion for them, as if there is no need to think beyond legality.

Do you have any thoughts about how to react when we are told that legality is equivalent to goodness (obvious analogies with legalized abortion and euthanasia and the rest of our cultural decay aside!)? 

Thanks so much for your time.

My response:

Dear N.,

I know just what you are talking about. Are we supposed to chuck out our reason’s ability to see un-fittingness, unworthiness, irreverence? This really is the death of reason. How contradictory it is to have a priest put on a cope and humeral veil to handle a monstrance—a metal object holding the host in a glass lunette—out of respect for the awesome presence of God, but then we turn around and have the purple-haired old ladies passing out hosts like crackers to folks sticking out their grubby paws, with fragments scattered hither and yon. Sheer cognitive dissonance.

The scary part is that modern Church governance is based on a twisted absolutism of obedience by which everyone is supposed to internalize any command from above, stifling all protests. In an article that should be required reading, John Lamont traces this perverse notion back to the Jesuits. Acting on this notion, hierarchs deliberately make clergy swallow contradictions in order to break their will to think and act by good judgment. They must be made to act by the judgment of the superior alone.

It comes down to something rather simple. Either we believe that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit into the fullness of truth, or we don’t. Now, the Church clearly moved unanimously and universally to communion distributed to the mouths of the kneeling faithful by ordained ministers only. This centuries-old practice was disturbed in the 1960s by European radicals who clearly no longer believed in transubstantiation, and had substituted for it some kind of pseudo-Augustinian horizontal populism. Paul VI, in keeping with his typically weak manner of governance, reaffirmed that the Church’s long-standing custom was better—and then added that episcopal conferences could do as they saw fit. 

And now here we are, in a situation where a practice which is better, and was even stated to be better by Paul VI, is quite rare, and its return is opposed on the basis of the equality (?) of the two modes of receiving, as well as by the iron will of the local Ordinary who, like the episcopal conferences decades ago, prefers popular irreverence over the road less traveled.

Legal positivism has replaced faith in the Holy Spirit: we are too cynical, too mechanistic, too bureaucratic, and too authoritarian to believe in the Holy Spirit. It has to be the will of the pope, of the episcopal conference, of the people, or whatever, but not (God forbid) what the Church humbly and reverently developed over the centuries. This should tell us about which spirit, after all, is guiding the post-conciliar process.

Ultimately, it is obedience to the truth—not to the wills of individuals who use their positions of authority to dominate and impose their own opinions—that will set us free. This means the truth of Jesus Christ, Word incarnate; the truth of Catholic dogma authoritatively established for us by de fide articles and their accompanying anathemas; the truth of Catholic tradition handed down to us from men of faith. Our polestar is not what is licit, but what is good and right; our goal is not to please the crowd, but to sanctify sinners and save the lost. In this perspective, we know what to do and how to do it by that supernatural instinct or sensus fidei that animates the faithful in all ages, especially in times of crisis.

God Bless,

Dr. Kwasniewski

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.