A Privilege of the Ordained

Published on the Web with Permission of the Author

2. Liturgical Development

It is a mistake to think of the Christian religion as something static. Such an attitude is a characteristic of some of the more extreme Protestant fundamentalist sects. Thus, because the Bible does not mention the Holy See, cardinals, religious orders, or reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, the Catholic Church is accused of introducing novelties, not countenanced by Scripture,
or even of deviating from the pure Bible Faith. In his great book, The Development of Christian Doctrine, Cardinal Newman proves that development is an essential characteristic of a true and living faith. The original Gospel message, handed on by Our Lord to His Apostles, and preached by them throughout the world, can be compared to an acorn which develops into a mighty oak. The oak, indeed, bears little resemblance to the acorn, but at each stage of its development it is consistent with the stage that came before. Had it been stunted at any stage of its growth this, indeed, would have been an aberration. But to call an oak an aberration because it does not resemble an acorn is to lose all claim to credibility.
In the case of Christianity, as the centuries passed, and under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the original seed of the Gospel message has developed in many ways within the one true Church founded by Our Lord. The doctrine of the papacy, the veneration shown to Our Lady, the theology of the Sacraments, and, above all, the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, have undergone considerable developments. Yet, where the developed doctrine, as we have it today, is sometimes scarcely recognizable as the original seed found in the Gospel, if we trace its development back, stage by stage, we will find that every stage is consistent with the one which preceded it. There is no more justification for alleging that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, as explained in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, is unfaithful to the Gospel, than there is for claiming that the magnificent oak is unfaithful to the acorn from which it sprang.
Where the Blessed Sacrament is concerned, as the years passed Christians became more and more aware of Its awesome nature as God the Son truly present among us. Naturally, this increasing awarement was given liturgical expression, nowhere more apparent than in the distribution of Holy Communion. The pattern of development differed slightly in the East and in the West. As Catholics of the Western, or Latin Rite, the development of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament within our own branch of the Church is what should most concern us. In the first centuries, Holy Communion under the form of bread was usually given to the faithful in the hand. But, by the fourth century, awareness of the Divine Nature of the Sacrament had become so acute that there was already anxiety lest the smallest particle should fall upon the ground. [Emphasis in bold added by the Web Master.]
St. Cyril of Jerusalem warned the faithful:

Partake of It, ensuring that you do not mislay any of It. For if you mislay any, you would clearly suffer a loss, as it were, from one of your own limbs. Tell me, if anyone gave you gold dust, would you not take hold of it with every possible care, ensuring that you did not mislay any of it or sustain any loss? So will you not be much more cautious to ensure that not a crumb falls away from that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?

Not surprisingly, this enhanced reverence for the Blessed Sacrament developed to the point where the Host was placed on the tongue of the communicant. This gradually became the general practice in a number of regions. The Synod of Rouen, in the year 650, condemned the reception of Communion in the hand as an abuse, indicating that reception on the tongue must already have been a long-established practice in that area. The Roman Ordo of the ninth century accepts Communion on the tongue as the normal practice. Scholars are divided as to the precise reasons for the change. Father Joseph Jungmann, one of the greatest liturgical experts of this century, cites "growing respect for the Eucharist" as the decisive reason. By the thirteenth century, it was already a firmly established tradition that only what had been consecrated specifically for the purpose should ever come into contact with the Blessed Sacrament.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writes:

The dispensing of Christ's Body belongs to the priest for three reasons. First, because he consecrates in the person of Christ. But as Christ consecrated His Body at the Supper, so also He gave It to others to be partaken of by them. Accordingly, as the consecration of Christ's Body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him. Secondly, because the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people, hence as it belongs to him to offer the people's gifts to God, so it belongs to him to deliver the consecrated gifts to the people. Thirdly, because out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches It but what is consecrated, and likewise the priest's hands for touching this Sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone else to touch It, except from necessity, for instance, if It were to fall upon the ground or else in some other case of urgency.