HE MOST COMMON WAY the faithful received Holy Communion (until approximately 1955) was by means of something akin to a “Communion service.” This was mainly due to the fasting laws; Catholics could not eat or drink “the smallest ionic particle”—not even water—from Midnight until the reception of Holy Communion (until the pontificate of Pope Pius XII). Parish bulletins from the 1930s and 1940s would often schedule Holy Communion at 6:30AM and the faithful would return later for Mass—even on days like Easter Sunday! An exception was supposed to be made for Maundy Thursday. The congregation was supposed to receive Communion during Mass on Maundy Thursday, but we can observe that even on that day exceptions were made. It was also very common for a priest to distribute Holy Communion before Mass, or after Mass, or during Mass at a side Altar.
A Change Happens: New rubrics were issued in 1961: “The proper time for distributing holy communion to the faithful is within the Mass, after the communion of the celebrating priest.” However, it was added that: “On the other hand, it is also permissible for a good reason to distribute holy communion immediately before or after Mass, or even outside of the time of Mass.” The authorities in 1961 were trying their best to eliminate a common practice: “It is altogether improper, however, that holy communion be distributed by another priest, outside of the proper time of communion, at the same altar at which the Mass is being celebrated.”
Jeff Is A Modernist? Whenever I explain the way Catholics formerly received Communion, people accuse me of being a “modernist.” When I pull out 100 million documents proving this, it makes no difference. They still accuse me of being a “modernist.” The simple reality remains, however, that Holy Communion was often given outside of Mass—and when that ceremony is “imported” into Mass, it seems very difficult to exclude vernacular hymns. I have spoken about this many times in the past. It’s difficult to make the case that such a thing was forbidden in the old documents, because at the time those documents were issued it was extremely rare for Catholics to receive Communion during Solemn Mass. Throughout Church history, many customs arose vis-à-vis music during the distribution of Holy Communion, including songs in the vernacular; e.g. Bishop Urban Sagstetter (d. 1573) mandated communion songs sung in the vernacular in his diocese.
Incorrect Assertion: Mr. Joseph Shaw, the president of UNA VOCE, recently published an article in which he made the following assertion:
“It appears that the Congregation for Divine Worship are not aware that, for historical reasons, that [sic] Rite of Communion for the Faithful used in the old Mass is not found in the 1962 Missale Romanum. […] One thing this makes clear is the lack of understanding of the Traditional liturgy within the Congregation for Divine Worship. They don’t seem to have people there with a thorough knowledge of the books and how they interact.”
Mr. Shaw’s assertion is inaccurate. I possess a copy of the 1962 Missale Romanum (IMPRIMATUR, 11 April 1962), and it clearly says:
503. Whenever Holy Communion is distributed within the Mass, the Celebrant first consumes the Precious Blood, and then—the CONFITEOR and the absolution having been omitted—says the “Ecce Agnus Dei” as well as the “Dómine, non sum dignus” three times. The Celebrant then proceeds immediately to the distribution of the holy Eucharist.
This is clearly printed in the 1962 Missal on page xxxiii:
Mr. Shaw also seems unaware of the rubrics of the 1962 Missal itself:
Not knowing Mr. Shaw, I don’t know whether he reads Latin; but regardless, the same rubrics are printed in English inside hand-missals from 1962:
Mr. Shaw really ought to take down his article as soon as possible; especially since the point of his article is to attack those who lack “a thorough knowledge of the books.”
Puzzling Situation: It’s difficult to understand why many “EF” priests follow Rubricarum Instructum (1960) to the hilt—and it changed tons of items—yet do not follow Rubricarum Instructum when it comes to the “Pre-Communion Confiteor.” If they understood how rare it was to give Holy Communion during Mass, perhaps they would understand why Rubricarum Instructum (which went into effect on 1 January 1961) says what it says:
503. Quoties sancta Communio infra Missam distributur, celebrans, sumpto sacratissimo Sanguine, omissis confessione et absolutione, dictis tamen Ecce Agnus Dei et ter Dómine, non sum dignus, immediate ad distribtionem sanctæ Eucharistiæ procedit.
In English, translated by Most Rev’d Patrick Murphy (6 December 1960):
Liturgical Lunatics: On the other hand, the Altar Boys love to pray the “Pre-Communion Confiteor,” and only a lunatic would claim that praying an extra prayer before reception of the SANCTISSIMUM is somehow deeply significant. Many customs existed in the Traditional Latin Mass; e.g. in Europe there was often a hymn sung before or after the homily.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
* In former times, it was forbidden to distribute Holy Communion during certain Masses. For instance, a rubric from 1956: “The Mass of the Chrism is celebrated by the Bishop in the morning of Holy Thursday, after the canonical hour of Terce. Holy Communion may not be distributed at this Mass.” Excellent books, such as those by Father Fortescue, often indicate when Holy Communion may be distributed during or after Mass. The American Ecclesiastical Review (1955, vol. CXXV, page 66), describes another common practice in which an assistant priest would begin distribution of Holy Communion immediately after the Consecration.