BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - Diocesan priests and laity are questioning the leadership of their bishop, who has ruled in accordance with the civil government's Wuhan virus guidelines that Holy Communion may be received only in the hand.
After weeks of government prohibition of public celebration of the Mass throughout Argentina, the two bishops of Mendoza province asked Gov. Rodolfo Suárez for relief.
Suárez told Bp. Eduardo Taussig of San Rafael and Abp. Marcelo Debenedictis of Mendoza's capital that they could resume public celebration of the Mass but must limit the number of faithful to just 30 in each instance. They both complied with the government order. Local media quoted Abp. Debenedictis, who said: "When entering the churches, people will sign a registry and an affidavit to be taken into account should there be a need for immediate and timely contact."
Bishop Taussig presides over San Rafael, which lies in an Andean region known for its wines. With a population of 1.7 million, Mendoza province has seen just 10 Wuhan virus deaths, while the whole country has registered slightly over 1,300 deaths among its 44 million residents.
The Peronist government has imposed strict social-distancing measures throughout the country, while it has also given provincial governors some leeway in enforcement. He took the added step of requiring that seminarians and all laity must receive the Eucharist in the hand, rather than receiving it directly on the tongue. No option was given.
San Rafael has a reputation of being one of the most conservative dioceses in the country. As evidence of local fealty to tradition, residents of the diocese told Church Militant that the traditional liturgy in Latin is offered every Sunday at one parish there, while in much of the rest of Argentina, the Latin Mass is virtually unknown.
San Rafael lay faithful have long been accustomed to receiving the Eucharist by mouth only and while kneeling. In the Latin rite of the Church, this was the pious custom for centuries, even while receiving it while standing and in the hand has become more common. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, it says: "When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated Host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant."
In his video messages, Bp. Taussig has explained what he says are the theological underpinnings of receiving the Eucharist in the hand and while standing. In one video, he directs himself to the faithful "who believe it is wrong to receive Communion by hand."
He said, "Some have told me it's a sacrilege or that it is a mortal sin, while others fear they will be condemned if they receive Communion in the hand." Because they fear that they may be offending God, he said that many faithful are refraining from the Eucharist.
Reception in the hand, he said, "is the only possible means during the pandemic." While saying that the concerns may stem from a "righteous conscience," the bishop said that they are "wrong and lack elements of a true conscience."
Bishop Taussig asserted that not only the Apostles but even the Virgin Mary received the Eucharist in their hands. To say that it is a sacrilege or mortal sin, he claimed, is "gravely" wrong given that it was practiced centuries ago. Receiving on the tongue or in the hand are both legitimate, he said, adding that "each expresses complimentary expressions of the Eucharist."
Saying that he is ultimately responsible for catechizing his flock, Bp. Taussig called on clergy and catechists to place "the entire people of God in concert with the practice and teachings of the Church." He has also personally catechized at least one parish on this teaching, and reportedly told parishioners that they had been incorrectly catechized in the past.
Interviews with laity and reviews of Argentine media revealed that Bp. Taussig has dismissed Fr. Alejandro Miguel Ciarrocchi as rector of the diocesan seminary, reportedly because the priest had defended seminarians' right to receive the Eucharist by mouth directly from the celebrant of the Mass.
A blog titles Caminante-Wanderer described the distress and consternation felt by priests and laity in the diocese. It said that the priest serving at the San Rafael cathedral, for example, "tearfully" asked the bishop to rethink his requirement about the Eucharist.
On June 27, the bishop released a video in which he demonstrated that the faithful should receive the Eucharist by extending the left hand and supporting it with the right, forming a "throne." This accords with the "dignity," he said, of martyrs and the receiving the sacrament of Confirmation.
"During the time of this pandemic," he said, "we have the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ in only one way: in our hands." In the future, he said that the faithful may receive the Eucharist as they wish, "including by mouth."
Two members of Bp. Taussig's flock have written to Cdl. Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. In a copy of a letter obtained by Church Militant, educators Andrea Greco de Alvarez and Fernando Alvarez, who are a married couple, say that local liturgical norms must be approved by the body over which Cdl. Sarah presides. They also quote Church doctrine saying that the faithful have the right to choose whether to receive Holy Communion by mouth. Without a clear authorization from the Congregation, they argue, Bp. Taussig's order is invalid.
According to the letter, by June 13 there had been but one case of COVID-19 in the city of San Rafael, and four cases in the smaller town of Malargue, in nearly 90 days of quarantine. In San Rafael, economic activity has returned, albeit with social distancing and the use of face masks imposed. They end their letter by lamenting: "It is with great regret and profound pain that we see how the Eucharist — the source and summit of our Christian faith — is being treated."
Apart from the Alvarez's letter to the Vatican, lay faithful have issued a statement to Bp. Taussig, saying that changing Church custom for hygienic reasons is an "abuse of authority." They asked him to authorize the distribution of the Eucharist on the tongue, adding that receiving in the hand is "not as sacred." The government's reasoning, the statement said, is "invalid."
Bishop Emeritus Héctor Aguer, the former ordinary of the diocese of La Plata, who is counted as a conservative in Church circles, expressed concern in an article that his fellow bishops are allowing government officials to essentially dictate how Catholics should worship.
While he did not mention Bp. Taussig by name, Bp. Aguer criticized fellow bishops and priests for promoting Communion in the hand in compliance with government commands: "The Argentine government, exercising its inborn inclination towards authoritarianism, attributes to itself the duty and means to preserve all of us from catching the new plague. It has determined, therefore, that worship of God and receiving the sacraments are 'nonessential activities.'"
It has allowed some openings of churches, he wrote, according to its estimate of the health environment, even while it "prohibits liturgies."
Bishop Aguer lamented that reception of the Eucharist in the hand has been accompanied by a general ease with which it is distributed and received, noting that the faithful in the past were catechized to fast and be in a state of grace.
"Due to a mistaken view of dialogue with the world, the Church has become mundane and mimics the anthropocentrism of secular culture. The primacy of God and the appreciation of what refers to Him are shunted aside, to the harm of the world and of the Church itself," he wrote.
Bishop Aguer wrote, "It appears to me unnecessary and dangerous in looking at the future that because of a pandemic that Holy Communion must be received in the hand, and therefore while standing."
"Who should wish to comply with such a measure — the health authorities, whose criteria are assumed?" he asked. "Isn't there a risk that the faithful may see it as an excessive requirement? Who benefits from this?"