BIRMINGHAM (ChurchMilitant.com) - Priests at St. John Henry Newman's world-famous oratory will resist the archbishop of Birmingham's "Communion in hand only" diktat by administering Communion on the tongue "in the context of a rite separate from Mass."
"We have come to this decision after much thought, examination of the guidelines and consultation with medics. We believe this to be an answer to prayer," parish priest Fr. Anton Guziel, confirmed in response to Church Militant's query.
Priests in the Oratorian community put pressure on provost Fr. Ignatius Harrison to stand up to the archbishop's bullying and unlawful decree, a source close to the Oratory revealed.
Under Cdl. Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, official guidelines issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) require Communion to be "given silently in the hand only, with the communicant standing and avoiding any physical contact."
The Oratory announced to the congregation that the decision had been taken after consulting relevant documents and taking legal and canonical advice.
In comments to Church Militant, Damian Thompson, associate editor of The Spectator, stressed that it is "perfectly possible to give and receive Holy Communion on the tongue safely. Indeed, it's happening in parishes all over the country, sometimes with the quiet approval of the diocesan bishop."
"The Westminster and Birmingham bans are therefore nothing more than aggressive virtue signaling," Thompson, presenter of the Holy Smoke podcast said.
"One expects nothing better from Cdl. Nichols, a lifelong control freak, but to see Abp. Longley playing the same game is very sad," Thompson remarked. "I very much doubt whether he even agrees with his own public stance, but he always gives in to Nichols' bullying. The victims, in this case, are some of the most faithful Catholics in England."
The Oratory suspended all distribution of the sacrament to the laity after the archdiocese "demanded that we cease giving Holy Communion on the tongue during the pandemic," an August parish newsletter stated.
"All arguments withstanding, the fathers support the right of the faithful who wish to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the customary manner on the tongue, a right upheld by the universal law of the Church," the newsletter noted.
The Oratory explained that it was "in negotiations" with the archdiocese and encouraged its members "to make known your right to receive on the tongue by writing a polite letter to the archbishop."
"We hope for a speedy resolution. For the time being, Holy Communion will not be distributed at all at Extraordinary Form Masses, as this would violate the rubrics, which neither we nor you who attend it would wish to do," the statement stressed.
Dr. Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society UK, told Church Militant that "Catholics around the country are baffled by the question of the reception of Holy Communion, which seems to vary from diocese [to diocese] and from church to church."
"It's well known that priests and bishops do not have the authority to refuse Holy Communion on the tongue (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal 160), but despite government guidelines leaving the question open, some bishops seem determined to create the impression that they have forbidden it in their dioceses," Shaw lamented.
"The central paradox here is that these bishops seem to expect priests and laity to obey their own rules while simultaneously flouting rules established by the Holy See," he explained. "They must know that their rules are unenforceable, and indeed there has been a steady trickle of stories about bishops around the world being obliged to back down and apologize over this."
A June sermon at the Oratory denounced "the Orwellian concept of 'social distancing'" even though the parish agreed to enforce the rules in their entirety.
"These restrictions are extremely irksome" and "the humbug that permeates our public life at the moment is quite breathtaking," the preacher declared, underlining the hypocrisy of government officials who, with impunity, were breaking the very lockdown rules they had promulgated.
Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at Christian Concern, confirmed that almost all the regulations imposed on laity in many churches constitute "guidance," which is "strongly advised by the government, but not legally required."
"The only legal requirements in the guidance are to securely cover any consumables [e.g., Holy Communion] and to wash hands or use gloves when they are opened," Dieppe emphasized.
"There is now an additional, separate legal requirement to wear face masks," Dieppe told Church Militant.
Ironically, Protestant churches have made it clear that even "the sharing of a chalice for Communion is not forbidden by the [government] regulations, [with urgings not to share] falling within the 'should' rather than 'must' category."
"As far as the distribution of wafers or bread is concerned, it is recommended, but not compulsory, that the person handling these should have either washed their hands thoroughly, or wear gloves," the Christian Legal Center's Rob Smith clarified.
"It is surely past time that bishops should demonstrate some respect for the rights of the faithful in liturgical matters as in other areas of the Church's life," Dr. Shaw pleaded.
Catholics should stop tolerating the airy dismissal of proper procedures and legal niceties which has been characteristic of bishops' behavior towards the faithful and indeed towards their priests over many decades.
If we are to trust them and the institutions coming under their authority — with our spiritual welfare, our money and our children — they must acknowledge that they are bound by the law of the Church, just as those apparently inferior beings, the laity, are.
In August, Church Militant reported on Abp. Longley's ban on Communion on the tongue during the Traditional Latin Mass at the Oratory following complaints from two women.