Perhaps I have led a sheltered life but I seem to have escaped the ravages of the various persecutions that afflict the Church. I continue to blithely go my own way after communion and nary a person has stepped in to enforce my behavior. Usually I walk to the back of the church and stand while others in the congregation kneel, sit or stand. Most seem to regard this as a private moment and no one intrudes upon another to correct their posture. When I receive communion I stand in line and when it is my turn I bow and step forward to receive on the tongue. I have even observed a gentleman going down on one knee in front of me just before receiving communion. I no case have I ever observed any effort to coerce members of the congregation in any way whatsoever.
During the H1N1 scare I received communion in the hand and refrained from shaking hands during the sign of peace. I continue to restrict my greeting to an upraised hand or a bow of the head and am pleased to observe more restraint lately amongst the congregation in general. While my own preferences are communion on the tongue and restraint during the sign of peace, I do not regard shaking hands or receiving communion in the hand as inherently sinful. Neither do I regard any particular posture after communion as inherently sinful. To be honest, my own behavior has more to do with my dislike of crowds and being hemmed in than anything else.
What then are we to do when confronted with people for whom these things are matters of serious import? There are people who regard communion in the hand as a sinful practice and bishops who attempt to enforce uniformity of posture after communion. During the H1N1 scare some jurisdictions attempted to restrict communion on the tongue which was regarded as unlawful by some.
However distasteful it may be in some circles the fact of the matter is that communion in the hand has been authorized by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship since 1970 in Canada. Any attempt to change this needs to be directed to this congregation. Under normal circumstances the traditional practice is never excluded. Is the bishop permitted to change this in response to a public heath advisory? I do not know and I am quite content to leave the matter to the canon lawyers. Even assuming a bishop acted unlawfully in restricting the mode of communion, he was not asking people to do something that was inherently sinful.
In some dioceses an attempt was made to unify the posture of the congregation after communion. Whether this was lawful or not is quite beyond the scope of either my expertise or this blog. The armchair canon lawyers can deal with this elsewhere. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the bishop acted unlawfully. The question is whether either standing, sitting or kneeling is inherently sinful after communion? If none of these is sinful then even though the bishop may have acted unlawfully, he was not asking anyone to do something that was sinful.
In both these situations, the question of scruples comes into play. While neither of these things is sinful, there may be some people for whom they pose a particular problem because of an acute sense of sin or a scrupulous conscience. What then are we to do?
As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains., and let not him who abstains pass judgement on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Rom 14:1-3
In any case, questions of scruples should be handled in the confessional, not in arguments at the back of the church or in the pew. Confrontations over these things in the context of mass is entirely inappropriate.
Is a person ever justified in disobeying his bishop? In my own opinion, I would have to say yes but only in those situations where the bishop required something sinful. I do not wish to split hairs so I will use a fairly blatant example. In July of this year Msgr. William J. Lynn of Philadelphia was convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision. His defense was that he was following the instructions of his bishop. The judgement of the court and my own opinion is that he should have disobeyed his bishop.
Communion in the Hand: Excerpts from the Relevant Documents
The following conclusion is worth noting:
The authority of the Church to permit what in other centuries was freely done and which "by itself" is not contrary to the faith is not in question. If abuses are widespread they are contrary to the mind of the Church as expressed in the Roman documents, and contrary to the devotion expressed in the early Church when Communion was also received in the hand. Withdrawing this permission in our time on account of the abuses is certainly something Rome could do.