Communion in the Hand

Development or Abuse?

The practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand was re-introduced into the Church in the late 1960's by rebel Dutch priests. At that time, it was viewed as an abuse of the Blessed Sacrament, to have someone other than the priest handling this most precious of Sacraments. Without any Episcopal intervention, the practice soon spread to France and Germany. Eventually, it was brought to the Pope's attention (then, Pope Paul VI), who instead of stamping out the illegal practice called a vote among the Bishops of the world. They voted against introducing the practice, but Pope Paul nevertheless allowed the practice to continue, but only in those countries that it had already taken hold. However, needless to say, his express wish was ignored, and the practice spread throughout the world like wildfire and is currently practiced as the "normal" way of receiving Holy Communion, even though in the Church's eyes, it is still an exception to the rule. Father Paul McDonald, a parish priest, has written an excellent historical survey on the practice.

Since then, Communion is not only received in the hands of the communicants, but they also receive it standing. The traditional practice is to kneel along the altar (or Communion) rail which separated the nave from the sanctuary. However, it is the present practice to line up and receive Communion from the priest (or an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, becoming less "Extraordinary" by the day!) one by one.

As well as the disturbing manner in which the practice was introduced, there are theological and practical difficulties involved in the practice, outlined below, with a further essay on standing to receive Communion. Firstly, a word from Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

Finally, I present "The Movement of Nations for Kneeling". An excellent background to the subject of kneeling to receive our most divine Savior, and advocating the reception of Holy Communion in the traditional manner: on the tongue whilst kneeling.

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Last modified 21st April 1999, by David Joyce.