Communion in the Hand:

A refusal to face reality?

by David Joyce

The issue of Communion in the hand was the key issue that brought me towards the traditionalist movement from my Novus Ordo upbringing. My increasing faith in the Real Presence of my Lord in the Blessed Sacrament brought me into conflict with the practice of distributing Communion in the hand, as opposed to the traditional practice of the priest placing the host directly on the tongue of the communicant. Reading a article recently, "Communion in the Hand - Symbol as Contradiction" by Father P. Meuli in the December issue of Christian Order, finally provided me with theological argument against the practice which I will now present.

The Symbol

Symbolically, receiving anything in the hand denotes a certain power over that object. If I buy a house or car, the keys are given to me in the hand to indicate that I now have ownership over this object, and can - in effect - do what I like with it. I can drive the car to work, or drive it over a cliff if I want to. I can live in the house, possibly turning it into a home for my family, or I could raise it to the ground. The keys are in my hands now, I am entrusted to its care, I have the authority relating to the object, I have power over it.

The Reality

Receiving Communion in the hand raises another issue, as the substance is different from the accidents (what it actually *is* rather than what it appears to be). The substance of the Communion host is the substantial and supernatural Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the actual reality of the host. The Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist is as real as you or me being present in our bodies. The accidents of the host is unleavened bread. Although the host is in reality the Body of Christ, God incarnate, what we can see, touch and taste is that of a simple bread wafer.

Therefore, receiving Communion in the hand indicates a loss of reality. The action of taking the host into one's hand symbolises, as above, that the communicant has power over that host. In practice, the communicant could consume, as he is meant to, the host, but then again he could also drop the host on the floor, trample on it, crumble it, or even take it away to some Satanic ritual (which seems far-fetched, but believe me, it does happen). But, in *reality*, the communicant has absolutely no power at all over the actual substance of the host, i.e. Christ Himself. Christ, the second person of the Trinity, has absolute power over us all, we were all, without exception, created through Him, and were redeemed by Him by His eternal sacrifice. By receiving Communion, we are indicating a desire to come into greater union with Him, possibly prefiguring our eternal destiny. Christ came down from heaven and was born like one of us in all things but sin, but He is still God, God almighty, all-present, all-powerful, all-knowing.

Christ said "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Communion in the hand says we have power over Him, dominance over His supernatural and substantial presence, able to perform any deed we like. However, in reality the exact opposite is true. Without Christ we can do nothing, He has power over us, He is the One who can perform any deed when dealing with us, channelled by His infinite love for us. He doesn't belong to us, we belong to Him. He doesn't become part of our body, but we become part of His Body, the Mystical Body of Christ. The external symbolism of Communion in the hand contradicts entirely God's internal reality. The communicant may well still believe in the Real Presence (although surveys suggest most Catholics do not), but this belief is in spite of him taking Communion in the hand, it is not helped by it.

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"

The age-old practice of receiving Communion on the tongue, and also when kneeling, symbolises our total reliance on Christ, being fed by Him through the ministry of the priest. Christ told us to become like little children (Matt 18:3), little children do not feed themselves, but are fed. Receiving Communion in the hand is not receiving Communion, it is giving yourself Communion. You are feeding yourself like a grown-up, someone who can stand on their own two feet and can manage for themselves. However, Christ asks that we should rely totally upon Him, to open our lives up completely and let Him run things. Becoming self-reliant is following the foot-steps of Adam, not our Lord. We must submit to the will of God, through the example of our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane: "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42) To receive on the tongue is to receive like a little child, and it symbolises our faith in the total power of our Lord and God, and our desire to become part of Him now and eternally.

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Last modified 17th March, 1997, by David Joyce.