Receiving Communion in the hand
Changing the manner of receiving Holy Communion was not mentioned at all in
any of the official sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Holy
Father's report into the abuse in the Rhine countries following the Council,
called Memoriale Domini (Instruction on the Manner of Administrating Holy
Communion) published on May 29, 1969, by the Congregation for Divine Worship,
concluded that "the long received manner of ministering Holy Communion to the
faithful should not be changed". However, the practice soon spread around the
world. Much campaigning by individual Bishops conferences to educate (or
brainwash, depending on your opinion), was undertaken to prepare the way for the
introduction of the practice. The result was that the practice inevitably took a
firm hold, with most Catholics these days receive the King of Kings in their
Arguments in favour of communion in the hand could then be
dismissed because of the way it was re-introduced - there was no theological
discussion where Communion in the hand was seen to improve people's faith. No,
it was carried out in plain disobedience to the Holy Father. However, I will
consider some of the arguments doing the rounds below:
disadvantages of receiving Communion in the hand are many:
- "It was performed in the early Church". This is true. However, the
early Christians had incredible faith, so handling the Blessed Sacrament for
them was not so dangerous as they lived out the faith from day to day not
knowing whether tomorrow they would be attending the catecombs for Mass or the
Roman theatre for the lion's dinner. Eventually, it was considered as an abuse
by the 6th century, and outlawed in the 9th century, when the doctrine of the
Eucharist developed to its full glory. To increase respect and reverence for
the Blessed Sacrament, the touching of the sacred species was minimised to
that of only the priest himself (who acts in persona Christi when
administering the Sacraments). Moreover, the Holy Spirit guides the Church
into all truth, in doctrine, morality and practice. If it has been considered
as an abuse for 1200 years, then where has the Holy Spirit been?
- "It was stopped because people were abusing the Blessed Sacrament".
An essential truth in this present time is that human nature does not change.
Our surroundings change, our tools, attitudes and opinions may change, but the
inner nature of man remains as corrupt and fallen as and when Adam and Eve
left the garden of Eden. Therefore, if an abuse was recognised in the early
centuries of the Church as an inevitable consequence of the practice, then it
is as real today. This is not simply speculation, it is very apparent at your
average Catholic Sunday Mass where the Blessed Sacrament is treated in a very
disturbing manner from week to week.
- "Christ gave the disciples communion in the hand". Firstly, it does
not say this in any of the Gospel accounts. However, if we presume He did,
then secondly, the disciples were really Catholic bishops at that time ("do
this in remembrance of me", talking only to the apostles) and therefore have
different privileges from us. Moreover, as in the first point, the
understanding of the immense gift that our Lord left us only became truly
apparent in later times, especially when the doctrines of the Real Presence
and transubstantiation were formally defined.
- "The Eastern rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians receive Communion
in the hand" This is totally false. Eastern rite Catholics and Orthodox
Christians share a tradition in which blessed bread is passed around at the
end of Mass, which they eat using their hands. But this is only blessed bread,
it is not consecrated. The Blessed Sacrament, being consecrated, is received
from a spoon after it has been dipped into the Chalice; it is certainly not
received in the hand.
- "Our hands becomes like thrones for the King of Kings" Yes, one
could say this, but the Blessed Sacrament is meant to be consumed, not handled
or given a throne in any sense. Christ said that "Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no
life in you" (John 6:53) - i.e. the eating of His Flesh and the drinking of
His Blood is the primary action, everything else is a means to this end and
should not distract from it.
- "We reflect the inner belief that we are temples of the Holy
Spirit". The dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, as promised by Christ:
"If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we
will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23). This is a spiritual
dwelling, we become ever more united with Christ through our inner
sanctification - and through Him, the Holy Trinity itself makes His home in
you. However, this also means you must be - more than ever - humble partakers
in the divine banquet of the Eucharist, offering our utmost reverence and
adoration for the sacred species that are our Lord Himself. Becoming a home
for the Holy Trinity means that our respect for the Blessed Sacrament should
increase; a casual familiarity should not take its place.
- In the sacred Host, Christ is under the appearance of bread, and since
this bread is made out of flour, it inevitably crumbles when we touch it. Once
the Host has been consumed, some of it is left in the palms of the hands, and
on the fingers, of the communicant, especially in hot weather. The hands can
be cleaned with the tongue afterwards (which raises the question of why the
Host was not originally received directly on the tongue), but this introduces
more dangers of what is already in the mouth falling out. Accidents do happen
when receiving communion on the tongue, but these are accidents (and would be
usually caught by the paten), leaving traces of it on the hands is
- When visiting museums, valuable things carry a "do not touch" notice.
There is nothing more valuable than the Blessed Sacrament in the entire
universe, so don't touch It!
- By touching the Blessed Sacrament we are blurring the line between lay and
clergy (e.g. Extraordinary Ministers of Communion), a distinction always
upheld by the Catholic Church, especially in response to the Protestant heresy
which does not believe in a sacramental priesthood. Receiving only from a
priest indicates clearly that the priesthood itself, and also the Blessed
Sacrament, is something very special.
- The Paten is usually left unused within most Masses these days. When they
were used for people receiving Communion on the tongue, it was noticed that
many particles of the Blessed Sacrament were usually left on it. These days,
one can only assume that these particles are left on the hands of the
communicants or fall to the floor, mingled in with dust, sweat and God knows
- Receiving Communion standing and in the hand seems to be somewhat more
dignified that kneeling before the Sacrament and receiving It on the tongue.
However, we are asked to defeat our pride, to be humble and reverential before
God, substantially present in the most Holy Sacrament of the altar.
- Reverting back to earlier practices of the Church denies the guidance of
the Holy Spirit when the practice was outlawed. As Pope Pius XII says "The
desire to restore everything indiscriminately to its ancient condition is
neither wise nor praiseworthy" (Mediator Dei).
- Having to use one's hands in receiving Communion further dispels any
atmosphere of mediation that you might have built up in prepartion for this
most important act of faith. In other words, the more physical activity that
we have to employ to perform an action, the mental and spiritual activity are
inevitably suppressed. The traditional practice involved little more than
opening one's mouth to receive Communion, allowing the communicant to preserve
a spiritual silence over the whole proceedings. The new practice involves
endless shuffling, responding and handling to drive any spiritually inclined
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Last modified 13th December, by David Joyce.