A Question About Communion in the Hand

Over at the Register, a reader struggles with judgmental Catholics who need to memorize Romans 14.

  • Thinkling

    There are still some catholics who hate that the See of Peter can loosen.

  • ivan_the_mad

    The difference between a traditionalist and a cafeteria reactionary is that the former always observes the tradition of docility to the Magisterium and ecclesiastic authority.

    • contrarian

      So by definition, a traditionalist is a firm supporter of all of the changes in the Mass of Paul VI?

      • ivan_the_mad

        Support, firm or soft, is irrelevant. Assent is required. A traditionalist strives for fidelity and orthodoxy to the magisterium and the pope.

        • contrarian

          What’s the difference between firm and soft support? I’m happy to say that the new mass is valid. I can’t *recommend* it, however, and I certainly don’t want my children to be regularly exposed to it once they are of the age of reason, for the good of their faith and emotional well-being. The new mass does not present the faith in its fullness. So no, even though I often attend it myself (having no real choice), I don’t really ‘support’ it. Am I still properly ‘docile’, or does this make me a reactionary cafeteria Catholic?

          • ivan_the_mad

            Have a nice day.

  • vox borealis

    I don’t much care how others receive communion, though I must say: I receive only on the tongue and find the practice of receiving in the hand bizarre and unnerving. I mean, when I attended Catholic school back in the day—about 1975 or so—and we learned about the Eucharist, we were taught that we should not touch such a holy and reverent substance with our hands. Indeed, it was pointed out how the priests received special blessings on their hands, how they were only to touch the Eucharist with their thumb and first two fingers (hence the pose of priests in many icons), etc. We were even taught that so-called Eucharistic Ministers received a similar blessing on their hands so as to be worthy to touch the Eucharist. Moreover, I later learned that it as not mere custom, but in fact the law of the Church to receive communion on the tongue.

    All of this seemed to emphasize in a powerful way the profound sacredness of the Eucharist. But then it suddenly changed in about 1985, when everyone around me walked up and took hold of the Eucharist in their hands. Despite this gong against the rules of the Church. Until, that is, Rome changed the rules (sort of) to grant an indult for actions that were already in place. Or put another way, Rome gave permission after the fact to widespread violations of the rules.

    Taken together, this has since rather confused me. Still, I receive on the tongue, and worry not about those around me.

    • Adolfo

      For the first few hundred years (until the 9th century) of the Church’s existence, reception in the hand was the preferred practice.

      • vox borealis

        Ah yes, the archaizing argument.

        • Adolfo

          Again, I’m not making an argument beyond that the Church has done it both ways and the reverence is possible either way.

      • contrarian

        First of all, there’s little evidence for this claim.

        Secondly, even if it was true, it’s the ultimate form of ‘cafeteria’ Catholicism to pick and choose what practices we’re going to going to borrow from the primitive church and what we are going to let fall down the memory hole.

        • Adolfo

          Not at all. Merely pointing out that the Church can and has alter practices such as this. People are getting far too worked up over what is a non-issue.

    • TomD

      There is a sense that there was a deliberate purpose in de-emphasizing the sacred in the change for receiving on the tongue to receiving in the hand. But that is only my sense. As a recent initiate into the faith, I can understand that that change, which occurred overnight in some parishes, must have been very confusing, as you say. I choose to receive on tongue, while almost no one else in my parish does.

      It is interesting that many in the Church say that we don’t want to go back 50 or 60 years to the pre-Vatican II days, but, somehow, we do want to go back, like many Protestants, to some semi-imagined “purity” of practice that existed in the early Church. It is as if the development of a practice, the increasing reverence for the Eucharist, that developed as our understanding of theology developed, is now completely irrelevant to how we practice today. Isn’t it possible that the practice evolved because our theology and understanding evolved? Isn’t this a good thing?

      And the tendency to make these changes to receiving the Eucharist, with such immediacy and certainty makes one wonder about the altered theological and ideological focus behind such changes.

      • contrarian

        TomD,
        Some really fantastic thoughts here.

      • http://www.subcreators.com/blog Lori Pieper

        I don’t see the understanding of the Eucharist changing in the way you suggest. The earliest Christians understood that it was the real and glorified body of Our Lord that they were receiving every bit as much as we do. And they expressed their reverence very fervently. They just expressed it in a different way. I presume you haven’t read the article on the early Church that Mark linked to in his Register article? There early Christians talk of making a “throne” with their hands in which to receive the Lord of Glory; some others said that their hands were to be held in a cross shape to receive him. There is no reason to suppose that they were any less reverent than we or that their understanding of the Eucharist is so different from ours.

        Now, the rub for many people is, of course, that they were taught differently, taught that this way of receiving was wrong, and then there was an abrupt change to considering it right. Centuries of a different practice had solidified tradition into seeming like divine law, even when it was not. The fact that many Catholics for many centuries did touch the Eucharist with their hands, makes any teaching that it is sinful for the laity to touch the Eucharist with the unconsecrated hands questionable at best.

        Part of the problem was the lack of good catechesis and good explanation of the practice of receiving in the hand when it was re-introduced, but because the practice “snuck in” gradually, in most cases, there was no catechesis on it, so confusion reigned. I don’t think there is any reason to automatically suspect the motives of those who brought in the practice without any evidence, especially as I have been reading comments on this subject for years, and none has ever been produced to show, say, that the innovators wanted to destroy faith in the Real Presence or train people not be be reverent. Unfortunately we haven’t succeeded to well in the catechesis even today.

        • TomD

          Lori, thanks for your thoughtful response. There was a Gallup poll conducted in the early 2000s that claimed that only 30% of Catholics then believed in the Real Presence. These number have been challenged and recent polling has shown a higher number. I believe that the 30% figure, if it is anywhere near accurate, may very well be related, in part, to the change in receiving in the hand rather than on the tongue.

          Why, beginning in the late 19th century, was there a “push” among many Catholic theologians and liturgists to alter long-standing Catholic practices in so many areas, seemingly in the name of a more “pure” early Church? Theology develops over time, doctrine, disciplines and devotions develop over time, and reverence for the Eucharist developed as our theology and christology developed. Our faith is not a snapshot in time, it is a continuous development. Why, in the 19th and 20th century, this desire on the part of some Catholics to abandon traditions and return, as Protestants did in the 16th century, to what often is a semi-imagined early Church?

          And, you are right, certainly poor catechesis is a significant part of the problem of an undeveloped understanding in so many areas of the Catholic faith.

          • http://www.subcreators.com/blog Lori Pieper

            If I am right, you’re not at all against customs in the Church evolving; you are complaining that they have gone backward when our understanding has gone forward? As I said, I don’t really thing adopting a custom of the early Church means we are losing anything, since our understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has not fundamentally altered over time and so it seems to me that the early customs of the Church are just as valid as the later ones. We are not really losing any understanding of the Eucharist or our reverence when we receive Our Lord in the hand for properly understood reasons.

            You are right that the Protestants looked to a “semi-imagined” early Church — that’s because they did not dare to look at the early Church squarely, otherwise they would see that it was Catholic. But we Catholics don’t need to have that fear – we can look at the historical early Church, which we can know quite well.

            The looking to the sources of the early Church does have a sound basis, because not all customs that grew up in the Church were sound ones — such as the custom of infrequent reception of the Eucharist, or the custom in some places of people receiving almost exclusively outside of Mass, so that the ties between the Eucharist and the worshiping community were almost severed. It does no harm and much good to acknowledge that the Church had grown stagnant, even ossified in the late 19th century. Those who wanted to effect some change did well to study the early Church. Merely studying the present one wouldn’t have done much good. It is possible to question whether or not the liturgical reformers were wise to recommend adopting some early customs, but should not be made into a conspiracy theory of some kind.

            At any rate, secularism, and relativism, and all those other goodies, along with poor catechesis, are likely responsible for the low level of understanding and belief in the Real Presence and the consequent lack of reverence. (I’m sorry, this is not a good time of day for me, and I may not be making much sense).

            • TomD

              Again, some thoughtful ideas. I agree, we should wish to reform or revitalize stagnant practices, but not to transform them.

              My primary point is that there has been a lessening of reverence for the Eucharist post-Vatican II, in large measure due to changes in the liturgy and traditional customs associated with it. Today, many laity simply do not believe in the Real Presence, although for many of them there is a degree of “confusion” and a lack of understanding due in large measure, as you mentioned, to poor catechesis.

              But, and this is essential to my point, there are those in the Church, among some modern theologians and liturgists, who fully wish these changes in belief to have occurred. That is both scandalous and sad.

              • http://www.subcreators.com/blog Lori Pieper

                I don’t doubt either of your statements in the slightest. Of course there are liturgists and theologians who have lost their belief in the Real Presence and act accordingly in all sorts of scandalous ways. But this is not to say that every liturgical change, including Communion in the hand, introduced had this as its secret purpose. If so, please name names and give examples.

                Nor do I believe that Communion in the hand is the direct cause of lack of belief. I myself, along with many others I know, have been receiving this way as far back as I can remember, and I don’t see that it has damaged my faith in the slightest, and I suppose I am reacting as I have because I resent any suggestion that it is prone by nature to do this. (Of course, I know it’s not what you actually meant).

                • TomD

                  I don’t believe that receiving in the hand is the DIRECT cause, only that, for many Catholics, the sudden change in practice contributed to a less reverent view of the Eucharist among Catholics. And I do believe that some of the liturgical change instituted by Vatican II was for the good of the Church.

                  Of course, many Catholics who receive in the hand, yourself included, still believe in the Real Presence. But, I would contend, as a general rule, that the change from receiving on the tongue to receiving in the hand, along with the poor catechesis when this occurred, led to less reverence and a decline in belief of the Real Presence.

                  • http://www.subcreators.com/blog Lori Pieper

                    well, when you put it that way, it’s possible of course.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    You know what happens to the host after you hold it in your hand? It goes in your mouth, where it’s dissolved by enzymes. Then it’s swallowed and broken down by – among other things – hydrochloric acid. It mixes with a bunch of gut bacteria and yesterday’s dinner. Then some of it comes out of your butt when you poop.

    But touching the host with your fingers is a grave sin against the Lord.

    • Stu

      The Real Presence is absent once digestion begins.

      • Laughing Serge

        By magical forces than deny ontology!

        • Stu

          If “magic” is what you call anything that you can’t understand, then I suppose you live in a very “magical” world.

      • Mariana Baca

        Real Presence ceases once the host/wine cease to recognizably be bread and wine — i.e. when they become “a different substance”. Which is part of the way into digestion, I would guess.

  • DeaconsBench

    Rome has decreed that it is proper to receive on either the tongue or by hand, kneeling or standing.

    From Redemptionis Sacramentum:

    [91.] In distributing Holy Communion it is to be remembered that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who seek them in a reasonable manner, are rightly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them”.[177] Hence any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law must be admitted to Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing.

    [92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice,[178] if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.

    • vox borealis

      Yes, certainly Rome has. That does not make the *change* in posture less confusing for those of us who were taught to receive on the tongue only, since the change *seemed* to undermine the reasons we were given before for receiving on the tongue.

      There is also the related yet side question of whether the change was *wise.*

      But there is no debate that all the permutations for receiving listed in RS are allowed.

    • contrarian

      Yes, Rome has decreed that. Which is why I don’t judge Catholics who get communion in the hand. Certainly, you can’t be irked at a Catholic who is following official protocol. Whether this ‘decree’ by VII Rome was so wise, well, that’s another story. Like many other problems in the Church this side of the council of councils, this problem doesn’t lie in the impiety of the laity or the clergy, but with official decrees.

      At any rate, we’ve reached the point where priests and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion don’t know how to give on the tongue anyway, and those who are scandalized by the practice of hand reception are forced to receive that way regardless, lest pious but ignorant administers drop one of the ground (which has happened in my case).

      Sigh. Oh well. Long Live Vatican II.

      • Pavel Chichikov

        That happened to me. I picked up the body of the Lord and consumed it.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          Same here. I was 7 and it was about my 3rd time receiving. The next week, Fr. R talked about what to do when that happens, which is to pick up the body and consume as soon as possible.

          • Pavel Chichikov

            There was some question in my mind about what would happen, because I have a delicate digestion and eating off the floor might not be recommended. But I was fine. And I felt good about having done it.

            I’m in my 70s.

            • Rebecca Fuentes

              Well, his sermon didn’t do much to alleviate my mortification over having dropped Our Lord. It was nice to know I did the right and proper thing, though.

              • Pavel Chichikov

                We’re all a bit fumbly in one way or another. Don’t worry.

  • PalaceGuard

    The way the world is going, I am content to feel grateful to receive at all. Hand, tongue, standing, kneeling—I follow the local custom of the parish in which I find myself. I know Who I am receiving, and each Eucharist is, as well, a victory feast in His honor, celebrating that the Church, as promised, still prevails against the Gate of Hell.

  • Dave G.

    As a general rule, Romans 14 is best applied to ourselves. Not others.

  • Dan F.

    I really like Marc Barnes’ take on communion on the tongue – it expressed for me some of my own reasons for receiving in that manner (besides usually having a squirming child in my arms) that I hadn’t fully articulated.

    Here’s the link: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2012/09/why-i-receive-communion-on-the-tongue.html


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