Michael Voris & Historic Communion in the Hand (Standing)

Michael Voris & Historic Communion in the Hand (Standing) August 8, 2013
St. Hripsime Church, Armenia; built in 618. Photograph by Travis K. Witt. [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]



You Tube video: “Thunder on the Right” (1 August 2013)


Voris argues that communion in the hand, standing, has no historical basis whatever. What is so difficult about looking up a few things? Voris has formal theological education! There is no excuse for this sort of sloppy presentation. Full disclosure: I receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue kneeling at an altar rail every week; thus I have no “vested interest” or built-in bias in arguing (or special pleading) for my own practice.

I think some culturally relative and qualitative arguments can be made about modes of receiving and “pious posture” that are far more subtle and involved, but that is another issue. In this instance, Voris has committed some major historical whoppers.

3:05 . . . in the area of “little t” . . . tradition . . . things that are not sinful, but are not understood in any historical manner of being Catholic. . . . they have suddenly appeared on the Catholic scene (seemingly out of nowhere) . . . don’t really have any roots in Catholic tradition or culture or the fabric of the faith. They are cut from a completely different cloth: oftentimes Protestant, but not always . . . like . . . holy communion in the hand, standing to receive . . . 

Alright! First of all, before even delving into history, it is to be noted that Eastern Catholics are as Catholic as anyone else, and the norm in those churches is receiving, standing, on the tongue. Thus according to Voris, they are with the angels and the “traditionalist” norm when receiving on the tongue, but descend into terrible “non-Catholic” ways when they stand rather than kneel.

It would have been fine (at least so far in my analysis) if Voris stuck to the western, Roman rite only and restricted his comments to that. But he didn’t do that. He referred in sweeping terms, to “Catholic” — period –, in the above excerpt (three times). Since Eastern Catholics are Catholics, too (duh!), he is shown to be out to sea. There are twenty-two different rites in the Catholic Church.

With that major consideration covered, it is not true even in the Roman rite that there is no history whatever of standing to receive, or of receiving in the hand. I have thoroughly documented widespread Holy Communion in the hand, standing. Here are the proofs:

That, in the early Church, the faithful stood when receiving into their hands the consecrated particle can hardly be questioned. . . . St. Dionysius of Alexandria [d. 264], writing to one of the popes of his time, speaks emphatically of “one who has stood by the table and has extended his hand to receive the Holy Food” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VII, ix). The custom of placing the Sacred Particle in the mouth, rather than in the hand of the communicant, dates in Rome from the sixth, and in Gaul from the ninth century.

(Catholic Encyclopedia: “Genuflexion”)

21. In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof; . . .

(St. Cyril of Jerusalem [c. 313-386], Catechetical Lectures, 23:21-22)

Distribution of the bread and wine took place at the chancel rail, where the people came forward to stand and receive from the hands of the bishop and/or deacons. Bread was placed into the joined hands with the words, ‘The Body of Christ,’ to which the recipient responded: ‘Amen’ . . . The cup was offered to each by another minister, with a similar exchange.

(from Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, general editor: Allan D. Fitzgerald, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1999; “Eucharistic Liturgy,” p. 338; this article written by Robin M. Jensen and J. Patout Burns)

Let us draw near to it with an ardent desire, and with our hands held in the form of the cross let us receive the body of the Crucified One: and let us apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, . . .

(St. John Damascene [ c. 675-749], An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 13)

Tell me, would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with unwashen hands? . . . do you come with soiled soul, and thus dare to touch it? And yet the hands hold it but for a time, whereas into the soul it is dissolved entirely.

(St. John Chrysostom [c. 347–407], Homily 3 on Ephesians)

And even in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand.

(St. Basil the Great, Letter 93: To the Patrician Cæsaria, concerning Communion)

That’s evidence from six Church fathers (at least four of them Doctors of the Church), and also corroboration from the old Catholic Encyclopedia. On the other hand, we have . . . Michael Voris, claiming that these practices “don’t really have any roots in Catholic tradition or culture or the fabric of the faith” and that they are “cut from a completely different cloth: oftentimes Protestant, but not always . . .”
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  • Have you contacted Michael personally about this? This is troubling as I have benefited greatly from the work both of you have done in promoting and clarifying the Faith. I hate to see this kind of vitriol between two gifted apologists.

  • Brian,there is no vitrol in the truth, Michael is not interested in being corrected. I have been banned from commenting on his facebook page for daring to question some of his videos. Thanks for this Dave. Margie

  • Great job Dave. And Brian, what good is it, to FUEL the Extremist Views. That is all Voris is doing. Sadly

  • Voris can be sloppy but not usually wrong in principle. We are talking about signification here. Customs and gestures acquire meanings. Voris understands this, and it is well supported by semiotic theory and contemporary understandings in cognitive psychology. He may or may not know this theory but he seems to have a sound overall grasp.

    Eastern Rite churches receive do indeed receive communion in both kinds standing, but from a spoon. Eastern liturgies use their own set of symbols in order to establish the sense of reverence – in particular, through the presence of the iconostasis in front of the altar and the elaboration of ceremonial. The overall presentation of the Latin Rite Catholic liturgy is very different.

    In the Latin Rite, the reception of communion kneeling and on the tongue has been the practice for at least 1000 years, in which time it has come to acquire the meaning "reverence". To jump back to the practices of 1000 years previously was never how the church operated, since to do so would be to ignore the meaning that the practice had acquired. Within the contemporary ie mid 20th century context, reversion to the earlier practice has the connotation of a reduction in reverence.

    How that practice was perceived in patristic times is of interest but irrelevant in the contemporary context. The overall liturgy at that time would presumably have been closer to the Orthodox model. It does not do to pick and mix, especially down to the lowest common denominator.

  • To my mind, the subliminal message of this video is: if you want to be part of the number of the "elect" or "remnant", not only you have to go to Mass and believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, but you have to receive the Communion kneeling and on the tongue. If you refuse to do it, these things, which constitute part of the small t "tradition" as he calls it, will lead you to lose your faith, that is the beliefs contained in the capital T "Tradition". This is wrong. At a certain point he says: "These small t items are kind of like the first line of defense against the challenges of the dogmas of the Taith". To this I reply that the first line of defense against the challenges of the faith is the Pope and the Bishops united with him. Also, non-traditionalist Catholics care very much about statues, reverence, Rosary and other forms of devotion, but they are not obsessed with the issue of the Communion in the hand because, if Mother Church allows it, they trust that she knows what she is doing.

  • The specific issue that I dealt with is in my title: "Communion in the Hand (and Standing) Having No Historical Basis Whatsoever".

    No one (either here or on my Facebook page) who wants to defend him, has touched that with a ten foot pole. And with very good reason.

    Nor can they defend his anti-Protestant rotgut that I also critiqued today: and synthesize it with Vatican II.

    I'm familiar with the arguments pro and con regarding kneeling and posture, etc., and from liturgical development. I make some of 'em myself: agree with much of that on a different level.

    NOT what my critique had to do with, however, which was strictly whether there was any historical pedigree at all. There certainly was. He flat-out lied: spread a manifest falsehood, an untruth.

    Voris' statements are often so extreme that he hangs himself when he blows his facts, and really looks foolish.

  • Voris is polemic in a journalistic style. The truth is more nuanced but it would be very difficult to put across the subtleties with the limitations of his genre, which makes no pretence at academic accuracy.

    In principle, he is right but the supporting arguments are to be found in the work of people like Catherine Pickstock, which are not accessible to a non-academic audience. There is also a lot of work to be done in integrating into theology recent (post 1990) scientific work in the fields of cognitive psychology, neuroscience and brain function.

    The liturgical reforms of the 1960s were a response to Modernism just as Modernism was being dismantled by people such as Levi Strass and Roland Barthes, who paved the way for Post Modernism. This latter was expressed first in the fields of music and fashion, and surfaced in the punk movement of the mid-1970s. Punk was about the conscious manipulation of signs. The same can be said of the liturgy. We tamper with it at our peril.

  • You are right, he is polemic in a journalistic style, that is he is trying to convey the water to his own mill.

  • Mr. Armstrong, thank you so much for posting those quotes! I have been wondering about why the USCCB would make standing the norm. It is very helpful in this discussion to see both sides. I truly appreciate your research.

    Since I have become Catholic I have travelled to a lot of parishes where people have become extremely casual in their dress and attitude at mass. In summers I have noted not just a few but many young men and women in short jean cut-offs, t-backed t-shirts and wearing flip-flops.

    I think perhaps Mr. Voris believes that if we went more towards a super reverent atmosphere in these times, the pendulum will swing back from this casual attitude. Something needs to be done.

    If it is not the receiving of the Eucharist, what should we do? What can we do to help some Catholics return to the reverence mass once had?

  • Teresa, it is my understanding that this video is directed to that "small portion" of Catholics who are faithful to the Catholic Church and that do what the Church allows them to do, that is to choose between kneeling or standing. You will not believe it, but those faithful who receive the Communion standing also do not approve of short jeans, disrespect and so on and try to give good example.

  • Communion in the hand seems to have popped up in the 1970s at the instigation of "liberal" priests, but in my own parish it had to be imposed against the wishes of the people – this was when a new priest took over in 1990.

    There may be nothing wrong with the practice in itself, but the effect seems to be to reduce reverence, as I have noticed amongst young children who have only recently received their first communion. Perhaps because the action is so similar to handing out sweets – the sense of mystery goes.

    The current parish priest strongly discourages it. One several occasions people have tried to walk out of the church with the sacrament in their hand, and the priest has had to run after them to ask them what they were doing, because there is the possibility that it could be used for goodness knows what.

    It is not a matter of being a part of the elect only if one receives communion kneeling and on the tongue. How communion is distributed is ultimately a theological statement.

  • If how the Communion is distributed is a "theological statement" then I have another reason to accept what the Church does because I do not claim I know better than her, especially on "theological" matters.

  • @ianuacoeli

    When I became a Catholic in the 1970s it was the norm to receive kneeling and on the tongue. The present arrangement arose subsequently so Voris is essentially correct.

    The kneeling posture is a traditional sign of reverence, and the reason for the priest placing the host on the tongue of the recipient is to make the point that it is too holy to be held by hands that have not been ordained, so that to is a mark of reverence.

    The entire liturgy works through processes of signification. Why the church should officially encourage people to regard the sacrament with less reverence is an interesting question, but that has been the inevitable effect of the change in signs.

    The practice seems to have arisen at the instigation of clergy, particularly Jesuits in Germany, not as a decree from the centre. The habit having caught on, it could not have been abolished without a major confrontation which seemingly the authorities were not willing to have, and so was accepted. It does not to have been the result of any kind of theological development that was meant to deepen faith or increase the people's understanding.

  • Dear physiocrat, I am sure that you can advocate your point of view with many, many arguments. I am more simple minded and I prefer obedience. I am sure that receiving Communion while standing will not jeopardize my Faith because I take care to obey to the Vicar of Christ when I accept what the Church teaches. What really harms me is the temptation to place myself in a position higher than the Church.

  • @ianuacoeli

    Don't put yourself down. The problem is that current liturgical practice is so often NOT what the church teaches but as arisen either through disobedience, or more often, through exploiting the ambiguities in the Vatican 2 documents. Which is the point that Voris keeps on coming back to.

    Bishop Athansius Schneider has referred to this when he calls for a new syllabus of errors to give clarification to the ambiguities.

    With the church having lost 2/3rds of its membership in Britain since 1970 and the Vatican Council reforms, and worse to come in the next few years as priests retire and there is nobody to replace them, this is not a matter to be complacent about.

  • I I am sticking with my nuns at St. Therese's school. I was taught that we never show disrespect to Jesus. We kneel, never touch the Eucharist but with tongue.never chew the host, fasting for 3 hours previous. Whatever the "rules" nothing beats respect for Jesus who died for me. It is the least I can do for Him, to be an example for who the Eucharist is. Everyone's rhetoric means nothing to me. I don't need to know who is more scholarly, it is petty. My concern, to show Jesus my respect and love. If it makes others uncomfortable so be it.

  • Linda, I would like to remind for the second time that the above video is directed to the "small portion" of those who are faithful to the Church and thus are not "uncomfortable" with Communion kneeling and on the tongue because this is what the Church teaches, too.

  • As I've mentioned before and I can say again, the manner of reception in the hand was very early on discarded — at least as we understand it, because there very quickly arose the idea that to touch the host with fingers was impious.

    So not even the modern practice of communion in the hand is the same as communion in the hand historically. (Much like the modern practice of versus populum has literally zero ancient precedent because the altars "facing the people" in antiquity were not intended to face the people but to face the east, ad orientem.)

    For credibility's sake, I wonder if it would be possible for you to spend some time really looking over these particular distinctives. Admitting their truth — I'm sure you will, once you do the research — will go a long way to sucking away support from radical reactionaries.

  • I doubt it. All I do is catch hell when I write about these topics. If I feel I have to write about something, I do, but major projects? Not likely. I'm already quickly moving on to the many other things I also write about.

  • Hello Mr. Armstrong! I think your headline is a real grabber.

    If you could actually prove that Voris really 'lied', it would help your standing (in my eyes–for what that's worth!)

    I think you yourself are battling a 'straw man' of sorts.

    Today's Communion practice, I think you might agree, is not the Communion-in-the-hand you ascribe to Church Fathers. Correct me if I err, but even the oft-quoted Cyril considered the Holy Crumbs as more precious than gold.

    I get the picture of carefully guarded use of the hands with a careful inspection afterwards, with people no-doubt licking their palms afterwards.

    Sadly, that ancient practice is not what was forced on us. What was pushed on us was/is a very careless Communion-any-old-way.

    For us moderns, Voris included, Communion-in-the-hand = the careless modern practice. This is what we are familiar with
    .http://kneelingcatholic.blogspot.com/2013/08/please-write-to-pope-francis-and-tell.html This was never-ever advocated by any Church father. Modern Communion-in-the-hand , as Voris correctly points out, has no support from tradition.

  • I was arguing against any notion of an intrinsic inferiority of in the hand, and that argument still works (and the support from the fathers is valid). I also argue against impiety, however communion is received.

    You mix the two, and so your reply has no effect on my argument as I would actually make it.

    Any serious, devout Catholic will oppose impiety and irreverence.

  • Me,again…..

    Thanks for your reply, Mr. Armstrong! I think I see a way we can resolve our difference right away. If you see today's Communion-any-old-way, plastic cups for our Lord notwithstanding, as one and the same with the ancient and reverent practice advocated by St. Cyril, et. al.. then I can understand why you accuse Mr.Voris of 'lying' when he says our modern practice has no support from tradition.

    Maybe all I need to do is convince you that the modern Communion-any-old-way is not what Cyril advocated and then you can be reconciled with Mr.Voris.

  • Nice try at sophistry. This isn't even honest conversation, for you to make such a ridiculous statement.

  • Hello again!

    Please do not be offended by my denseness. I am trying to understand. But now I really don't know whether you think

    a. our modern hand Communion as we practice it, with its attitude of supreme indifference towards the Holy Fragments on the hands of lay Communicants, would have had the support of early Church fathers.


    b. It wouldn't.

    Try not to be upset with me. I really do think on-the-whole you do a fine work!

  • We are talking here about a whole language of symbolism. Orthodox Christians, for instance, receive standing but that denotes reverence within the context of the Orthodox liturgy and the architectural settings within which it takes place.

  • Exactly; one of my points: reverence is culturally and liturgically relative to some extent. But it all goes back to the interior disposition of the heart, in any event.

  • Dave A>>>Exactly; one of my points: reverence is culturally and liturgically relative to some extent. But it all goes back to the interior disposition of the heart, in any event. <<<

    two points:

    1) interior disposition is not independent of 'body english'. otherwise teachers would never tell a pupil to 'sit up straight!'
    I believe Benedict XVI emphasized this body-soul connection and hence saw it necessary to re-introduce kneelers for Holy Communion.

    2) we can say what we will about the meaning of standing. it can mean respect, it can mean we are waiting in line at the 7-11. kneeling, otoh, is more intense and lets us know we are not at the 7-11. certainly small children witnessing their parents kneel down to consume the Host get more of a sense of wonder at what this Marvelous Food is!

  • Rosjier,

    Emptyheaded accusations of deliberate dishonesty constitute sufficient reason for immediate removal of a post, and blocking on Facebook. I enforce that across the board: whether I am attacked, or anyone else.

    If you want to interact intelligently and in a civil fashion with me in a Facebook post or here on my blog, I suggest you change your methodology and stick to the issue at hand, rather than descend to quack psychoanalysis and character judgments and pontifications on supposed interior dispositions.