St. Catherine of Siena Received Communion in the Hand

St. Catherine of Siena Received Communion in the Hand January 10, 2018


Will anyone dare to accuse a Doctor of the Church of irreverence?

[or so it sure seems . . . if so, how will that go over with those who think any reception other than on the tongue (my own practice in my parish, by the way) is inherently irreverent or at the least greatly inferior? This is one of the greatest saints and mystics ever (she even criticized popes: which certain folks are obsessed about!). Nor can anyone argue that she is talking about the priest here; in the entire context, she’s clearly, unarguably talking about herself receiving Holy Communion. My capitals added]


“And with what eye, dearest daughter, should you and others look at this mystery, and how should you TOUCH it? Not only with the bodily sight and TOUCH, because in this Sacrament all bodily perceptions fail.

“The eye can only see, and the HAND can only TOUCH, the white substance of the bread, and the taste can only taste the savor of the bread, so that the grosser bodily sentiments are deceived; but the soul cannot be deceived in her sentiments unless she wish to be—that is, unless she let the light of the most holy faith be taken away from her by infidelity.

“How is this Sacrament to be truly tasted, seen, and TOUCHED? With the sentiment of the soul. With what eye is It to be seen? With the eye of the intellect if within it is the pupil of the most holy faith. This eye sees in that whiteness whole God and whole man, the Divine nature united with the human nature, the Body, the Soul, and the Blood of Christ, the Soul united to the Body, the Body and the Soul united with My Divine nature, not detached from Me, as I revealed to you, if you remember well, almost in the beginning of your life; and not so much at first through the eye of your intellect as through your bodily eye, although the light being so great your bodily eyes lost their vision, and only the sight of the eye of your intellect remained. I showed it to you for your enlightenment in the battle that the Devil had been waging against you in this Sacrament; and to make you increase in love in the light of the most holy faith. . . .

“. . . you saw and tasted the Abyss of the Trinity, whole God and whole man concealed and veiled in that whiteness that you saw in the bread; and you perceived that the seeing of the Light and the presence of the Word, which you saw intellectually in the whiteness of the bread, did not prevent you seeing at the same time the actual whiteness of the bread, the one vision did not prevent the other vision, that is to say, the sight of the God-Man revealed in the bread did not prevent the sight of the bread, for neither its whiteness, nor its TOUCH, nor its savor were taken away. This was shown you by My goodness, as I have said to you. The eye of the intellect had the true vision, using the pupil of the holy faith, for this eye should be your principal means of vision, inasmuch as it cannot be deceived; wherefore, with it you should look on this Sacrament. How do you TOUCH It? By the HAND of love. With this HAND alone can you touch that which the eye of the intellect has recognized in this Sacrament. The soul TOUCHES Me with the HAND of love, as if to certify to herself that which she has seen and known through faith. How do you taste It? With the palate of holy desire. The corporal palate tastes only the savor of the bread; but the palate of the soul, which is holy desire, tastes God and Man. See, therefore, that the perceptions of the body are deluded, but not those of the soul, for she is illuminated and assured in her own perceptions, for she TOUCHES with the HAND of love that which the eye of her intellect has seen with the pupil of holy faith; and with her palate—that is, with fiery desire—she tastes My Burning Charity, My Ineffable Love, with which I have made her worthy to receive the tremendous mystery of this Sacrament and the Grace which is contained therein. See, therefore, that you should receive and look on this Sacrament, not only with bodily perceptions, but rather with your spiritual perceptions, disposing your soul in the way that has been said, to receive, and taste, and see this Sacrament.”

(The Dialogue, “A Treatise of Prayer” / section: “How the bodily sentiments are all deceived in the aforesaid Sacrament, but not those of the soul; therefore it is, with the latter, that one must see, taste, and touch It; and of a beautiful vision this soul had upon this subject.”)


Discussion originally on Facebook:

This also has the extra authority of being a revelation from God Himself. Game, set, match . . .

Rebecca Kirby: Please, there are more important things for Christians to be doing than to argue over whether it’s better to receive communion in the hand or on the tongue.

I know; that’s exactly why I posted this. Perhaps this will stop some from making it an issue; hence, a net gain.

My position is that the key is one’s heart and interior disposition. That comes prior to our posture in reception; so that it is foolish to argue that one method is intrinsically more reverent than the other.

I’m not arguing here for superiority of hand reception, but rather, against intrinsic irreverence and/or inferiority of hand reception. Let no one misunderstand my intent . . . I’m against legalism and folks looking down on others in the sense I have described, not in favor of it.

Daniel Harrigan: A question…I thought the Church back then only allowed receiving on the tongue? Her treatise in my opinion seems to be in third person as if she was listening to Jesus telling her what it was like to touch the Eucharist but I’m not sure if she actually did. I just read an article by Dr. Taylor Marshall that said the norm was communion on the tongue from antiquity. I’m just trying to figure out what is going on. I personally believe that Communion in the hand has led to a loss of faith in the Real Presence. I’m just a truck driver. Just trying to learn.

Communion in the hand was practiced in the early Church for 6-9 centuries, depending on location, as I have documentedThe Church allows both (and both occurred in Church history). It’s no reason for concern or anxiety.

Adam Miller: Of course, Dave, I’m sure you know that in those regional areas where Communion in the hand was practiced (which doesn’t mean it was universal), they did not receive the Sacred Host in one open hand then take it out of the receiving hand by the fingers of the other hand to place it in their mouths like today. Rather, the open receiving hand went directly to the mouth (sort of like a cupping motion), hence the unconsecrated fingers of the lay faithful did not touch the Sacred Species. So we need to qualify the term “Communion in the hand” when saying it was practiced (in some regions) in the early Church.

That’s fine; doesn’t affect my primary point: countering the claims that it was on the tongue only, or that that is the only truly reverent way to receive.

So now you want to quibble about the palm vs. the fingers, as if fingers are inherently more “profane” than a palm? C’mon! That’s how legalistic the whole thing can get. We touch our Lord in Holy Communion any way you look at it. 

If it’s so terrible that we “touch” our Lord (the false premise underneath such arguments), then I see no essential difference between a tongue and a hand. The essence is that we receive Him, with the right spirit and interior disposition (minus mortal sin), rather than the particular manner in which we do it.

Just stating a fact, not putting a value on it (nor presenting a theological position) as you presume.

What’s the relevance of your comment, then? Did you mean to imply that my argument is somehow weakened, if only palms and not fingers touched the consecrated host? My argument was that non-tongue reception is not intrinsically irreverent, per St. Catherine’s example; your clarifying comment does not undermine that contention in the slightest. 

When you say, “the unconsecrated fingers of the lay faithful did not touch the Sacred Species” you operate on the premise that fingers are somehow more profane or unclean than palms. In that way, you did indeed make a value judgment (or else you can clarify otherwise, if you disagree). I just don’t buy it.

If I wanted to do a reductio ad absurdum, I could easily argue that the tongue is a particularly wicked member of the body, seeing what is said about it in the NT over and over: how we use it to curse others, etc.

Any part of the body can be used for good or evil purposes. That’s a given. Thus we can make no general principle that a hand is “worse” than the tongue, or fingers worse than a palm.

I wasn’t trying to weaken your argument per se, but meant to add clarification since, as I’m sure you know, distinctions are important in theological/moral/historical/scientific matters.

Fair enough. I just thought that your line about unconsecrated fingers was trying to assert something perhaps you didn’t intend to assert.

Distinctions are important, but I don’t see much of one here, sorry . . . But it’s good to know as historical fact, the exact method of reception used (not sure if it was universal, but apparently widely).

Well, the ordained’s fingers are consecrated with a rite for a purpose. Just what is that? As Bl. Pope John Paul II stated in “Dominicae Cenae” (24 Feb. 1980): “To touch the Sacred Species… is a privilege of the ordained…”

And laypeople received Jesus in Holy Communion with at least the palms of their hands for 6-9 centuries in the early Church, and after, as we see by St. Catherine’s example. They just touch Him a lot less than the priest does.


(originally 3-25-14)

Photo credit: St. Catherine of Siena (c. 1670), by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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