Communion in the Hand & Biblical Reverence & Piety

Communion in the Hand & Biblical Reverence & Piety March 16, 2020

These were some comments that I developed in a good discussion in the combox for my post, Holy Communion in the Hand (Norm till 500-900 AD). I have been consistently arguing for the position that receiving Holy Communion kneeling on the tongue (my own preferred personal practice) is not intrinsically more reverent than receiving in the hand, standing. I thought I’d bring some “biblical evidence” into the discussion, per my usual methodology.

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I think in practice communion in the hand often is irreverent, but again, I think that has to be analyzed within the overall context of a “spirit” among many Catholics, of lack of reverence and understanding of transubstantiation and its true significance, in their hearts.

It’s a matter of origins. In this thinking, communion in the hand is not the initial cause of lack of reverence, but rather, prior factors of nonbelief or “non-appreciation” of the Holy Eucharist, already residing in the heart.

Why would receiving in the hand in and of itself cause unbelief in the Real Presence? As I have argued, how is a tongue holier than a hand? The Bible writers condemn the tongue far more than hands, though it is, of course, primarily a non-literal reference. For example:

Proverbs 12:19 (RSV) Truthful lips endure for ever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.

Jeremiah 9:8 Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; . . .

Micah 6:12 . . . your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.

Romans 3:13-14 “Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” [14] “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

James 1:26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain.

James 3:5-10 So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! [6] And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. [7] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, [8] but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. [10] From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.

1 Peter 3:10 For “He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile;” [larger passage cites Ps 34:12-16]

Biblically speaking (how God has revealed His thoughts on the matter: esp. Jas 3:9-10), it’s just as wicked to be cursing or slandering or gossiping about others with our tongues, and then going to church supposedly being [more] “reverent” because we receive on the tongue (as if that is inherently more reverent than a hand).

It always goes back to the heart. I don’t somehow change if I am in another parish and receive in the hand. I am no less reverent than I am in my own parish, kneeling and receiving on the tongue, because the thing that is reverent and pious or not so is me, not my posture. Thus, Jesus teaches:

Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  [24] leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

I don’t see how one thing automatically causes less reverence than the other, because I think the causes of reverence or lack thereof are prior to questions of posture.

In other words, posture is not the sole cause of that. But even if it were a direct cause, I don’t see how a mere hand over against a tongue brings this about. See what I’m saying? How can we assume that one posture is reverent or more so, and the other is not? On what basis?

I can see that arguments could be made that kneeling is a “reverent” gesture, just as genuflection or bowing or prostration are (I’ve made them, myself). The Bible speaks of all those things, but it also teaches that standing and hands are not some unholy things. See, e.g., the following passages (note particularly how the two from Lamentations specifically associate heart and hands):

Nehemiah 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Psalm 28:2 Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to thee for help, as I lift up my hands toward thy most holy sanctuary.

Psalm 63:4 So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.

Psalm 134:2 Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD!

Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

Lamentations 2:19 . . . Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him

Lamentations 3:41 Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven:

1 Timothy 2:8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;

Likewise, congregations (not just priests)  standing in worship of God is perfectly biblical, too:

Leviticus 9:5 And they brought what Moses commanded before the tent of meeting; and all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD.

1 Kings 22:19 And Micai’ah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; (cf. 2 Chr 18:18)

2 Chronicles 20:13, 19 Meanwhile all the men of Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. . . . [19] And the Levites, of the Ko’hathites and the Kor’ahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

Nehemiah 8:5 And Ezra opened the book [“of the law of Moses”: v. 1] in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood.

Jeremiah 28:5 Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hanani’ah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD;

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Related Reading

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Holy Communion in the Hand (Norm till 500-900 AD) (+ vigorous Facebook discussion) [9-3-15; some additions on 3-13-20]
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(originally 9-5-15)
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Photo credit: Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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