Communion in the Hand: More Reflections & Opinions

Communion in the Hand: More Reflections & Opinions June 15, 2020

This is from a Facebook thread, dated 7-8-13. I am including — for the sake of brevity — just my own thoughts. There is much further thought-provoking (and civil) discussion from many viewpoints in the original thread. Just follow the link above.

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As I’ve stated many times; I receive kneeling, on the tongue, but I don’t believe an argument can be made for one way being intrinsically superior to another. It is culturally relative to some extent, but ultimately comes down to the attitude in one’s heart: the interior disposition, leading to reverence or not, whatever our posture.

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The facts of the matter of early practice are undeniable, but it’s how they are interpreted in light of the present debate which is interesting. Lots of legalism and emotionalism in equal measure . . . I’m clearly being objective about it because I practice and prefer one method but refuse to run down (and actually defend to a large extent) the other, in terms of intrinsic inferiority, which is nonexistent.

The real and key difference runs through each human heart: reverent and pious and worshipful or not? Posture and demeanor (either method) will reflect and exhibit that. I can spot an irreverent person a mile away . . .

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I take all pains to receive from the priest rather than a eucharistic minister: because he is the alter Christus and they are not (nothing against them personally); besides the rubrics often being violated in their excessive use.

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I think liturgical development is different in kind from doctrinal, since there can be variability in a way that doesn’t apply to dogmas and doctrines). My own perspective (to clarify) is not:

The early Church did it; therefore it is the best way and we should / must do the same.

Rather, it is:

The fact that reception in this manner was the norm far and wide and for centuries in the early Church is compelling proof that communion in the hand is not intrinsically irreverent and cannot be otherwise.

I argue for preference in this time and place and culture (kneeling / on the tongue, from the priest), but I don’t argue for intrinsic superiority of same. And the early Church’s practice is a major reason why I don’t. It’s a classic case of where being aware of history has a real and important impact on a particular debate.

I also stress interior disposition, which is oftentimes lost in these discussions, by making posture the be-all and end-all. I don’ think so. It is the attitude and approach in our hearts, and our faith. Jesus applied that to all of faith in the Sermon on the Mount and it was usually the underlying theme in his denunciations of the Pharisees: “you clean the outside of the cup, but . . .,” etc.

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I’m not arguing for communion in the hand per se (it’s not my own practice, after all). My argument is that any approach that holds that communion in the hand is intrinsically irreverent is misguided and should be discontinued. Legitimate arguments advocating communion on the tongue can be made on various other grounds (I make them, myself), but this is not one of the ways that it should be done, in my opinion.

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My argument has many subtleties and nuances. My position is that kneeling is more reverent, generally speaking, in this time and place. It may not be everywhere, and indeed, in Eastern Catholicism as a whole, it is not at all. But in the Latin rite, since we kneel at consecration, for example, it is clearly regarded as a particularly reverent posture.

Thus, I argue for it being more reverent in this culture at the present time (in the Latin, western rite), while carefully avoiding any fallacious argument from intrinsic superiority. It’s culturally relative to some extent (as many things are). The (almost sole) purpose of this post was to knock out the argument that communion in the hand is inherently irreverent: also to provide historical background that many (especially reactionaries and too many legitimate traditionalists) appear to be unaware of.

I agree that the liberals were clearly pushing communion in the hand. They clearly thought it is more in line with their less-than-stellar eucharistic views. The fact that it was pushed in Germany and Holland is almost in itself proof that this is the case. Germany in theological terms is sort of like Nazareth in the Bible: “can anything good come out of Germany?!” Well, Pope Benedict did, but he was an extraordinary exception to the rule . . .

In any event, it doesn’t follow that everyone must think the same as theological liberals do (that receiving in the hand somehow waters down the Real Presence). We must studiously avoid mere guilt-by-association arguments, too (a form of the genetic fallacy).

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I think it is relatively less reverent in our culture and at this time: but only in a very broad sense, as a generalization. It has (here and now in America) less of what we might call a “conditioned reverence” than kneeling does. In any event, I still hearken back to interior disposition and what is in one’s heart. That’s ultimately where it’s at, and trumps all else.

I think it depends on person and place, as I keep saying. Blanket statements are too simplistic. Certainly no one can say that the entire early Church was irreverent about Holy Communion.

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