Why We Should Go Back To the Traditional Reception of Holy Communion
The Traditional Reception of Holy Communion
Throughout the history of the Catholic Faith specifically in the Roman Rite of the Mass, the reception of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue is the established tradition. This has been true for various centuries dating as far back as the Early Church. This is itself the tradition of the Church and is still the norm in the Extra-Ordinary form of the Mass. It was not until the ecclesiastical revolts and dissent during the 1960s and 1970s in which this tradition started falling out of place.
Holy Communion started to be given in the hand as an abuse in several countries, mainly in northern and central Europe. This includes parts of Scandinavia, as well as countries such as Germany. It was this that pushed His Holiness Pope Paul VI to issue his instruction for receiving Holy Communion Memoriali Domini in which he stressed his opposition and concerns regarding the effects of allowing the practice of Holy Communion to be given in the hand.
First and foremost Pope Paul VI stated
“When the Church celebrates the memorial of the Lord it affirms by the very rite itself its faith in Christ and its adoration of him, Christ present in the sacrifice and given as food to those who share the Eucharistic table. For this reason it is a matter of great concern to the Church that the Eucharist be celebrated and shared with the greatest dignity and fruitfulness.”1
Pope Paul VI stated that although for some years the faithful could receive in the hand, it was done with the greatest respect, and that this practice was soon stopped (I will describe more specifically the reason why communion in the hand was ever allowed in the early church further in the article). Pope Paul states “thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant…”2
To finish with Pope Paul VI’s Memoriali Domini, Pope Paul asked various bishops whether they would be supportive of changing the tradition of the reception of Holy Communion from the tongue to the hand. In this poll Pope Paul VI asked three questions which go as following: “1) Do you think that attention should be paid to the desire that, over and above the rite of receiving Holy Communion on the hand should be admitted? 2) Is it your wish that this new rite be first tried in small communities, with the consent of the bishop? 3) Do you think that the faithful will receive this new rite gladly, after a proper catechetical preparation?”3
In all three of these questions the majority of the bishops answered in the negative. This reason shows that most bishops were in agreement that the tradition of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue should be retained. Pope Paul concluding from this survey that according to the poll, changing the discipline of Holy Communion by allowing Communion in the hand would be bad for various reasons, nevertheless he allowed for countries who could obtain a recognition (a special permission) to allow Communion to be given in the hand. However to be given the recognition several conditions needed to be met. A) Communion in the hand needed to already be an established custom in the country. B) There would need to be a secret vote and with a two thirds majority in which the Episcopal conference approved of the change and petition Rome for the recognito. C) No loss of sacred particles and no loss of faith in the Real Presence could occur.
Here in the United States the change from the reception of Holy Communion in the tongue by allowing for the reception in the hand was actually very unpopular, which you can see by how many times this change was turned down. Regarding the acceptance of Holy Communion on the hand by the recognitio here in the United States, John Andrew Dorsey explains how Archbishop Joseph Bernardin helped bring about the recognitio in a pretty sketchy way.
“The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had unsuccessfully attempted twice to establish Communion in the hand in America (in 1975 and 1976). Unfortunately, he finally prevailed in May 1977 when Communion in the hand was illegally authorized in the United States. The bishops totally ignored the requirements expressed in Pope Paul VI’s indult about not allowing the practice of Communion in the hand where it was not already established. Furthermore after the initial voting Archbishop Bernardin reported that the vote had fallen short of the required two- thirds of all legally present members yet Bernardin was dead-set on getting Communion in the hand one way or another, even if it had just been voted down. To get around the lack of votes, bishops who were not present, retired, or even dying, were polled illegally.4
The Dangers of Holy Communion in the hand
There are no doubts dangers when receiving Holy Communion in the hand even when done reverently. These include the fact that it is very easy for fragments and particles of the Eucharist to fall down. This is already true when much regulation is used, such as the use of the paten, the use of communion rails, and receiving in the mouth. This is much more true when people receive standing and on the hand.
In Canons 3 and 4 of the Council of Trent regarding Holy Communion the following is stated:
Canon 3: If anyone denies that in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist the whole Christ is contained under each form and under every part of each form when separated, let him be anathema.
Canon 4: If anyone says that after the consecration is completed, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are not in the admirable sacrament of the Eucharist, but are there only <in use>, while being taken and not before or after, and that in the hosts or consecrated particles which are reserved or which remain after communion, the true body of the Lord does not remain, let him be anathema.5
Our Lord is therefore present even in the smallest of crumbs in the Eucharist. Neglecting that smallest particle such that it falls to the ground is really the equivalent of having an entire ciborium full of hosts fall to the ground.
Furthermore experiments with unconsecrated hosts show that with Communion in the hand it is really easy for the particles to get stuck to the hand, which then end up falling to the floor, and which furthermore end up trotted and stepped under foot, and finally possibly vacuumed or scooped up and thrown to the trash.
Another great danger associated in much part with Communion in the hand is the fact that it is much easier for people to walk out and steal the Eucharist either for negligent reasons, or for truly sinister motives in desecrating the Eucharist. In some places in the world, including here in the United States, black masses are not uncommon with Satanists celebrating these sorts of masses with consecrated hosts. It was not too long ago that a black mass was going to be celebrated in Harvard which would have occurred, were it not for the constant pressure from faithful Catholics against such event.
Reverence in Scripture
Throughout scripture kneeling and prostration were signs of humility, obedience, and respect. This is easily seeable in the New Testament, specifically in regarding the Gospels. In (Luke 5:8) we see how when Peter witnesses one of Jesus’ first miracles with the big catch of fish, how Peter falls down as a sign of his unworthiness and his sinful nature. In the same book we also see in (Luke 8:41) how Jairus begs Jesus by prostrating himself down in the ground for his daughter’s health who is suffering through a hemorrhage. In the book of the Apocalypse in (5:8, 14) we see the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fall down before the Lamb which signifies Christ.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider recalls in his book Dominus Est Jesus’ command at becoming like children when Jesus stated “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Bishop Schneider states “The gesture of an adult who kneels and opens his mouth so as to be fed like a child corresponds in a felicitous and impressive manner to the admonitions of the Fathers of the Church concerning the attitude to have during Holy Communion”6
For this reason the act of kneeling and opening one’s mouth to be fed the Eucharist is a childlike expression of faith and humility which is necessary to help us see the beatific vision which only the humble and the childlike are able to do.
Lastly regarding the act of taking Christ directly in our mouths recalls an Old Testament passage which depicts Ezekiel receiving the word of God by consuming it. It states:
And [the Lord] said to me “But you son of man, hear what I say to you, be not rebellious like that rebellious house, open your mouth, and eat what I give you.” And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and lo, a written scroll was in it, and He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He gave me the scroll to eat “And I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that book”. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. (Ezek 2:1,8,9; 3:1-3)
If this is true of the word of God in scripture, how much more true can it be when we receive Christ the Word of God made flesh in Holy Communion?
Protestants Change the Liturgy during the Reformation
The Protestant Reformation no doubt did great damage to the Catholic Faith. Various novelties and teachings contrary to the Catholic faith came about. Namely the omission of seven books from the Holy Bible, including parts of other books such as Daniel. The denial of the pope and various other things also came about. However nothing could be worse than the changing of the liturgy, and as Eamon Duffy would say “The stripping of the altars.”
Thus of the various aspects in which the liturgy was changed includes the removal of any reference to the Mass being a sacrifice, as well as to the reference of Christ being truly and substantially present in the Eucharist. Reverend Peter M.J Stravisnkas in the forward to the book Dominus Est writes “Indeed the change of the centuries old practice of priests placing the sacred host directly onto the tongue of recipients to that of the hand came precisely from the Protestant Reformers, who were intent on calling into question both the ministerial priesthood and the doctrine of transubstantiation, as their own writings attest”7
Let us for this reason not forget that Communion in the tongue was replaced with Communion on the hand during the Protestant Reformation to signify to people that Christ is not truly present in the Eucharist, but only as a mere symbol. This should make people think whether the practice of the reception of Holy Communion in the hand really helps with reverence and the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It should thus make us think whether it is a prudent practice.
Objections to Communion on the tongue
There are no doubt various objections that people make in regards to the reception of Holy Communion in the tongue, which I will address as thoroughly as possible. These objections include the fact that during the Last Supper all who were at table with Christ received Communion on the hand. Another similar objection that is made is that in the Early Church Communion in the hand was practiced as well. A third objection that is made is that Communion in the hand is allowed by the Church. Lastly various people object that you don’t have others feed you, but rather you feed yourself. This last objection is in my opinion one of the most modern, and also one of the weakest.
- Although it is most likely true that Communion in the hand was the method used during the Last Supper it is to be reminded that all those who were present at the Last Supper were the twelve Disciples of Christ. It is during this supper that Christ besides instituting the Holy Eucharist, similarly institutes the priesthood. For this reason it is evident that at this time the disciples are already ordained priests, and perhaps bishops. For this reason their hands are consecrated. This is also the reason that there is nothing wrong regarding the priest touching the sacred host. His hands have the mark of Christ and are thus different than anyone else who is not consecrated. Even the priest though is bound to touch the Eucharist as least as possible.
- It is also true that to a certain extend the practice of Holy Communion in the hand was practiced in the Early Church. This is only a half-truth though. First of all there is strong evidence that the Eucharist was not truly touched by the fingers of a person, but only the palm. The palm served as a patent at a time when patents were not greatly available. Furthermore the communicant would directly place the Eucharist in the mouth with the tongue without touching it with the fingers. It was only during times of persecution that this practice was allowed. This was mainly for keeping the Mass as quickly and short as possible, lest they fall under arrest during these hard times. Once persecution was over the practice quickly fell out of place. This also leads to the fact that there is an organic development to the Mass. Even though Communion in the hand was once allowed for times of persecution, this practice was quickly abandoned once persecution was no longer the case. This is precisely because of the various dangers and profanations which we mentioned earlier.
- A pretty strong argument at the surface is that Holy Communion is allowed by the Church. This is mostly true in places in which the recognitio has been given. However just because it is a practice currently allowed by the Church does not necessarily make it a prudent one, specifically as this particular practice started out as an abuse. Furthermore it is to be reminded that at least here in the United States the whole scandal regarding the way in which the recognitio was given is sketchy at best.
- The last argument as stated is in my opinion the weakest of these. This opposition comes from the fact that we should not receive Holy Communion in the tongue because in reality it is quite silly that we are fed by someone else. This argument is truly made by various individuals including priests and bishops, which although most are in my opinion with good intentions, are nevertheless ignorant with regards to this objection. All one has to do is recall the words and reflection of Bishop Schneider on the significance of kneeling and being fed the word of God through the mouth. That sign of childlike humility which helps us to live out the commandment of becoming like a child.
In closing this article I propose that people reconsider Communion in the hand and really think about whether it is doing good or bad. I strongly encourage the Church hierarchy to promote the traditional manner of kneeling and on the tongue and perhaps do away with Communion in the hand altogether. There has been enough lack of faith in what the Church teaches, as well as rebellion and dissent. This is true in regards to the teaching of the Eucharist. If we don’t help show the Divine Reality that Christ is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist by our gestures and reverence, then a disbelief in the Eucharist will surely only get worse.
By Barnabitefather (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
1) Pope Paul VI: Memoriali Domini
4) John Andew Dorsey: The Sinister History of Communion in the Hand (Latin Mass Magazine, Winter/Spring edition 2014)
5) The Council of Trent session XIII on the Most Holy Eucharist
6) Bishop Athanasius Schneider: Dominus Est pg. 30
7)Reverend Peter M.J Stravisnkas: Forward to the book Dominus Est pg.8