Y FRIEND EARNED his doctorate in Theology from a German university during the 1970s. At that time, the Germans were pushing “Communion in the hand,” and they put together a brochure which tried to convince people this was an ancient practice. My friend said: “This is a beautiful brochure—with vibrant colors and splendid fonts—but you forgot to mention all the reasons the Church decided to abandon Communion in the hand…”
Loyalty Means Rejection? Much has been made recently about finding out whether Catholics “accept Vatican II.” This is a tricky subject because “accepting Vatican II” seems to mean deliberately and knowingly contradicting the documents promulgated by Vatican II—such as Sacrosanctum Concilium §36 and §116. We are supposed to ignore and denigrate the documents of Vatican II—and that somehow means we accept Vatican II. (Like I said, it’s confusing.) By the way, shouldn’t we accept all the councils? If someone asks you whether you accept Vatican II, perhaps the best response would be: “I accept all the councils of the Catholic Church; not just some of them.”
Communion in the hand: In 1965, Pope Saint Paul VI sent a survey to the bishops, asking: “Do you think a postive response should be given to the request to all the rite of receiving communion in the hand?” The results were as follows: (a) 1,253 were opposed; (b) 567 were in favor.
Not An Expert: Below are some interesting quotes regarding the reception of Communion in the hand. For the record, I’m not an expert on this subject—so I have ordered “Communion in the Hand” by Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise to educate myself.
The Council of Saragossa (380AD) declared “anathema” anyone who dared continue receiving Communion in the hand.
The Synod of Toledo (589AD) declared likewise.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680AD) forbade the faithful from placing the Host in their hands, threatening transgressors with excommunication.
The Synod of Rouen (650AD) condemned Communion in the hand to halt widespread abuses that occurred through this practice, and as a safeguard against sacrilege. Furthermore, this same synod decreed: “Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywoman, but only in their mouths.”
Pope Saint Sixtus I (d. 125AD) said about the practice: “It is prohibited for the faithful to even touch the sacred vessels, or receive in the hand.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) said: “Out of reverence towards this Sacrament [the Holy Eucharist], nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this Sacrament.” (Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 82)
Pope Saint John Paul II said: “To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained.” (Dominicae Cenae, February 1980)
Pope Saint Paul VI (1963-1978) said: “This method of distributing holy communion [on the tongue] must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist” (Memoriale Domini, 29 May 1969)
Speaking for myself: I cannot speak for anyone but myself. Personally, I believe laymen should never touch the Holy Eucharist, since that privilege belongs to priests (and deacons), who have consecrated their lives to God, pray the Divine Office daily under pain of mortal sin, and so forth. I am not comfortable “handling” the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Furthermore, reception of Communion in the hand (again, in my personal view) is bad—because our hands are dirty. Moreover, tiny particles might fall on the ground.
Being Consistent: From what I can tell, when hand-communion was allowed in the primitive church, the women were required to cover their hands with a white cloth. For instance, St. Caesarius of Arles (d. 542), noted 1 that men received Holy Communion on the hand, and women, on their hands covered with a veil (Sermon 227). If we desire to adopt “antiquarianism” (as Pope Pius XII put it), why don’t we require women to cover their hands with a white cloth? It strikes me as quite inconsistent.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Omnes viri, quando communicare desiderant, lavant manus suas; et omnes mulieres nitida exhibeant linteamina, ubi corpus Christi accipiant. (“All men wash their hands before going to the altar, and all women hold a pure cloth on which they receive the Body of Christ.”)