Skip to comments.St. Catherine Review: Communion in the Hand
Posted on 07/08/2002 6:45:15 PM PDT by narses
Communion-in-the-Hand: An Historical View
If you are among the many who have wondered over the past decade just how the practice of communion-in-the-hand originated and for what reasons, the following provides a concise history as well as a brief look into what has resulted from the institution of this curious practice.
In 1969, Pope Paul VI polled the bishops of the world on the question of communion-in-the-hand and subsequently proclaimed that, while there was no consensus for the practice worldwide, in those areas where a different practice prevails it may be introduced by a two-thirds vote of the bishops (of each conference).
In 1976 Call to Action, an influential group of Catholic dissenters (recently condemned in Nebraska by Bishop Bruskewitz), added to their agenda the promotion of communion-in-the-hand. Other publicly-dissenting Catholic groups, already holding wildly disobedient do-it-yourself liturgies, also actively promoted it. Outside these circles of dissent, however, the practice of receiving the Blessed Sacrament in one's hand was rare. In truth, only a handful of self-styled "progressive" parishes had disobediently introduced the practice and the only demand for it came from dissenting clergymen and chancery apparatchiks.
Despite the fact that communion-in-the-hand could hardly be considered a prevailing practice in the United States, the Archbishop of Cincinnati, Joseph Bernardin (now cardinal archbishop of Chicago), then president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), initiated two unsuccessful attempts to introduce the practice in 1975 and 1976, stating that communion-in-the-hand had become universally popular as a natural expression of the pious sentiments of the faithful.
In the Spring of 1977 at Archbishop Bernardin's last meeting as president of the NCCB and with San Francisco's Archbishop Quinn acting as the chief designated lobbyist for communion-in-the-hand, the bishops' vote again fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Nevertheless, for the first time ever, bishops in absentia were polled by mail after the conference meeting; subsequently the necessary votes materialized and the measure was declared passed. Soon thereafter the practice of communion-in-the-hand spread rapidly throughout the country, and in a few years the new practice became normative amongst American parishes.
Frequently it is said that those who place any importance on how the Blessed Sacrament is received are no better than the biblical Pharisees who focused upon the externals of faith rather than the internals. For the Pharisees the external replaced the internal, but it does not follow that the lack of external reverence today can be divorced from the internal disposition of the faithful.
The consequences of introducing this practice are far-reaching, and one need only look to the parish Mass for proof. Not the least of these consequences is the common lack of respect shown for the Blessed Sacrament. Only with the belief that the Holy Eucharist is not supernatural, can this practice of communion-in-the-hand not matter. Since it is truly the most extraordinary substance on earth, surely our comportment should reflect that? Surely our faith in the Holy Eucharist, which deserves our greatest reverence, should reflect into our actions in actually receiving the sacrament?
Alas, it is not so! Communion-in-the-hand weakens faith in the Real Presence. The consequences are profound. May we make up in our love of the Eucharist for all the outrages and indifference which now surround Our Lords magnificent gift to us.
Copyright 1997 Aquinas Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Communion in the hand hasn't weakened my belief in the Real Presence.
Well, narses, the article concludes with:
"Alas, it is not so! Communion-in-the-hand weakens faith in the Real Presence."
If you wish to make other arguments, have at it. But the argument of the article that you have here posted concludes that Communion in the hand weakens faith in the Real Presence.
And I noted that it hasn't for me.
The most important of these statements concerns belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the Archbishop's recap of the document, he states that: "...surveys have indicated that many Catholics do not believe Christ is truly present in the bread and wine consecrated at Mass. Our statement ... affirms that in the Eucharist the whole Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine ... This is a central mystery of our faith." (The Progress, 21 June 2001)
That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth:
A...uh...hug usually includes touching someone with one's arms and hands in my experience.
I appreciate and respect the people who are attached to the older style of receiving Communion (which I indicated I prefer), I just don't agree with a theological denigration of human hands. Before the 20-century, back in old Europe, when a Church was loaded up with uneducated peasants lacking the conveniences of flush toilets and running water...maybe there was a realistic and easily understandable non-theological reason then. I really don't think Christ is offended by our hands which he created.
I can see that for some people it may reduce their sense of appreciation perhaps. It doesn't for me. I still feel in awe, reverence, thankful, prayerful, etc.
I'm sure that many Catholics have less-than-orthodox belief in the Real Presence. However, I'm sure that that has always been the case.
If you ask Catholics, "Is Jesus truly present in the Eucharist?", large majorities will answer in the affirmative.
If you ask Catholics precisely what that means, you'll receive a wide range of answers from the completely orthodox to the somewhat heterodox, even to the largely outlandish. Because Catholics have lost faith in the Real Presence? No. Because the Real Presence is one of the hardest mysteries of our faith to understand. Because they may have faith without a full intellectual understanding.
The studies you cite often confuse defective intellectual apprehension with lack of faith. Defective intellectual apprehension has nothing to do with how one receives the Eucharist. It is a result of the fact that the teaching is difficult to apprehend intellectually.
I've seen people receive very reverently in the hand, and irreverently on the tongue. And vice versa.
As to what is best for souls, well, my view is that it isn't dependent on the method of reception, but the effort that goes into teaching a child how to receive. I know that my not-always-terribly-orthodox Catholic high school used the occasion of the formal introduction of reception in the hand to thoroughly re-catechize us in the Real Presence. We were taught to adore our Lord in the Eucharist as we received.
That teaching stayed with me through dark days at the Catholic University of America where full professors of theology tried to dissuade us of the truth of the Real Presence. So, in my case, the introduction of reception in the hand was used by my religious teachers to deepen my understanding, appreciation, and love for Jesus present in the Eucharist.
I've tried hard to pass those lessons on to my own son, as this past winter, he received for the first time.
In the hand.
I have thought about this before. I have a bad hip and walk with a cane so I would probably bow and greet him with the words, "My Lord and My God."
Loss Of Faith In Sacraments
A major component of many stories of clerical sexual abuse, which have come to light in recent weeks, is the abuse of the new rites of Baptism and Confession, with victims charging that they were abused during "reconciliation" or in the baptismal pool.
Allegations that the sacraments were used to abuse of unwitting and vulnerable children (and even adults) raise concerns that some postconciliar innovations provided opportunities for sexual predators.
Indeed, the July 7 edition of Our Sunday Visitor includes a report, "Clergy Re-Examine Confessional Design," which revisits the issue of personalized, face-to-face Confessions in "reconciliation rooms" not only for penitents protection, but also for priests.
What you are doing -- what every father ought to do is correct. Teaching your children reverence, piety and the Catechism. But that education is also a duty of our Holy Mother the Church and the unfortunate reality today is that Her Liturgy, one of Her most important tools, is under assault. Have you seen the problems the ICEL has had translating the Mass? Has there even yet been one translation approved by Rome?
That about says it all! I'm with you, narses. The reverence, aura and respect for the Eucharist is missing today. Oh, yes, one can make the liturgical arguments that the others on this thread, have already made. My guess is that they weren't around before Vatican II. The first time I took the host in my hands, it seemed wrong and out of place.
Surprisingly, no one has bothered to question the hands of the Eucharistic Minister! The priest washes his hands during the mass. What about the Eucharistic Minister? What were their hands doing before arriving at church? How often have I taken the host, only to taste perfume on it.
We had been discussing Communion in the hand. Now you're bringing up a laundry list of other sacramental issues.
I assume that since you're changing the subject, you're dropping the proposition that Communion in the hand leads to loss of belief in the Real Presence, which was the conclusion of the article that you posted.
Though you've said that this shouldn't happen, you have also said on this thread that it has happened:
"Under the old rules, ONLY a consecrated man could touch the Host. Now the Real Presence can be, and is often (at least in chapels near me and nursing homes in my area) carried about and distributed by women who are divorced, remarried and living in public sin. Valid? Yes. Licit? Under the Indult, yes. Respectful? Not in my opinion."
"Nonetheless, the facts presented appear consistant with my research and many 'modern' Catholics are no longer certain of the Real Presence..."
Thus, at the very least you implied that Communion in the hand is at least partially responsible for these problems.
But I'm happy to see you abandon that argument by changing the subject. ;-)
The question would be whether there are a significant number of parishes where the Mass is "reverent" (solemn, dignified, canonically correct) in every other way with Commuion in the hand being the only item in question. Then one could pursue why it would be the case that faithful, loyal, orthodox Catholics who were receiving Communion in the hand did not in fact display signs that their faith in the "Real Presence" declined, as you and I have suggested that our faith has not faltered. I just think that there are plenty of other factors which have contributed to a decline in Catholic spirituality and sacramental seriousness. Sodomites at the altar and bishop apologists for them being the latest outrage.
Our parish church was constructed post Vatican II and never had a crucifix (or communion rail or any other pre Vatican II accoutrements). The back wall, just behind the altar, is adorned with one of these "Risen Christ" pieces. During Advent, the pastor covers it up with a huge blue cloth, covered with the symbols of Advent. During Lent, the "Risen Christ" is replaced by a simple wooden cross. The new pastor likes to stick things behind it ... like palm leaves or forsythia branches. I just keep my gaze fixed on the Tabernacle with the candle flickering above. That is the ONLY reminder that this is a catholic church.
"You're very good..."
Gee whiz, narses, flattery will get you everywhere *blush*. ;-)
"...but you commit one of the errors of debate ..."
No, I committed no error. You posted an article that made an argument against Communion in the hand. The argument made by the article is that this method of reception of the Eucharist is inherently bad, and leads to a loss of belief in the Real Presence. Your own posts in some cases seemed to support this argument. But some other of your posts seem to be satisfied that the impression is made that this is so, without having to commit to supporting the argument. It appears, at least at first, that you are trying to have it both ways.
Then, you bring in your laundry list of other items. They don't speak to the point of the article that you posted, that Communion in the hand is inherently bad. Thus, I assume that you have abandoned that argument, if you supported it in the first place.
If your argument all along has been that Communion in the hand, although not inherently bad, has been used to further another agenda, then this was the wrong article to post to begin the discussion. Further, in the context of the article and the thread, citing Mother Teresa's remarks only further obscures the argument you say that you are trying to make. I don't really know whether Mother Teresa thought the practice was inherently bad, or otherwise, but in the context of the thread, her quote appears to support the argument that Communion in the hand is inherently bad. And since you are giving the quote, at post #7, it makes it appear that, at least until post #7, you are still making the argument that Communion in the hand is inherently bad.
If you wish to make the argument that Communion in the hand has been used to advance an agenda, but isn't inherently a bad practice, then you ought to have started the thread with a defense of the inherent acceptability of Communion in the hand, and moved on.
"...you have yet to deal with the real questions I posted."
Why would I want to address any of your questions until I was sure that we had first agreed that the conclusion of the article that you posted and seemingly defended was sufficiently refuted?
Are we in agreement, then, that the conclusion of this article is false?
Before we move further into what could become a contentious argument, let's remember that we are fellow Catholics who love one another, and that charity is our first principle. If at any time my posts seem to become critical of your motives or intentions, give me the benefit of the doubt that I'm merely critical of your arguments or actions, and I will try to return the favor. ;-)
"I wonder if we are reading the same words."
I don't know! Did you read your article before posting it?
"I never claimed that acceptance of the Host in the hand was inherently bad..."
Your ARTICLE did, and it seemed the implication of your quote from Mother Teresa.
"If my choice of articles is at fault, then so be it."
Okay, I can live with that. I just wanted to make sure that we didn't conflate issues. I just don't think that it's a particularly appropriate position for a Catholic to take, that a liturgical practice accepted by the Supreme Pontiff is inherently evil. In my own simple mind, that borders on accusing the pope of heresy in the promulgation of the liturgy, which I believe is impossible.
Motives behind changes.
Well, I don't know the motives of everyone involved in this. I don't really truly know the motives of anyone involved in this, though I know personally some of the folks who pushed this particular change hard.
I went to a Catholic high school run by an order of priests and brothers founded in the 12th century. Though the order is a small one, it is one with a significant presence in Rome, and it is an order with substantial assets. I have been told that it is an order not without influence. The priests and brothers of this order were very outfront in support of the reception of the Eucharist in the hand.
What these men said is that they believed that reception in the hand could be used to deepen a Catholic's relationship with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. To me, at age 17, that appeared to be a worthy goal.
In the run-up to the change, we spent some number of months in religion classes, and in whole-school assemblies, being taught about the change. Here are some of the things that we were taught:
- How to actually receive in the hand (with emphasis on the physical care for the Host);
- That we ought to be extremely careful in receiving in the hand;
- After receiving, how to examine one's hands for any particles, and how to deal with that;
- That our reception must be reverent and adoring, remembering Who it is Who had given Himself to us;
- That we ought to use the opportunity of receiving in the hand to more consciously focus on the Lord in the Sacrament.
The priests and brothers also used the occasion of the change to reinforce the teaching of the Real Presence.
So, what might have been the motives behind this order in appealing insistently to Rome for this change? You tell me.
Something to think about. Most of those who would rather see the ban on recieving in the hand resurrected need to answer the question why?
Where does this come from?
It's my understanding that a certain infallibility inheres to the liturgy as promulgated by the Supreme Pontiff. Thus, though popes have made mistakes uncountable over 2000 years, the Mass itself is protected.
The article really doesn't address so much the idea that Communion in the hand was promoted by rebellion in the Church. The article does, however, state quite clearly that Communion in the hand leads to loss of belief in the Real Presence, and makes an argument throughout the article that Communion in the hand is inherently a bad practice that the Church spent many centuries trying to stamp out.
You just haven't made the argument that this was promoted by those in rebellion. You've asserted it, but the argument isn't there. And even if some promoted this practice in order to further rebellion, that doesn't take into account that others promoted this practice for reasons antithetical to the rebels. I gave witness to a Catholic religious order that promoted this practice, not for purposes of rebellion, but for purposes of deepened faith.
Would it bother me to learn that some had promoted this change for less than worthy purposes? A little, but not a lot. Not in and of itself. The Church is a big place. At any one time, there are lots of people pulling in any particular direction for any particular reason.
The practice of Communion in the hand is not inherently bad. It can be used exceedingly well to promote reverence for and belief in the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. It can also be used to degrade reverence and belief, as could the practice of reception on the tongue.
It's all what you make of it.
"Do you agree that Liturgy is a silent teacher?"
The liturgy teaches, of course. But not in a vacuum, not out of context. The lessons that the liturgy would teach are incomprehensible without someone to communicate them. Thus, it's the duty of the catechist to make good use of the lessons that the liturgy provides.
As the primary catechist for my own sons, I have no problems communicating Catholic faith to my sons, with the liturgy as it is.
Very sensibly put!
What is better? A gay priest living in sin? (sarcasm)
"I can tell you in my parish, "Not the least of these consequences is the common lack of respect shown for the Blessed Sacrament" is a true statement."
I'm sorry to hear that. By the way, how is it that you determine what is the inner disposition of the communicant?
"The article really doesn't address so much the idea that Communion in the hand was promoted by rebellion in the Church. The article does, however, state quite clearly that Communion in the hand leads to loss of belief in the Real Presence, and makes an argument throughout the article that Communion in the hand is inherently a bad practice that the Church spent many centuries trying to stamp out."
This isn't true of this particular article. I was confusing it with the argument laid out in this thread: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/700770/posts. I apologize for my confusion.