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.
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.
I'd like to hear the ideological/theological explanation which explains why such an iconoclastic design is necessary, why they think this improves Catholic worship, and why they think traditional Catholic aesthetics in Church design are wrong. Neo-iconoclasm is one of the nuttiest post-conciliar travesties. I sort of doubt that those promoting it have any sound, scholarly, or professional training in the history of Western art and Catholic sacred architecture. I know that the pastor who removed our crucifix didn't.
One thing I haven't seen mentioned in the discussion is that the practice of communion in the hand leads to tiny particles of Our Lord being strewn across the floor of the church. This does not happen when communion is administered at the communion rail with an alter server holding the pan under your chin. I know I wouldn't be afraid of shaking hands with Jesus were he to appear before me, but would I stomp him under my foot?
By the way, I'd still be interested in any guidance you might have in response to my post #49.
I'm not really sure that any of the stuff that you cite has anything to do with reception in the hand. I think that public sinners approached the Sacrament prior to 1977 or 1978, when reception in the hand was approved. And Catholics had been out of touch with the teaching on artificial contraception since prior even to the publication of Humanae Vitae.
Prior to 1977 or 1978, one could find folks talking loudly in church, dressing in shorts and t-shirts, etc. In fact, in my own parish, it seems things have improved a bit in these areas over the decade that I've been there.
However, even if someone is objectively sinning, reverence is a pretty subjective sort of thing. A person may accept that contraception is okay, abortion can sometimes be justified, etc., and still receive reverently, with respect for the Sacrament. It may be that objectively they are receiving unworthily, but that doesn't necessarily go to their subjective state of mind and approach to the Sacrament.
I agree that a substantial number of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence, at all. But I believe that a large majority (around 65%) of Catholics believe in the Real Presence, though they are confused about the theological details. Considering that only about 40% of nominal Catholics attend Mass weekly, that suggests to me that most of the folks in the pew believe in the Real Presence.
I really can't speak about the folks who can't even be bothered to attend Mass once a week.
I'll respond to posts #51-53 in another post.
Regarding post #51, I have little comment at all. I'm just an ordinary Catholic, and I have no expertise at all on church architecture or interior design, or anything related thereto.
I prefer Catholic churches that look like Catholic churches. I prefer Catholic churches with stained glass, pews with kneelers, the tabernacle behind the altar (otherwise, I have a hard time figuring out where it is). I like the regular vestments & things. I like well-done statuary, votive candles, etc. I don't care for felt banners & all that.
I'm fortunate to attend Mass at a parish where the exterior and the interior of the church are pretty "old fashioned", in that we have all these things, and more.
I've seen some Catholic churches which are more modern, and still are for me, inducive of reverence.
But even in the most modern, iconoclastic church, once Mass begins, I usually lose some of my focus on these things.
I'm personally quite careful about any particles. But, I rarely find them, though I check whenever I receive Communion. I suppose that reception on the tongue reduces the potential of this problem, but I know that it doesn't eliminate it. Typically, we have several hundred folks receive Communion at each Mass per weekend. That's over a thousand folks. Whether everyone received on the tongue or in the hand, there are bound to be some particles that reach the floor. It seems to me that this problem is part and parcel of distributing Communion to a thousand or more folks a week. Do you have any suggestions?
As for post #53, I've just never seen particles strewn all over the floor of the Church. Judging from how seldom any particles break off in my own hands, I suspect that at least in our parish, this isn't a problem.
But, I certainly could be wrong.
I know that priests and eucharistic ministers must make sure that the host is ingested upon reception - that people do not attempt, intentionally or not, to walk away with the host outside of the body (shall we say).
I believe that this effort at monitoring the proper ingestion of the host to be something for which I, by taking the host on the tongue, can perhaps minimize. OK, OK, I know that someone with evil intent could still walk away and spit it out, but there's not much more I can do in that regard to minimize the minister's concerns.
This is why I receive the eucharist on the tongue. I don't deny that I believe it's more reverential than taking it with my hand, but the additional reasoning that I've detailed above is what tipped the scales for me.