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.
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.
I believe that would depend on a number of things within the individual themselves. Is their position one of necessity, approached with awe and reverence or is it done out of pride? I don't know.
On a related subject (I think), do you pray before meals at a restaurant? I mean do you and your family visibly bless yourselves and say a slightly audible prayer thanking God and asking Him to bless you and your food? There was a time when I didn't and I approached a meal like an animal without recognizing Who provided the food and Who permits me to enjoy it.
I remember when I was young, I went to a parish with I guess over a thousand families. There were typically three or four priests assigned to the parish at any one time, not including the pastor emeritus. They were generally all relatively young men. When it came time for Communion, it seemed almost as if a small army of priests came out of the sacristy to assist in the distribution of Communion.
I remember one of the priests in particular, he was always after me. I spent lots of time alone with him. I'd visit in his room in the rectory. We'd go places together. I knew what he wanted... he wanted me... TO JOIN THE PRIESTHOOD! What a good and holy priest he is.
It would be nice if God gave the Church more vocations (and it would be nice if the vocations He gave the Church weren't thwarted by others). At every Knights of Columbus Council meeting, we close by praying for vocations.
However, narses, I'm not sure how that would help with the problem at hand. Do you think that priests are more careful in the distribution of Communion than are extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist? That hasn't been my experience.