Communion in the Hand? Pt. I

 

SINCE the gradual re-opening in many regions of Masses this week, several readers have asked me to comment on the restriction several bishops are putting into place that Holy Communion must be received “in the hand.” One man said that he and his wife have received Communion “on the tongue” for fifty years, and never in the hand, and that this new prohibition has put them in an unconscionable position. Another reader writes:

Our bishop says “only in hand.” I can’t begin to tell you how I have been suffering about this as I take it on the tongue and I don’t want to take it on the hand. My question: what should I do? My uncle said to me that it is a sacrilege to touch it with our hands, which I believe to be true, but I spoke with my priest and he doesn’t feel it to be true… I don’t know if I should not to go to Mass and just go to Adoration and Confession?
 
I think it’s ridiculous all these extreme measures of wearing masks to Mass. We also have to register to go to Mass—and will the government then know who is going? You can go to grocery stores without these extreme measures. I feel the persecution has begun. It is so painful, yes I have been crying. It makes no sense. Even after the Mass, we can’t stay to pray, we have to leave right away. I feel like our shepherds have handed us to the wolves…
So, as you can see, there is a lot of hurt going around right now.
 
 
THE CONTRADICTIONS
 
There is no question that perhaps the most radical pandemic measures being applied today, more than in any public space, are in the Catholic Church. And contradictions abound. Presently, in many cities, more people can sit in a restaurant, talking loud, laughing, and visiting… than can Catholics who wish to quietly gather in vastly empty churches. And congregants must not only have far fewer numbers, but they have been asked to not even sing in some dioceses. Others are required to wear masks (including the priest), and are even forbidden to say “Amen” after receiving the Host or to receive the Eucharist while kneeling.[1]edwardpentin.co.uk And indeed, some dioceses require that parishioners who come to Mass must report who they are and who’ve they’ve been in contact with.
 
This is so contradictory, so invasive, so inconsistent with what is going on in the general public (and, yes, so unscientific—and yet so readily agreed to by many bishops), that I am not surprised to hear from both laity and priests alike that they feel “betrayed” and “great bitterness.” Recently, this Scripture passage jumped off the page:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord. Therefore. thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.” (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
To be fair, many bishops are no doubt trying their best; many probably know that they face serious fines if they resist the State; others are acting out of what they feel is genuinely for the “common good,” especially for their senior parishioners. And yet, one priest told me that when he asked an elderly man to stay away from Mass for the sake of his health, the senior blurted out: “Who the hell are you to tell me what is good or not good for me? I can decide for myself whether coming to Mass is worth the risk.” Perhaps that bluntness underscores how many of us feel: the State is treating us like we are stupid sheep who cannot function without every degree of our lives controlled now. But more grave is the fact that the Church has handed over virtually all its power regarding even how she will express her devotion. And only God knows what spiritual ramifications have occurred from the deprivation of the Eucharist (a whole topic unto itself).
 
Hence, we have gone past The Point of No Return. To reclaim what is not only common sense but even our spiritual duty will likely result in a real persecution of the clergy next time around.
In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (Today’s first Mass reading)
 
 
THE SCIENCE
 
But what about Communion in the hand? Is this a prudent step? Catholic News Agency published a statement by the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon when COVID-19 was beginning to rapidly spread:
This morning we consulted with two physicians regarding this issue, one of which is a specialist in immunology for the State of Oregon. They agreed that done properly the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand pose a more or less equal risk. The risk of touching the tongue and passing the saliva on to others is obviously a danger, however, the chance of touching someone’s hand is equally probable and one’s hands have a greater exposure to germs. —March 2nd, 2020; read Statement; cf. catholicnewsagency.com
Given that our hands are in far more contact with objects such as door handles, etc. it’s arguable that touching a parishioner’s hand could pose more risk. Moreover, if 50 communicants entered a church and all of them touched the front entrance door handle—and one of them left a virus on it—receiving the Host in your hand, which may also have come in contact with the door handle, may effectively transmit the virus to your mouth. Yet, there is also the risk that the priest’s hand touches someone’s tongue. Thus, say the experts, there is an “equal” risk.
 
Hence, imposing Communion in the hand, from a pure scientific standpoint, seems baseless.
 
But here’s what doesn’t add up at all either. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year from Influenza, and yet we have done nothing to prevent that communicable disease, such as the extreme measures being imposed now.
 
 
WHAT IS THE LAW?
 
The Catholic Church has many rites. In some of the Eastern liturgies, Communion is distributed only on the tongue by dipping the Bread in the chalice, and then administering the Precious Body and Blood from a spoon. In the “Latin Mass” or Extraordinary form, communicants are only permitted to receive on the tongue. In the Ordinary form (the Ordo Missae) of the Latin rite, the Church permits the faithful to receive either in the hand or in the mouth. So plainly said, it is not a sin to reverently receive the Eucharist in one’s hand at your typical parish. But the truth is, this is not the way Mother Church would prefer us to receive Our Lord today.
 
Just as with dogmas, our understanding of the Sacred Mysteries has grown over time. Hence, Communion on the tongue eventually became adopted as the norm as the Church’s reverence grew in expression, both in her sacred art and architecture, and in her spiritual wisdom.

…with a deepening understanding of the truth of the Eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus, the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant. This method of distributing Holy Communion 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. The custom does not detract in any way from the personal dignity of those who approach this great Sacrament: it is part of that preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Memoriale Domini, May 29th, 1969)

He then noted that a survey of around 2100 bishops showed that two thirds of them did not believe that the practice of Communion on the tongue should be changed, leading Paul VI to conclude: “the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering holy communion to the faithful.” However, he added:

Where a contrary usage, that of placing Holy Communion on the hand, prevails, the Holy See—wishing to help them fulfill their task, often difficult as it is nowadays—lays on those conferences the task of weighing carefully whatever special circumstances may exist there, taking care to avoid any risk of lack of respect or of false opinions with regard to the Blessed Eucharist, and to avoid any other ill effects that may follow. Ibid.

There is no question that Communion in the hand has led to a great many sacrileges in modern times, some which were never possible until this practice was permitted. A certain glibness has also overtaken the distribution of the Holy Eucharist and the manner in which it is received in many places. This can’t help but sadden all of us as polls continue to show a decline in belief in the Real Presence at the very same time.[2]pewresearch.org

St. John Paul II lamented these abuses in Dominicae Cenae:

In some countries the practice of receiving Communion in the hand has been introduced. This practice has been requested by individual episcopal conferences and has received approval from the Apostolic See. However, cases of a deplorable lack of respect towards the eucharistic species have been reported, cases which are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behavior but also to the pastors of the Church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful towards the Eucharist. It also happens, on occasion, that the free choice of those who prefer to continue the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is not taken into account in those places where the distribution of Communion in the hand has been authorized. It is therefore difficult in the context of this present letter not to mention the sad phenomena previously referred to. This is in no way meant to refer to those who, receiving the Lord Jesus in the hand, do so with profound reverence and devotion, in those countries where this practice has been authorized. (n. 11)

Still, this is the protocol in the General Instruction for the Roman Missal in the U.S.:

If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the Priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The Body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed, in the hand, the choice lying with the communicant. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes the whole of it. —n. 161; usccb.org

 
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
 
By Christ’s own word, the Church has the power to enact laws according to her liturgical practice:
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)
Hence, whether you personally wish to receive Communion in the hand in the Ordinary form of the Mass is left to you, in dioceses where it is permitted, so long as done so with reverence and in a state of grace (though the norm, again, is to receive on the tongue). However, I know this does not comfort some of you. But here are my personal thoughts…
 
The Eucharist is not just a devotion among many devotions; it is the very “source and summit” of our faith.[3]Catechism of the Catholic Churchn. 1324 In fact, Jesus promised that whoever receives His Body and Blood receives eternal life. But He goes further:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53-54)
Thus, for me personally, I would never refuse my Eucharistic Lord unless for grave reasons. And the only reasons that come to mind are 1) being in a state of mortal sin or 2) in schism with the Church. Otherwise, why would I deprive myself of the Gift of “eternal life” when Jesus is offered to me?
 
Some of you feel, however, that receiving Jesus in the hand is “desecrating” the Lord and therefore constitutes a valid “third” reason to refuse the Eucharist. But I tell you, many receive Jesus on a tongue that curses and speaks vile of their neighbour from Monday to Saturday—and yet, they don’t think twice about receiving Him on it. The question is, if you choose not to receive Jesus because it is only permitted in the hand, what point are you trying to make? If it is a matter of making a statement to the rest of the community regarding your piety, that in itself constitutes vanity. If it is to give a witness to your love and proper “fear of the Lord”, then you must now weigh whether the act of refusing Jesus may also give a poor witness to the community in that it could also be seen as divisive or petty, given that there is no canonical prohibition in the Ordinary form (and many holy people do receive Jesus in their hand).
 
For me, I receive Jesus on the tongue, and have for years, because I feel this is most reverent and in conformity with the Church’s express wishes. Second, it is very difficult for particles of the Host not to remain in the palm of one’s hand, so great care has to be taken (and many don’t even think about this). Still, I could never refuse the Lord if the bishop insisted on this manner of receiving. Instead, I would do exactly what was taught in the early Church when Communion in the hand was practiced:

In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof ; for whatever you lose, is evidently a loss to you as it were from one of your own members. For tell me, if any one gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones? Then after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth your hands, but bending ,and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen, hallow yourself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon your lips, touch it with your hands, and hallow your eyes and brow and the other organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who has accounted you worthy of so great mysteries. —St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 4th century; Catechetical Lecture 23, n. 21-22

In other words, if you are required to receive Jesus in your hand, do so as if you were being handed the infant Jesus by Our Lady. Hold Him with tremendous reverence. And then receive Him with great love.
 
And then, if you wish, go home, write your bishop, and tell him why you feel this form is unreasonable—and then rest in your conscience that you have revered the Lord as much as you possibly could.
 
 
EPILOGUE
 
One day, a King announced that, each Sunday, he would come to visit every home in His kingdom. With that, everyone from lords to lowly villagers prepared their homes as best they could.
 
Many of the wealthy laid out expensive red carpets, adorned their front doors with gilding, aligned their entrance with silken finery, and appointed minstrels to greet the King. But in the homes of the poor, all they could do was sweep the portico, shake out the mat, and put on their only good dress or suit.
 
When the day finally came for the King’s visit, an Emissary arrived ahead of time to announce the King’s arrival. But to the surprise of many, he said that the King wished to come by way of the servant’s entrance, not the front way.
 
“That’s impossible!” cried out many of the lords. “He must come by the grand entrance. It is only fitting. In fact, the King can only come this way, or we will not have him. For we would not wish to offend him, nor have others accuse us of lacking propriety.” Hence, the Emissary departed—and the King did not enter their mansions.
 

The Emissary then came to the village and approached the first hut. It was a humble abode—its roof thatched, foundations crooked, and its wooden frame worn and weathered. When he knocked upon its door, the family gathered to greet their visitor.

 
“I am here to announce by royal decree that the King wishes to visit your abode.”
 
The father, removing his cap and bowing his head, felt sudden shame at his shabby surroundings and replied, “I am so sorry. With all our hearts, we wish to receive the King. But… our home is not worthy of his presence. Look,” he said, pointing to the rickety wooden step upon which the Emissary stood, “what King should be made to traverse such ignoble steps?” Then pointing to his doorway, he continued. “What man of such nobility should stoop to enter our threshold? Indeed, what Sovereign should be made to sit at our small wooden table?”
 
With that, the Emissary’s eyes narrowed and his head lowered as he stared at the father, as though scanning his soul.
 
“And yet,” said the Emissary, “do you desire to receive the King?”
 
The father’s face turned ashen as his eyes widened. “Oh, heavens, forgive me if I have conveyed to my King’s good messenger that I think otherwise. With all our hearts, we would receive him were our dwelling suitable: if we, too, could lay the red carpet and adorn our doorway; if we too could hang the finery and assign the minstrels, then yes, of course, we would delight in his presence. For our King is the most noble and fair of men. None are as just or as merciful as he. We beg you, send him our warmest greetings and make known our prayers, love, and fealty.”
 
“Tell him yourself,” the Emissary replied. And with that, he removed his cloak and revealed his true identity.
 
“My King!” exclaimed the father. The entire family fell to their knees as the Monarch crossed their threshold and entered their hut. “Please rise,” he said so softly, that all their fear dissipated in a moment. “This entrance is most suitable. It is gilded with virtue, adorned with the finery of humility, and covered in charity. Come, let me abide with you and we shall feast together…”
 
 
 
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