This post has been edited and written since the original version had erroneous information. The comments relating to the debate have been deleted; only comments on the general practice of Eucharistic Reverence remain. If anyone would like to debate the opinions expressed in this post, the comment box is again open. However, I implore all commentors to first read the comment policy and hear these words: "But before all things have a constant mutual charity among yourselves: for charity covereth a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)
I am certain that this post will undoubtedly be controversial again; however, I write this post simply to help restore needed reverence to our Eucharistic Lord. For that reason, I support whatever the Holy Catholic Church infallibly teaches, but I am free to disagree with any non-infallible practices. The fight to restore Eucharistic Reverence has caused debates, arguments, and even violence at various times in history. Jesus even referred to himself as a cause of division (Matthew 10:34), and because of the division, his servants will undoubtedly suffer persecution (Matthew 10:22). I pray that this post will help discourage the practice of Communion in the Hand, encourage reception of the Eucharist on the Tongue, and help discourage the practice of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
According to the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, one of the greatest mystics in the history of the Church, irreverence to Jesus in the Eucharist will cause Him great pain:
"My heavenly Bridegroom said to me, pointing round me as He spoke; 'See far more evil that befalls Me every day at the hands of many throughout the world.' And as I looked about me into the distance, many things came before my soul which were indeed still more dreadful than that sacrifice of children; for I saw Jesus Himself cruelly sacrificed on the Altar by unworthy and sinful celebrations of the Holy Mysteries. I saw how the blessed Host lay on the altar before unworthy degenerate priests like a living Child Jesus, whom they cut and terribly mutilated with the paten. Their sacrifice, though an efficacious celebration of the Holy Mysteries, appeared like a cruel murder" ("The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary", Chapter 1: Our Lady's Ancestors; the Vision of the Feast of Our Lady's Conception, page 68)
First and foremost, for non-Catholics reading this post, please first read my post on The Eucharist to understand its significance. As affirmed at various points in history, at several Councils (ex. Council of Trent's Thirteenth Session; Vatican II's Sacrosanctum concilium 7), in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (ex. CCC 1373-1374, 1413), in the words of countless saints, and in the words of Christ Himself (Mt 26:26-28; cf. Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:17-20, 1 Cor 11:23-25), the Eucharist - Holy Communion - is truly the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. It is not a metaphoric representation of Jesus - the Eucharist is Jesus Christ. Consequently, the Eucharist deserves the greatest degree of worship.
1. Communion in the Hand
2. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
3. Altar Rails
Communion in the Hand
Simply, Communion in the Hand is a practice that I do not support because it is a sacrilege; I only receive Holy Communion on the tongue. Through Communion in the Hand, it is far easier for particles of the Eucharist to fall to the ground. Such particles are still completely Christ (Council of Trent, Thirteenth Session, Canon 4)!
It remains true that the Church has allowed Communion in the Hand at various points in history including during the early Church. For example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem said, "When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen" (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Cateches. Mystagog, V.1) However, it seems probable that few people in our modern world would receive Our Lord in the hand with such care and devotion to refer to it as making a "throne". Communion on the Tongue ensures that no particle is lost. Communion on the Tongue is allowed universally while Communion in the Hand is allowed only by indult. Clearly, Communion in the Hand is not an infallible dogma of the Faith. As Fr. Tim Finigan appropriately states:
There is a much-quoted text of Cyril of Jerusalem (d.387) speaking of the left hand as a throne for the right etc. (Mystagogical catechesis 5.21; PG 33.1125) This is often used as a justification for communion in the hand. The contemporary evidence of the correction of abuses shows that the text could equally be seen as an indication of the obvious need for a change in practice to ensure reverence. The insistence on Communion on the tongue was a natural next step.According to J Bona in a 3-volume work entitled Rerum Liturgicarum (1747 AD) Communion in the hand most likely ceased before Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604). Even though Communion in the hand may have been allowed at some points in the early Church, it is not appropriate for our current era when irreverence and a lack of belief in the Real Presence is spreading. Spain forbid it completely in the 400s and said that anyone who would stand and receive would receive excommunication. According to a Gallup Poll of 519 American Catholics, 18 years or older, conducted from December 10, 1991, to January 19, 1992, only 30% believe that they receive in Holy Communion the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ! This is shocking! By receiving Holy Communion on the Tongue, non-Catholics see Catholics professing the Faith in a unique and truly profound manner. Such a manner ensures that observers as well as Catholic understand they are not receiving ordinary bread.
According to statistics from the article Index of Catholicism's Decline, by Pat Buchanan, who cites Kenneth C. Jones's Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II, a shocking number - 70% - of Catholics between the ages of 18-44 do not believe in the Real Presence! We must work to increase belief and devotion to our Eucharistic Lord!! The same statistics illustrate annulments increased from 338 in 1968 to 50,000 in 2002. Also, teaching nuns, ordinations, seminarians, and Catholic marriages all declined. Let us work to counter these alarming statistics.
Following Vatican II, the introduction of Communion in the Hand began as an abuse. I agree with Fr. Tim Finigan that the introduction of Communion in the Hand was a mistake. As stated by Fr. Tim Finigan at The Hermeneutic of Continunity:
At the same time, in many parts of the world, especially in "Masses for special groups", there was a more or less open defiance of this instruction. As a result, Pope Paul VI gradually gave permission to one Bishops' Conference after another for the introduction of the practice of Holy Communion in the hand. Permission was granted in England on 6 March 1976. One widely used justification of the permission was that it would take away the scandal of disobedience. This did not work - people continued to be disobedient to other liturgical norms, witness the series of condemnations of liturgical abuses that have been published since then.Below are the words of several saints and Church figures on the practice of Communion in the Hand. I pray that if you have been receiving Communion in the Hand, you will begin to receive our Lord exclusively on the tongue.
St. Thomas Aquinas: "Out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it but when it is consecrated" - Summa, Pt III Q, Q2 Art. 3
Holy Scripture: In the Old Testament, it is recorded that only Levite priests were allowed to carry the Ark of the Covenent (1 Chronicles 13:2), and when a non-Levite priest touched the Ark of the Covenent he was struck dead (1 Chronicles 13:9). Today the Holy Eucharist is the Holy of Holiess, and only those who have been consecrated to touch the Eucharist (Summa, Pt III Q, Q2 Art. 3) should touch it.
Pope Paul VI: Memoriale Domini, a 1969 document, recognized that communion on the tongue was conducive to faith, reverence and humility. Specifically, the document states, "With regard to the manner of administering the sacrament, one may follow the traditional method, which emphasized the ministerial function of the priest or deacon, in having them place the host in the hand of the communicant." In the same document it is also written, "To preserve and defend the reverence, dignity and holiness due to the greatest treasure in the Church, only kneeling, not standing, to receive Holy Communion, always on the tongue, was allowed." Thus, the document not only allows Communion on the Hand but also Communion in the Hand. However, due to irreverence and a disbelief in the Real Presence in recent times as well as the common error of receiving Our Lord simply "out of habit", I urge fellow Catholics to receive the Eucharist joyfully on the tongue. Below is my final excerpt from the document:
A change in a matter of such moment, based on a most ancient and venerable tradition, does not merely affect discipline. It carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering holy communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.
Pope John II: He only gave Holy Communion on tongue during private Masses in the Vatican. Concelebrating priests were told to do the same. Pope John Paul II said, "I do not revoke what one of my predecessors has said about this... ... here, my dear priests and my dear brothers and sisters, only Communion on the tongue and kneeling is allowed. I say this to you as your bishop!" (Sermon, March 1, 1989, Church of SS. Nome Di Maria)
When the wife of the President of France, Madame Giscard d'Estaing came before the Holy Father with outstretched hands, Pope John Paul II placed the host in her mouth. (Homiletic & Pastoral Review, March 1997 pg 24). He did likewise for a canon lawyer who was present at the 1981 Papal Mass in Chicago.
Pope John Paul II wrote, "To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained, one which indicates an active participation in the ministry of the Eucharist. It is obvious that the Church can grant this faculty to those who are neither priests nor deacons, as is the case with acolytes in the exercise of their ministry, especially if they are destined for future ordination, or with other lay people who are chosen for this to meet a just need, but always after an adequate preparation." (Dominicae Cenae, 1980, end of paragraph 11). Thus, Pope John Paul II is acknowledging laypeople may touch the Holy Eucharist in a situation of "just need" but only after "adequate preparation". Yet, he does start by affirming that the distribution of Holy Communion is reserved principally to the ordained. However, as I discuss below under the topic of extraordinary ministers, there is usually not a "just need" to warrant the use of extraordinary ministers.
Fr. John Hardon, S.J.: Whatever you can do to stop Communion in the hand will be blessed by God.” (November 1st, 1997 Call to Holiness Conference, Detroit, Michigan, panel discussion.)
Dietrich von Hildebrand: "Is it believable that instead of applying the most scrupulous care to protect the most sacred consecrated host, which is truly the Body of Christ, the God-man, from all such possible abuses, there are those who wish to expose it to this possibility? Have we forgotten the existence of the devil who wanders about seeking whom he may devour'? Is his work in the world and in the Church not all too visible today? What entitles us to assume that abuses to the consecrated host will not take place?" (Communion in the hand should be rejected)
Blessed Mother Teresa: Blessed Mother Teresa said, "Further it is the custom in our Society, and my known wish, that the Sisters receive Holy Communion on the tongue, which to my knowledge they are doing everywhere" (Mother Theresa, India 1995; Athi Thoothan Editor, Aquinas, p. 13, Vol 2, No 1 March 2000).
"Not very long ago I said Mass and preached for their Mother, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and after breakfast we spent quite a long time talking in a little room. Suddenly, I found myself asking her -- don't know why -- 'Mother, what do you think is the worst problem in the world today?' She more than anyone could name any number of candidates: famine, plague, disease, the breakdown of the family, rebellion against God, the corruption of the media, world debt, nuclear threat, and so on.
"Without pausing a second she said, 'Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand.'"
(Father George William Rutler, Good Friday, 1989 in St. Agnes Church, New York City, a precise transcript taken from a tape of his talk available from St. Agnes Church. Note: Fr. Emerson of the Fraternity of St. Peter was also a witness to this statement by Blessed Mother Teresa)
Bishop Juan Laise of San Luis of Argentina: He warns that, "with Communion in the hand, a miracle would be required during each distribution of Communion to avoid some particles from falling to the ground or remaining in the hand of the faithful." (Communion in the Hand: Document and History). He also has reportedly said, “It would be to deceive the faithful to make them think that receiving Communion in the hand would identify them more with the spirit of the primitive Church”
Pope Pius XII:
“In the same way, actually that baptism is the distinctive mark of all Christians, and serves to differentiate them from those who have not been cleansed in this purifying stream and consequently are not members of Christ, the sacrament of holy orders sets the priest apart from the rest of the faithful who have not received this consecration. For they alone, in answer to an inward supernatural call, have entered the august ministry, where they are assigned to service in the sanctuary and become, as it were, the instruments God uses to communicate supernatural life from on high to the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Add to this, as We have noted above, the fact that they alone have been marked with the indelible sign ‘conforming’ them to Christ the Priest, and that their hands alone have been consecrated ‘in order that whatever they bless may be blessed, whatever they consecrate may become sacred and holy, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ [Roman Pontifical, Ordination of a priest: anointing of hands].” (Mediator Dei, #43)Council of Saragozza (380 AD) and of Toledo (400 AD): Declared that the Eucharist host must be consumed before the communicant left the Church. It was a practice in the early Church to have Holy Communion taken to the sick, but the practice was corrected because of the abuses that resulted from it. Similarly, abuses are occuring to the Holy Eucharist.
Council of Rouen (650 AD): "Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layperson, but only in their mouths"
Council of Constantinople (695 AD): The council prohibited the faithful from giving Communion to themelves. It decreed an excommunication of one week's duration for those who would do so in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon.
Council of Trent: "To priests alone have been given power to consecrate and administer the Holy Eucharist. That the unvarying practice of the Church has also been, that the faithful receive the Sacrament from the hand of the priest" (Council of Trent, Session 13, Chapter 8)
Fr. Robert Altier:
"In the first reading today Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, talks about how, in Christ, is hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is because He is almighty God; He is the Creator of the universe; He is the Savior of the world; He is God, absolute and perfect. Saint Paul says at the beginning of the reading that he makes up in his flesh for what is lacking in the
suffering of Christ, for the sake of Christ's body, the Church.
"In Christ, now, there is no suffering, but only in the Mystical Body. But there is one place, which I would like to address this morning, where I believe that Our Lord is truly grieved. I want to challenge you in that area: That is, the manner by which we receive Holy Communion.
"The Church is very clear in Her documents that she desires that we would receive Holy Communion on the tongue and not in the hand.
"The bishops of America, as well as a few other countries in the world, have allowed Communion in the hand as a dispensation. But the Church is very, very clear that She does not want us receiving Communion in the hand.
"Let me explain a little as to why. First of all, to receive is something that is passive. The priest takes Holy Communion because the priest is the one who offers the Victim in sacrifice. Therefore, the one who offers the Victim must also take part in that Victim. But the people of God are to receive Holy Communion. To take the Host from your hand and put It into your own mouth is to take Communion, not to receive Communion; and so it is an active thing, not a passive thing. The Lord desires to give Himself to you as a gift, not to be taken by you. We need to be very careful that we do not lose the symbolism of what is happening in the Blessed Sacrament.
"Also, if you will notice, during Mass after the Consecration, my fingers remain together because of the particles of the Host that are there. When we take Holy Communion in the hand, there are particles of Our Lord that are on our hands and on our fingers. That is why, after Communion, the priest will purify his fingers - because of the particles of the Host. But how often the people of God, after receiving Holy Communion, simply brush the particles onto the ground and walk on Our Lord. Or they put their hands in their pockets, and Our Lord is right there on their clothing. The abuses that this opens them up to are very grave. Not that anyone is intentionally doing that, but I think it is something that we need to consider exceedingly carefully.
"What I always tell people is that you can look forward to the Day of Judgment and ask yourself how you intend to approach Our Lord, because He is your Judge. The same Lord you approach in Holy Communion is the same One you will approach on the Day of Judgment. Do you assume that you will put your hand out to Our Blessed Lord on the Day of Judgment?
"Is your view of judgment that you will shake Our Lord's hand and tell Him how wonderful it is to see Him? Or is your view that you will do great reverence to Our Blessed Lord? My view is that I will be flat on my face - not shaking His hand.
"We do not put out our hand to God. Scripture says that God holds us in the palm of His hand. We should not be holding God in the palm of ours. He created us; He made us in His image and likeness. He is the Creator; we are the creature. We must approach Him with the greatest reverence, the greatest respect.
"If we simply look at the fruit that has been borne by Holy Communion being taken in the hand, it is not good: the loss of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, the familiarity.
"Thankfully it is not happening here, but go to most churches and ask yourself if you see people praying before Mass or if they are chatting, goofing around, and talking.
"We have lost the reverence for the Real Presence because Jesus is just "our buddy" when we put our hand out to Him; He is not our God when we do that. So we need to be very careful.
"But beyond that, we can look also at what has happened spiritually to the people of God. Since we have been receiving Communion in the hand, we have lost sight of the idea of going to Confession, of our own sinfulness, of the reverence we must have for Our Lord. We have made Communion so easy a thing and so nonchalant a thing that people have lost that sense of reverence, of awe, and of respect in the Presence of Our Lord.
"I challenge you to think very seriously about this issue. The bishops, like I say, have allowed it; it is not a sin if you receive Holy Communion in the hand. In some places in the early Church they did that; Saint Justin talks about it. But the Church stopped it because of the abuses against the Blessed Sacrament that were occurring. I ask you to really pray about that.
"Look at Jesus in the Eucharist and ask yourself, "Do I really, truly believe that this is God? That this is my Creator and my Redeemer? How, then, do I desire to approach Him?" I really believe, if you pray that through, that there is only one conclusion to which you can come.
"Then, I beg you, do not remain silent about it. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Bring that word to others because all those good people out there, I do not think that they are willfully trying to do anything that would grieve Our Lord; they are doing what they have been told to do.
"But again, look at what has happened in the last forty years of this particular practice and ask yourself if the fruit it has borne has been good. Obviously, you love Our Lord: You are here at daily Mass; you are here every morning. The love of Our Lord is evident in you. Bring that love of Jesus out from here. The love that is in your heart, proclaim it to others and ask them in the same way to consider their actions toward Our Lord.
"Let us bring the reverence to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament back so that we can give Him fitting worship and praise because He is God, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are contained."
The Beauty and Spirituality of the Traditional Latin Mass by David Joyce, Latin Mass Society of England and Wales:
"...when the faithful themselves receive Communion, they receive It kneeling at the altar rail, and directly onto their tongue. This is very significant. Receiving Communion whilst kneeling means that the faithful line up in a row before the sanctuary, and thus have time to prepare themselves for this most sacred of events: coming into spiritual and substantial union with Christ Himself. The communicant kneels down, and whilst he waits for the priest to make his way around, he can settle himself, concentrate on the upcoming Communion with our Lord praying intensely. When it is his turn, the priest says the prayer: "May the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul until life everlasting. Amen". This means, besides the beauty and the significance of the words themselves, that the priest says the word "Amen" so that the communicant need not invoke his voice to receive the King of Kings, allowing a constant stream of prayer and thanksgiving to flow from soul to Saviour. The communicant simply needs to expose his tongue, and his side of the proceedings is complete. Upon receiving Christ, he can continue praying for a little while, and only then does he need to return to his seat, leaving room for the next communicant. Moreover, having the priest come over to the communicant signifies that Christ comes to us, feeds us with His own divine life, whilst we wait kneeling and unmoving like little children totally dependent on His love, mercy and compassion. This is the message of the Gospel: to become like little children, submitting our wills to His and depending totally on Him for everything. We cannot even feed ourselves without Christ's help, and the action of Communion in the traditional manner demonstrates this in a very vivid manner."
For more on this topic, I would like to highly recommend "Dominus Est - It is the Lord" by His Excellency Athanasius Schneider on this very topic.
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
Connected with the topic of Communion in the Hand is the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. While I used to serve in this "ministry" I am glad to have resigned after receiving a few emails from readers and reading the above writings. It remains clear that only the hands of the priest or deacon are consecrated to touch the Holy Eucharist (St. Thomas Aquinas). Traditionally, lay people including altar servers were also forbidden to touch the sacred vessels including the Chalice. If they had to touch the paten they would hold it with a purificator. Likewise, they were only to carry the Chalice by touching the chalice veil covering it. They could absolutely never touch the precious metal of the Chalice. It is a still a pious practice and one that I support.
For the most part, the practice of extraordinary ministers has grown into a liturgical abuse. As stated in INSTRUCTION ON CERTAIN QUESTIONS REGARDING THE COLLABORATION OF THE NON-ORDAINED FAITHFUL IN THE SACRED MINISTRY OF PRIEST, "Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at Eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion (99). They may also exercise this function at Eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion" (100). A similar statement can be found in GIRM 162.
However, nearly all Catholic churches see an "army" of extraordinary ministers at Sunday Mass when they are gravely unnecessary. As in the pre-Vatican II era, the priest today could easily distribute Holy Communion to a large congregation. The additional time in the distribution of Holy Communion would be beneficial for the Faithful since they could kneel longer in contemplation and thanksgiving for receiving the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The sanctuary remains the location of the Holy of Holies - God himself. Too often people wearing jeans, shorts, or even strap-less shirts are allowed into the sanctuary nowadays. The loss of reverence to the Eucharistic Lord is at an all-time high. Only ordained ministers and altar servers should enter the Sanctuary.
I never encourage the usage of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and I hope that the ministry will eventually be ended by the Church. Already many of these people incorrectly refer to themselves as "Eucharistic ministers," “Special ministers of Holy Communion,” and “extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist” in violation of paragraphs 154-156 of Redemptionis Sacramentum. Please, if you are an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, I suggest that you to resign from the ministry as I previously did. In the writings of many of the saints, it is clear that the practice of the laity touching the Eucharist with their hands should never be encouraged unless necessity requires it.
Before I discuss the use of altar rails, I would first like to encourage the practice of genuflection. Most people still genuflect, however, few people bow their head at the necessary times during prayer at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I strongly encourage my readers to look at my post On Genuflecting and Bowing for more information.
Concerning Communion Rails, Institutio Generalis Romani Missalis 2000, the most recent document by the Vatican on the matter, states that there is no requirement in liturgical law necessitating the removal of altar rails from historic churches and nothing prohibiting their erection in new ones. Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, states: "...no document explicitly mandates or even suggests that the removal of altar rails is required by the liturgical reform".
For those reasons I hope and pray that more churches bring back altar rails. Following Vatican II, many churches destroyed beautiful marble, hand-carved altar rails. Altar rails are gravely important because they allow more of the Faithful to receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling. Thankfully Catholic Church and chapels that offer the Tridentine Latin Mass are some of the places where the use of altar rails has been retained.
If you have any comments or suggestions on this post, I highly welcome comments below. I am going to add this post in my sidebar links and keep it as a reference. I will certainly edit this in the future with more topics that coincide with the Mission to Restore Eucharistic Reverence.
Again, I pray that this post will not be a source of controversy and discord but one filled with ideas on how to encourage Eucharistic Reverence.