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Is Communion in the Hand an Abuse?

by Father Paul Leonard, B.Ph., S.T.B., M.Div.

"Communion in the hand", Michael Davies observes, "was reintroduced into the Catholic Church as an act of rebellion soon after Vatican II. It began in Holland as an arbitrary act of defiance of legitimate authority. Mandatory liturgical norms were defied and Communion was distributed in some Catholic churches in what had been, since the Reformation, the characteristically Protestant manner. It was an abuse and should have been dealt with by the bishops immediately and effectively."

Propagandists who favor the practice are quick to point out that it was widely practiced in the early Church, but they fail to mention that the practice led to so many abuses that it had to be condemned and suppressed at an early period in the Church's history.

The argument that the practice of distributing Communion in the hand ought to be restored because it was practiced in the early Church is not valid.

In his Encyclical Mediator Dei (1947), Pope Pius XII warned against those who attempt to subvert the Faith under the pretext of a return to primitive practice: such persons represent "a wicked movement that tends to paralyze the sanctifying and salutary action by which the liturgy leads the children of adoption on the path to their Heavenly Father."

In the same document, the Pope went on to further explain that "the desire to restore everything indiscriminately to its ancient condition is neither wise nor praiseworthy. It would be wrong, for example, to want the altar restored to its ancient form of a table . . . and pictures and statues excluded from our churches . . . This attitude is an attempt to revive the 'archeologism' to which the pseudo-synod of Pistoia gave rise; it seeks also to reintroduce the many pernicious errors which led to that synod and resulted from it and which the Church . . . has rightly condemned."

The seemingly innocuous and sincere desire to return to the ancient practice is really a cloak which conceals subversive intentions. Davies points out that "this was a standard argument of the Protestant Reformers . . . indeed an appeal to the primitive Church is a characteristic of heresy."

Communion in the Hand Condemned 
in 650 A.D
.

Davies points out that the practice currently being imposed upon the faithful is not really the same as was done in the early Church: "Women did not receive the Host directly into their bare hands but were compelled to cover them with a cloth called the dominical."

At any rate, throughout the Universal Church the practice was found to be unacceptable and was eventually universally suppressed. Already in the year 650 A.D. the practice of Communion in the hand was condemned by the Council of Rouen.

These facts alone should have been sufficient reason to wonder whether the revival of the long abandoned practice would accomplish anything but harm for the contemporary Church.

We do not, at any rate, see an increase in faith and reverence for the Eucharist since the reintroduction of the abusive practice of distributing Holy Communion in the hand.

In his Apostolic Letter Dominicae Coenae (February 24, 1980), Pope John Paul II stated that since the practice was introduced, "cases of 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." In a report entitled Should Communion in the Hand be rescinded?, we read:

. . . Hosts . . . have also been found in missalettes, on pews, under pews, in church vestibules and parking lots. They have also been placed in pockets and photo albums. Even more shockingly, consecrated hosts have been found in toilets . . . it is public knowledge that stolen Consecrated Hosts are used in the worship of satan in terrible "black Masses".

The Vatican Issued 7 Obligatory Conditions for Receiving Communion in the Hand

The situation has gotten so far out of hand that even the Holy Father issued a public apology for the "scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament." The obligatory conditions that the Vatican laid down to be observed for the distribution of Communion in the hand have been universally ignored, such as:

1. "The new manner of giving Communion must not be imposed in such a way that the traditional practice is excluded . . .

2. "The rite of giving Holy communion in the hand must not be used without discretion . . . the result . . . must be such as to exclude any appearance that the Church is weakening in any way her faith in the Eucharistic presence, and such that there is no danger of profanation or even the appearance of danger of profanation.

3. "The possibility offered to the faithful to receive in his hand and to put in his mouth the Eucharistic Bread must not offer to him an occasion of considering It to be like ordinary bread or something merely blessed; on the contrary . . .

4. ". . . one must take care to not drop or lose any particles of the Eucharistic Bread, one must also take care to see that the hands are suitably clean . . . "

Of the seven conditions, I call special attention to these four, because they are so widely ignored; in fact, No. 2, 3 and 4 seem to be almost universally ignored, and this circumstance renders the practice sacrilegious. It was reported in Ave Maria magazine that from purgatory a priest's soul told a chosen soul that "Communion in the hand . . . is truly a sacrilege . . ." There even took place an extraordinary sign of God's displeasure for this irreverent practice a few years ago in Canada:

One of these last Sundays (June 21 or 28, 1970), at the seven o'clock parish Mass, in the Beauceville Church (P.Q., Canada), the parish priest Charles-Eugene Houde (about 50 years old) was celebrant. He had already told his parishioners that they were permitted to receive the Sacred Host in their hands, according to the directives given by the Archbishopric of Quebec. This day, before the Mass, he told his parishioners the following: "Henceforth, to avoid complications, everyone of you will receive the Host in your hand for Communion . . . "

At the moment of the Communion of the Mass, Reverend Houde turned to the people, holding the ciborium in his hand. Before he had time to take one single Host and make a single step, about fifty consecrated Hosts flew out of the ciborium by Themselves, They went up in the air, and dispersed Themselves around the celebrant, then slowly fell to the ground . . .

Father Houde was so much struck by the prodigy that for a few minutes he remained motionless having his face white. Then, interiorly inspired, he said to the faithful who were approaching the Holy table: "Henceforth, all of you will receive the Sacred Host on your tongue, not in your hand, because God just gave us a sign."

. . . Back at his presbytery he is reported having said: "Never in my life will I give Holy Communion in the hand."

Priests and Laity Persecuted 
for Insisting on Reverence 
for the True Presence of Christ

Finally, the practice of Communion in the hand has been a cause of division and even persecution within the ranks of the clergy. On various occasions Father Gruner has written concerning this issue and I present some of his observations here:

"A number of Catholic priests are suffering due to certain conditions prevailing in the Church at the present time, because their conscience will not allow them to give Holy Communion in the hand. Priests have been removed from their parishes, and priests are hampered in their work . . .

". . . is it not true that the minister is responsible to God for the proper administration of the sacraments that he personally administers? But some priests ask themselves, "How can a priest be held responsible by God, if God (and the Church) does not also give to us priests the authority to dispense this most Holy Sacrament according to God's law and the universal law of the Church?"

"It seems then . . . that a priest is not ever obligated by divine or ecclesiastical law to give Holy Communion in the hand, even in those dioceses where the bishop has licitly given permission for the priests to give Holy Communion in the hand. As the indult given by the Holy See only dispenses a minister from the law of Holy Communion on the tongue, it does not command a minister to give Holy Communion in the hand.

". . . the priest giving out Holy Communion must judge if in fact the conditions set down by the Holy See for this indult are in fact present at the time he is distributing Holy Communion."

How reverently the same Body of Christ is treated by the Pope here safely encasing the Blessed Sacrament so that no Particles are lost.

The Priest Who Distributes Holy Communion is Answerable to God Himself for Ensuring that the Sacred Hosts and Fragments are not Sacrilegiously Handled

"... Further, it seems that when the priest finds that to give Holy Communion in the hand would be against the law of God and his conscience he would be obligated to not give Holy Communion in the hand. (As for example would happen when he is morally certain that the faithful through ignorance or negligence will cause Consecrated Fragments to drop on the ground after they consume the Host.)

"... I have crossed Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and nowhere have I seen any sufficient care taken of Particles of the Consecrated Hosts when Communion is given in the hand. This care to see that Particles are not dropped, is one of the necessary conditions, without which, no minister of the Holy Eucharist under the present indult and its governing letter is allowed to give Communion in the hand.

"... I can be morally certain that Sacred Particles will be dropped on the ground through the practice of Communion in the hand, and I am therefore bound in conscience — as the one primarily responsible for the administration of the sacraments that I am personally called to administer — to obey the indult strictly and not give Communion in the hand — until such time as I can be certain that such sacrileges will not take place."

Having exercised my priestly ministry for a number of years in more than ten countries, and having observed conditions in those countries, I can only confirm Father Gruner's observations and comments in this matter as being most accurate.

It is indeed unfortunate that such conditions prevail in so many parts of the Catholic world today.