Why Communion in the Hand
by Father Nicholas Gruner, S.T.L., S.T.D. (Cand.)
The following is a commentary on the Regulations allowing Communion in the hand under very restricted circumstances.
It must be remembered that Communion on the tongue is the law of the Church. Communion in the hand is an exception to the law (it is an "indult") which is not commanded but only allowed if all the conditions outlined by the Vatican are present. If the conditions are not present then the permission is not granted and Communion on the tongue only is permitted.
The seven conditions are based on two principles as the official document points out. These two principles are not something that the Pope could change even if he wanted to because they are based on Divine Revelation itself.
Every Occasion of Scandal Must Be Avoided
The first condition is that every occasion of scandal is avoided. Obviously if this practice causes some of the Faithful to lose faith in "the Real Presence" then this practice is not good for the salvation of souls because faith in the "Real Presence" in the Eucharist is necessary for salvation.
If the luxury of being able to receive Communion in the hand is going to cause the loss of faith and thereby the loss of souls for all eternity, can anyone fail to see that Sacred Scripture (which tells us to avoid scandal) and charity for souls would demand that this practice be forbidden. And so the Vatican document also makes this lack of scandal an explicit condition for allowing Communion in the hand.
In other words, in places, parishes or communities where the Faithful, even only one of the Faithful, would lose his faith in the Real Presence then in that place, even if the bishop and the Vatican have given their permission, then by the very law and terms of the permission as well as by Divine Revelation itself, Communion in the hand in that place would be forbidden under grave obligation upon the minister of the Sacrament, the priest, the deacon and the extraordinary minister if there be one. It would bind the bishop, even the Pope himself in that place.
If some ministers do not follow this rule, their bad example does not change the rule, not even if the Pope were to give such example, this rule binds all, even the Pope.
The second principle which the Vatican document gives us is also based on Divine Revelation and cannot be changed by anyone not even the Pope himself because it is part of the unchanging Law of God.
All Danger of Irreverence Must Be Avoided
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The second principle is that "All danger of irreverence towards the Eucharist is avoided."Since the Eucharist is the Body of Jesus Christ Himself Who is true God and true Man we are bound by the First Commandment to reverence and adore Him. To do the opposite would be the sin of sacrilege. Thus if one prudently fears that by giving Communion in the hand that sins of sacrilege will be committed then one must not give Communion in the hand.
Now as St. Paul explains it is the minister of the Sacraments who is personally responsible for their administration. He is responsible first of all not to the Pope, not to the bishop, not to the recipient of the Sacrament, but to God Himself Whose minister he is.
And it is for the minister to be found trustworthy as God's minister first.
Now it is precisely the minister, the priest who gives out Communion who is personally responsible to assess the situation. It is not the Pope or bishop, who are not present, but the minister who administers.
This is the principle of subsidiarity and is acknowledged explicitly enough when we read Norm No. 3, for who is to judge the attitude of the recipient in Norm No. 3 except the priest who administers on the spot the Sacrament. By the very nature of this norm it is not up to the bishop or Pope or Chancery official or other priest nearby but only the priest who actually administers the Sacrament to the Faithful at that place and time who is personally responsible to judge the external attitude of the recipient.
Now you might ask what are some of the dangers whereby Communion in the hand might cause irreverence to the Holy Eucharist.
There are several very common ones. Especially and namely this: When a person receives Communion in the hand there is a very high probability that some Fragment of the Host will break off or come loose and remain in the hand after the communicant has put the Host in his mouth. Whereas there is little or no danger of Fragments breaking off and falling to the ground if he receives on his tongue. Now after some time the Fragment will fall off his hand and onto the ground where It can be trampled underfoot.
We know from the defined Dogma of the Catholic Faith that each and every Fragment which breaks off from the Host is "The Body of Jesus Christ - really present." So to drop a Consecrated Fragment on the ground is the same as dropping the Consecrated Host on the ground. Even if only done through negligence it is still a sin of sacrilege.
This danger of irreverence then is to be avoided by Divine Law. Not even the Pope can change this law. The Vatican document by including here the necessity of avoiding danger of irreverence is only reminding us of this Divine Law.
It is again the personal responsibility of the minister of the Sacrament be he the Pope, a Bishop, a Cardinal or a Priest or Deacon or an Extraordinary Lay Minister to see to it that all danger of irreverence towards the Holy Eucharist be avoided.
He cannot say the bishop commanded me or everyone else is doing it ... Before God he must answer for each and every act of administering the Holy Eucharist.
If he knows that the people receiving the Holy Eucharist in the hand do not look in their hands to see if there are any Fragments left after they consume the Host then he can be certain that some of the people will most likely have Fragments on their hands which will sooner or later be dropped. In which case for him his responsibility is clear - he cannot give Communion in the hand even if the bishop or Pope should order him to do so.
This is not to imply that Pope John Paul II has ever done such a thing. On the contrary, we are very grateful to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, for resisting Communion in the hand in Italy. As one Italian major religious Superior pointed out, if it were not for Pope John Paul II, Communion in the hand would have been fully introduced in Italy by now.
Eucharistic Minister is Bound to
In fact in North America and most likely anywhere else in the world where Communion in the hand is given, not 100% of the people look into their hands to see if there are any Fragments for them to consume and therefore the Eucharistic minister is bound in public churches to avoid the danger of sacrilege and irreverence by not giving anyone Communion in the hand because he can be morally certain that some; likely most (but even some is sufficient reason) will not look in their hands after Communion. Consequently there will be at least a few, if not many, who will drop Fragments on the ground, thereby committing sacrilege and irreverence, even though it is only through negligence as Pope Paul VI taught in his Encyclical (Mysterium Fidei 1965, Sept. 3.)
Since the minister knows this will happen he is not allowed by the very terms of this official document granting "the indult" of giving Communion in the hand. He is also bound by Divine Law in these circumstances to not give Communion in the hand even if his religious superior should command him.
With these two principles explained, the average reader should realize why Communion in the hand in practice is still forbidden by the current law of the Church even where the indult has "technically" been allowed. In other words the terms of the permission, both in Divine Law and in Church Law are so strict that almost never is it allowed in practice.
Before we finish we must recall that the person receiving Communion is also responsible to see that no irreverence is committed, but his responsibility does not excuse the minister from taking all the precautions necessary.
The following correspondence should further illustrate and illuminate the Church's teaching and law forbidding Communion in the hand and the persecution priests endure, who for reasons of conscience do not follow this practice.
Dear Most Holy Father John Paul II,
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. Everyone is the loser, especially at this time when there is a great shortage of priests and the Faithful are as a result still further left with even less priests to actively care for them. We hope and pray that you will relieve this situation - so that priests will not be pressured to act against their consciences. We pray and hope that we will be able to continue, unhindered, our apostolic works for the Glory of God and Our Lady, and for the salvation of souls.
We pray and hope that you, Most Holy Father, will help us.
Some Reflections on Certain
Is it not true that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the priest? (C.J.C. 845, 1; Council of Trent 13 c.8, 22 c.1) St. Thomas tells us:
"Accordingly as the consecration of Christ's Body belongs to the priests, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him." S.T.III, q. 82 a. 3
And 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?"
And is not the universal law of the Latin Rite still that the Consecrated Host be placed on the tongue of the communicant as the document Memoriale Domini (1969) says:
"... the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering Holy Communion to the Faithful.
"The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests, and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed."
|Father Gruner with the Miraculous Bleeding Host of Santarem. A woman with the intention of desecrating the Host smuggled It out of the church under her kerchief. The Host miraculously bled profusely, which caused the woman to return the Host to her parish priest. This took place in the 13th Century and the Host has been preserved to this day in Santarem, Portugal.|
The Rights and Obligations of the Priest
as Minister of Holy Communion
It seems then to a number of Roman Catholic priests 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.
Further, it seems that the indult to give Holy Communion in the hand allows this practice only under certain conditions, one of which is:
"Si deve fare attenzione a non lasciare cadere ne disperdere frammenti de Pane Eucharistico. Come pure si deve curare la conveniente mondezza delle mani ..." (A.A.S. 1969, p. 547. Notiziae 1973, circa p. 295.) ("One must pay attention to not let fall or disperse fragments of the Eucharistic Bread. As also care must be taken of the proper cleanness of hands ...")
Therefore it would seem that 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.
And it would further seem that if the priest is to obey the law of the Catholic Church for the Latin Rite he must not give Holy Communion in the Hand, if in fact the necessary conditions for using the indult are not present.
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.)
It further seems then that if a priest chooses to not give Holy Communion in the hand on some or on all occasions, he should not, on this account, be punished or hindered in his apostolic works by anyone, even by one or more Roman Catholic bishops.
Therefore I respectfully appeal to you, Most Holy Father. A number of Roman Catholic priests chose not to give Holy Communion in the hand for serious personal and pastoral reasons. As a result of this they in fact suffer serious losses. In the name of these who suffer, I appeal to you, Most Holy Father.
If it is possible, could you, Most Holy Father, give us priests a public, authoritative declaration, which would be easily accessible to all priests and bishops, declaring that no priest is to be molested, punished, or hindered because he declines to give Holy Communion in the hand.
Yours in Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Father Nicholas Gruner
|How reverently Our Lady, the first Tabernacle of Our Lord, adores the Blessed Sacrament.|
June 3, 1982
Dear Bishop ...
Thank you for your phone call today. I appreciate your continuing pastoral and paternal solicitude in my regard. I appreciate the precious time you have given me in meeting me in July 1981, September 1981, October 1981, February 1982 and May 1982.
I really look forward to working in a parish in your diocese. I feel I can help out in parish work and at the same time gain greatly from the experience.
That you have such a position available to me and that in fact I would be greatly helping your diocese at the same time, as there is such a shortage of priests in your diocese as there is almost all over Canada - indeed are even more reasons for me to eagerly help out the parish of ... under the direction of Father ... the parish priest. I appreciated the opportunity to continue my Apostolate of Our Lady of Fatima while helping out in a parish.
As Your Excellency knows, last October we talked briefly about my problem of conscience regarding the indiscriminate giving out of Communion in the hand.
Again this May, I spoke with you a little more at length regarding what I understand to be the Church's present law about Communion in the hand and my obligations as minister of the Holy Eucharist. I said that I might give you a brief outline in writing regarding why my conscience will not permit me to give Holy Communion indiscriminately in the hand.
To this purpose I enclose a copy of my letter of three brief pages to Pope John Paul II in January of 1980. I also enclose a page from a copy of The Fatima Crusader, Issue No. 7, Spring 1981, in which we published an unofficial translation of the letter signed by the Cardinal Prefect and the Archbishop Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship.
The original letter was published in the Acta Apostolica Sedis (1969) on pages 546-547. This letter is still in effect today, I was informed by officials at the competent congregation in the Vatican when I visited there in 1980.
As I understand it, the indult to give Communion in the hand in Canada is governed by this letter as updated in 1980. And it has been updated in this translation by the latest rulings available to us in the spring of 1981 as can be seen in the footnotes attached.
Having introduced these documents, I repeat what I said to you in person last week, that 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 (mentioned above and enclosed here) is allowed to give Communion in the hand.
And this sine qua non condition clearly spelled out in the indult in fact is reflected in the Magisterial teaching of Pope Paul VI where in his encyclical letter Mysterium Fidei (1965) he quotes Origen with approval, saying that if anyone dropped a Particle of the Host on the ground - through negligence - then that person would be guilty of sin.
And as I show in my letter to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, the minister of the Holy Eucharist would also be guilty of sin through negligence if he could reasonably foresee and prevent the dropping of a Consecrated Particle on the ground.
This decision, in fact, seems to me therefore my obligation in conscience based both on the present indult and based on moral theology, that given the preponderance of probability that such a sacrilegious dropping of Particles of the Host on the ground through negligence will take place in any parish church in Canada through Communion in the hand.
This conclusion is based on my own and other priests' experience that not one lay person looks at his hands after having received the Sacred Host in the hand and put the Sacred Host into his mouth.
As a result, 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.
To avoid making this letter too long, in reference to Your Excellency's statement that you heard that the lay people had a right to receive Communion in the hand but that you never heard that a priest has a right to not give it in the hand, I refer you to my letter to Pope John Paul II where I refer to the rights of the priest as minister of Holy Communion. I trust that that question of yours is sufficiently dealt with there.
Also to keep this letter short, I point out briefly that Norm No. 3 of the Indult letter which restricts the practice of giving out Communion in the hand to those Faithful who qualify by having their Faith in the Holy Eucharist increased by the gesture of receiving in the hand.
Furthermore, Norm No. 3 of the Indult indicated that it is the responsibility of the minister on the spot to judge by the external actions of the recipient whether or not the individual member of the Faithful has had his faith increased by the occasion to receive in the hand. I am not aware that this new practice has caused many people to increase their faith in the Real Presence.
It seems that I personally would have an extra reason for not giving out Communion in the hand at ... parish since you mentioned that the Church of Satan is just opening its doors in the city of ... As you noted, the satanists actively seek to find Consecrated Hosts to use in their satanic black masses. Until I get to know the parishioners well, how could I know who to trust with Communion in the hand?
I did not expect to have to write such a letter so soon, as you know I had hoped to avoid the issue by simply not giving Communion at all - leaving this for the other lawful ministers to take care of. I have for five years now in Canada tried to avoid making a public issue out of this.
I have at very great personal inconvenience to myself avoided as far as possible letting it become widely known that I do not give Communion in the hand, since I did not wish to give the appearance of rebuking my brother priests or of appearing to be holier than others or appearing to act as if I were their superior, as such appearances would only, I thought, further damage my apostolate.
I would think it is most likely true that most priests do not know the precise terms of the indult - nor have most priests in North America ever seen it. (I do not believe it has ever been published widely in North America before we published it in 1981.)
So I do not expect them to know as well as I do the strict obligations incumbent upon them for giving Communion in the hand. I have not considered it my obligation to inform them, as such a task seems very difficult to one in my position, and as I am not a bishop, I am not in any position to command my brother priests.
You remarked on the phone to me today that I should not try to be more Catholic than the Pope and/or the Church. As Your Excellency knows, the Pope does not give Communion in the hand, even in countries where it is permitted. He refused, as was seen on television, to give Communion in the hand to the bishops in the U.S.A. who put out their hands. In France, he refused to give Communion in the hand to the wife of the French President.1
I think that after careful consideration of this letter as well as my letter to Pope John Paul II and the precise terms of the indult, it should be evident that I am not more Catholic than the Church, but in fact only doing my duty as the Pope and the present law of the Church require of me.
However, if this is not clear to you, then it seems to me that it must be because there is some point of yours that I have not answered. I could have been more explicit on certain points but in the interest of brevity I have tried to keep this letter from getting even longer than it is. Please give me the chance to reply to whatever objections you may have to my reasoning.
I hope that, after reading this letter, you will agree that I am not more Catholic than the Catholic Church in this matter.
On the phone, you mentioned that I am too educated for my own good. I agreed with you, since I have such an educated formation of my conscience - and most others haven't had the opportunities I have had to know the teaching of the Church - I have been excluded in effect from fully practicing my ministry.
I have been ordained to serve God and save souls in an active, open ministry but due to clerical pressure such as your own personnel board, I am excluded from serving the Catholic people in my native land, Canada.
But if you meant that I was "too educated" in the sense that my own conscience is in fact not formed according to the mind of the Church on this matter, I am prepared to read any open and sincere reasoning based on Catholic teaching against my own conscience. If I am wrong, then I should be glad to conform to the majority as it will make my life immeasurably easier. But it seems I have yet to meet anyone willing or able to confound my conscience on this point.
Thus I expect that such a dream that I had of practicing my priesthood here in Canada is just that, a dream, and that because I am "too educated", I will be an "exile of conscience" something like "the prisoners of conscience" that the Canadian Catholic Bishops' Conference referred to in their Pentecost letter of 1982.
I appreciate your honesty and openness with me in telling me that the only stumbling-block for my entry into your diocese is the fact that I will not give Communion in the hand.
I hope that some way could be found to accommodate my conscience on this matter and allow me to practice in Canada - you seemed willing to allow me to practice my priesthood last week when I met you in your office, but you did foresee administrative problems if it became known about my stand on Communion in the hand.
Apparently someone told your personnel board about it. I didn't. On Monday, May 31, 1982, I met your personnel board which met to consider my application of joining your diocese. I met only Msgr. A and Msgr. B on Monday morning at about 10 past 10 a.m. I waited a few minutes in the hall while the two priests prepared to meet me in Msgr. A's office.
The third member of the board was not present and I don't even know his name. Msgr. B, after a few minutes, left the meeting. I talked in English and French with Msgr. A for about 20 to 25 minutes. No one on the board ever asked me about Communion in the hand. It was never brought up. I didn't know it was a problem for them that I follow my conscience in this matter. If they had asked me I could have explained myself to them.
I hope that Your Excellency will consider this letter and permit me to help in your diocese especially since, as Your Excellency said on the phone, you have urgent need of a priest right away.
I do hope there is some way around this impasse. I hope I will be able to serve in the diocese and not be asked to violate my conscience.
One possible solution could be to let me help Father ... on a trial basis and if my conscience re: Communion in the hand seems to divide the parish - even though the only thing in this regard that I will do is avoid giving Communion - then you could always release me.
I might mention that perhaps your fears are groundless, as I can tell you of the experience of Father M who does not give Communion in the hand in ... parish in the diocese of ... The parish priest does give Communion in the hand, and the parish knows Father M does not do this -- he gives out Communion on the tongue only, at the various daily and Sunday Masses and no one seems to mind. (Except very rarely, some stranger objects to Father M about it privately afterwards.)
The pastor, Father S, announced to the parish from the pulpit when Father M came, that Father M would not be giving Communion in the hand as Father M had a problem of conscience about it. The people of the parish respect Father's conscience and did not want to make any trouble for him regarding this matter.
This has been going on for several years now, and the parish is not divided. I have visited this parish several times over the years and both priests get along fine and the people are not divided, as I am sure the pastor, Father S, as well as Father M can tell you.
Thank you for giving this letter and request your consideration. May Our Lady's Immaculate Heart be our refuge in these and the days to come.
Yours in Jesus and Mary,
Father Nicholas Gruner
NOTE: The reason why I publish the Regulations and correspondence on Communion in the hand at this time is because a number of priests have gotten in touch with us and stated that they too are being persecuted for not giving Communion in the hand.
The Pope has clearly stated that he himself is against the practice of Communion in the hand. However, in recent years under the pressure of the progressive bishops, he has at times complied with their insistence of allowing it.
It is also a matter of pubic record that when in his opinion proper conditions did not exist, he has on many occasions exercised his right to refuse Communion in the hand.