Give Me A Hand: Let’s Return to the Reverence Our Lord Deserves


If you enjoy controversial topics, you’ve come to the right place.  In this article, I will take on one of the most contentious, emotional and persistent topics in the Catholic blogosphere:  Communion in the Hand.  Most people engaging in the debate are expressing emotion and opinion.  Do we really know the Church’s position on receiving in the hand?  What is the norm, and what is the exception?  While receiving in the hand is allowed in today’s Church, is it really the right thing to do, and is it time to finally revisit the decision to allow this made 50 years ago?  This article will explore those questions, within the framework of the document that started it all, Memoriale Domini.

Communion in the Hand

In most Catholic parishes in the United States, it is most common to see the faithful lining up to receive the Eucharist in the hand.  In general, most young people (and most old) invariably receive in the hand.  Few realize that this is not the established norm of the Church, rather it is an indult, or exception, to the standard of the laity receiving the Eucharistic bread on the tongue. Many are shocked to hear this, and in fact, question the veracity of this claim.  Many suggest that even if this were a rule, it is simply a “man-made rule,” out of step with historical reality.  Almost always it is asserted that earlier Christians, as well as Jesus and the Apostles, consumed the Eucharist using their hands.

The reality is that in the late 1960’s, Blessed Pope Paul VI issued a document called Memoriale Domini, “Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion” which basically invited bishops’ conferences to request an exception to the norm of receiving on the tongue. The document recognized that the return of the Church to receiving the Eucharist under two species, bread and wine, as a result of Vatican 2, had raised the question of receiving in the hand:

“These changes have made of the eucharistic banquet and the faithful fulfillment of Christ’s command a clearer and more vital symbol. At the same time in recent years a fuller sharing in the eucharistic celebration through sacramental communion has here and there evoked the desire to return to the ancient usage of depositing the eucharistic bread in the hand of the communicant, he himself then communicating, placing it in his mouth.”  Memoriale Domini

The document makes it clear that although this apparently was a practice in the early Church, great care was always taken to ensure that reverence was always given to the consecrated bread, steps were taken to limit those able to distribute the bread, and that caution was always given that no particles ever be lost.

“This reverence shows that it is not a sharing in “ordinary bread and wine” that is involved, but in the Body and Blood of the Lord, through which “The people of God share the benefits of the Paschal Sacrifice, renew the New Covenant which God has made with man once for all through the Blood of Christ, and in faith and hope foreshadow and anticipate the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of the Father.””  Memoriale Domini

These alleged new-found appreciations for the Eucharist under both species had precipitated a request from some bishops’ conferences, and individual bishops, for the Eucharist to be distributed into the hand of the faithful.  Its a little fuzzy as to how reception in the hand enhances the notion of protecting the Eucharist and enhancing our reverence for Our Lord, but the leap is made.  The next part of the document is shocking, at least I found it so.

Paul VI:  Not Supported by the Majority

According to a survey taken by the Vatican of all the bishops in the world, the majority of the bishops were against the proposed practice of receiving communion in the hand.  That’s right, folks, they were against introducing this practice. Here are the survey results:

1. Do you think that attention should be paid to the desire that, over and above the traditional manner, the rite of receiving holy communion on the hand should be admitted?

Yes: 597, No: 1,233, Yes, but with reservations: 315, Invalid votes: 20

2. Is it your wish that this new rite be first tried in small communities, with the consent of the bishop?

Yes: 751, No: 1,215, Invalid votes, 70

3. Do you think that the faithful will receive this new rite gladly, after a proper catechetical preparation?

Yes: 835, No: 1,185, Invalid votes: 128

Paul VI:  Receiving on the Tongue is the Norm

The document then states:

“Therefore, taking into account the remarks and the advice of those whom “the Holy Spirit has placed to rule over” the Churches, in view of the gravity of the matter and the force of the arguments put forward, 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. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church.”

A Pathway to Exception

As important and solid as this decision sounds, the Holy Father then out of respect for the bishops granted a pathway to request an exception to this rule, even pointing out a document that had been published earlier in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis describing the stipulations for such an exception being granted by the Holy See.  Pausing for a moment to consider the debates I have witnessed, it would be pretty safe to say that most people advocating communion in the hand do not recognize (nor would they readily accept without verification) the statement made by the Holy Father in the preceding section.  The stipulations for granting the indult would perhaps be even more troubling to both proponents and opponents of the change if serious objective consideration is given to the changes that have occurred since the indult has been put in place.  Most bishops’ conferences eventually did request and receive the indult, with the United States being granted their exception on June 17, 1977.

Stipulation 1.  The new method of administering communion should not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional usage.

Children are taught to receive in the hand, not on the tongue as a rule.  In many areas, the traditional practice is frowned upon, especially if the communicant wishes to receive in the kneeling posture.

Stipulation 2.  The rite of communion in the hand must not be put into practice indiscriminately…catechesis must succeed in excluding any suggestion that in the mind of the Church there is a lessening of faith in the eucharistic presence and in excluding as well any danger or hint of danger of profaning the Eucharist.

The proof is in the pudding.  Church attendance is down to around 28%, and those believing in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is at an all-time low of around 40%.  Around 60% of 18-20 year-olds leave the faith by their second year in college.

Stipulation 3.  The option offered to the faithful of receiving the Eucharistic bread in their hand and putting it into their own mouth must not turn out to be the occasion for regarding it as ordinary bread or as just another religious article…Their attitude of reverence must measure up to what they are doing.

Again, I would cite the fact that 60% of Catholics, as of four years ago, no longer believe that Jesus is truly present.  Most Catholics do not receive the sacrament of Penance before receiving the Eucharist. The lack of modesty and good behavior in church, depending on the parish, can readily be observed.  We do not behave as if we are in the presence of God, let alone at the foot of the Cross or at the Empty Tomb.

Stipulation 4.  Recommends having a priest or deacon distribute the Eucharist, although originally allowing the faithful to take the host themselves!

The latter part was later rescinded, but extraordinary ministers of communion have proliferated.  This is another controversial topic which we will cover in a future article.  The rule for extraordinary ministers of communion has its own stipulations, most of which are ignored today, especially that this was allowed in rare and urgent situations in which the priest or deacon cannot distribute.

Stipulation 5.  Whatever procedure is adopted, care must be taken not to allow particles of the eucharistic bread to fall or be scattered.

When was the last time you’ve seen a parish have an altar boy with a paten catching the particles?  If you are a hand-receiving Catholic, have you looked at your hand after consuming the host?  In the past when I received in the hand, there were plenty of particles.  I consumed them, but most people appear to fling them on the floor.  Again, another sign of irreverence and unbelief. Particles of the Body of our precious Jesus are dropped on the carpet to be walked on, profaned, and violated.  When I was a server and held the paten, the particles collected there were obvious. Many, many particles were present, which we took great care in handling.  Today, we don’t seem to care.

Stipulations 6 and 7 have to do with not receiving a host which has been dipped in the eucharistic wine in your hands, and a requirement for a six-month report following implementation.

Is It Time to Reconsider?

The Church is in a crisis of belief.  A large majority of our people no longer come to Mass on a regular basis, no longer understand the tenets of the faith, and most importantly no longer believe Our Lord is present: body, blood, soul, and divinity.  Its time for some soul-searching among the laity, and among our bishops and the Holy Father.  We all should ask ourselves, has the indult to allow communion to be received in the hand now become the rule instead of the exception it was meant to be?  Has it failed the tests that Blessed Paul VI demanded before implementing?  There are many things, including bad catechesis, contributing to the crisis in faith, but it can and should be credibly asserted that the stipulations above have not been met and that this experiment in allowing “greater freedom” has failed.  We must consider what are our duties before the Lord, putting aside what we perceive as rights and freedoms.

It’s time to rescind the indult.


Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

20 thoughts on “Give Me A Hand: Let’s Return to the Reverence Our Lord Deserves”

  1. The crisis in the Church has little to do with communion on the hand. Vatican II was held in order to find ways to stop a precipitous decline in attendance that was already happening, despite the fact that the Latin Mass was the norm all over the world. Did Vatican II make things worse? Perhaps, but that is by no means a certainty. Just because the decline in attendance accelerated does not mean that it is related to the reforms. The simple fact is that people, especially those of us in the materially rich west, do not believe they need God anymore. Many of them don’t even believe that He is real. Why? Because of a relentless secular attack on Christianity in the media, schools, and elsewhere. Communion on the tongue won’t fix that. I’m not sure that it can be fixed. Christ Himself said that the way was narrow and few would find it. He also said that as the end times approached many would fall away, even the elect. So why should we be surprised by a shrinking Church?

    I find it kind of puzzling when these articles come out advocating a return to tradition and try to explain why the current practice is wrong. The facts are that these practices are allowed whether they are the norm or not. The bishops have said so and their opinion is the one that counts. A true traditionalist would respect the authority vested in the pope and local ordinary. They decide what is acceptable. Not us.

    I’m sorry but I don’t think you are on to a solution here. The problem we have is not going to be fixed by a return to communion on the tongue at the rail. We have a crisis of faith that is rooted in the family as much as in the Church. Men are the problem. They have failed utterly in their duty to raise their children up in the way they should go and to present their wives as spotless before the Lord. Where the husband or father goes, the family follows. I nearly failed my own wife and child so I know whereof I speak.

    1. TG, you started out on the right track. The years prior to 1962 were not a magical Holy Wonderland, and restoring liturgical habits from that era won’t help a thing. You rightly note that articles like this serve only to foster an imaginary sense that we lay folks ought to have any opinions at all about this sort of stuff when that’s simply not our role.

      But then unfortunately, you go off the rails with a rant against “men”. That’s another fad in the church today, to blame men for whatever ails the church and society in general. No, no. That won’t fly either. We’re all in this together, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.

    2. The article simply makes the point that the norm was and still is communion on the tongue, and the exception was granted under certain criteria which in fact have not been met. I do make the case that the lack of reverence towards our Eucharistic Lord has been detrimental. I am not sure your arguments against that are very effective other than to say, “No, it isn’t.” I would agree there are many things that have contributed to a loss of faith, including the failure of men to spiritually lead their wives and children.

      As for obeying the Pope and Bishops, the indult was not an order to receive in the hand – it made allowances for it. Under Canon 212 paragraph 3, I am merely making the case that the Holy Father should rescind the indult.

      Larry Bud, the years prior to 1962 weren’t a magical Holy Wonderland. However, you’d be hard pressed to say our reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist has increased since then, or that the guidelines for the Novus Ordo have actually been followed.

      If anything, Vatican 2 did establish that the laity can have opinions about “this stuff” and express them as we all are in this thread. Its a part of being a member of the Church Militant. God Bless.

    3. I encourage anyone interested to listen to the podcast of “EWTN Open Line Wednesday” for 4/4/2018 starting at about 32 minutes where this very topic is discussed and the cause-and-effect issues are explored. I don’t entirely agree with all of Fr. Pacwa’s assertions either, but he makes the observation that forced reception on the tongue does not correlate to better understanding. If the desire is for better understanding, the problem lies elsewhere.

    4. Fr. Pacwa is always a good choice. I would however assert that there is a place for piety. It teaches its own lessons through action, both for the person doing the action and those observing (particularly children). Approaching the God of the Universe to receive the most precious gift imaginable in a casual way teaches a lesson, just as much as someone who receives on the tongue, from a priest, particularly on their knees. If the Eucharist is what we believe is – and if we actually believe it – there should be no quibbling about maximizing reverence. I think sometimes those who push back on the idea of eliminating this exception to the rule are more interested in preserving their “rights” rather than doing their duty.

    5. I disagree that you can infer anything about someone’s understanding or reverence by watching how they receive. Or that revoking the indult for hand reception (no matter one’s own personal preference) would improve understanding or reverence in any general way. As Fr. Pacwa rightly notes, there is basic logical error in that kind of thinking.

  2. Lent must be over. The go-nowhere arguments, the lists of personal biases dressed up as “facts” and the suppositions of problems that simply do not exist, have returned.

    1. Larry, this article was written during Lent.

      The article is fact-based, taken directly from the Pope’s document allowing this exception. And it is in fact an exception because the bishops of the world refused to change the rule.

      I have presented a case that the conditions under which the indult was allowed have not been met. If you can show me that particles in fact are not lost, reverence has not declined, and that the people’s belief in the Real Presence has not decreased since its implementation, then I would most certainly welcome that.

  3. I had my first communion before Vatican II, and have seen the changes from communion rail to communion in the hand etc. We were always told that we could always continue on the tongue, no pressure. Well, now there is pressure. I taught my children that they can and they felt pressured not to. I taught as a catechist and explained what has happened and kids we surprised. I find it difficult at some churches because new ministers don’t expect or know how to. That has led to a drop or two, and I get the glare! I feel we need to take a stand for reverence and where it was correct and easy, now it is hard but extremely satisfying to show this respect. I also am better at telegraphing my intent and usually go to a priest or elder Eucharistic minister to be careful.

  4. Get rid of lay “Eucharistic ministers”! Consecrated hands vs. non-consecrated hands. If people we know, I mean really know, are up there handling the Sacred Species, then surely it’s all very well for us to do so. The disconnect is immediate.

    1. I tend to agree. There are conditions under which EMHC are allowed. In most cases the presence of these extraordinary ministers are not required. In one parish nearby at each Mass there are no less than 25 lay men and women up on the altar touching the holy vessels and the Eucharist.

  5. Wonderful post and in great need of sharing (which I will do). I’ll also offer an observation as a parent and grand parent.

    Beginning with our oldest son, who is now 40, I noticed a distinct lack of options regarding how to receive. When children are instructed before their First Holy Communion, the only option presented is to receive in the hand. This has gotten even more prevalent in the years following. My observations come from being present at many different parishes throughout many years. Fortunately, the parents of our grandchildren take time to augment the instructions to include, and prefer, receiving on the tongue.

    This practice can be difficult to maintain, however, since peer pressure is very much alive in even the Catholic schools – receiving in the hand is foreign to most. Even now, my family finds an occasional frown of disapproval for receiving on the tongue, when we attend Mass at a parish elsewhere. I don’t have to describe what wearing chapel veils produces. All in all, we have learned to be mostly unaffected. After all, it’s not for humans approval that we aspire.

  6. Last October, I travelled to Scotland and attended a mass next to the bed and breakfast where I was staying. I anticipated an emptyish church with maybe a few old people. I was pleasantly surprised to find the church 3/4 full 15 minutes before the mass started and absolutely packed by the time the rosary was finished and mass had begun. I also noticed that it was full of people of all ages and that I was the only woman without a prayer shawl. The priest faced the altar except during the homily and communion. There was a communion rail that we knelt at to receive the consecrated host and wine. And of course, everyone received the Eucharist on the tongue in a kneeling position. In short, it seemed like an old style catholic mass and it seemed to be appealing to believers’ hunger for reverence and respect for the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I also found myself wondering why the consecrated wine is not offered to communicants at many Catholic churches. When did the blood of Christ become optional?

    1. The full presence of Jesus is present in the species of the bread. No need to have the wine, although that’s what some have gotten used to since Vatican 2.

      Our parish has a Vatican 2 mass, ad orientem, with no wine for the people, and use of the communion rail.

    2. I have been told about full presence before. But it seems like a stretch to me-as if we’re arguing for it because, for whatever reason, we don’t want the wine. It just seems blatantly contrary to Jesus’own words at the institution of the eucharist.

    3. Annette, of course the Church’s wisdom is supernatural and beyond our ability to discern. These teachings are thousands of years old.

      What I can share is that in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, we experience the entire Triduum from Holy Thursday through Easter. Body and Blood are offered to the Father separately, representing Jesus’ death. However, watch very carefully after the consecration, the priest co-mingles a particle of bread into the chalice. This is a representation of the resurrection and Jesus’ glorified body.

      Our Lord in the Eucharist is no longer separate and incomplete – he’s fully present to us in either bread or wine. Receiving him under either species doesn’t separate him any more than each host received by our individual selves separates him.

      In the early Church, the Deacons were sent out with just the bread – not with a flagon of consecrated wine – because they believed Jesus was truly and fully present in just the Eucharist.

      The indult was not allowed, as my article illustrates, to make sure the people got both his body and blood. It was allowed so people felt more included in the meal aspect of the Mass. Removing it does not deprive the laity of anything, rather eliminates the conditions in which Our Lord is profaned.

    4. This may also help – from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Note too, that when we adore Christ in the Eucharist (in the tabernacle or a monstrance, for instance), only the bread is present.

      1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”206

      1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.207

      1378 Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.”208

      1379 The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

      1380 It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us “to the end,”209 even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us,210 and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love:

      The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.211
      1381 “That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that ‘cannot be apprehended by the senses,’ says St. Thomas, ‘but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.’ For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 (‘This is my body which is given for you.’), St. Cyril says: ‘Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.'”212

      Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
      Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
      See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
      Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
      Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
      How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
      What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
      Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.213

    5. James Alvin Ostrenga Jr.

      The Church stopped allowing the wine for the faithful for 2 reasons. 1. The Bread contains fully, through transubstantiation, His Body and Blood. 2. They stopped it because of people spilling and dropping the chalice which holds His Blood. It is easier to pick up the Bread, than it is to salvage the spilled Blood. This is also why in the Orthodox Parishes they dip the bread in the wine and feed the faithful with a spoon so none of the Eucharist falls to the ground and is trampled upon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: