COMMUNION IN THE HAND AND THE CHURCH’S MAGISTERIUM
by Fr. Peter Scott (FSSPX)
Why did the practice of Communion in the Hand develop after the Second Vatican Council? Had it not been clearly forbidden by the Church on many occasions? In order to answer this question, we will have recourse to the principles laid out in his encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy by the great theologian Pope Pius XII.
The fact that this irreverent practice has now become common place all over the world, must be traced back to Vatican II (1962-1965), although this council never speaks of it. Indeed, the spirit of Vatican II being essentially ecumenical, pressure developed to adopt the practice of communion in the hand that had been imposed by the protestant reformers in Germany, English and France from the time of their rebellion in the 16th century, and incorporated into all their prayer books. It was done precisely to express their denial of the Real Presence, and their refusal of what they called “Roman idolatry”, that is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
It was in fact in Holland in the late 1960s that the practice was first brought into the Catholic Church, illegally, without any permission and against all the liturgical rules, repeating the protestant rebellion. This prompted the Holy See to send out a circular letter in October 1968 to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, asking their opinion. It was resoundingly negative, and this resulted in the instruction of Pope Paul VI of May 28, 1969 Memoriale Domini, reiterating the traditional teaching concerning Communion in the Hand, namely that the bishops of the world were overwhelmingly against the innovation, that the traditional manner of distributing Holy Communion was to be retained and that this innovation could lead to irreverence, profanation, and the adulteration of correct doctrine. “The Apostolic See strongly urges bishops, priests, people to observe this law, valid and again confirmed, according to the judgment of the majority of the Catholic episcopate, the form which the present rite of the sacred liturgy employs, and out of concern for the common good of the Church.”
How, then, could Communion in the Hand have become common place, and this despite the fact that it was twice furthermore condemned by Pope John Paul II in 1980 (Inaestimabile donum and Dominicae cenae)? Quite simply because Rome did not enforce its own rule, and allowed episcopal conferences to petition for communion in the hand when two-thirds of the bishops requested it. Rome thereby left the gate open to a terrible abuse, and effective rebellion against its own authority, which has destroyed the Faith of so many Catholics ever since.
WHY COMMUNION IN THE HAND?
What are the reasons invoked for Communion in the Hand? The usual reason given is that it was the practice in the early Church, and therefore it is the best for the present as well. However, this is a pretence, and not the real reason that modernists promote Communion in the Hand. Their interest is not in the Church’s age-old tradition, but rather in their planned transformation. Their motives are theological, and they affirm that communion on the tongue smacks of clericalism, and overemphasizes the role of the priests, and undermines the sense of the community which the Church is, and in particular gives an excessive emphasis to adoration of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. This is consistent with the theology of the New Mass of Paul VI, which considers that Christ’s presence in His word and in the people as more important than His presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is consequently part of an effort to diminish the Catholic Faith in the ordained priesthood and in the Real Presence, namely that Christ is present whole and entire in the Holy Eucharist, and in each of the particles that are so often discarded and thrown to the ground with Communion in the Hand.
Just this past July 1, 2020 Sr. Teresa Akure SHCJ, in defence of Communion in the hand, gave an example of the emptiness of the arguments in its favour: She writes: “Can we ask Jesus what he thinks and how he feels about being reduced in our theological language and discourse to “consecrated host” to be managed, hand-touched only by the consecrators?” The answer is that he rejoices in the honour and veneration given, as He is acknowledged as the divine Victim, consecrated to God, and touched only by hands that He has consecrated through the sacrament of Holy Orders. Sister continues: “Our problem is that we do not have one bread to remind us of this reality, but a big host (for the priest) and small hosts or wafers (for the communicants). So the symbolism of what Jesus did and the early church lived, is lost on us. Again Paul warns that to eat and drink the body of Christ “without discerning the body” is to “eat and drink judgement against” oneself (1 Cor 11:29). We have interpreted or misinterpreted this to mean receiving the Holy Communion in unworthy manner or without being in the state of grace (whatever that means).” The symbolism is that Christ, true God and true man, priest and divine victim, offers Himself to us whole and entire as nourishment under the appearance of bread. The size of the host is irrelevant. But the reservation of its administration to the priest, who is another Christ, is not. How dare a religious who calls herself a theologian to deny the state of sanctifying grace and that to receive in mortal sin is a sacrilege and an unworthy reception! This is the loss of Faith that is the immediate consequence of Communion in the hand.
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF COMMUNION IN THE HAND
It is true that there was a time in the early Church when Holy Communion was received in the hand, and in which the laity themselves could be the minister of Holy Communion. In fact, Communion in the hand effectively makes the layperson the minister of the sacrament, and so it is more correctly called manual self-administration of Holy Communion. This practice did exist, and developed in the time of persecution, during the first three centuries. However, it soon faded away after peace was granted to the Church under Constantine. It is important to note that even then women had to place their hands under a white linen cloth, called a Dominicale, before self-communicating, and that men had to take great care that no particle would be lost. The Fathers of the Church give a clear witness to the rapid disappearance of this custom in the fourth and fifth centuries. Here are a few examples.
St. Basil the Great (330-379) testifies that nobody could administer Communion to himself except in time of persecution, or for the monks when there was no priest or deacon available to administer It. "It is not necessary to show that it does not constitute a grave fault for a person to communicate with his own hand in a time of persecution when there is no priest or deacon." (Letter 93)
In the following century, Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461), is an early witness of the traditional practice. In his commentary on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, he speaks of Communion in the mouth as current usage and a well-established fact: "One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith" (Sermon 91,3).
The following century again, Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) is another witness. In his dialogues (Roman 3, c. 3) he relates how Pope St. Agapitus had a miracle occur during the Mass, after having placed the Body of the Lord into someone's mouth. In France, the Council of Rouen, which met in 650, says, "Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywomen, but only in their mouths." The discipline in the West is consequently very clear by the seventh century.
In the East, the council in 692 known as "In trullo," prohibited the faithful from giving Communion to themselves and decreed an excommunication of one week's duration for those who would do so in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon. Although not ecumenical or authoritative, this council expresses the discipline that was already well established.
The Council of Trent summarizes all this, and teaches that the custom of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue is of apostolic origin. “Now as to the reception of the sacrament it has always been the custom in the Church of God for the laity to receive communion from the priests, but that the priests when celebrating should communicate themselves; this custom proceeding from an apostolic tradition should with reason and justice be retained.” (XIII,8; Db 881). It is consequently manifestly false to affirm that Communion on the tongue was an invention of the dark ages or of the high middle ages. It is deeply rooted in antiquity.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law confirms that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the priest alone, and that the deacon is the extraordinary minister (Canon 845). This is not clericalism, for the rubrics determine that if the priest is to receive Holy Communion from another priest, as is the case on Good Friday, or when he is sick, or in the Mass of his ordination, he then receives Communion on the tongue, and he does not touch the host, showing exactly the same reverence as the laity. Alas, the 1983 Code opens wide the door to Communion in the hand by allowing any of the faithful to be the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion (nc 910). If lay persons are permitted to touch the host to administer it, although neither they nor their hands are consecrated to God, why would lay persons not be allowed to administer Holy Communion to themselves as is the case with Communion in the hand?
FAITH DETERMINES LITURGY, NOT VICE VERSA
In 1947 Pope Pius XII wrote a magisterial encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy, outlining the principles that govern the Mass and the Divine Office, and identifying and condemning the excesses and errors of the liturgical movement, led astray as it had been by the ecumenical movement. It is here that we find the refutation of the error that underlies the abusive practice of Communion in the hand.
Here is the first principle behind Communion in the hand: “We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred Liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of the Liturgy, and to reject it otherwise” (§ 46). Those who promote Communion in the hand are very open about how they believe this practice is going to change the way that people think. They will think more of community and of the place of the laity in the priesthood of the Church, and less of the respect and adoration due to the Real Presence. It is a deliberate effort to change the Faith.
Pope Pius XII explains: “But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins...The sacred Liturgy...does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic Faith.” He further explains that the Liturgy is “a profession of eternal truths”, and consequently gives evidence as to what has always been believed in the Church, “But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred Liturgy...it is perfectly correct to say – let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer” (§ 47, 48). The faith comes first, and the liturgy must reflect it. This is the case of Communion on the tongue. But the modernists reverse this and affirm that the liturgical gestures determine the faith, and so they introduce communion in the hand that Catholics, like protestants, might no longer focus on or believe in the Real Presence.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE LITURGY
Pius XII continues to speak about the development that has taken place in the Sacred Liturgy over the centuries. This is the case because the worship of God includes both divine and human elements. The divine elements, such as the words of consecration, “cannot in any way be changed by men” (§ 50). But the human components are subject to modification “to add what appeared more likely to increase the honor paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage” (§ 49).
Of the reasons he gives for the development of the human elements the most important is “due to a more explicit formulation of doctrine” (§ 51). The examples he gives are the Eucharistic Sacrament and Sacrifice and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They produced such developments as the Agnus Dei (8th century), the prayers of the Offertory in the traditional Mass (12th – 14th centuries), the major elevation (11th century), processions of the Blessed Sacrament and the feast of Corpus Christi (13th century), feasts in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Likewise the practice of every priest celebrating Mass every day (10th century), due to a more profound understanding of the value of the Mass. The exclusion of Communion in the hand at the end of the great persecutions is such a development, in order to protect particles more carefully and to show greater respect.
A second reason for such developments is to reflect disciplinary modifications in the life of the Church. The Pope gives the example of Communion under one species, instead of under both species, which is a disciplinary modification of the 12th century, due to a more profound understanding of the Real Presence under each species, and the practical difficulties with Communion under both kinds. The development of devotions in the Church, such as those to the Sacred Heart, to the Blessed Sacrament, to the Passion of Our Lord, to the Blessed Virgin, has also brought about very edifying developments. Public processions, such as Rogations processions, are an example.
Pius XII inveighs against the error of those who would want to use the pretence of antiquity to bring about changes in the Church’s prayers and ceremonies: “It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device” (§ 62), for “ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity” (§61). This is the error of Archeologism, namely that because something is older it is necessarily better, and it denies that the development of liturgical rites over the centuries owes its “inspiration to the Holy Spirit, Who assists the Church in every age”. (Ib.)
This error of those who try to justify liturgical revolution by ancient practices is clearly condemned by the Pope: “The temerity and daring of those who introduce novel liturgical practices, or call for the revival of obsolete rites out of harmony with prevailing laws and rubrics, deserve severe reproof” (§ 59). Here are some of the examples of archeologism listed by the Pope:
Replacement of Latin by the vernacular in the august Eucharistic Sacrifice
Transferral of feast days to Sundays
Deletion from the liturgy of some texts of the Old Testament
Replacement of the altar by a table – “one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table-form” (§ 62)
Excluding black as a liturgical color
Eliminating the use of sacred statues and images
Crucifixes not showing Christ’s suffering (Risen Christ)
It is interesting to note that twenty years later every single one of these examples of abuses condemned by Pope Pius XII had been incorporated into the New Mass, always under the pretence that it is returning to old things. Other examples Pius XII did not mention are the procession for the presentation of the gifts and the Kiss of peace for the laity, the abolition of the prayers at the foot of the altar, the elimination of “mystery of faith” from the words of consecration, the elimination of the Roman Canon (although it is the truly oldest part of the Mass), many feast of saints, the Last Gospel and the prayers after Mass.
Pius XII further explains that this “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism” (§ 64) is not new, but derives from the illegal Council of Pistoia, condemned by Pope Pius VI in 1794. Due to Protestant influence this false council wanted to promote a return to the simplicity of the early Church, despising later developments. Its principle is found in the first proposition, which Pius VI condemned as heretical: “In these latter times there has been spread a general obscuring of the more important truths pertaining to religion, which are the basis of faith and of the moral teachings of Jesus Christ” (Db 1501). This is precisely the reasoning of the modernists, when they want to do away with devotions to the Sacred Heart, to the Blessed Virgin, to the Blessed Sacrament, to the saints. Yet it is condemned as heretical.
Moreover, Pius XII’ encyclical on the Liturgy (Footnote 53) refers explicitly to some of the condemned decisions of this illegal council, such as allowing only one altar in each church, forbidding the use of relics and flowers on the altar, replacing Latin by the vernacular in a loud voice, discouraging frequent confession of venial sins, rejection of devotion to the Sacred Heart and of the veneration of holy images, rejection of different images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of her titles that are not found in Sacred Scripture, refusal of the veiling of images during Passiontide, abolition of the obligation of fasting on certain days and of assisting at Holy Mass on holy days of obligation which are not a Sunday. It is not secret to anybody who has assisted at the New Mass of Paul VI that every single one of these condemned practices has been brought in with the New Mass since Vatican II, all based upon the false principle of archeologism.
Pope Pius XII is very clear in his condemnation of the false liturgical movement’s embracing of this false principle: “It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting (Pistoia) as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the deposit of faith committed to her charge by her Divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn. For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to paralyze and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred Liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father for their souls’ salvation” (Ib.).
All this is immensely relevant to our consideration of manual self-administration of Holy Communion by the laity. Although not imagined in the time of Pope Pius XII, it is motivated by precisely the same considerations as the other abuses that the Pope qualifies as examples of excessive archaism. It is consequently not only illegal in Church law, but actually condemned by the Church in its very principles. It is openly disrespectful and irreverent, and greatly contributes to a lessening of adoration of and faith in the Real Presence. It is objectively sacrilegious on account of the disrespect and the total failure to take care of the particles in which Christ is present whole and entire.