Since my first post on this topic near the beginning of Coronavirus precautions being taken in America, I’ve noticed reception of Communion in the hand becoming a more and more divisive issue on the Catholic Internet, where everything is a divisive issue. I have therefore decided to add to the confusion, since that is the teleological purpose of social media considered as such.
As usual, I will discuss one question rather than every question in the world (please don’t waste your time commenting “but what about this other issue?” If what I say doesn’t apply to you, move on). Specifically, I will not discuss:
- Whether Communion in the hand or tongue is more sanitary (I’m not a doctor and never will be).
- Whether a bishop has a canonical right to require his people to receive one way or another (I’m not a Canon Lawyer. Yet. God help me).
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, posted about this a few days ago. He calls for the establishment of a “Day of Reparation for the crimes against the Most Holy Eucharist,” and urges the faithful to greater piety in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. All of that, of course, sounds fine to me.
I’m less sure about the implication, found in the document above and in an increasing number of places, that reception of Communion in the hand is, in itself, sacrilegious or disrespectful.
I call it an implication because it’s less often said as passive-aggressively alluded to. If Bishop Schneider said that it was simply sacrilege to receive in the hand, he would be saying that the Latin Church, for several decades, has officially allowed sacrilege, to say nothing of the Chaldean Church, whose most ancient practice is reception in the hand. If that were the case, the immediate question would be whether the Holy Spirit has left the Church. He has not. But rather than say things explicitly and be cornered in a contradiction (why are you still Catholic then?), the language is left on the level of allusion.
A typical response to my question generally has two steps: first, anything outside the Latin tradition is dismissed as irrelevant (because apparently population is a parameter for truth); second, the post-Vatican-2 history of the decision to allow Communion in the hand in the Latin Rite is discussed, with a particular stress on any negative aspects of the people and events in question.
It is certainly legitimate to make critiques by understanding history. I personally don’t find arguments from historical context sufficient to dismiss a practice or teaching of the Church, but if you’re persuaded that the conditions and motivations around which decisions made by the Magisterium are that important, I only ask that you do this consistently. I suggest beginning with the Council of Ephesus (if not earlier), and making sure you get to Vatican I and the discussions about Papal Infallibility. You might be surprised to find that corruption, selfishness, political motivation, and all kinds of other nasty things did not begin at the Second Vatican Council. Then, when a decision has a sufficiently ugly background, you should dismiss it as you dismiss the allowance Communion in the hand.
The alternative, which I adopt, is to believe that the Holy Spirit is still in charge despite all of this, and maybe the stress should be not on where you receive Communion but how.
Imagine (not the John Lennon song – I don’t have a wife to beat) that all the ink spilled attacking Communion in the hand was instead spent discussing the importance of reverence during Mass and especially while receiving Christ. That would turn the faithful toward the sublime Mysteries occurring before their eyes, and make them conscious of Particles possibly left on their hands or in their teeth when they receive. Bishop Schneider, by the way, says that there are “almost always” particles that fall when Communion is received in the hand, which I think is patently false after a few seconds of observation. Perhaps his parishioners are particularly clumsy and mine are particularly graceful, but I doubt it. However, Particles do sometimes fall, just like there are sometimes Particles stuck in people’s teeth or palate when they leave Mass and begin gossiping about the priest. And certainly, we should take care to prevent that from happening.
Again, imagine if all these years we had been talking about reverence rather than body parts. The Problem of Particles could have been solved, because people would have been taught to be careful rather than to bicker. Instead, we’ve turned people’s focus toward judging other communicants, celebrants, bishops, and ecumenical councils. How any of that is good for anyone’s soul is a deep mystery of the faith.
Even worse, I’ve been shocked to see people say that one should not receive the Eucharist at all rather than receive in the hand. I have no idea the motivation behind this, but I have a hard time believing that telling people not to receive Christ when they can, and are properly disposed, and want to, and are longing to, is at root anything short of Satanic. The Body of Christ is being given to you freely, without any deserving on your part (what could anyone do to deserve this?), and at that moment, the best moment of your life, you focus not on the Gift of God but on your “rights” to receive as you prefer, or on your “taking a stand” (as if you’re the Punisher) to stop the “irreverence” that apparently always happens when people receive by hand. I am bewildered how anyone can believe this attitude can help the Church.
So I guess I’ll take my own advice and conclude by stressing how reverent one must be when receiving Communion, both internally and externally.
If you receive on the tongue with reverence in your heart, God bless you. If instead of reverence your mind is focused on the judgment of the souls of others, understand how serious is the sickness in your soul. In that moment of blindingly bright Light, your eyes turn to darkness. That is spiritually destructive of your own soul, and all those who bicker bitterly about this on social media are partly to blame for that destruction. By your words will you be justified, and by your words will you be condemned.
If you receive in the hand, whether by choice or out of humble obedience to the request of your bishop in response to Covid stuff, then:
- Receive the Host in your hand and place it carefully in your mouth while standing, not while walking back to your seat.
- Be careful to check for and consume any Particles that may be left on your hands.
- The ancient practice mentioned by Narsai and Cyril of Jerusalem 1500 years ago is to place your right hand crosswise over your left, receive the Host on that hand-made cross, then bow your head as you receive the Host from your right hand without picking it up. Since that’s hard to do while walking, and your mouth picks up some of the particles that might have been leave behind, this practice can help with the first two points.
- I’ve seen lots of people at St. Peter’s receive that way in their hands while also kneeling. That seems cool to me.
No matter how you receive, do so with a humble and grateful soul, and then go back to your seat and pray your heart out.
I submit to the reader the possibility that discussing this kind of reverence is a better way to build up the Church, protect the Eucharist, and encourage reverence, than attacking the legitimate practice of Communion in the hand. But it’s less dramatic and gets fewer clicks, so you decide what you prefer.