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A Question about Communion in the Hand

06/16/2013 Comments (73)

A troubled reader writes:

I know Facebook theology is always hit and miss, and context can be lost and I probably should have just let it slide, but it struck me: namely, the accusation that only TRUE Catholics receive on the tongue. It happened like this:

A Facebook person posted as a status: "Are there TRUE Catholics that take communion in the hands? Sadly in my parish most Eucharistic ministers do."  They then linked to an article which did in fact include an incident of Abuse, discarding the consecrated host."

Then I replied: "I love the Eucharist, Jesus sees our hearts. If we approach with deep longing and humility, the means by which we receive, (hand or tongue) is the mere physical aspect of our reception, it is the accident of form. If we approach full of irritation at those who do not approach as we, or who in our opinion, are not worthy of receiving His body, it is our pride, our planks in our eyes that scowl at the splinters that offend our Lord, our sin of presumption that rivals the Pharisees who would chide Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath day. Charity for all of us please, for we are all one body, one Universal Church, Catholic struggling sinners seeking to touch the helm of our savior's cloak, or wipe his feet with our hair, or receive with humble and contrite hearts. True Catholics all, fallen sinners all, seeking to love all as Christ loves all, and to love Christ always."

Then people responded variously with:

"If we truly believe that we are recieving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, we would do so kneeling and on the tongue.... we are doing this not for our own convenience or personal belief but for reverence and love of Christ truly present before us..."

"I personally don't understand why those who choose to have it in the hand defend being allowed to receive it in the hand when they KNOW it leads to greater chances of the host being abused! Why support the act??? I believe that many defend the act because they have received in the hand and would have to admit they were doing something that should never be done and should be UNTHINKABLE!!!"

"A true humble Catholic does not take communion in the hands. Only one with disbelief and pride does. Period!"

So....now I am torn...I have been accused of being not a true humble Catholic who acts with disbelief and pride. I know that's nonsense...that I have pride, I have flaws, but I am working very hard to be someone who follows Christ and obeys the laws of the Church both in deed and in my heart, and see this as a request for procedural change to prevent abuse, as versus an act which in and of itself, is innately defiant, innately profane, innately an outward manifestation of pride. I do worry that pride --may motivate me to now be tempted to receive with the improper spirit, may give me a touch of smugness not appropriate when preparing to receive, as I will remember this argument and thus question if I am receiving the Eucharist with a touch of the "I'm not like other sinful men" by acting in either way.

I would appreciate your reflections on this.

There are several things worth noting here.  The first is that sweeping judgments about the disbelief and pride of those who receive in the hand and touch the Host are woefully ignorant of the long and varied history of Eucharist piety in the Catholic Church.  Such judgments spit on the grave of St. Tarcisius, a young acolyte who was martyred carrying the Eucharist to Christians in prison.  It also overlooks all sorts of witnesses from the early centuries of the Church to the practice of receiving or carrying communion to others in the hand (see, for instance, the testimonies from ancient witnesses at this link).  And, most of all, it overlooks the fact that Holy Church has--and has exercised--its authority to say that believers may, if they choose, receive communion in the hand reverently.  Roma locuta est.  Causa finita est. Rome has spoken.  The matter is at an end.

Is it possible to receive in the hand irreverently?  Of course.  It's also possible to receive on the tongue irreverently.  If a person is determined to be irreverent, there is no limit to human inventiveness when it comes to sin and sacrilege and no sure fire way to guarantee that it will not happen by restricting communion to being received on the tongue.  After all, some activist bent on making some blasphemous statement can just as easily spit the Eucharist out as mishandle it.  But it would be foolish to declare that all those who receive on the tongue are therefore pridefully aiding and abetting such sacrilege.  Same with my reader: she obviously receives reverently and does not deserve the judgement being meted out Catholics who regard themselves as more qualified than the Magisterium to decide who is and is not a faithful Catholic.

And that's the real irony here.  Sure, it's good to be concerned about treating the Eucharist lightly and sacriligeously.  But for Paul, one of the main ways we can insult the Eucharist is by treating brothers and sisters with contempt, particularly at the liturgy.  So he has some rather choice words for the Christians at Corinth who humiliate fellow believers in 1 Cor 11:17-22.  And that's the key here.  The reality is,the only pride at work in this conversation is that of Catholics passing judgement on people doing what Holy Church tells them they have perfect freedom to do. If you are settled in your heart that you are acting in reverence then do not let judgmental fellow Catholics disturb that peace. They have a perfect right to receive the Eucharist on the tongue according to their conscience and you have a perfect right to receive it in the hand according to yours.  You have not judged them, but they have judged you.  If they are really worried about things that insult the Eucharist, they should begin by looking in the mirror, not at the people they condemn without just cause. Read Romans 14 and apply it here. You've done nothing wrong.

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.