The Truth About
 Communion in the Hand – Part 1

“Out of Reverence for this Sacrament,
nothing Touches It but what is Consecrated” – Saint Thomas Aquinas

 In his 1931 essay on The New Paganism, the great Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc warned of the post-Christian Paganism that was to come. Though the entire essay will not be treated here, for the purpose of the subject at hand, it is necessary to point out the central aspect of it: the old paganism had deep respect for tradition, and the new post-Christian paganism has a revolutionary contempt for tradition. Belloc said:

The old paganism was profoundly traditional; indeed it had no roots except in tradition. Deep reverence for its own past and for the wisdom of its ancestry and the pride therein were the very soul of the Old Paganism; that is why it formed so solid a foundation on which to build the Catholic Church, and that is also why it offered so long a determined resistance to the growth of the Catholic Church. But the New Paganism has for its very essence contempt for tradition and contempt for ancestry. It respects perhaps nothing, but least of all does it respect the spirit of ‘Our fathers have told us.’ ”

“Our Fathers Have Told Us!”

              Throughout the centuries, our fathers have told us about our Faith and about the Blessed Sacrament. Our fathers have told us that the Holy Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The Fathers of the Council of Trent defined the Blessed Sacrament with precision and care. Father Thomas Aquinas taught us that out of reverence toward this Sacrament, the touching and administrating of this Sacrament belong only to the priest. Our Catholic fathers at home, as well as our teaching sisters in school, told us that it was sacrilegious for anyone but the priest to touch the sacred host.

              Throughout the centuries, the Popes, bishops and priests taught us this same thing, not so much by words, but by example — and especially by the celebration of the Old Latin Mass, where profound reverence for the Blessed Sacrament as the true Body of Christ was in every move the priest made. Our fathers told us these things not just for the sake of handing down a venerable but groundless tradition, they have told us these things through word and example to show fidelity to the Catholic Faith and reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament. Our fathers told us this because it was the truth.

              But the introduction of Communion in the hand and lay ministers of the Eucharist shows an arrogant disregard for what our fathers taught us. And though these practices have been introduced under the guise of being an “authentic” liturgical development mandated by Vatican II, the truth is Communion in the hand is not an authentic liturgical development, was notmandated by the Second Vatican Council, and shows complete defiance and contempt for centuries of Catholic teaching and practice before us, thus resembling the philosophy of the New Paganism and the philosophy of revolution.

              Communion in the hand was introduced under a false ecumenism, allowed to grow due to weakness in authority, approved through compromise and a false sense of toleration, and has led to profound irreverence and indifference toward the Blessed Sacrament as the liturgical order of our day and the disgrace of our age.

Nowhere Mentioned in Vatican II

              Communion in the hand is not mentioned in a single document of the Second Vatican Council, nor was it mentioned during any of the debates during the Council. In all sixteen documents of Vatican II, there is no mention of Communion in the hand.

              Before the Second Vatican Council, there is no historic record of bishops, priests or laity petitioning anyone for the introduction of Communion in the hand. Quite to the contrary, anyone who was raised in the pre-Vatican II Church will distinctly remember being taught that it was sacrilegious for anyone but the priest to touch the sacred host.

              The teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his great Summa Theologica bears this out. He explains:

              “The dispensing of Christ’s Body belongs to the priest for three reasons.

              “First, because he consecrates in the person of Christ. But as Christ consecrated His Body at the (Last) Supper, so also He gave It to others to be partaken of by them. Accordingly, as the consecration of Christ’s Body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him.

              “Second, because the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people, hence as it belongs to him to offer the people’s gifts to God, so it belongs to him to deliver the consecrated gifts to the people.

              “Third, because out of reverence for this Sacrament, nothing touches It but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands for touching this Sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone else to touch It, except from necessity, for instance, if It were to fall upon the ground or else in some other case of urgency.” (ST, III, Q.82, Art. 13)

              Saint Thomas, who is the prince of theologians in the Catholic Church, who towers above all the rest, whose Summa Theologica was placed on the altar next to the Scriptures during the Council of Trent, and whose teaching Saint Pius X said was the remedy for Modernism … Saint Thomas clearly teaches that it belongs to the priest and only to the priest to touch and administer the Sacred Host, that “only that which is consecrated” (the hands of the priest) “should touch the Consecrated” (the Sacred Host).

              Controversy surrounds the claim that Communion in the hand was practiced in the early Church. There are some that claim that it was practiced up until the sixth century and even cite a passage of St. Cyril to substantiate this assertion. Others maintain that it was never a Catholic custom, but if Communion in the hand was practiced in the early Church, if was instituted by the Arians as a sign of their disbelief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ. This same school of thought also maintains that the quotation of Saint Cyril is of unsound Arian apocryphal origins. Whatever the case, it is clear that Communion on the tongue is of Apostolic origins (that is, taught by Christ Himself), Communion in the hand was condemned as an abuse at the Synod of Rouen in 650, and the practice of Communion in the Hand is never reflected in the artwork of any period whether it be in the East or West… that is, up until after the Second Vatican Council.

Reverence Toward Eucharist Incorporated into the Old Mass

              The teaching that only the priests may touch the Sacred Host, that the priest’s hands are consecrated for this purpose, and that no precaution was too great to safeguard reverence and prevent desecration had been incorporated in the Liturgy of the Church; that is the Old Latin Mass.

              Priests were trained in the Old Latin Mass to celebrate Mass with precise rubrics that safeguarded the reverence the Blessed Sacrament deserves. These meticulous rubrics were carved in stone and were not optional. Each and every priest in the Roman Rite had to follow them with unyielding precision.

              In the Pre-Vatican II Church, when the Latin Tridentine Mass was the norm, men training to be priests were not only taught, but DRILLED in these rubrics.

              Some of the rubrics in the Old Latin Mass are as follows:

              * From the moment that the words of consecration over the Sacred Host are uttered by the priest, he keeps his forefinger and thumb together, and whether he elevates the chalice, turns the pages of the missal or opens the tabernacle, his thumb and forefinger touch nothing but the Sacred Host. It is also worth noting that there was no leaving the Sacred Host up on the altar to walk up and down the aisles (especially before his fingers have been purified) shaking peoples’ hands in an awkward display of forced friendliness.

              * At the end of Mass, the priest scrapes the corporal with the paten, and cleans it into the chalice so that if the slightest particle was left, it would be collected and reverently consumed.

              * The priest’s hands are washed over the chalice after Communion time with water and wine which is reverently consumed, to insure that the slightest particle is not susceptible to desecration.

              These are only some of the rubrics incorporated into the Old Mass. They were not just silly scruples, but showed the Church believed with certainty that at Mass, the bread and wine truly become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that no pains were too great to make sure that our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was treated with all the reverence and homage that His Majesty deserves.

              Now, when it comes to showing reverence, is it possible for these rubrics to be improved upon? A true Catholic renewal would either leave these gestures of reverence intact, or enhance them. But obliterating these without apology and without convincing argument, as has been the case over the last 25 years with the introduction of the New Mass, is not the mark of genuine Catholic renewal, but resembles the New Paganism warned of by Belloc, in its arrogant contempt for tradition.

              And to add insult to injury, the introduction of Communion in the hand makes all these crucial pre-Vatican II rubrics look like superstitious sentimentalism with no foundation in reality — again, contempt for what our fathers taught us and obvious contempt for the Blessed Sacrament itself.

How Did Today’s Communion in the Hand Come About?

              400 years ago, Communion in the hand was introduced into “Christian” worship by men whose motives were rooted in defiance of Catholicism. The 16th Century Protestant revolutionaries (more politely but undeservedly called Protestant “reformers”) re-established Communion in the hand as a means of showing two things:

              1) That they believed there was no such thing as “transubstantiation” and that the bread used at Communion time was just ordinary bread. In other words, the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is just a “Papist superstition”, and that the bread is just bread and anybody can handle it.

              2) Their belief that the minister of Communion is no different in essence from laymen. Now, it is Catholic teaching that the Sacrament of Holy Orders gives a man a spiritual, sacramental power, it imprints an indelible mark on his soul and makes him different in essence from laymen.

              The Protestant Minister, however, is just an ordinary man who leads the hymns, reads the lessons and gives sermons to stir up the convictions of the believers. He cat change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord, he can’t bless, he can’t forgive sins. He can’t doanything a normal layman can’t do. He is not a vehicle for sacramental grace.

              The Protestant’s establishment of Communion in the Hand was their way of showing their rejection of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, rejection of the Sacramental Priesthood — in short, to show their rejection of Catholicism altogether.

              From that point on, Communion in the hand received a distinctly anti- Catholic significance. It was a recognizably anti-Catholic practice rooted in disbelief in the real presence of Christ and the priesthood.

              So, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it is not unfair to ask why are our modern churchmen imitating self-proclaimed infidels who reject core sacramental teaching of Catholicism? This is a question that those Churchmen intoxicated by the liberal spirit of Vatican II have yet to answer satisfactorily.

Thanks to Ecumenism …

              Though Communion in the hand was not mandated by the Second Vatican Council, what was “canonized” by Vatican II was “Ecumenism” — this false spirit of counterfeit unity that had been previously condemned by the Church, particularly by Pope Pius XI in his 1926 encyclical Mortalium Animos — this movement of Catholics becoming more buddy-buddy and huggy-huggy with other religions, and especially with Protestants. This movement that supposedly plays up those things we have in common with other creeds, and hush-hushes those things that divide us. To celebrate our shared “values”. (“Values” is a subjective term you won’t find in pre-Vatican II theology manuals). No longer do we try to convert non-Catholics, instead we engage in useless and endless “dialogue” in which Catholicism always comes out the loser, because such dialogue gives the unmistakable impression that Catholicism no longer believes it is the sole possessor of theological truth.

              Though Ecumenism will not be treated within this article (see “The Problem with Modern Ecumenism”, Catholic Family News —  March 1995 Issue), suffice it to say that this novel ecumenical spirit which Deitrich von Hildebrand called “ECUMANIA” became rampant during and after Vatican II. The ecumenical spirit became the primary formative principle in the whole range of the new liturgical forms established since the Council. This is why the new liturgy so closely resembles a Protestant service.

The Ecumenical Monkey-See, Monkey-Do

              After Vatican II, some ecumenically-minded priests in Holland started giving Communion in the hand, in a monkey-see, monkey-do imitation of Protestant practice. But the bishops, rather than do their duty and condemn the abuse, tolerated it.

              Because Church leaders allowed the abuse to go unchecked, the practice then spread to Germany, Belgium and France. But if the bishops seemed indifferent to this scandal, the laity were outraged. It was the indignation of large numbers of the Faithful which promoted Pope Paul VI to take some action. He polled the bishops of the world on this issue, and they voted overwhelmingly to retain the traditional practice of receiving Holy Communion only on the tongue. And it must be noted that at this time, the abuse was limited to a few European countries. It had not yet started in the United States.

“Memoriale Domine”

              The Pope then promulgated the May 28, 1969 Instruction Memoriale Domine. In summary, the document states:

              1) The bishops of the world were overwhelmingly against Communion in the hand.

              2) “This manner of distributing Holy Communion (that is, the priest placing the Host on the tongue of the communicants) must be observed.”

              3) Communion on the tongue in no way detracts from the dignity of the communicant.

              4) There was a warning that “any innovation could lead to irreverence and profanation of the Eucharist, as well as gradual erosion of correct doctrine.

              The document further says “the Supreme Pontiff judged that the long received manner of ministering Holy Communion to the Faithful should not be changed. The Apostolic See therefore strongly urges bishops, priests and people to observe zealously this law.”

A Simultaneous Red Light and Green Light

              It must be asked, then, if this instruction is on the books, why is Communion in the hand so prevalent? An illustration can be given by the story of the Canadian bishops’ response to Humanae Vitae. Humanae Vitae rightly reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against contraception. But when Humanae Vitae was issued, there was a tidal wave of scandalous opposition from Catholic priests and Ph.D.s. The Canadian bishops wrote a pastoral letter supposedly in supportof Humanae Vitae, but within that document the bishops used the curious phrase “norms for licit dissent”.

              This phrase gives the impression that there could be room for Catholics to legitimately reject Humanae Vitae. So, whether they realized it or not, the bishops sabotaged their own pastoral letter, by giving a simultaneous red light and green light to rejection of the Papal Encyclical. When vast numbers of Catholics, then, rejected Humanae Vitae based on the Canadian bishop compromise, it was hardly surprising. Even the most ordinary parents are smart enough not to give their children the option to accept or reject parental commands. To do so would be a clear sign of weak and vacillating leadership. But unfortunately, this is precisely what happened with the supposedly anti-Communion in the hand document of 1969.

              Now, this was the age of compromise, and the document contained the seed of its own destruction, because the Instruction went on to say that where the abuse had already become firmly established, it could be legalized by a two-thirds majority in a secret ballot of the national bishops conference (providing the Holy See confirmed their decision.) This played right into the liberal hands. And it must be noticed, the Instruction said “where the abuse had already become firmly established”. So, countries in which the practice had not developed were obviously excluded from the concession — and all English-speaking countries, including the United States, fell into this category.

              Naturally, liberal clergy in other countries (including ours) concluded that if this rebellion could be legalized in Holland, it could be legalized anywhere. They figured that if they ignored Memoriale Domine and defied the liturgical law of the Church, this rebellion would not only be tolerated, but eventually legalized. This is exactly what happened, and this is why we have Communion in the hand today.

Started in Defiance, Perpetuated by Deception

              Not only was Communion in the hand started in disobedience, it was perpetuated by deceit. Space doesn’t allow all the details, but the propaganda in the 1970s that was used to sellCommunion in the hand to a trusting, vulnerable people was a campaign of calculated half-truths that didn’t tell the whole story. A quick example will be found in the writings of Monsignor Champlin. His writings:

              • give the reader the false impression that Vatican II provided a mandate for the abuse when, in fact, it is not hinted at in any Council documents.

              • do not tell the reader that the practice was started by clergymen in defiance of established liturgical law but makes it sound as if it were a request from the laity.

              • do not make clear to the reader that the worls bishops, when polled, voted overwhelmingly against Communion in the hand.

              • do not mention that permission was only to be a toleration of the abuse where it had already been established by 1969. It was not a green light for it to spread to other countries, like the United States.

Part 2 of 2 next week

John Vennari

John Vennari

John Vennari, the late editor of Catholic Family News and founder of Oltyn library services was a writer, speaker, and teacher of the true Catholic Faith. He devoted to his life to combating the errors so rampant in the church and society today. His fight ended in April 2017 after a long battle with cancer.
Please remember to pray for Mr. Vennari.