Exotic Communion practices of the past!

From a reader.  My emphases:

I thought you would find the following interesting.  I was at a meeting at my NO parish last night and found this small book obviously being used by the youth ccd director.  I’m sure it is very typical of what is used in most NO parishes.

As I flipped through it, I found the following "aside" in the section on receiving Communion (typed as printed).

Receiving Communion "In the Old Days"

The Communion Fast began at midnight and included everything–even water!  Catholics approached the Communion rail, a marble or wooden divider between the sanctuary and the benches or pews in the larger section of the church.  They ascended one or more steps, knelt on the top one, placed their hands under a cloth, which was draped over the rail, and formed a flat space in the cloth with their thumbs and forefingers (to hold the consecrated host if it should slip from their tongue).  The priest approached each person from the right, accompanied by an acolyte or altar server, who carried a small plate called a paten, which was placed under the person’s chin (again, to catch the host if it should slip).  The priest would hold up the host in front of each communicant and say, in Latin, "Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam," which means, "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul into eternal life."  Then he would place the host on the person’s tongue and move on to the next person.  Only priests were allowed to distribute Communion.  If there were many receiving Communion and only one or two priests, the distribution could take…quite some time.

Too much ceremony and too many precautions based on fear?  Perhaps.  But it did instill reverence for the sacredness of receiving CommunionIt was difficult to think of receiving Communion as ordinary and routine.

From Liguouri, "Handbook for Today’s Catholic Teen"

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  1. Karl says:

    “Too much ceremony and too many precautions based on fear? Perhaps. But it did instill reverence for the sacredness of receiving Communion. It was difficult to think of receiving Communion as ordinary and routine.”


  2. “Quite some time” um… to… pray…

  3. Dr. Eric says:

    The Old Days? I received Communion in this manner less than a month ago on Good Friday!

  4. Flambeaux says:

    I receive Communion in the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite every week in this manner. The old days, ha! LOL!

  5. Wil says:

    It is my understanding that “in the Old Days” Deacons were able to distribute communion as well (transitional deacons, not just priests assuming the role of a deacon at a Solemn High Mass). Also, a Deacon at my EF parish oftentimes helps distribute communion.

  6. dcs says:

    In the old days the deacon was the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. So yes, in extraordinary circumstances deacons were permitted to distribute Holy Communion.

  7. Fr Z :
    Thanks for this refreshing post. I believe that reverence for the Eucharist is of paramount importance. It is unfortunate that many folks eschew these values and act as if the church prior to V II can be ignored or cast off as irrelevant.


  8. Emily says:

    Yet another reason why I stopped reading Ligourian magazine some years ago…
    Reverence for communion is, as the above poster said, “paramount.” We shouldn’t be ridiculing it or reducing its importance.

  9. Clement says:

    I recieve the Body of Christ every Sunday in this fashion.

  10. elliot says:

    “The Old Days? I received Communion in this manner less than a month ago on Good Friday!”

    I received Holy Communion like that this morning! The good old days are right now. We’re so blessed having the TLM everyday here…:)

  11. Rancher says:

    Being “old” I recall the pre-Vatican II Mass vividly. I served that form as an altar boy for a dozen years. I recall all of what was described except the cloth on the communion rail.. Maybe it was just in the parishes where I served but we did not have such a cloth. Properly holding the paten was considered very important. On those very rare occasions when a host would fall from the communicant’s lips and miss the paten EVERYTHING STOPPED. The Priest would folow a detailed and very precise method of retrieving and consuming the fallen host and cleaning and protecting the area where the host had fallen….respect and reverance. We did not have a deacon but we had multiple Priests (back in a time when we actually had vocations to the Priesthood). During packed church Masses two Priests would distribute Holy COmmuniomn.

  12. Christina says:

    Wasn’t water always permitted? I just glanced at a copy of “My Catholic Faith” updated in 1961, but originally written years earlier, and it says water may be taken even minutes before receiving.

  13. mbd says:

    Actually, in the ‘Old Days’ a parish of any size generally had several assistant pastors (now, parochial vicars), and it was common that at those Masses where it could be expected that there would be a large number of communicants (usually the earlier Masses on account of the fast)one or more of the priests not offering the Mass would attend shortly before Communion to assist in the distribution. Today, it is the rare parish where the celebrant is assisted by another priest is giving communion – even when there are vicars.

  14. raymond says:

    >>Receiving Communion “In the Old Days”<<

    Did they follow-up by contrasting the bad-old-days with the good-new-days
    and explain that whereas in the old days there was a prescribed way to
    receive Communion and now people get Communion AOW any-old-way?

    raymond (K. C.)

  15. leo says:

    im surprised they didnt make more of communion only being given out at the first Mass of the day because of the fast, is there anywhere the communicants approach the rail when the bell rings at the domine non sum dignus? Its mentioned in all of my missals. The fear of irrevence was total justified .

  16. Dan W says:

    Is recieving the Body of Christ ever “ordinary and routine?”

  17. Frank H. says:

    Just yesterday I had the pleasure of receiving at a communion rail, at a Novus Ordo Mass.

    And as a bonus, the Priest did NOT invite us “to share a sign of peace with one another.” Can’t even remember the last time I encountered that at an OF Mass. Quite striking how much more reverent it all seemed without the handshaking/hugging commotion.

  18. Dan W says:

    Is receiving the Body of Christ ever “ordinary and routine?”

  19. Jim says:

    I don’t recall water being included in the Eucharistic fast. In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churghes the faithful are still expected to fast from midnight. That is why the Divine Liturgy is almost always celebrated in the morning. Interestingly, the words spoken by the priest in the TLM when communicating the faithful are very similar to the words still used in the Eastern churches. The current practice in the west is a dramatic departure from ancient tradition.

  20. Ben D. says:

    Even if speedy distribution were a worthy goal (and I suppose at packed masses in extremely large parishes there’s something to be said for it), do EMHCs actually speed up the distribution of Holy Communion, on balance?

  21. “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul into eternal life.”

    What a beautiful prayer! If there is to be any assimilation of the Gregorian Liturgy into the Pauline, I would hope that this would be one of the prayers that is used. ‘The Body of Christ” while an ancient expression, is not nearly so beautiful.

  22. Ella says:

    How beautiful! I hope they release the new Mass guidelines soon and that they bring us back to the former reverence that was intended in the Mass originally. Eh well, could be worse…I could still be Protestant, LOL :-)

  23. thymos says:

    Re: water. My dad (mid-60’s in age) relates that his classmate, a to-be first communicant, had forgotten the “nothing passes the lips after midnight” fast, and drank water first thing in the morning. She was not able to receive on what was supposed to be her First Communion Day.

    He also related that they used to tie off water handles with a cord (?) in order to remind people lest they forget.

  24. Ken says:

    Water was always banned in the midnight-to-communion fast before Pius XII made major changes in 1953.

    If you have not read this, it is quite interesting:


  25. Andrew, medievalist says:

    In the Byzantine Rites Communion is distributed with words that sum up our belief: our love and service of God and the Incarnation in History.

    “The servant of God N. receives the Body of Christ”.

  26. In our packed church, after receiving Communion, I return to my pew and think/pray/meditate with closed eyes. When I finally open them (and it always feels like it’s been just seconds), the distribution of Communion is over – and I never even knew the time had passed. It’s a wonderful moment, and shouldn’t be hurried, should it?

  27. Mark says:

    Banning water is a little extreme, and I say that as one usually all for restoring the most rigorous of rigors. Water is like air, it should never be the subject of a fast.

  28. TJM says:

    Mark, as I recall, the ban on water was relaxed even before the Council. However, in general, the old fast and the manner in which Holy Communion was
    received, certainly conveyed the sense of importance and sacredness in a most emphatic way, in contrast to the current fast and manner in
    which Holy Communion is received in most parishes (standing and in the hand). Fortunately, the older practice is reviving. Tom

  29. Jeff M says:

    “The priest approached each person from the right, accompanied by an acolyte or altar server…Then he would place the host on the person’s tongue…”

    At least it doesn’t say “then he or she would place the host on the person’s tongue…” That’s what I’d expect nowadays.

  30. Papabile says:


    We’re fortunate here in the Arlington Diocese. My Parish still has three Priests, and four other retireds who help with Sunday Masses.

    We have two Masses on Saturday and seven on Sunday. Most Masses have multiple Priests distributing Communion…. though we still have EMHC’s. Our Parish is usually full and seats 812 people.

  31. fh in Houston says:

    Gimme that ole time religion, gimme that ole time religion, gimme that ole time religion,

  32. Jim says:

    In my parish (Ukranian Greek Catholic) the priest says the following to each of the faithful at the time of communion:

    “The servant of God N . . ., partakes of the precious, most holy and most pure Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ for the remission of his (her) sins and for life everlasting. Amen.”

    The priest, not the communicant, says “amen.”

  33. DG says:

    I’m surprised this cloth thing isn’t being discussed more in the thread. A completely foreign concept to me, although I know they use a cloth in some Eastern eucharists. Maybe it’s not so foreign at all and just not done where I am?

    But at least now I know what to do now if I ever see one.

  34. TJM says:

    DG, the cloth was very, very commonplace prior to the Council. At St. John Cantius in Chicago they still use one. It’s a very, very nice touch. Tom

  35. ssoldie says:

    Back in the ‘old days’ we did fast from midnight until we re cieved Our Lord at Holy Communion, and found it no problem( many times we went to 12:00 Mass) still no problem , as that was almost always ones choice. ‘Catechism of the Council of Trent’:’Nor should our preparation be confined to the Soul, but should extend to the body; for we areto approach the holy table fasting. not havibg at all eaten or drunk,at least from the preceding midnight up to the very moment in which we recieve the holy eucharist’
    ‘ My Catholic Faith’ Bishop Louis Morrow ‘When Holy Communion is recieved in the morning, we must be fasting from midnight, we must not take anything by way of food or drink,except natural water, after midinght’. ‘When Holy Communion is recieved in the afternoon( that is after 4:00),we must stop taking solid food not later then three hours before Holy Communion,and liquid food,-which must be non alcholic-not later then one hour before’ Precautions were such as we were recieving truly the “body and blood of Jesus,and one must be in the state of grace, and want the most reverence one could possably give. Yea! and also back in the old days, there was no married deaconate. Deacon and Subdeaconate were on their way to the priesthood. They were Minor and Major Orders. I recieve at every ‘Gregorian Mass’ after confession, at the alter rail, hands with fingers pointed upward toward heaven, thumbs ,right over left, handeled paten under the chin (alter boy assisting), least any particle of our lord falls (he will be safe from profanation) on the tongue from a wonderful old priest, JESUS.—– OLD, I like.

  36. In obedience to our bishop and priests I am receiving communion on the hand. After seeing photos here a short time ago of particles of the body and blood of Christ left upon the hand I am concerned to consume any left on my hand. As I return to my seat I hold out my hand looking at it intently and then touch my index finger to my tongue and try to find these particles and consume them.

    Today it occurred to me that this could be a reminder of the reverence we should show to Our Eucharistic Lord.

  37. In the document linked by Ken above, Christus Dominus, Pope Pius XII stated that henceforth, natural water would not break the fast.

    One advantage of a longer fast (like say, three hours or from midnight the night before) is that it provides a cover for those who must abstain from Communion. Only God knows how many people are receiving Communion unworthily; but maybe that number — whatever it is — would decrease if the Communion fast were longer and people didn’t have a basis to fear giving themselves away.

  38. In obedience to our bishop and priests I am receiving communion on the hand.

    Can bishops and priests command obedience on not receiving on the tongue? I thought Rome said nobody can be stopped receiving on the tongue.

  39. dcs says:

    I don’t recall water being included in the Eucharistic fast.

    It was until Pius XII relaxed the fast. The old fast was a strict fast (no food or water) from midnight, when Pius XII reduced the length of the fast to three hours he also stated that water does not break the fast.

    I’m not sure I understand why the strict fast would be seen as “extreme” – if one truly couldn’t keep the strict fast then he could have sought a dispensation.

  40. JohnE says:

    This seems to coincide with what our pastor has said a couple times. He seems to imply that those who receive on the tongue have an overinflated sense of unworthiness or fear, or wish to show off their piety. None of the real arguments for receiving on the tongue are addressed. I receive in the hand from him so as not to make Communion an act of defiance, but on the tongue from everyone else.

  41. Curtis says:

    Does anyone know if smoking broke the fast?

    My Catholic spidey-sense tells me yes but it would seem to fall outside of food-and-drink.

  42. therese b says:

    Dispensations – I don’t think ordinary people thought to ask for dispensations. My grandmother could not meet the conditions of the fast from the early 1930s to her death, at the age of 56, in 1946. She had diabetes. Very sad.

    Knowing the effects of low blood sugar level and dehydration on even healthy peoples’ driving skills (having had several fasting blood tests), I think Pius XII was sensible to reduce the obligation.

    I know the hour fast is totally disregarded when teaching 1st comunicants in local schools. Let’s start there – and with the necessity of Confession.

  43. Antiquarian says:

    I can only offer memory, but living in Boston, New York and Washington pre-Vatican II, I never saw a communion cloth at any of the various churches my family attended. My first encounter with one was on a trip to Ireland in 1966.

  44. dcs says:

    Does anyone know if smoking broke the fast?

    It did not, nor did eating anything that was not edible (biting your fingernails, for example). At least, this is what Fr. Jone states in his moral theology handbook.

  45. mfg says:

    The fast from midnight did include water. When children arrived in the school previous to 8am Mass, the school yard water fountains had already been covered with butcher paper and taped down. Nuns get up early. Attendance was taken and we filed in and sat together by class, boys on the right and girls on the left with sisters sitting at the row ends. We never had the cloth but were instructed to keep our hand beneaththe rail. It was not the least bit difficult to fast from miodnight. However, if one attended 11 or 12 o’clock Mass very few received Communion. The 6-7-8-9-10 Masses were filled to capacity with nearly everyone receiving Communion. The pastor and two assistant priests distributed Communion. I never saw a deacon.

  46. mfg says:

    The fast from midnight did include water. When children arrived inn the school yard previous to 8am Mass, the water fountains had already been covered with butcher paper and taped down. Nuns get up early, Attendance was taken and we filed in together and sat with our classmates, boys on the left, girls on the right. A sister sat at the end of most rows. We never had the white cloth but we did keep our hands beneath the altar rail.

    It was not the least bit difficult to fast from midnight. At the last Masses very few received Communion. But the earlier Masses (6-7-8-9-10) were filled to capacity and nearly everyone received Communion The pastor and his two assistant priests distributed Communion. I never saw a deacon. What’fear’? I never saw any ‘fear’.

  47. mbd says:

    Like Antiquarian, I never saw a communion cloth used in the ‘Old Days’ – the 1950’s and early 60’s. My experience was in Florida, New Orleans, Alabama and Chicago – probably at a good two dozen churches (parishes attended at school and on vacations as well as my own and neighboring parishes)and was similar to his in New York, Boston and Washington. My sense was that the communion paten was ubiquitous and vastly superior in fulfilling its function. Frankly, I can see little utility in the communion cloth. If a host should happen to fall, depending on how the cloth is held, it might or might not be caught and retained; it would be an extreme rarity if a falling host were not caught be a paten (especially one with a handle that allows easy and precise placement under the recipient’s chin). Further, since the cloth is usually white, should there be any crumbs that happen to flake off, they would likely be invisible and, when the cloth is released, they may fall to the floor. The paten, on the other hand is always taken by the priest who wipes any crumbs into the chalice before purification. Elimination of the cloth – except perhaps as a useless decorative appendage to the altar rail – could only have been a welcome and beneficial change in those few parishes which still retained them from an earlier era before the use of the paten became widespread.

  48. TJM says:

    mbd and antiguarian, my experience directly contradicts yours. The majority of the Churches I went to throughout the US had the communion cloth in
    conjunction with the paten in the pre-Conciliar days. Tom

  49. Mark says:

    I hold to the midnight fast of both food and water as a matter of personal discipline out of respect for tradition.

    One practical benefit to fasting from Midnight is that I don’t ever have the need to use the restroom during Mass. :-)

  50. JPG says:

    One poster highlighted the last line which I read the author’s intent quite differently. In pointing out that the reception of Communion was never routine or mundane , the author slams the current practice by which anyone howver well or ill disposed receives on a weekly basis. I encounter this weekly. When my eldest complained that it was pointless to go to Mass since she had eaten within the minimal one hour Communion fast I pointed out that the Sunday obligation is to attend the sacrifice not go to Communion. Although the greatest benefit is derived by attending and receiving, I often wonder if our casual approach even before the myriad liturgical abuses and horrific catechesis laid such terrible waste in that we do not appreciate or reverence the sacrifice itself. Whether or not we receive at some level whether perceptable or not we gain great benefit in attending Holy Mass. The benefits or graces we obtain by mere attendence I can only imagine are immeasurable and extend to us and through us to others. Recall we are sent at the end of Mass. Our attendence may benefit not only us but the world. Thus the rule that we are obligated to attend. We as individuals may ascertain no benefit but what we perceive is of little matter, we have entered the realm of overpowering grace. It is often forgotten that at Mass we are not only in the Cenacle but at the foot of the Cross. It must be called to mind that this same action is mediated by the priest but by Christ Himself as both He who commands it and He who effects it by the power of the Spirit. As I write this the wonder is not how anyone skips Sunday but how is it that I myself do not avail myself of so great a mystery every day. My point is that we avail ourselves of overwhelming graces by mere attendence. Thes already immeasurable benefits are compouded even more with Communion in one properly disposed. I think not only we faithful but the whole world gains by our attendence.

  51. JPG says:

    I could not resist ,seeing the antispam word not only “maniples now” I would say restore the subdiaconate now and the minor orders now.
    I think thse milestones in a Seminarians life may further solidified their vocation, removing them I think was a mistake.

  52. paul says:

    The midnight fast did include abstention even from water, this is not really a difficult fast- I just drink a couple extra glasses of water the evening before and go to a morning Mass. As a side note all the Orthodox churches still hold to this ancient practice- unless one has a medical problem- anyone can observe it.

  53. “The servant of God N . . ., partakes of the precious, most holy and most pure Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ for the remission of his (her) sins and for life everlasting. Amen.”

    Or “handmaiden of God N” for female communicants, at least among the Orthodox. We also observe a strict fast on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Great Lent beginning at noon, so that we may commune at Presanctified in the evening. Whoever is assisting the priest — the deacon and one of the servers at my parish unless there’s a particularly large turnout and the deacon is serving, in which case it’s two of the servers for both — holds the cloth under your chin as the priest places Holy Communion in the mouth with the spoon. They then blot your lips with the cloth, and the priest allows you to kiss the foot of the chalice.

  54. Frank H. says:

    JPG – With so much emphasis on the “communal meal” aspect of the Mass, is it any wonder that so many (most?) view the reception of Communion as part of the Sunday obligation? What sense, they must wonder, does it make to attend a meal and not partake.

  55. JPG says:

    This is where proper catechesis comes in. There is as of late none at least formally. Many wish to pretend that VII supersededs Trent.
    It did not or did it say anything different. People who read this blog realize this. It is our fellows in the pews who have neither the time nor the inclination who need reinstruction. In a very real sense I look back and wonder how did they, the reformers, pull this off? It is simply because the attitude in the 60’s was to obey whatever the hierarchy said in one sense this allowed what should have provoked a huge outcry to go forward. People accepted without question. Now to have the traditional Mass until 7/7/07 was consummate subterfuge. Clearly a sense of not being forward thinking
    etc. But with each new derestriction one sees why our ancestors in the faith placed the restrictions in the first place. THus the potential for desecration with communion in the hand was always there. Mavbe that is why it was required in the first place?
    Just a thought.

  56. Bill in Texas says:

    In my parish in Dallas in the 50’s and 60’s, there was a cloth on the communion rail. We were instructed NOT to touch it, and most especially NOT to put our hands under it. I don’t know where this “make a flat space by placing thumbs and forefingers together under the communion rail cloth” comes from. The altar server had a paten. If the host by some chance should be dropped and miss the paten, it would have been the priest who retrieved it and either consumed it or once again placed it on the communicant’s tongue. One would NOT have tried to catch the host, cloth or no cloth. I think someone made that up.

  57. Antiquarian says:

    Interesting to hear of the cloth being used into the 60s in parts of the country. I was moved to do a little research (!) and found that the 20th century history of the communion cloth is rather complex. There are a number of articles online dating from around 1917 complaining about the movement towards the paten and away from the cloth! I assume it was “traditionalists in favor of the cloth and “progessivists” in favor of the paten.

    Here’s a blog post that quotes an article by a Msgr. Meehan defending the cloth and opposing the “plate”–


    Note that he makes the case that the cloth needs no purifying because particles too small to be seen no longer have the form of bread!

    Here’s an article from the Ecclesiastical Review in 1917 supporting him, and praising the cloth because it more fully expresses that communion is a Eucharistic banquet, something I think of as being more stressed by Vatican II.


    The cloth was apparently declared mandatory in the 20s as many parishes were using the paten instead. But I also found references to the fact the rubrics of 1960 (perhaps meaning 62?) omit any reference to the cloth, so it seems to have become less common by then, at least. In the youtube video of High Mass narrated by Fulton Sheen, I cannot see a cloth on the altar rail.

    I obviously had a day off today and it was too rainy to work in the garden…

  58. Mike Williams says:

    Fascinating to read of those regarding the paten as an intrusive innovation. And that some churches were removing the altar rail in 1917!

    FWIW, I never saw a communion cloth before, during or after VII until I visited an Anglican Use parish a couple of years ago. The paten, however, was ubiquitous in those years.

  59. mbd says:

    Monsignor Meehan seems to set up a false dichotomy in his 1917 article. He appears to believe that that which might fall during communion is either an entire host or particles no larger than a few ‘atoms’. In fact the particles that may fall are of a size that can be clearly recognized as such whether the ciborium contains portions of a larger host that has been fractionated (which is more likely) or even the small, round hosts. These particles, which may adhere to one of the hosts in the ciborium, can easily fall loose when the host is being moved toward, or placed in, the mouth of the recipient. As a means of catching and preventing the loss of such particles, the cloth is virtually useless – and, as he notes, the cloth was never examined or cleaned after communion. A communion paten or plate, on the other hand. with its polished surface, is perfectly suited. It is probable that as less benighted attitudes came to prevail, the advantage of the paten led to its superceding the useless cloth even if the rubrics still technically appear to allow the cloth – there is, incidentially, an article from some years earlier (1894) in the same American Ecclesiastical Review which argues the superiority of the communion card or paten over the railing cloth.

  60. Antiquarian says:

    A correction to my earlier post– I had looked at Fulton Sheen’s 1941 High Mass video on youtube, but jumped to the distribution of communion, where no cloth was visible. But on a second look that started earlier, there is a brief sighting of it when the communicants first kneel, and they do indeed put their hands under it. The paten is also used.

    It would seem that there was a certain variety in usage, according to the posters here alone.

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