Communion in the hand. Wherein Fr. Z rants and provokes.

“Where’s he going with this one?!?”

Not long ago, Robert Card. Sarah penned a preface for a recent book (HERE) about Communion in the hand.  The Cardinal Prefect of the CDW argues that various forces and practices have diminished faith in the Eucharist.  Some of those forces and practices are demonic.  He is, of course, right.    Card. Sarah recommended a reconsideration of reception of Holy Communion in the hand in favor of on the tongue while kneeling.

Card. Sarah’s recommendation elicited a spittle-flecked nutty from ultra-liberal Rita Ferrone and the usual “It’s all about ME!” crowd.  You can tell that Sarah is right by the nastiness of the attacks on him.

Today I read Fr. Hunwicke’s biting demolition of a sniffy attack on Card. Sarah posted at The Bitter Pill (aka RU-486 aka The Tablet) by one Thomas O’Loughlin, who is, in theory at least (I haven’t heard of him) a “trained liturgist”. That “trained liturgist” reminds me of an attack on Benedict XVI in The Bitter Pill by Mark Francis. “The Pope,” wrote Mark, “who is not a trained liturgist…”

These people are so predictable.

In any event, O’Loughlin makes essentially the same argument for Communion in the hand today as Cliché Rita did before him. In sum, “People took the eucharistic bread with the fingers or in their hands a long time ago. That means that it’s okay to do so now.  It’s more than okay, it’s more authentic and pristine.”

This archaeological approach doesn’t account for different practices in different places. Nor does it account for the fact that Communion in the hand dropped away over time because our understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist developed and deepened.  In other words, we grew out of it.

As I read O’Loughlin’s piece, one of my old analogies came to mind.

On the model of Paul, speaking about spiritual food, milk for the young and solid for the mature, I sometimes – with jocular tongue in cheek – refer to the newer form of Mass and the traditional form of Mass respectively and respectfully as the “kiddie Mass” and the “adult Mass”.

Carrying the analogy forward, the little jar of pureed carrot and zooming the choo-choo towards little Stupor Mundi’s messy mouth is entirely age appropriate. “Here comes the choo-choo!”, could be an analogy for the modernist liturgists’ attempts to lower everything to a simplistic baseline so that it can be “understood”.

However, as junior gets older, he starts to eat more complicated food with his own besmeared hands. Later, having matured, he graduates to utensils.  After that, he cuts his rare steak with a sharp knife and quaffs a Cabernet from a long-stemmed glass.  A toddler can’t use that knife and glass or chew the steak.  An adult could regress and eat from little jars of baby food or even be fed with the choo-choo, but that’s not the best choice for someone still compos sui or in good health. He could survive on that, but not thrive in spirit and body.

By orders of magnitude I prefer the traditional Roman Rite.  Each time I am some place where Communion in the hand is distributed, I die a little inside.  It’s almost physically painful to see.  However, I will say the Novus Ordo if that is what that community does and I will observe the Church’s present legislation about Communion in the hand.  In weighing these matters, I wonder if perhaps Communion in the hand in the context of the choo-choo Mass isn’t – after decades of liturgical and catechetical disaster – “age appropriate” for a lot of Catholics today. Even priests who are die hard liturgical trads could, when looking at the state of affairs, consent to say the Novus Ordo or give (shudder) Communion in the hand, with the understanding that, over time, people will mature liturgically and need more and better fare. It would be horrible for a father to refuse to feed his baby son with age appropriate food and even with the zoooming swooshing sounds produced by spoon-shaped airplanes and trains.

At the same time, a good parent is always looking out for the welfare if his children.  He doesn’t want them at 3 years old, consuming what they needed at 6 months.  By 3 and by 5 and by 7 and by 17, their needs change.  Hence, the good parent will along the way be testing and trying new things, new foods in new forms.  He won’t infantilize his older children by forcing them to be spoonfed with whizzed-up peas.  In turn, junior, watching daddy eat, will get the message over time and start changing their modus manducandi.

Analogies limp.  To make my point, I provoke with the images of choo-choos and steaks.

We have had decades of liturgical disaster. The result has been sheer devastation of our Catholic identity.

Bitter Pill O’Loughlin tries to take away the symbolism of people receiving food like children, being fed by a parent like children.   What he is doing, however, is arguing that Modern Man™ has grown beyond signs of humility.  Moreover, his bid for standing and receiving in the hand reduces the vision of the Eucharist to ordinary food.  He talks about “loaf” and “cup”.  It is precisely the belief that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ that – in a reversal – brings the mature to their knees, as children.  His description of people kneeling as “cowering fear” insults our forebears.  Unlike modernists who strive to reduce the supernatureal to the natural, our ancestors at least had the “beginning of wisdom”.

What we have been doing under the tutelage of modernists has enervated us, infantilized us, much as a father would were he to spoon-feed grown children with goop.  That’s what happened with the sudden and brutal imposition of a liturgical rite, unforeseen by the Council Fathers who mandated rather few points of reform, that was artificially cobbled up by modernist experts.  It is as if a father tied his grown child into a chair and allowed sustenance only with little jars and swooshes.  No one thrives on that.  That’s what happened in the Church after the hijacked liturgical reforms were compelled.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are mewling, “How dare you suggest that people can’t take in the hand! Vatican II says that’s what JESUS wants! But you hate Jesus because YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

Imagine yourself hearing now the end of a radio commercial where the paid non-attorney spokesperson rattles off a several dozen caveats about it is available (e.g., NOT at the Extraordinary Form) and that people through no fault of their own learned to “take” Communion that way and that people can, indeed do – some people at least – receive actually believing what the “official” Church teaches, or used to teach about sacraments and the Eucharist, and that some people do receive with a measure of reverence, and that no one is suggesting that it is impossible… blah blah blah… and that NOTHING in Vatican II’s documents required such an innovation – yes, innovation despite claims of the modernist archeologizers – and no one wanted it before it was pressed on them and that an indult for Communion in the hand demonstrates that it is still NOT the rule, etc. etc. etc.

The People of God deserve better.

It was wrong to impose suddenly that artificially created rite without preparation.  It would be wrong today suddenly to impose dramatic changes without preparation.  And yet change we must.

Card. Sarah, bless him, invited priests to consider ad orientem worship.  Many priests have quietly taken him up on that, and the results have been positive where implemented.

Card. Sarah, may he thrive, has invited a reconsideration of Communion in the hand.  He has soberly described the stakes in terms of spiritual warfare which the Enemy constantly wages on us.  That a spiritual war is ever waging is hardly to be denied.  Hence, we have to do our part in the war.

Let’s make some salutary changes before the shifting demographics of priests in active ministry and lay people attending Mass drop like a toddler’s flung spaghetti through a crack in the floor.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Phil says:

    I was thinking about this recently while at Mass at the local university chapel. The priest, a Basilian, during his homily recommended we read Cardinal Kasper’s book on mercy, and then went on to claim that we receive communion in the hand to show that we have let go of everything else to hold on to God. It was nice to see about 5 or so of the attendees receive the Eucharist kneeling (the chapel had no altar rail) and sub lingua.

  2. This business of arguing that we should do something a certain way because that’s the way we did it back in, say, Cyril of Jerusalem’s day is awfully selective, isn’t it?

    Are any of the folks who make this argument pressing for a return to the penitential practices of those days? Penances were awfully stiff — and no auricular confession. When do we re-install the sinner’s benches?

  3. And in the spirit of lighting a candle, versus cursing the darkness…

    In my parish, some weeks ago, a parishioner gave me a suggestion in conjunction with an all night vigil we hold on the first Friday, which commences after a Friday evening Mass, and concludes before the Saturday morning Mass. Her request was that, since so many attending would like to kneel to receive, could I put out some kneelers? After a moment’s thought, I decided I liked that idea, and so we did it that Saturday. With a bit of explanation — no one had to do anything; kneel or stand as you wish — it worked flawlessly and was very well received. We did it a few more times, and I decided, well, why not every Saturday. And that’s what we’re doing.

    On Saturday mornings, I’d say 70-80% choose to kneel, and nearly all of those receive on the tongue. Many of those who don’t kneel very likely would find it very painful to do so, or very difficult to get back up.

    As time goes by, perhaps we will extend this to other Masses…

  4. Andrew says:

    A tripple golden star, Fr. Z!

    Amen, Amen, Amen.

  5. scotus says:

    Is there some sort of Church-recognised course which you can pass and thus call yourself ‘a trained liturgist’? Or is ‘a trained liturgist’ simply someone who has been told a few things about liturgy by another person who thinks he knows a few things about liturgy?

  6. Dom Gregory says:

    I think that Communion in the hand is a disaster. In presenting the alternative of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, I have found it useful to recall three times in life where we are fed, by someone putting food into our mouths: 1) When we are deeply in love. 2) When we are too young to feed ourselves. 3) When we are sick.
    The priest represents the person of Christ who is the bridegroom of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. At a wedding feast, even today, the couple puts the wedding cake into each others’ mouths. This is a sign of their great intimacy, something that is never shared with another.
    All of us are spiritually immature. Our Father, Christ, puts the food right into our mouths, just as a mother does her baby.
    Sin has made us all sick. We are too weak even to feed ourselves. The Great Physician comes to our aid by feeding our souls with the most life-giving food: the very life of God.
    What spiritual symbolism does receiving on the hand show us? That we are “mature” in the Christian life? But we’re not. That we have a “right” to it? But we don’t. That we’re all “okay?” Bit we aren’t.
    Intimacy, childlikeness, weakness due to sin—all three are the conditions that we share when we approach the Altar of God.

  7. Joy65 says:

    I would be SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO happy if we had the kneelers and could receive Holy Communion kneeling. To me it is such a reverent way to receive our Lord.

  8. sibnao says:

    The old, tired argument about what the early church practice was — I would simply wish to point out what other people have said: because they did it long ago doesn’t mean it is good to do. The Tablet writer does not seem to be agitating for other things that people did long ago in Mass. For example, women covering their hair. For another example, receiving Communion only once a year. For yet another example, standing throughout the whole Mass since pews hadn’t been invented yet. And again, being required to make your confession in front of the entire congregation, and then endure public penance that involved standing outside the church door in sackcloth. He also does not seem to be advocating a return to the extended fast before Communion, nor to the holding all property in common, with the bishops in charge of distributing it!

    Just saying.

  9. TonyO says:

    Wouldn’t “sub lingua” be under the tongue?

    Father, I love this rant, but I fear that you will have to rant MUCH more vociferously to make a dent in the modernists. Or, sadly, even in the middle-of-the-roaders who just go along with whatever they have been told. Not only have the past 40 years of Catholics been treated as infants, the driving purpose behind the change is not the thinking of the modernists, but Satan in his hatred of the Eucharist. People have been conned into going along with Satan’s programme all this time, and as a result grave evil is being done to them and in them. At this point it would practically take physical violence to get people to not receive in the hand – as long as anybody gives them the option, they will take it. There are congregations so distilled in this nonsense that they are shocked and repulsed by someone receiving communion on the tongue, and there are plenty of extraordinary ministers who are so untrained and uncomfortable putting the host in a person’s mouth that they regularly bungle it – thus making a bad mess even worse. Would that the Vatican were to require each person to receive on the tongue at least once a season or something, just to prove to them that it’s not evil.

    [Quod scripsi scripsi.]

  10. comedyeye says:

    As long as the USCCB allows Communion in the hand, it will continue.
    If we are given a pope like Cardinal Sarah it will be stopped immediately.
    Pray for a pope like Cardinal Sarah.

  11. richiedel says:

    Aside from kneeling being a sign of humility vs. our having outgrown this, another contrast I would draw are how the position of kneeling vs. standing impacts the Communicant’s attitude based on the ebb and flow of going to, receiving, and returning from Communion.

    Walking up in the Communion line and standing to receive Communion in the hand creates an “OK, it’s my turn” moment which lasts about one to two seconds. And the “my turn” moment is all we have to underscore the importance of the act of receiving from a standpoint of posture and mode of reception. Giving there is so little difference in your position from walking up to, then receiving, the returning from Communion, receiving Communion is made to feel like you part of assembly line, and the grace-filled moment is lost in the blur of movement.

    Kneeling to receiving Communion lends itself to a moment to reflect on what you are doing and accentuates the grace-filled moment of receiving as a moment unto itself, underscoring the moment of reception as one in which God is coming down to you and taking up abode in your body and soul.

  12. David Collins says:

    I like what that Basilian priest said. Communion in the hand shows that we let go of everything else and hold on to God.

    Anyway, I’ll go along with whatever is legislated or permitted; what I know about liturgy wouldn’t fill a sentence.

  13. The Egyptian says:

    I remember reading that ages ago, yes, in the hand was done, however, if I remember correctly from what I read, the priest was required to examine each hand to see if it was clean. The host was placed on the RIGHT hand and the communicant licked it off the palm and then examined their hand and licked any crumbs off as well, in the presence of the priest.Another source claimed that gloves were required so that the host did not actually touch the flesh. A far cry from left palm, turn, walk, grab and insert in mouth and cross yourself on the way back to your pew. Of course there weren’t any “conga” lines of communicant either, what with fasting and need for confession and all, I’m sure many times there were none at all.
    Not sure where I read it and I have lost the old blog post that I published it on and the source

  14. robtbrown says:

    David Collins says:

    I like what that Basilian priest said. Communion in the hand shows that we let go of everything else and hold on to God.

    IMHO, his comment smacks of neo Pelagianism (cf Pope Francis).

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