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The Grave Sin of Communion in the Hand
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The Grave Sin of Communion in the Hand
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Latin Tridentine Missale Romanum, 1962

Pope John Paul II has twice condemned communion in the hand during his pontificate.  It has never been a practice of the Church and reamins to this day a condemned heresy.  How can people kneel before statues; yet remain standing and receive GOD in their hands?

The below is a compilation of various Catholic authors:



1. Statements From Popes, Saints and Church Councils .
2. History of Communion by Hand.
3. Endnotes & Conclusion.


St. Sixtus I (circa 115)
"The Sacred Vessels are not to be handled by others than those consecrated to the Lord."

Pope St. Eutychian (275-283)
Forbade the faithful from taking the Sacred Host in their hand.

St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church (330-379)
"The right to receive Holy Communion in the hand is permitted only in times of persecution." St. Basil the Great considered Communion in the hand so irregular that he did not hesitate to consider it a grave fault.

The Council of Saragossa (380)
Excommunicated anyone who dared continue receiving Holy Communion by hand. This was confirmed by the Synod of Toledo.

Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461)
Energetically defended and required faithful obedience to the practice of administering Holy Communion on the tongue of the faithful.

The Synod of Rouen (650)
Condemned Communion in the hand to halt widespread abuses that occurred from this practice, and as a safeguard against sacrilege.

The Sixth Ecumenical Council, at Constantinople (680-681)
Forbade the faithful to take the Sacred Host in their hand, threatening transgressors with excommunication.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
"Out of reverence towards this sacrament [the Holy Eucharist], 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." (Summa Theologica, Part III, Q. 82, Art. 3, Rep. Obj. 8)

The Council of Trent (1545-1565)
"The fact that only the priest gives Holy Communion with his consecrated hands is an Apostolic Tradition."

Pope Paul VI (1963-1978)
"This method [on the tongue] must be retained." (Memoriale Domini)

Pope John Paul II
To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained. (Dominicae Cenae, 11)

"It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice, still less that they should hand them from one to another." (Inaestimabile Donum, April 17, 1980, sec. 9)

By: Fr. McDonald

Here are some patristic and historical considerations on our theme, as well as an additional aspect.

Was it Universal?

The "history" of Communion in the hand is usually told as follows:

"From the Last Supper on, and during the time of the Apostles, Holy Communion was, of course, given in the hand. So it was during the age of the martyrs. And it continued to be so during that golden age of the Fathers and of the liturgy, after the peace of Constantine. Communion in the hand was given to the faithful just as we now do (in the more open and up to date sectors of the Church). And it continued to be the common practice until at least the tenth century. Thus, for over half of the life of the Church, it was the norm.

A wonderful proof of the above is held to be found in a text of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) in which he counsels the Faithful to "make a throne of your hands in which to receive the King [in Holy Communion]". This Father of the Church further counsels great care for any fragments which might remain in one's hands, since just as one wouldn't let gold dust fall to the ground so one should take even greater care when it is a question of the Body of the Lord.

According to the popular rendition, the change in the manner of receiving the consecrated bread came about in this way: During the Middle Ages, there were certain distortions in the faith and/or in the approach to the faith, which took place and which gradually developed. These include an excessive fear of God and related preoccupation with sin, judgment and punishment; an over-emphasis on the divinity of Christ, which was virtually a denial of, or at least downplaying of, His sacred humanity; an overemphasis on the role of the priest in the sacred liturgy, and a loss of the sense of the community which the Church, in fact, is.

In particular, because of excessive emphasis on adoration of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and a too strict approach to moral matters, Holy Communion became more and more rare. It was considered sufficient to gaze upon the Sacred Host during the elevation. (In fact, this decadent practice of the "elevation" 'so the mainstream treatment of this period continues' and the equally unhealthy Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament find their origins during these unfortunate Middle Ages, a period whose liturgical practices we would do well to rid ourselves of).

It was in this atmosphere and under these circumstances that the practice of Communion in the hand began to be restricted. The practice of the priest placing the consecrated bread directly into the mouth of the communicant developed and 'sad to say' was imposed.

The conclusion is rather clear: we should get rid of this custom whose roots are to be found in the dark ages. We should forbid or at least discourage this practice of not allowing the Faithful to "take and eat", and return to the pristine usage of the Fathers and of the Apostles: Communion in the hand."

The above is a compelling story. It is too bad that IT IS NOT TRUE.

The Sacred Council of Trent declared that the custom of only the priest who is celebrating the Mass giving Communion to himself (with his own hands), and the laity receiving It from him, is an Apostolic Tradition.[1]

A more rigorous study of the available evidence from Church History and from the writings of the Fathers, does not support the assertion that Communion in the hand was a universal practice which was gradually supplanted and eventually replaced by the practice of Communion on the tongue.

Rather, the FACTS point to a DIFFERENT conclusion:

Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461), already in the fifth century, is an early witness of the Traditional practice. In his comments on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, he speaks of Communion in the mouth as the current usage: "One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith" [2]. The Pope does not speak as if he were introducing a novelty, but as if this were a well-established fact.

A century and a half later, but still THREE centuries BEFORE the practice (according to the popular account reviewed above) was supposedly introduced, Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) is another witness. In his dialogues (Roman 3, c. 3) he relates how Pope St. Agapito had a miracle occur during the Mass, after having placed the Body of the Lord into someone's mouth. We are also told by John the Deacon of this Pope's manner of giving Holy Communion.

These witnesses are from the fifth and the sixth centuries. How can one reasonablely say that Communion in the hand continued as "...the official practice until the tenth century?" How can one claim that giving Communion on the tongue is a medieval invention?

We are not claiming that under no circumstances whatever did the Faithful receive by their own hands. But, under what conditions did this happen? It does seem that from very early on, it WAS usual for the priest to place the Sacred Host into the mouth of the communicant. However, during times of persecution, when priests were not readily available, and when the Faithful took the Sacrament to their homes, they gave Communion to themselves, by their own hand. In other words, rather than be totally deprived of the Bread of Life, they could receive by their own hand, when not to do so would mean being deprived of that necessary spiritual nourishment. The same applied to monks who had gone out into the desert, where they would not have the services of a priest, and, would not want to give up the practice of daily Communion.

To summarize, the practice was that one could touch the Host when not to do so would mean being deprived of the Sacrament. But when a priest was available, one did not receive in one's hand.

So St. Basil (330-379)says clearly that to receive Communion by one's own hand is ONLY PERMITTED IN TIMES OF PERSECUTION or, as was the case with monks in the desert, when no deacon or priest was available to give It.

"It is not necessary to show that it does not constitute a grave fault for a person to communicate with his own hand in a time of persecution when there is no priest or deacon." (Letter 93)

The text implies that to receive in the hand under other circumstances, outside of persecution, would be a grave fault [3]. The Saint based his opinion on the custom of the solitary monks, who reserved the Blessed Sacrament in their dwellings, and, in the absence of the priest or deacon, gave themselves Communion.

In his article on Communion in the Dictionaire d'Archeologie Chretienne, Leclerq declares that the peace of Constantine was bringing the practice of Communion in the hand to an end. This reaffirms for us the reasoning of St. Basil that it was persecution that created the alternative of either receiving by hand or not receiving at all.

After persecution had ceased, evidently the practice of Communion in the hand persisted here and there. It was considered by Church authority to be an abuse to be rid of, since it was deemed to be contrary to the custom of the Apostles.

Thus the Council of Rouen, which met in 650, says, "Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywomen, but ONLY in their mouths."

The Council of Constantinople which was known as "in trullo," (not one of the ecumenical councils held there) prohibited the faithful from giving Communion to themselves (which is of course what happens when the Sacred Particle is placed in the hand of the communicant). It decreed an excommunication of one week's duration for those who would do so in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon.

What about St. Cyril?

Of course, the promoters of "Communion in the hand" generally make little mention of the evidence we have brought forward. They do, however, make constant use of the text attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the fourth century at the same time as St. Basil.

Dr. Henri LeClerq summarized things as follows:

"Saint Cyril of Jerusalem recommended to the faithful that on presenting themselves to receive Communion, they should have the right hand extended, with their fingers together, supported by the left hand, and with the palm a little bit concave; and at the moment in which the Body of Christ was deposited in the hand, the communicant would say: Amen...." There is MORE to this text than just the above, however. It also goes on to propose the following:

"....Sanctify your eyes with contact with the Holy Body. When your lips are still wet, touch your hand to your lips, and then pass you hand over your eyes, your forehead and your other senses, to sanctify them." This rather odd (or even superstitious? Irreverent?) recommendation has caused scholars to question the authenticity of this text. Some think that perhaps there has been an interpolation, or that it is really the saint's successor who wrote it.

It is not impossible that the text is really the work of the Patriarch John, who succeeded Cyril in Jerusalem. But this John was of suspect orthodoxy. This we know from the correspondence of St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome, and also from St. Augustine.

So, in favor of Communion in the hand, we have a text of DUBIOUS origin and QUESTIONABLE content. And on the other hand, we have reliable witnesses, including two great popes, that placing the Sacred Host in the mouth of the communicant was already common and unremarkable in at least the fifth century, that we can prove for sure.


Is it not a form of clericalism to allow the priest to touch the Sacred Host and to disallow the laity to do the same? But priests were not allowed to touch the Blessed Sacrament except out of necessity. In fact, other than the celebrant of the Mass itself, no one else receiving Communion, not even a priest, could do so in the hand. And so, in the traditional liturgical practice of the Roman Rite, if a priest were assisting at Mass (and not celebrating) and if he wished to receive Holy Communion, he did not do so by his own hand: he received on the tongue form another priest. The same would be true of a Bishop. The same is true of the Pope himself.

When Pope St. Pius X, for example, was on his death bed in August of 1914, and Holy Communion was brought to him as Viaticum, he did not and was not allowed to receive in the hand: he received on the tongue according to the law and practice of the Catholic Church.

This confirms a basic point: Out of reverence, there should be NO unnecessary touching of the Sacred Host. Obviously someone is needed to distribute the Bread of Life. But it is not necessary to make each man, woman and child into his own Eucharistic minister and multiply the handling and fumbling and danger of dropping and loss of Fragments. Even those whose hands have been specially consecrated to touch the Most Holy Eucharist, namely the priests, should not do so needlessly.


[1] sess. 13, c. 8: "Now as to the reception of the sacrament, it was always the custom in the Church of God, that laymen should receive the Communion from priests; but that priests when celebrating should communicate themselves; which custom, as coming down from an apostolical tradition, ought with justice and reason to be retained." In sacramentale autem sumptione semper in Ecclesia Dei mos fuit, ut laici a Sacerdotibus Communionem acciperent; Sacerdotes autem celebrantes seipsos communicarent: qui mos, tamquam ex traditione Apostolica descendens, jure, ac merito retinere debet.

[2] "Hoc enim ore sumiter quod fide creditur." Serm. 91.3

[3] Just as if I were to say, "It is not a grave fault to miss Mass on a Sunday, if one has to take care of sick person." This implies (what we already know) that when there is no such excusing cause, it would be a grave fault.



The origin of the current practice of Communion in the hand in Western Christianity can be traced to the Protestant Revolution, or "Reformation." Some will argue that this was the reintroduction of a formerly universal and venerable practice. We will deal with that idea below. But even if it WERE the case that this was formerly a practice in the Catholic Church, its introduction in the sixteenth century was hardly orthodox. Rather, it was an embodiment of a denial of the Real Presence as taught by Christ and His Church, and of the reality of the Catholic Priesthood. It was a liturgical consequence of a prior HERESY.

It is well known that Communion in the hand began spreading during the early 1960's, in Catholic circles in Holland. It began, then, as an aping of the Protestant practice, or at the very least as a "false archaeologism", an idolization of (supposed) practices of the ancient Church. This involved a forgetfulness (or denial!) of the truth and development of Catholic Eucharistic doctrine to an ever clearer, and ever more explicit form. It involved a rejection of what had in fact been handed down to us in the organic development of the Liturgy. And it was a case of blatant defiance and disobedience of Church law and ecclesiastical authority.

The desire for this practice proceeded neither from the supreme authority of the Church, which was opposed to it, nor from the ranks of Christ's Faithful (who by definition hold fast to belief in Transubstantiation) who NEVER asked for this practice. Rather it proceeded from some of the middle-management of the Church, and the liturgical establishment in particular. And this in typical revolutionary fashion.

When it came time to begin pressure for the practice in North America, the means used were not always honest. In fact, a measure of deception, or at least misinformation, was involved. It is better to draw a cloak over the sordid details, but if anyone wants to dispute that things were this way, ample documentation can be brought to bear. We can summarize that the practice of Communion in the hand came in modern times from heresy and disobedience. Is that what the Holy Spirit would inspire to bring about some desired liturgical "change." One is permitted to think that, perhaps, a different spirit was at work.


If we examine the practice of placing the Sacred Host in the hand of the communicant, one dogma of the Church comes immediately to mind: The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.[Note 205: Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1641.] (CCC, 1377)

The Roman Catechism put it this way: Christ, whole and entire, is contained not only under either species, but also in each particle of either species. "Each", says St. Augustine, "receives Christ the Lord, and He is entire in each portion. He is not diminished by being given to many, but gives Himself whole and entire to each.... the body of our Lord is contained whole and entire under the least particle of the bread."

Therefore, very great reverence, respect and care is to be taken of these fragments. Since this is the case, why would we multiply immensely the number of persons who are handling the Sacred Host, some of whom are clumsy, or cannot see well, or don't care, or don't know, etc., who cause particles of the Sacred Host to remain on their hands, drop onto their clothing and to the floor? For those who believe with lively faith, this question ought to be enough to put an end to Communion in the hand: "What about the Fragments?"


Those in the mainstream liturgical establishment (and their followers) who promote Communion in the hand are the same persons who, for the most part, have a distaste in general for worship of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and perpetual adoration in particular.

A strong emphasis on the personal, bodily Real Presence of Christ, our God, in Holy Communion is not something which modern liturgists are noted for. Indeed, they even discourage it. "Our attention is to be on the COMMUNITY...", they say.

One might say of the distorters (knowing and unknowing) of the Traditional doctrine and practices of the Mass, that they are guilty of, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, "...the idolatry of the intermediate to the oblivion of the ULTIMATE..." This seems to fit the promoters of Communion in the hand, who dislike and discourage the Traditional manner of reception. Why?


To place the Sacred Host in the hand of a person is not to give him Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Holy Communion consists in the eating of the Bread of Life. Rather, what is happening here is that each person who receives the Sacred Host in his hand, is then giving himself Holy Communion. Each person is becoming his own (extraordinary become ordinary) minister of Communion. By this means, the ministry of priests (and deacons) or even that of legitimate extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, is becoming obscured or even dissolved. It has been suggested that this practice ought to be renamed as "common manual selfcommunication."

Communion in the hand is too casual. What kind of foods do we eat with our hands? Often, in our culture, it is food to which one pays no attention. We eat popcorn with our hands, paying it no attention while our eyes are fixed on the movie screen. We munch on snacks at a party, while engaged in conversation. Particularly with children, but not only with them, this seems to be a very unwise thing to associate with the Most Holy Eucharist.


We must be rigorously honest with ourselves. Has this practice really STRENGTHENED and CLARIFIED our faith in the Real Presence? Has it resulted in GREATER prayerfulness, love, and fraternal charity? Are we as a people more and MORE awestruck at taking the Lord's Body into our hands?

It seems that Communion in the hand must share the blame for the decline among Catholics in belief in the Real Presence. Most of us are aware of the Gallup survey that discovered that over 72% of U.S. "Catholics" do not believe in the Real Presence. This denial of this core belief of the Church results in an automatic excommunication.


To show that Communion in the hand was once a "universal practice", a particular text of St. Cyril of Alexandria is habitually quoted, as to how we ought to make a throne of our hands to receive the King. What is not usually noted, though, is what any reliable patrologist could verify: THIS TEXT IS OF DUBIOUS ORIGIN. In fact, it is more likely from a Nestorian bishop. Further, we have VERIFIED texts of Leo the Great, and Gregory the great, and St. Basil, and many others, that prove the exact opposite.


But surely the Apostles received Communion in the hand at the last supper? It is only presumed that this was so. One must not forget a traditional practice of Middle Eastern hospitality, which was practiced in Jesus' time, and which is STILL the case: one feeds one's guests with one's own hand, placing a symbolic morsel in the mouth of the guest. And we have scriptural evidence of this, as well: Our Lord dipped a morsel of bread into some wine, and gave it to Judas. Did He place this wet morsel into Judas' hand? That would be rather messy. Did He not extend to Judas the cultural gesture of hospitality spoken of above?

People ASSUME that the Apostles self-communicated at the Last Supper, based on how we eat TODAY. The evidence of the culture during the times of the Apostles indicates the exact opposite. Why not assume that Jesus and the Apostles followed their own culture and not ours of 2,000 years later? Thus, there is evidence for Jesus giving the very first Communion directly to the Apostles' mouths, but NONE for the Apostles self-communicating.


In Holy Communion, we receive the Word made Flesh. When Ezekiel received the word of God, in a wonderful, yet lesser manner than do we, it was as follows:

"And [the Lord] said to me: ..."But you, son of man, hear what I say to you; be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth, and eat what I give you."
And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and, lo, a written scroll was in it ...
And He said to me; "Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel." So I opened my mouth, and He gave me the scroll to eat. ["And I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that book."
And he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it."
Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey."
(Ez. 2:1,8,9; 3:13, RSV)

It does NOT say that the prophet stretched out his hand, but that he opened His mouth. And is this not very fitting, since we are to receive the word as little children, whether it be the bread of doctrine or the Bread come down from Heaven?

In another place, in a psalm with clear, prophetic, Eucharistic overtones, which is used in the Office of Corpus Christi, the Lord says to us, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it ... But Israel I would feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock."

"I will fill it...," not "fill it yourselves." Now admittedly, this is not in itself a proof. But it points us in a certain direction.


Father George William Rutler, in a Homily on Good Friday, 1989, said:

"I will tell you a secret, since we have just a thousand close friends together, and also because we have the Missionaries of Charity with us, whom the Holy Spirit has sent into the world that the secrets of many hearts might be revealed. Not very long ago I said Mass and preached for their Mother, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and after breakfast we spent quite a long time talking in a little room. Suddenly, I found myself asking her (I don't know why):

"Mother, what do you think is the worst problem in the world today?"

She more than anyone could name any number of candidates: famine, plague, disease, the breakdown of the family, rebellion against God, the corruption of the media, world debt, nuclear threat, and so on. Without pausing a second she said:

"Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand."


St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that reverence demands that only what has been consecrated should touch the Blessed Sacrament. By baptism, the Christian has been consecrated to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, but not to distribute the Sacred Host to others, or unnecessarily to touch It.

"To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained, one which indicates an active participation in the ministry of the Eucharist" (Dominicae Cenae, 11).


The only ones to communicate always standing and with their hands outstretched were from the beginning the Arians, who obstinately denied the Divinity of Christ and who could not see in the Eucharist any more than a simple symbol of "union," which can be taken and handled at will. Millions of presentday Catholics including many prelates and priests, have been practically converted to Arianism, a great heresy lasting from the fourth to the seventh century.


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