Interesting blogpost on Communion in the Hand

The former Anglican Bishop of Richborough, Monsignor Edwin Barnes, has written this blogpost on receiving Communion either on the tongue or in the hand.

The tongue holier than the hand?

The Bishop in Wisconsin in the USA has apparently claimed ‘The practice of Communion in the hand grew out of a disobedience that can be traced back to Holland. Because of the widespread abuse of receiving in the hand, Pope Paul VI granted an indult for the practice in a 1969 letter from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship.’ He also asserts that ‘Communion on the tongue is more reverent’. Reverence is a cornerstone of Anglican worship, as it was once generally practised by Anglo-Catholics, and still is by a few. It may be though an uphill task, in view of Cardinal Sarah’s support for receiving on the tongue, but at least a case should be made for reverent receiving of Commuion in the hand .

The Dutch might have used reception in the hand as an act of disobedience. In the Church of England, the very reverse was true. Long before Dutch disobedience, many young confirmation candidates were taught that the correct way to receive was on the palm of the hand, one hand placed on the other, for we understood St Augustine had said that in this way we made “a throne for God”. Then we were taught to bow our heads to receive the Host from the palm of the hand. We were also taught to sign ourselves with the cross just before receiving the Host or the Precious Blood. It may be that it is the taking of the Host between finger and thumb that looks irreverent to the Bishop of Madison and other upholders of, as they would claim, ‘the tradition’. Well, there are many different traditional ways of receiving Communion – for instance it is administered on a spoon in the Eastern Churches, and that can probably claim at least as long a history as reception on the tongue.

What appears particularly irreverent to many former Anglicans is the way so many Catholics studiously avoid receiving from the Chalice, seemingly deliberately avoiding reception of the Precious Blood when it is offered to them. We are well aware of the assertion that ‘the Lord is the same in either kind’, but we still find it strange that if that is so He chose to initiate the Communion with both bread and wine. It has come as a great encoragement to us to be able to use again the words (taken by Cranmer originally from a Spanish Cardinal) ‘that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood’. What is more the words accompanying Communion are terribly brief, whereas in the Ordinariate when we say AMEN we say it at the end of a prayer with which the Sacrament is given to us – that the Body, the Blood, of Our Lord Jesus Christ might preserve us, body and soul, to everlasting life. Brevity, haste even, seems to be the prerequisite for some Catholics. I fancy too that our Anglo-Catholic forefathers would have told communicants that they should not attempt to receive on the tongue; it was rude to poke out your tongue, and the priest did not want to be slobbered over from so many open mouths.

In all this, though, what matters is the interior disposition of the Communicant. If he or she intends to be reverent, then how that reverence is expressed is a matter for them and the Lord, not for any onlooker. The non-conformist who receives Communion from the hands of his neighbour, seated, is not doing so from irreverence, but because that is how he believes he might get nearest to the way it was for the first disciples in the Upper Room. I seem to recall Our Lord telling us not to judge, least of all to judge another’s servant. And certainly the tongue is no holier than the hand.

11 thoughts on “Interesting blogpost on Communion in the Hand

  1. Ah, how to receive on the tongue without sticking it out! It is possible. We were taught to make a throne with our hands, but then to bring the Blessed Sacrament that was placed in the palm of our hand directly to our mouth, so as not to risk leaving any precious crumbs behind. As for judging—there are some things that do make me cringe and yes, I am sure it is not irreverence that makes this happen, but ignorance and custom. I really do not like it when people receive in the hand, then use the other hand’s forefinger and thumb in a tweezer motion to pick up the Host. Worse yet—and a liturgical abuse to boot—is when the communicant does this, then dips the Host into the Precious Blood a chalice of glass held by an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

    This kind of self-intinction is rampant in some parts of the Canadian Church. Interestingly, here in Canada, the more liberal the Roman Catholic parish is, the more likely it will offer both the Body and the Blood. If it is the same in England, perhaps that is why some more conservative types avoid taking it? Some who visit our parish may get up from the altar rail after having received the Precious Body, not realizing there’s a little wait before the priest comes around with the Chalice.

    Deborah Gyapong


  2. When the permission to receive in the hand was first given here in the States, our diocesan pastors instructed us to make a throne with our hands with our non-preferred hand (that is, the left hand for those of us who are right-handed and vice versa) on top, then to take a step or two sideways as soon as the minister placed the host in our hands so the next person could come to the minister, then to place the host in our mouths with the preferred hand in keeping with the normal social etiquette of eating a “finger food” such as a bite-sized piece of bread. The sign of the cross is formed after placing the host in one’s mouth, or after drinking from the chalice when communion is given under both forms (some people do both). More recently, the Archdiocese of Boston has provided further instruction to bow to the blessed sacrament before taking the final step to the minister’s station, though I’m not sure how universal this is. When done properly, this process is very reverent!

    Ah, yes — interior dispositions! If one does not revere God in one’s heart, one is not going to receive the sacrament reverently — or, for that matter, worthily — regardless of how a congregation distributes it. Kneeling at the communion rail is not going to make one suddenly become reverent if one does not have reverence in one’s heart, though the irreverence may be less conspicuous to an observer.

    The practice of not receiving the chalice is one of those “innovations” that began in Spain in the eight century and spread throughout the continent, becoming normative, by the twelfth century. Alas, when the Protestant “reformers” disputed the validity of the practice, the Council of Trent came to its defense — first, by defining the dogma of “concomitance” and, second, by forbidding the distribution of the chalice (!) to assert the validity of the prevailing practice. Note, also, that another custom evolved whereby the principal celebrant received communion during mass, but communion was distributed to members of the congregation who wished to receive after mass (which is why many Catholics still think that mass is over and walk out the door after receiving communion). The Second Vatican Council finally came to the rescue in the sacred constitution Sacrosanctum concillium on divine worship (citation removed).

    55. That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest’s communion, receive the Lord’s body from the same sacrifice, is strongly commended.

    The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact, communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as, for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism.

    The magisterium subsequently expanded the permission for distribution of both elements to the entire congregation at all masses, with the assistance of extraordinary ministers of holy communion.

    And the observation is correct: supposedly “traditionalist” factions rejected the changes while more liberal factions instituted it immediately. There are also some people who elect not to receive from the chalice out of concerns over sanitation, even though such concerns are objectively unfounded.



    • As a little footnote, Martin Luther himself believed in “concomitance;” that the Body and Blood were received whole and entire under either species. He also believed, however, that Church authorities could not require communicants to receive under one species only, and that to do so was one of the many abuses of “the popish Antichrist.”.

      The Reformed (including mainstream Protestant Anglicans) believed that it perverted “the Lord’s Supper” to receive under one kind only. This difference became one of the more minor points of contention between the Lutherans and the Reformed in the 16th Century (although it does not seem to have played a role in their later disputes on the subject). Luther himself, in his boisterous way, asserted that he was minded to receive the Sacrament only under the species of wine in order to demonstrate his disdain for the Reformed view, but I don’t believe that he ever did so. In the post-Luther debates between Lutherans and Reformed on this subject many of the Reformed, especially those who followed Calvin’s teachings on the matter, began to claim that the “breaking of the bread” was an essential feature of the Lord’s Supper – so Lutherans came around to omitting the “breaking” entirely. Luther also disapproved of the comixture of water with wine during the Communion Service (I cannot recall why), and so Lutherans dropped that practice as well.


      • Luther also rejected the concept of “transubstantiation,” but solely on “philosophical” grounds, whereas for the Reformed it became one of the primary “blasphemous absurdities” of Catholic eucharistic teaching. In fact, Luther once stated that if the transubstantiation concept were the only matter separating him form the pope, he would gladly “sacrifice the intellect” and accept it. (He inclined to the belief that the “corporal presence” of Christ’s body and Blood “in, with, and under” the eucharistic elements ceased after the communion service, and that the elements reverted to being mere bread and wine. Others of his Lutheran contemporaries did not accept this view, but by the 17th Century this notion had become enshrined in what was termed “Lutheran orthodoxism”).

        By the way, I hold the view that Article 29 of the 39 Articles is directed against Lutheran eucharistic teaching (Catholic teaching on the subject being condemned in Article 28, and elsewhere), and that that is the reason Queen Elizabeth I “vetoed” Article 29 when the Articles were formulated and promulgated in 1563. She did, however, ratify Article 29 in 1571. (For a long time, at least down to the 18th Century – and to this day for many conservative “Confessionalist Lutherans” – Lutherans held the British Anglican churches to be “Reformed” in doctrine, and so alien to their faith.)


  3. Agree with Norm when he states, the Archdiocese of Boston …. does now instruct confirmation candidates that the, “correct way to receive the Host is on the palm of the hand, one hand placed on the other, for we understood St Augustine had said that in this way we made “a throne for God”. However I was taught that 15 years ago in eastern Connecticut ! At that time, I was also taught by the good Nuns in Norwich that when reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” , this should be an individual and not collective gesture and hence “no holding of your neighbors hand” . To do so distracts you from an examination of your own conscience . The adoption of this gesture —- for the most part —- is however a loss cause !


    • ….and likewise in Norwich I was taught to reverently bow to the Host before its reception ! But than I was taught to immediately “Offer the sign of the Cross ” up to the Tabernacle. Have had a few logistical issues and stares whence commencing this! If enough observant – one can gauge where the individual was received into the Church by such learned gestures.


    • Fr. Hunwicke wrotes that people taking the host as a souvenir “is still a reasonable apprehension. Perhaps not so very much in an ordinary stable congregation of decent devout people, but in some other circumstances. At Lancing, at Confirmations, one had to be constantly on the look-out for people from the extended families of the confirmati trying to take the Host away as a memento of the occasion….”

      With this, I completely agree — but the more grave danger actually is Satanists seeking hosts to desecrate in so-called “black masses.”

      There is, however, a very simple solution to this problem. When visiting my godson and his parents in Denver, Colorado, in the past, we frequently assisted in Archbishop Charles Chaput’s stational masses on Sunday evenings at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. There, I noticed the presence of two rather stocky ushers (former football players?) several steps beyond each communion station standing ready to block the egress of anybody who failed to consume a host and directing the offenders to consume the host before proceeding beyond them.

      And yes, it worked!



  4. Father Hunwicke mentions problems when the Host is taken by hand. Such at IT being saved as a momentum to a first communion, etc. At the Connecticut, USA, Diocese of Norwich…. this is much more ominous ! The stealing of the Host here by local practicing Pagans for use in their Black Mass. Hence due diligence is taking in this Diocese to make sure that the Host is indeed consumed at the point of delivery -either hand or mouth !


    • NOT Strictly on this subject, however, of great interest, I have come across an article “BETWEEN FLESH AND BREAD”:—-“THE AUTOPSY OF A EUCHARISTIC MIRACLE” In the Lent 2017 issue of:— “The Messenger of the Two Hearts” ( Scientists have proven existence of human tissue in many Eucharistic Miracles. Their findings are part of an exhibition in Rome. At the Polish Church of St Stanislause in Rome, the Polish Embassy has just inaugurated an exhibition dedicated to Eucharistic Miracles around the world. It presents an overview of all the Eucharistic miracles recorded throughout the history of the church. The display is complimented by scientific explanations.This may or may not influence the way some people receive Holy Communion.


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