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Why I receive the Eucharist in my Hand

Updated on April 15, 2015

So I Guess We Disagree...

For whatever reason, the last couple weeks I've been seeing my Catholic friends post an unusual amount of arguments about why the Church as a whole, but especially in America, should go back to receiving communion only on the tongue. I'm not really sure what it is, but I'm guessing its just the next thing we've decided to be nit-picky about. We Catholics usually aren't happy unless we're "evangelizing" to other Catholics.

At the risk of sounding "liberal", "progressive", or "influenced by the secular norms and customs of society", I'm going to argue that this argument needs to stop (Ironic, and slightly hypocritical, no?).

How do you prefer to receive?

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A Typical Mass for Me

In order to highlight how receiving on the hand influences my faith and reverence for the Eucharist, I've decided to be completely transparent about how a typical Mass feels for me. This is at a typical parish where I might attend, although I occasionally go to a Parish where any one or all of these may be better (These don't all necessarily apply to my home-parish, but I'm giving a general picture of what goes on with me interiorly).

1) Mass starts and I think: well I don't really like this song, but it's not too bad so I suppose I'll sing. We have the opening prayer and sing the Gloria: Man, I LOVE the Gloria...but this arrangement is just weird/hard. But hey, God is great, so (try) and sing away. Are those bongos that they're using?!

2) The readings begin: Man, the Old Testament is REALLY under-rated, but I can't wait to see how it fits in with the Gospel. Oh man, I really love this psalm and this arrangement. Hmmm, what does Paul mean by that, I hope the Priest explains that in his homily. This Gospel kicks butt: Jesus was such an awesome/smart/snarky/kind/mysterious guy.

3) The Homily Starts: Well, this homily doesn't really apply to me (it's a bit "dumbed down"), but I'll try to listen. Listening...Listening... oh that little girl in the pew in front of me is sooo cute. I wonder where we should go for lunch. Did I remember to close the garage door? Wait, its time for the Profession of Faith already? What happened to the Homily?

4) Prayers of the Faithful and presentation of the gifts: I believe, I pray, I offer (pretty standard).

5) Liturgy of the World: Something amazing is happening here, I need to do my best to pay attention. The Epiklesis, I love this part! Bow in reverence before the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ... why wouldn't I? So glad this parish kneels during the Eucharist.

6) Receiving the Eucharist: Ok, lets get in the right mindset to receive the KING OF THE UNIVERSE. Ok, I'm next, lets bow to the King. I hold up my hands to receive Christ and he puts it in my hands. I look at Jesus lovingly and think something along the lines of Oh my precious Jesus, how unworthy am I that you should allow me touch you and receive you for the forgiveness of my sins. And then: Jesus, is in my hands... MY hands. In MY mouth. I was able to touch and hold the savior for a brief second. I check my hands for any crumbs and make sure they end up in my mouth. I go back to my pew and rejoice at what I just received.

7) After Eucharist: I just received Jesus, that was pretty cool. Thanks Jesus for that awesome gift.

The Baby with the Bathwater

Why do I highlight my experience with the mass (obviously I have some things to work on) as an argument against the "Pro-Tongue" movement? Because it seems that the primary argument these advocates make is focused on the lack of reverence people have when receiving the Eucharist. What they imply, if not outright say, is that it is receiving on the hand (an act of disobedience, by the way) which has caused people to lose reverence for the Eucharist and a belief in the real presence.

Unfortunately they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Believe me...if I can approach the Eucharist with reverence and humility, than anyone can learn to (or rather, anyone can receive the graces necessary to adopt that disposition).

I think there are three main "goods" of receiving in the hand which people tend to overlook:

1) The Fullness of the Sacrament: Humans are physical beings, and as such, the more we can touch, smell, taste, see something the more value it has for us. I made this same argument a couple years ago when a few Bishops wanted to take away receiving from the cup. I believe that being able to receive on the hand helps some people enter into the sacrament in a way that receiving on the tongue doesn't. If that's what they need, why take it away from them?

2) It's the Common Practice in the US: Notice I didn't say the "norm". All arguments about the indult aside, most people in the US (and many in Italy) receive on the hand. Allowing reception on the hand at least gives the perception of unity within the Church and allows communion to not be a distraction (oh.. how should I receive, am I doing it wrong), but a gift we can fully immerse ourselves in.

3) Anyone can Learn Humility: No seriously...on the tongue is not the only way to receive reverently and humbly. To say it is, is to put God in a tiny, regimental boxes. Just as God can give grace outside the Sacraments, so too can he grant humility and reverence outside a particular posture. Does posture usually foster disposition? Yes, but its not the be all and all--God is the beginning and the end. I personally am more humbled by reception on the hand than I am through receiving on the tongue.

The Real Problem

The real problem that everyone wishes to address (not just the "Pro-Tonguers") is that people are losing reverence, humility, and respect for God. This is a very real problem and it cannot be denied by any Catholic regardless of their "ideological leanings" or spiritual preferences. We live in a world of individualism, materialism, post-modernism, and a whole bunch of other "isms" that threaten the Kingdom of God.

What this means is that as Catholics we needed to stand united against these threats. Yes, we need to educate our own so that they may be empowered to do battle in the spiritual war. But we must give them the right tools, and the right knowledge. First, they must feel that they are part of the community, and many times arguments of practice (yes, I believe that's what this really is, a liturgical practice) do more to alienate people from the community than it does to empower them to fight with us? You like Gregorian chant at mass? Good for you, there's a parish for you. You like drums and bongos and seventies hippie songs? Good for you, I think, and there's a parish for you too. Within reason, there is a parish for everyone... but both ends of the spectrum are still part of the Church. We best remember that.

Secondly, we must lead by example. You want people to reverently receive the Eucharist? Show them how. Think everyone should receive on the tongue? Show them how to receive reverently in the hand. Think "Pro-tonguers" are distracting at mass? Well so is receiving the Eucharist irreverently in the hand. It's best if we're all part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Thirdly, we must witness, not just educate, about the real presence. This is tied closely to my second point, but different. You can educate and catechize people about the real presence until you're blue in the face and they're sick of hearing it. Witness, Evangelism, and the faith must be a lived and felt experience, not a series of doctrinal axioms. If you want people to have reverence for the Eucharist, live the Eucharist and make them desire it. It will probably take longer than you would like; making everyone receive on the tongue would be easy way out. Fortunately, God has all the time in the world.

In the end, would it be better to all receive one way? Probably, but I don't think the cost of getting there is worth it--it's too divisive. How about we pray for each other instead, that those we worship with will receive the gifts of reverence, piety, and humility. I think that's a lot better solution than the way we've been going about it recently. And honestly, it takes much more vulnerability to pray for someone you disagree with than it does to hand them a list of arguments about why you're right.

We have an important war to fight, brothers and sisters, lets not get distracted squabbling in the trenches.


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    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 3 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks MM,

      It's a complicated issue, I don't deny that. I and I do recognize that receiving on the tongue has been the norm for a while, and does present some advantages.

      The problem I tend to have is the vehemence with which people on both sides argue. It's divisive and needs to stop.

      Thanks for presenting a fuller view of the issue at hand.

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 3 years ago from Ontario

      Yes, let's pray for each other. But just so you know ...

      Start of quote

      Adding to this confusion was the progressive undertakings of a group of bishops who incessantly had one agenda in mind, the introduction of Communion in the hand. Communion in the hand was illegally introduced into Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and the United States. The Church adamantly opposed this disobedient and abusive practice from the very beginning. According to Bishop Laise, from his book Communion in the Hand, On October 12, 1965, the “Consilium” wrote to Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, “The Holy Father does not consider it opportune that the sacred Particle be distributed in the hand and later consumed in different manners by the faithful, and therefore, he vehemently exhorts [that] the Conference offer the opportune resolutions so that the traditional manner of communicating be restored” (32).

      Pope Paul VI vehemently looked for a solution to this crisis. He considered two options, either close the door to all concessions, or allow the concession only where its use was already established. The Pope took a risk and asked for the opinions of the local bishops to help him in this growing disobedience. Unfortunately, the bishops did not help Pope Paul VI, but opened the doors even wider for abuse. Communion in the hand was introduced without authorization, the Pope persistently opposed allowing it but decided to grant an indult, but only where its use was firmly established so as not to call attention to the disobedience of those bishops among their flock.

      Pope Paul VI’s compromise was the document Memoriale Domini (May 29, 1969), while reconfirming that Communion on the tongue is “more conducive to faith, reverence and humility.” The Pope wisely cautioned that Communion in the hand “carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering Holy Communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the August sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.”

      There are plenty of Catholics who sincerely believe that it makes no difference on how they receive Communion. They don’t understand the law of the Church, the history, or the warnings against receiving Communion in the hand. Pope Paul VI again repeated in Memoriale Domini the Churches position on this matter, “He should not forget, on the other hand, that the position of the Holy See in this matter is not a neutral one, but rather that it vehemently exhorts him to diligently submit to the law in force (Communion on the tongue).

      The truth of the matter is that Communion in the hand was spread through disobedience to the Pope. Pope Paul VI tried hard to put into place many obstacles to slow this disobedient practice from spreading. In Memoriale Domini he stated four restrictions; (a) the indult could only be requested if Communion in the hand was an already established custom in the country, and (b) if by a secret vote and with a two-thirds majority the episcopal conference petitions Rome, c) then Rome would grant the necessary permission, (d) once the permission was granted, several conditions had to exist simultaneously (among these conditions, no loss of sacred particles and no loss of faith in the Real Presence) (En réponse à la demande). If any of those conditions were not met than Communion in the hand was not permitted, even with the indult. These restrictions are part of the Pope’s instructions which are found attached to his document Memoriale Domini.

      However, the American bishops successfully managed to maneuver around Pope Paul VI’s restrictions. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the then president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, unsuccessfully attempted twice to establish Communion in the hand in America, in 1975 and 1976. Unfortunately, he finally prevailed in May 1977 when Communion in the hand was illegally authorized in the United States. The bishops totally ignored Pope Paul VI’s requirements expressed in his indult about not allowing the practice of Communion in the hand where it was not already established.

      End of quote

      Read the rest of the story here.


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