The Significance and Practice of Communion in the Hand

The Significance of Communion in the Hand
The particular significance of the imposition of Communion in the hand is that it is the epitomization of the "Spirit of Vatican II", the spirit which pervades the "Conciliar Church" to which Archbishop Lefebvre has been ordered to submit. A careful study of the factual background to this innovation should provide any Catholic still capable of breaking free from his conditioning with the impetus necessary to take this salutary step. This would not make life easier; to recognize the truth incurs the obligation of acting upon it. Life is far less complicated for those who are happy to remain conditioned
 but, surely, no price can be too high for an individual to pay to regain his personal integrity.

It will be proved in this study that the reception of Communion in the hand never formed part of the program of the papally-approved liturgical movement: it was not mentioned in any official document of Vatican II: it was introduced in the 16th century by the Protestant Reformers specifically to repudiate belief in the Catholic Priesthood and the Real Presence; it was re-introduced after Vatican II by rebel priests in Holland and has spread throughout the world from there; it is being imposed upon the faithful by techniques involving distortion of the truth, outright deceit, and even intimidation. And what will be shown concerning Communion in the hand could also be shown of so many other post-conciliar innovations which Archbishop Lefebvre correctly designates as unacceptable to Catholics:

    "In effect, all these reforms have contributed and continue to contribute to the destruction of the Church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the abolition of the Sacrifice and the Sacraments, to the disappearance of the religious life, and to a naturalistic and Teilhardian education in the universities, in the seminaries, in Catechetics: an education deriving from Liberalism and Protestantism which had been condemned many times by the solemn Magisterium of the Church.

    "No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can compel us to abandon or diminish our Catholic faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church's Magisterium for nineteen centuries." 2

     A Process of Deceit
Apologists for the practice of Communion in the hand possess what they consider an unanswerable argument to justify the innovation, namely, that it was the practice in the early Church. Reduced to its simplest terms, their argument reads: "Because it is older it must be better." This argument is totally fallacious and has been most forcefully condemned by Pope Pius XII, as will be shown later. Those concerned to uphold the traditional practice should concentrate on exposing the fallacy of this argument and not be sidetracked into discussions of whether the practice of Communion in the hand was once universal, how long it lasted, how genuine the texts brought forward to prove that it was once the custom are, or even the reasons why it was abandoned in favour of Communion on the tongue for the laity.

    Traditionalists are sometimes accused of having a static concept of the Faith, of being opposed to any development. On the contrary, it is the Liberals who wish to ignore developments in liturgy and doctrine which have taken place under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The most effective answer to contemporary liturgical and doctrinal innovators is to be found in Newman's The Development of Christian Doctrine. In this book the great Cardinal shows how it was not only natural but inevitable that there should be development in every aspect of the Church's life. The first Christians still frequented the synagogues and, in many cases, observed Jewish dietary regulations. Centuries passed before the true nature of the Trinity and the Divine nature of Christ were fully clarified. Forms of worship used in times of persecution were clearly no longer adequate when the Christians emerged from the catacombs and were presented with great basilicas. As with other doctrines, without ever contradicting what had been previously believed, the nature of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist became more and more apparent, and this was reflected in the liturgy. Lex orandi, lex credendi, the manner in which the Church worships will reflect what she believes. 3 Cardinal Newman correctly observed that "a developed doctrine which reverses the course of development which has preceded it, is no true development but a corruption; also that what is corrupt acts as an element of unhealthiness towards what is sound." 4 There could be no more accurate description of the nature and effect of the reversal of development which has occurred with the introduction of Communion in the hand.

        Furthermore, this particular innovation, together with most of the liturgical changes following Vatican II, cannot be reconciled with the belief that the Holy Ghost inhabits and guides the Church. If the arguments in favour of Communion in the hand, and the other liturgical changes are valid, then clearly the Holy Ghost has not been guiding the Church for well over a thousand years. He was evidently either absent or ignored until the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century made the very same changes being imposed by the neo-Protestants within the Church today. It will be proved below that, as the Protestant Reformers introduced Communion in the hand specifically to reject belief in the Catholic priesthood and the Real Presence, the retention of Communion on the tongue had become an embarrassing obstacle to ecumenism since Vatican II. Those who are destroying the Roman Rite today are opposed to virtually every aspect of the manner used by Latin rite Catholics for celebrating Mass before the Council. If they are correct, then it is quite inconceivable that the Holy Ghost was leading the Popes of the past 1,000 years to permit and impose harmful forms of worship. And if the Holy Ghost has not been guiding the Church for over a millenium, then quite clearly ours is not the one true Church.
Liberals might answer that what was adequate until the second half of this century is no longer adequate today, as we are now in the presence of 'modern man', of humanity 'come of age', of the 'adult Catholic'. In his book The Devastated Vineyard, Dietrich von Hildebrand shows convincingly that the so-called "modern man" is a myth, invented by the sociologists, that in his essential nature, in his basic needs, desires, and attitudes, contemporary man does not differ from his predecessors of past centuries. 5 Human nature does not change.

    The Practice of Communion in the Hand
The key issue of the debate concerning the escalating imposition of Communion in the hand is not whether it was once widespread in the early Church, but whether it should be introduced in the present day. In order to simplify the debate, let it be conceded, for the sake of argument, that for some centuries it was considered acceptable for the priest to place the host in the hand of the communicant. There is, however, definite evidence that, in at least some regions, the laity were receiving Communion on the tongue by the end of the sixth century. 6 The Roman Ordo of the ninth century accepts Communion on the tongue as the normal practice. 7 The Synod of Rouen in the year 650 condemned the reception of Communion in the hand by the laity as an abuse. This indicates that the reception of Holy Communion upon the tongue must have already become the established practice. 8

    Scholars are not clear why the transition took place-----differing explanations are given and there is probably some truth in most of them. The precise reason is not important, however. What is important is that the change must have been made for good reason under the influence of the Holy Ghost. The change to unleavened bread is given as one reason; the fear of abuse is another; Fr. Jungmann cites "growing respect for the Eucharist" as the decisive reason. 9

    A study of patristic and early medieval sources reveals not only a continually heightened appreciation of the Eucharist as the true Body and Blood of Christ-----not simply to be received, but to be adored-----but of the nature of the Mass as a solemn Sacrifice, the prime purpose of which is the adoration of Almighty God. The essential sacrificial act required a validly ordained priest, wheaten bread, and wine. It was offered by the priest acting in the person of Christ. The laity had the awesome privilege of being present at the Sacrifice-----but the liturgy naturally and logically came to accentuate the primary role of the priest and the solemnity of the Sacrifice. A booklet of propaganda in favour of Communion in the hand, The Body of Christ, issued by the American Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, writes of this as if it were something to be condemned:
"In the eighth and ninth centuries the laity were almost completely excluded from the celebration. They no longer took the offerings to the altar during Mass, but were required to do so beforehand; the singing was done by the schola only; the general intercessions disappeared; the faithful could no longer see what was happening on the altar because the priest was in front of the altar, now sometimes completely surrounded and completely hidden by the iconostasis; the canon was said quietly and everything took place in silence or in a language less understood by the people."

   This reads like a list of complaints made by a 16th century Protestant Reformer and, in most of the instances given, is a condemnation of the present liturgical practice of the Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics. As an example of the shoddy scholarship in this pamphlet, and all the propaganda for Communion in the hand, it needs only to be pointed out that the very idea of the faithful needing to see "what was happening on the altar" would have been totally alien to the Christians of this time, as Fr. Charles Napier, Superior of the London Oratory, has pointed out. 10 Similarly, from the time that  Christians first had churches, it was the almost invariable custom for Mass to be offered facing the East, and so the priest always stood before the altar with his back to the congregation. I have given sufficient evidence of this elsewhere and will not repeat it here. [See my pamphlets, The Tridentine Mass and The New Mass, available from The Remnant at $1 each.]

     Once the true nature of the Mass is grasped, once there is a true understanding of what takes place when a priest of God pronounces the awesome words of consecration, it is not hard to understand why the most solemn moments of the Sacrifice take place behind the Iconostasis in the Eastern Churches. It is, indeed, a matter for wonder that any priest dares to pronounce these words or that the laity dare to be present when he does. There is a passage in the ancient liturgy of St. James which expresses perfectly the attitude which sinful men should adopt in the presence of this mystery, an attitude epitomized perfectly by the manner in which Mass was celebrated by the close of the ninth century, but which is found totally deplorable by today's proponents of Communion in the hand. The passage reads:

     "Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and meditate nothing earthly within itself for the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God, comes forward to be sacrificed, and to be given for food to the faithful; and the bands of Angels go before Him with every power and dominion, the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, and crying aloud the hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. "
    It was the consideration of all the reverence shown to the Blessed Sacrament, coupled with the magnificent and solemn grandeur of the ceremonies of Holy Mass, that drew from Frederick the Great that noble and magnanimous saying: 

"The Calvinists treat Almighty God as a servant; the Lutherans as an equal; the Catholics as a God." 11

    The two current methods of distributing Holy Communion can be seen as symbolizing two conflicting attitudes to the Mass-----those who consider it primarily as an awesome Sacrifice offered to Almighty God, with all possible solemnity and reverence; and those on the other hand who consider it the convivial gathering of a mutual self-admiration society. The present conflict can, in fact, be seen as a symbol of the struggle within the Church between those who see Christianity as the cult of God and those who consider it to be the cult of man.

    Dietrich von Hildebrand had noticed the direction the innovations were taking as early as 1966. Writing in the October issue of Triumph in that year, he noted:

    "The basic error of most of the innovations is to imagine that the new liturgy brings the holy sacrifice of the Mass nearer to the faithful, that shorn of its rituals the Mass now enters the substance of our lives. For the question is whether we better meet Christ in the Mass by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our workaday world. The innovators would replace holy intimacy with Christ by an unbecoming familiarity. The new liturgy actually threatens to frustrate the confrontation with Christ. It discourages reverence in the face of mystery, precludes awe, and all but extinguishes a sense of sacredness."

    The final sentence could have been written specifically to describe the effect of Communion in the hand!

2) Declaration of November 21, 1974, available from The Remnant at 6 for $1.
3) This principle is discussed in detail in my book, Cranmer's Godly Order, p. 57; and my pamphlet The Roman Rite Destroyed, pp. 20/21. Both are available from The Remnant.
4) Development of Christian Doctrine, Ch. V, Sect. VI, 4.
5) The Devastated Vineyard (Franciscan Herald Press), p. 41. This important work can be purchased from Roman Catholic Books, POB 255, Harrison, NY 10528.
6) S. Greg: Dialog. iii, 3 (PL, lxxvii, 224).
7) PL, lxxvii, 994.
8) Some authorities place the Synod of Rouen in the mid-ninth century. Others speak of two Synods. It is the fact that Communion in the hand was condemned as an abuse which matters, not the exact date of the Synod.
9) The Mass of the Roman Rite (London, 1959), p. 510.
10) The Clergy Review, August 1972, p. 628.
11) J. O'Brien, History of the Mass (New York, 1888), p. 381