What Was the Ancient Practice? 

    It is worth noting that the practice being imposed by our contemporary liturgical commissars is not that described by St. Cyril, or described for that matter in standard works of reference. Women did not receive the Host directly into their bare hands, but were compelled to cover them with a cloth called the dominica, brought with them for the purpose. The innovators cannot, thus, even claim to be reviving an ancient Catholic custom. They are imposing upon the often unsuspecting faithful a manner of receiving Communion invented by the 16th century Protestant Reformers.

    A quotation attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem is the text most often used to justify the innovation. This text has been carefully edited in a number of the propaganda tracts, articles, and editorials intended to brainwash the faithful. Examples can be found in the editorial from the London Universe, which has already been cited, also in a pamphlet produced by the Catholic Truth Society of England & Wales, and in the pamphlet Take and Eat produced by the [American] Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. The full text is, however, contained in the pamphlet The Body of Christ produced by the United States Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy.
St. Cyril was a bishop of Jerusalem in the 4th century and is distinguished chiefly for the great series of lectures [catecheses] which he delivered to candidates who were to be Baptized at Easter [probably in the year 350]. The introductory lectures and the eighteen subsequent catecheses are classic theological documents, containing an outstandingly clear and well-argued presentation of the main points of the Catholic Faith. Some of the manuscripts in which these lectures have come down to us also contain five further lectures, supposedly delivered to the same audience during Easter week, in which the candidates were introduced to the great Sacramental mysteries of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist [hence these five lectures are called the Mystagogical Catecheses]. The manuscripts variously assign the Mystagogical Catecheses to authors other than St. Cyril; later writers simply append them to the earlier collection of lectures and regard them as authentic. Modern scholars are divided on their authenticity. [A good summary of the present state of opinion can be found In Quasten, Patrology III, 364/5.] In any case, it is one of the doubtful lectures which is so frequently cited today to justify Communion in the hand. Nevertheless, for the purpose of argument, it can be accepted as genuine. Moreover, the features St. Cyril describes are, as will be shown, corroborated by other patristic sources. It will be noted, when the entire quotation is cited, that the author exhibits a clearly defined and cogently argued belief in the essentially sacrificial nature of the Mass and in the full substantial reality of Christ's presence in the sacred species-----[so much so that he was a great embarrassment to the Protestant Reformers in the 16th century. He even speaks of a change of substance in the elements in a manner reminiscent of the doctrine of transubstantiation.]

    Here is the passage in full [in an original translation]:

"Approaching therefore, do not come forward with the palms of the hands outstretched nor with the fingers apart, but making the left [hand] a throne for the right since this hand is about to receive the King. Making the palm hollow, receive the Body of Christ, adding 'Amen'. Then. carefully sanctifying the eyes by touching them with the holy Body, partake of it, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it. For if you mislay any, you would clearly suffer a loss, as it were, from one of your own limbs. Tell me, if anyone gave you gold-dust, would you not take hold of it with every possible care, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it or sustain any loss? So will you not be much more cautious to ensure that not a crumb falls away from that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?

     "Then, after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, come forward only for the cup of the Blood. Do not stretch out your hands but bow low as if making an act of obeisance and a profound act of veneration. Say 'Amen'. and sanctify yourself by partaking of Christ's Blood also. While the moisture is still on your lips, touch them with your hands and sanctify your eyes, your forehead, and all your other sensory organs. Finally, wait for the prayer and give thanks to God, who has deemed you worthy of such mysteries." 12   

The practice of touching the sensory organs with the Host and smearing them with the precious Blood might be thought harmless, if a trifle odd, but it clearly had inherent dangers. It could lead to an extravagant, perhaps superstitious, devotion to the particular Host received by the communicant and to further extravagant piety. This was indeed what did happen, and the practice of actually kissing the Host became widespread. St. Cyril compared the smearing of the sensory organs with the Blood of the Lamb immolated in the Eucharist, to the smearing of the doorposts of the captive Jews in Egypt with the blood of a slaughtered lamb. He considered that just as this practice protected the Jews, so the smearing of the sensory organs would prevent the destructive evil of sensory temptation entering through them. 13
Further evidence of the wide geographical extension of this strange practice is provided by another bishop of the first half of the fifth century. Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria, who confirms that the excess of kissing the Host was already in use:

    "One should consider how during the sacred mysteries we take the limbs of the Spouse, kiss them, embrace them and apply them to our eyes." 14
This was no isolated extravagance. The practice of kissing the Host, made possible by its reception in the hand and leading to a distorted theology of the Real Presence, persisted at least down to the end of the 8th century. Our witness is St. John of Damascus [675-749]:

    "Let us receive the Body of the crucified, and applying it to our eyes, our lips, and forehead, let us partake of the Divine burning
." 15

It is hardly surprising that, in view of such excesses, the Holy Ghost should have prompted a change, i.e., the placing of the Blessed Sacrament upon the tongue, to ensure proper reverence and decorum.

    By the mid-thirteenth century, it was already a firmly established tradition that only what had been consecrated should ever come in contact with the Blessed Sacrament. St. Thomas Aquinas [1225-1274] writes:

    "The dispensing of Christ's Body belongs to the priest for three reasons. First, because, as was said above, he consecrates in the person of Christ. But as Christ consecrated His Body at the Supper, so also He gave it to others to be partaken of by them. Accordingly, as the consecration of Christ's Body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him. Secondly, because the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people, hence as it belongs to him to offer the people's gifts to God, so it belongs to him to deliver the consecrated gifts to the people. Thirdly, because out of reverence towards this Sacrament, 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. Hence it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it, except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency." 16  [Emphasis added by the author]
Propaganda in favour of Communion in the hand contains a number of claims to the effect that ordination confers no special privilege upon priests as regards handling the Blessed Sacrament. Thus it is stated in Take and Eat that:

     "While in recent times great emphasis has been placed on the sacredness of the hands of the priest, it must be noted that the anointing of the hands at ordination cannot be connected with a special privilege of touching the Eucharist."

     Well, St. Thomas Aquinas certainly saw such a connection, hundreds of years before the existence of America had ever been imagined-----and it was clearly an accepted tradition by his time. It may well be that this was not the precise or the only reason for the origin of this practice, but to state that an action which has been invested with a particular significance for up to 1,000 years does not possess this particular significance is to rob the word 'symbol' of any meaning. It is also worth noting that the traditional ordination rite found in the Roman Pontifical [a rite, by the way, that has been Protestantized even more thoroughly than the New Mass] contains the following admonition in the charge delivered by the bishop to the ordinands:

    "Realize what you are doing, model yourselves on what you handle, and as you celebrate the mystery of the Lord's death, see that your bodies are wholly dead to every vice and carnal impulse." 

This is a clear reference to the fact that the ordinands will soon be handling the Body of Christ, which is spoken of as a privilege. If every Catholic were permitted to handle the Blessed Sacrament, there would not be much point in making specific reference to it here.

    The booklet Take and Eat continues:

    "The special anointing of the hands symbolizes the priest's public ministry of service to others." [!]

    Does it indeed? It would be interesting to have a source cited for this piece of nonsense. Postmen, doctors, garbage collectors, teachers, road-sweepers, and the armed forces all perform a "public ministry of service to others"-----perhaps they should have their hands anointed?

"Further evidence that anointing gives no special title to touching the Eucharist is derived from the reflection on the ministry of deacons, which was always connected with the Eucharist; yet the deacon's hands were never anointed."

It can be pointed out that in some regions at least, the deacon's hands WERE consecrated-----as the 6th century Epistle of Gildas and the 8th century Pontifical of Egbert of York prove. While some instances of deacons administering the Host can be adduced from the early centuries, the connection of the deacon with the Eucharist has traditionally been associated with the chalice. This is made clear in the citation from St. Thomas Aquinas, who clearly rules out the possibility of the deacon administering the Host under normal circumstances. The Catholic Encyclopedia testifies:

    "The care of the chalice has remained the deacon's special province down to modern times. Even now in a High Mass the rubrics direct that when the chalice is offered, the deacon is to support the foot of the chalice or the arm of the priest  . . . As a careful study of the first Ordo Romanus shows, the archdeacon in the papal Mass seems in a sense to preside over the chalice, and it is he and his fellow-deacons who, after the people have communicated under the form of bread, present to them the calicem ministerialem with the precious blood." 17

    To return to Take and Eat:

    "More recently, the commissioning of the laity as extraordinary ministers of Communion focuses our attention on the theology of Baptism and the consecration to God therein effected."

    This really is so preposterous that it is hard to believe that it is intended to be taken seriously. The scandalous abuse of lay ministers of Holy Communion-----who are proliferating here, there, and everywhere, and sometimes administer Communion while the clergy sit in their 'Presidential' chairs-----is now cited to justify the abuse of Communion in the hand! Presumably, the situation could be reversed, and anyone objecting to lay ministers of Holy Communion [as every Catholic should object] will be silenced by being informed that, as the laity receive Communion in the hand, there can be no objection to the laity administering it.

    A more detailed examination of the shallowness and dishonesty of the propaganda produced by the various hierarchies in favour of Communion in the hand will be provided later.

The discussion so far can be summarized as follows: it is accepted, for the sake of argument, that a form of Communion in the hand, though not the present form, did exist in the Church for the first seven or eight-hundred years of her history, although the practice of placing the Host on the tongue was known at least as early as the sixth century. Unless we are to believe that the Holy Ghost abandoned the Church for 1,000 years, we must accept the fact that, under His guidance, a tradition evolved that only the consecrated hands of a priest could touch the Host; we have the witness of St. Thomas Aquinas that, by the 13th century, it was firmly established that not even a deacon could do so under normal circumstances. It is noteworthy that those concocting propaganda in favour of Communion in the hand, particularly that published under the auspices of the hierarchy of the U.S.A., take it as established that any liturgical development not in accordance with their own pet theories is an aberration. It must be borne in mind continually that abuses such as lay ministers of Communion, Communion in the hand, standing for Communion, or the vandalization of beautiful sanctuaries, formed no part of the papally approved liturgical movement-----or indeed, the official reforms envisaged by the Council Fathers of Vatican II.

   There is no living priest who can speak with greater authority concerning the liturgical movement and the Liturgy Constitution of Vatican II than Fr. Louis Bouyer. He gave the Constitution a rapturous welcome in his book The Liturgy Revived, praising it as the culmination of the movement-----and yet now he condemns the reform which has been imposed as a deliberate turning of the back upon both. There is, he claims, no liturgy worthy of the name in the Catholic Church today [referring, of course, to the Latin rite]. 18 It is being no more than objective to point out that the bureaucrats, the liturgical commissars who are imposing their diktat upon us today, are spiritual and intellectual pygmies alongside a theological giant such as Dietrich von Hildebrand, who writes: "Truly, if one of the devils in C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better." 19 Indeed, it is impossible not to see the destruction of the Roman Rite as the greatest triumph of Satan since the Protestant Reformation-----and it appears that the Father of Lies is running out of ideas as he is making precisely the same changes now as he did then.

    In 1947 Pope Pius XII warned us against the very practices which are now universally triumphant throughout the West. In his encyclical Mediator Dei, perhaps the most sublime exposition of the nature of the Eucharist as a Sacrifice and Sacrament which has been written since the Summa Theologica, he warned us of "a wicked movement that tends to paralyze the sanctifying and salutary action by which the liturgy leads the children of adoption on the path to their heavenly Father." This wicked movement was concerned with reviving obsolete liturgical practices on the grounds that they are more primitive. Pope Pius explains:

    "The liturgy of early ages is worthy of veneration; but an ancient custom is not to be considered better, either in itself or in relation to later times and circumstances, just because it has the flavour of antiquity. More recent liturgical rites are also worthy of reverence and respect, because they too have been introduced under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, who is with the Church in all ages even to the consummation of the world . . .the desire to restore everything indiscriminately to its ancient condition is neither wise nor praiseworthy. It would be wrong, for example, to want the altar restored to its ancient form of a table; to want black excluded from the liturgical colours, and pictures and statues excluded from our churches . . . This attitude is an attempt to revive the 'archaeologism' to which the pseudo-synod of Pistoia gave rise; it seeks also to re-introduce the many pernicious errors which led to that synod and resulted from it and which the Church, in her capacity of watchful guardian of 'the deposit of faith' entrusted to her by her Divine Founder has rightly condemned."

    But what was rightly condemned in 1947 was wrongly imposed in 1977-----Pope Pius XII did not mention such outrages as lay ministers of Communion, or Communion in the hand: even the most extreme Protestantizers of his day had not imagined such success possible!

12) S. Cyrilli, Catechesis mystagogica V, xxi-xxii, ed. Touttee-Maran, S. Cyrilli Hieros. opera omnia, (Venice, 1763), pp. 331-2; reproduced in Migne, PG 33. On the question of the dubious authorship of this work see: J. Quasten, Patrology, vol. III (Utrecht, Antwerp, 1963), pp. 364-366.
13) St. Cyril of Alexandria on Exodus: Glaphyra in Exodum II, ed. Aubert, S. Cyrilli Alexandriae opera (Paris, 1638), Vol. I, pp. 270-271; reproduced in Migne, PG 69.
14) Theodoret of Cyrrhus In Canticum Canticorum interpretatio I, 1, ed. Schultze-Noesselt, Theodoreti Cyrrhensis opera (Halle, 1769-1774), vol 2, pp. 1 ff; reproduced in Migne PG 81, col. 27 ff.
15) De fide orthodoxa IV, 13, Migne PG 94, col. 1149B.
16) ST, III, Q. 82, Art. 13.
17) CE (1913) vol. iv, p. 649, col. 2.
18) The Decomposition of Catholicism (Franciscan Herald Press, 1969), p. 99.
19) The Devastated Vineyard, p. 71.