Friday, May 22, 2020 –
Getting back to our basic primers, I would like to talk a little bit more about on the hand vs. on the tongue. Back in part V of “Mrs. Flusche’s Super Basic Primer on the Eucharist,” I went through the “how tos” of receiving both ways. Today I am going to talk a little more about how Communion on the hand came about. Tomorrow I hope to impart a few tips for reverent reception.
The truth is, receiving the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue is STILL the universal norm of the Church. Despite what people think, on the hand is NOT universal! In fact, there are many dioceses that forbid the practice of on the hand. (**Helpful tip to know if you are traveling abroad!!)
Reception of Communion on the hand is an indult that was granted way back in 1969. Various Bishop Conferences (ours is the USCCB) received permission on various dates after that, but generally speaking the ball started rolling then.
What does “universal norm” mean?
Basically, it means the traditional (or time-honored) practice of the Church. Not everywhere allows Communion on the tongue. It is still the “normal” means for reception of the Eucharist.
“Meminerint tamen omnes secularism traditionem esse hostiam super linguam accipere.”
“However, let all remember that the time-honored tradition is to receive the host on the tongue.”
(Notitiae, CDW, Mar.-Apr. 1999, p. 160-161)
What is an “indult”?
An “indult” is a special permission granted by the Holy See (AKA the Pope) for a specific thing to a specific person or group of people. Specifically, the indult for Communion on the hand was granted to the United States on June 17, 1977. The technical definition is, “a license granted by the Pope authorizing an act that the common law of the Church does not sanction.”
Did this indult mean a change for EVERYONE on how they receive the Eucharist?
No! In fact, Pope Paul VI and the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship specifically stated that “[t]he new manner of giving communion must not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional practice.” (Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Letter “En reponse a la demande,” to presidents of those conferences of bishops petitioning the indult for communion in the hand, 29 May 1969: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 61 (1969) 546-547; Notitiae 5 (1969) 351-353, #1)
The same document goes on to say, “[t]he option offered to the faithful of receiving the Eucharistic bread in their hand and putting it into their own mouth must not turn out to be the occasion for regarding it as ordinary bread or as just another religious article.” (Ibid) So, while allowed, it was NOT mandated for everyone. Likewise, those who choose to receive on the hand are implored to receive reverently AND without falling into thinking the Eucharist is “ordinary.”
Some have made the argument that Christ gave the Eucharist to the Apostles on the hand at the Last Supper, so we should follow that. What say you, Mrs. Flusche?
Well, to be honest, the Gospel does not specify tongue vs. hand, it simply states, “gave it to His disciples.” (Matthew 26:26) He probably handed it to them, but I honestly was not there.
Further, we are talking about the Apostles, whom Christ instituted as His Priests. “Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.” (Matthew 26:20). See also Luke 22:14, “When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles.”
The Gospels specifically speak of “the Twelve,” or “the Apostles.” The Last Supper was not any anyone passing by join in sort of affair. It was the Institution of the Priesthood AND the Institution of the Eucharist. The two are very much connected.
It is a pretty big distinction between a Priest handling the Eucharist vs. a lay person! Priests (and Deacons) are the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist. They have consecrated hands, and only Priests can Consecrate the Eucharist. I, and all lay people, do NOT have consecrated hands.
But didn’t the early Church receive on the hand?
In the Patristic Era, named such because that was when the “Church Fathers” lived, debate rages on both sides. However, by the mid-300s, Saint Basil states, “[t]he right to receive Holy Communion in the hand is permitted only in times of persecution.” (Saint Basil, Letter 93) Communion on the hand was considered RARE, even unusual. This means that for the last 1,700+ years the norm has been to receive the Eucharist on the tongue.
If you are really into history and want to know more about Church debates, particularly regarding reception of the Eucharist, start HERE.
Saint Andrew, the first Apostle, pray for us!