Communion by the hand

By Modesto P. Sa-onoy

I have written on this subject before to encourage Catholics to receive the Sacred Host by their tongue rather than their hand. There are now developments here in Bacolod as more people realize the risk of sacrilege when they take the Host by their hands. One priest, at least, required the communicant to knell and receive the Sacred Host by the tongue. This is what it should be to show adoration for the God that one receives.

In Houston, Texas, a priest, Fr. Mark Goring said that what the world is doing “is evil in the sight of God,” and called on Catholics to return to the ancient practice of receiving the Holy Eucharist while kneeling as an act of reparation. He alluded to fears among some that an apocalyptic war is imminent due to this massive sacrilege and “affirmed that God sends chastisements when His people go astray.”

Catholics, he said, should not wait to plead for God’s mercy. Rather than making statements or issuing documents, “I believe that as a Church we should express our repentance before the Lord and plead for mercy in concrete, tangible ways” and for the entire Church, “as a sign of our repentance, as a sign of acknowledgment and adoration of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, to return to the practice of receiving the Eucharist while kneeling.”

“Is receiving the Eucharist on our knees going to fix all the world’s problems? I think it will,” he said.

Around the time of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the ancient practice of receiving Communion while kneeling began to fall away. In the Philippines this new practice is practically universal, its defenders saying that there are simply too many communicants that the Mass could take longer than one hour. But then, should adoration for God be dispensed for the sake of another 20 minutes when other religious congregations stay three to four hours in church on Sundays?

Fr. Goring mentioned a history of the practice of receiving the Holy Eucharist since the first century after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While it acknowledged that in the earliest days of the Church the Eucharist was probably received in the hand, it noted a change in this practice came early on.

In his Vatican website, Fr. Goring said that starting in the time of the Fathers of the Church, the distribution of the Eucharist became more restricted “in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue.”

There are two stated reasons for this: “a) to avoid, as much as possible, the dropping of Eucharistic particles; b) to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelic Doctor for his huge contributions to theology, referred, for example, to receiving the Eucharist on the tongue, and added that “touching the Body of the Lord is proper only to the ordained priest.”

Additionally, he said, “The Western Church has established kneeling as one of the signs of devotion appropriate to communicants. Kneeling indicates and promotes the adoration necessary before receiving the Eucharistic Christ.”

Fr Goring cited then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI), who wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “Communion only reaches its true depth when it is supported and surrounded by adoration. The practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species.”

According to Fr. Goring, the article is a reminder of the importance of “truly adoring the Lord, before and while we are receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist.”

Confident that receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ on the tongue while kneeling can solve the world’s problems, Fr. Goring said, “I believe that this one simple, but real gesture can avert wars.” And this is a way of showing that the Sacred Host is the Body, Soul and Divinity of Christ, and its tiniest particle is complete and whole and therefore deserves the highest respect.

I have noted that priests distributing Holy Communion during the Mass at St. Peter’s square now refuse to give the Host to the hand and only on the tongue.