Communion in the Hand

Responding to The Red Herring of Communion in the Hand, Fr Robert Hart has written something interesting on Facebook:

Normally I avoid these specifically Roman Catholic problems, inasmuch as my own position is perfectly clear for all to read. But, when bad scholarship attacks perfectly valid Anglican practice, and (as I witnessed yesterday on Facebook) wrongly impresses my friends, I am only too happy to set the facts in order.
‘So according to St. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Basil the Great, the Synod of Trullo, St. John Damascus, and the Catholic Encyclopedia, communion by hand was not at all uncommon in the early Church. In fact, it was a recommended manner of reception in many places. Unless these Fathers and Doctors (and all but Tertullian are saints) were thus “sacrilegious” or promoting a “lessening of respect for the Eucharist”, the self-styled ‘traditionalist’ who denigrates this practice in and of itself has some serious explaining to do. Communion by hand was accepted in the first millennium. Nor for the most part was it considered irregular. However, it was not a uniform practice or universal so the liberals who claim it was are lying about this. However the ‘traditionalist’ who tries to make communion by mouth into an Apostolic Tradition is just as guilty of blatant lying as the liberal who revises history to suit their personal agendas. This is the problem that ‘traditionalists’ put themselves in when they make these kinds of ill-informed arguments.’

There is an interesting comment by Archbishop Haverland:

Surely the problem isn’t ‘touching’ the host, but particles of the host being dropped or left on the hand. Consciousness of the full import of the Real Presence developed slowly, and as it did, there were practical and liturgical effects. One, I think, was the decline or disappearance in the West of infant communion (because babies throw up so much). Reception on the tongue is a similar and logical development. Necessary, no. Sensible, yes.

An important distinction has to be made. When I was confirmed as an Anglican schoolboy, we received Communion by placing the right hand on the left, receiving the host, and then bringing both hands up to the mouth to take the host with the tongue. We would also do the same with any crumbs (which were rare). We then received the chalice as is the usual Anglican practice. The modern Roman Catholic way is to receive the host on the left hand and to take the host with the right thumb and index finger and consume the host, often whilst walking away from the communion rail with an apparently casual attitude. On those rare occasions when I have someone at Mass, invariably Roman Catholics, I give them Communion on the tongue in both kinds by intinction. They easily understand why I do not give them Communion in the hand when I have just “dunked” the host into the chalice.

Like our Archbishop, I find that Communion on the tongue is prudent and sensible. It is the practice of our Diocese, though the chalice is administered separately.

Indeed, traditionalists have often made a storm in a teacup, and sometimes a single issue. It is good to be calm and reasoned about these matters.

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7 Responses to Communion in the Hand

  1. Dale says:

    Quinisext Council, Canon 101.

    The divine Apostle loudly proclaims the man created in the image of God to be a body of Christ and a temple. Standing, therefore, far above all sensible creation, and having attained to a heavenly dignity by virtue of the soterial Passion, by eating and drinking Christ as a source of life, he perpetually readjusts both his eternal soul and his body and by partaking of the divine grace he is continually sanctified. So that if anyone should wish to partake of the intemerate body during the time of a synaxis, and to become one therewith by virtue of transessencc, let him form his hands into the shape of a cross, and, thus approaching, let him receive the communion of grace. For we nowise welcome those men who make certain receptacles out of gold, or any other material, to serve instead of their hand for the reception of the divine gift, demanding to take of the intemerate communion in such containers; because they prefer soulless (i.e., inanimate) matter and an inferior article to the image of God. In case, therefore, any person should be caught in the act of imparting of the intemerate communion to those offering such receptacles, let him be excommunicated, both he himself and the one offering them.

  2. I am well aware there was Communion in the hand in the first millennium, but I was under the impression that there was a napkin or cloth separating the hand and the Bread. There was still an idea that a layperson does not touch usually It.

    • ed pacht says:

      That may have been so at some times and in some places, but it would seem to be strongly opposed by the canon quoted above. Here’s how I tend to see it (and believe I’ve seen this in some of the Fathers): As a Christian, my body has become the Temple of the Holy Spirit. My outstretched palm is presented to be a throne for the Lamb, an altar, as it were, and therefore a sacred place. When the priest, during the Canon, kisses the altar, it is my custom to kiss my right palm. When he places the host on my palm, I contemplate it in adoration for a few moments, then reverently take and eat, as He commanded. I enter into the eternal Sacrifice offered once and for all in that eternal moment around which all time revolves.

      • Dale says:

        Ed, well said, and very much along the lines of the canon I posted. The Anglican manner of reception of communion is indeed the most ancient. The second would be intinction, a practice that never died out amongst the Melkites, who do not use a golden spoon for communion, but cut the bread into long slivers which are intincted into the chalice and then put on the tongue of the communicant.

      • I’ve seen two practices in the Ordinariates: intinction or the old (I don’t know how old) Roman practice of the priest placing the Host on the tongue while the deacon follows him with the chalice.

        Yes, the Melkites do that. Some in the Middle East bake the bread into a long baguette-like tube and cut the loaf into host-like slices. The Western-born Melkites I’ve seen use the prosphora and cut it up for intinction.

  3. MartinHartley says:

    When I served as a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church, we always inticted the host before placing It in the communicants mouth. If necessary the pix was held, via a numeral veil, y a server and I held the chalice to which I dipped the host. There was dignity and communion in both kinds without any danger of infection from the chalice. Modern Roman Catholic practice, which, like the Anglicans, has the laity directly drinking from the chalice has major problems, not least, that they do not like the laity ‘dunking’ the blessed host. This is a major problem which needs to be addressed by all denominations.

    • I prefer to give Communion by intinction unless there is a very small number of communicants. There is the issue of hygiene, especially during the winter and in times of epidemics of contagious diseases. That being said, the usage of my Diocese is standard Anglican practice.

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