Why Communion in the Hand ought to be Forbidden

by Father Nicholas Gruner, S.T.L., S.T.D. (Cand.)

from The Fatima Crusader Issue No. 28

The following is a commentary on the Regulations allowing Communion in the hand under very restricted circumstances.

It must be remembered that Communion on the tongue is the law of the Church. Communion in the hand is an exception to the law (it is an "indult") which is not commanded but only allowed if all the conditions outlined by the Vatican are present. If the conditions are not present then the permission is not granted and Communion on the tongue only is permitted.

The seven conditions are based on two principles as the official document points out. These two principles are not something that the Pope could change even if he wanted to because they are based on Divine Revelation itself.

Every Occasion of Scandal Must Be Avoided

The first condition is that every occasion of scandal is avoided. Obviously if this practice causes some of the Faithful to lose faith in "the Real Presence" then this practice is not good for the salvation of souls because faith in the "Real Presence" in the Eucharist is necessary for salvation.

If the luxury of being able to receive Communion in the hand is going to cause the loss of faith and thereby the loss of souls for all eternity, can anyone fail to see that Sacred Scripture (which tells us to avoid scandal) and charity for souls would demand that this practice be forbidden. And so the Vatican document also makes this lack of scandal an explicit condition for allowing Communion in the hand.

In other words, in places, parishes or communities where the Faithful, even only one of the Faithful, would lose his faith in the Real Presence then in that place, even if the bishop and the Vatican have given their permission, then by the very law and terms of the permission as well as by Divine Revelation itself, Communion in the hand in that place would be forbidden under grave obligation upon the minister of the Sacrament, the priest, the deacon and the extraordinary minister if there be one. It would bind the bishop, even the Pope himself in that place.

If some ministers do not follow this rule, their bad example does not change the rule, not even if the Pope were to give such example, this rule binds all, even the Pope.

The second principle which the Vatican document gives us is also based on Divine Revelation and cannot be changed by anyone not even the Pope himself because it is part of the unchanging Law of God.

All Danger of Irreverence Must Be Avoided

The second principle is that "All danger of irreverence towards the Eucharist is avoided." Since the Eucharist is the Body of Jesus Christ Himself Who is true God and true Man we are bound by the First Commandment to reverence and adore Him. To do the opposite would be the sin of sacrilege. Thus if one prudently fears that by giving Communion in the hand that sins of sacrilege will be committed then one must not give Communion in the hand.

Now as St. Paul explains it is the minister of the Sacraments who is personally responsible for their administration. He is responsible first of all not to the Pope, not to the bishop, not to the recipient of the Sacrament, but to God Himself Whose minister he is.

And it is for the minister to be found trustworthy as God's minister first.

Now it is precisely the minister, the priest who gives out Communion who is personally responsible to assess the situation. It is not the Pope or bishop, who are not present, but the minister who administers.

This is the principle of subsiduarity and is acknowledged explicitly enough when we read Norm No. 3 for who is to judge the attitude of the recipient in Norm No. 3 except the priest who administers on the spot the Sacrament. By the very nature of this norm it is not up to the bishop or Pope or Chancery official or other priest nearby but only the priest who actually administers the sacrament to the Faithful at that place and time who is personally responsible to judge the external attitude of the recipient.

Now you might ask what are some of the dangers whereby Communion in the hand might cause irreverence to the Holy Eucharist.

There are several very common ones. Especially and namely this: When a person receives Communion in the hand there is a very high probability that some Fragment of the Host will break off or come loose and remain in the hand after the communicant has put the Host in his mouth. Whereas there is little or no danger of Fragments breaking off and falling to the ground if he receives on his tongue. Now after some time the Fragment will fall off his hand and onto the ground where It can be trampled underfoot.

We know from the defined Dogma of the Catholic Faith that each and every Fragment which breaks off from the Host is "The Body of Jesus Christ - really present." So to drop a Consecrated Fragment on the ground is the same as dropping the Consecrated Host on the ground. Even if only done through negligence it is still a sin of sacrilege.

This danger of irreverence then is to be avoided by Divine Law. Not even the Pope can change this law. The Vatican document by including here the necessity of avoiding danger of irreverence is only reminding us of this Divine Law.

It is again the personal responsibility of the minister of the Sacrament be he the Pope, a Bishop, a Cardinal or a Priest or Deacon or an Extraordinary Lay Minister to see to it that all danger of irreverence towards the Holy Eucharist be avoided.

He cannot say the bishop commanded me or everyone else is doing it ... Before God he must answer for each and every act of administering the Holy Eucharist.

If he knows that the people receiving the Holy Eucharist in the hand do not look in their hands to see if there are any Fragments left after they consume the Host then he can be certain that some of the people will most likely have Fragments on their hands which will sooner or later be dropped. In which case for them their responsibility is clear - They cannot give Communion in the hand even if the bishop or Pope should order them to do so.

This is not to imply that Pope John Paul II has ever done such a thing. On the contrary, we are very grateful to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, for resisting Communion in the hand in Italy. As one Italian major religious Superior pointed out, if it were not for Pope John Paul II, Communion in the hand would have been fully introduced in Italy by now.

Eucharistic Minister is Bound to Avoid Sacrilege

In fact in North America and most likely anywhere else in the world where Communion in the hand is given, not 100% of the people look into their hands to see if there are any Fragments for them to consume and therefore the Eucharistic minister is bound in public churches to avoid the danger of sacrilege and irreverence by not giving anyone Communion in the hand because he can be morally certain that some; likely most (but even some is sufficient reason) will not look in their hands after Communion. Consequently there will be at least a few, if not many, who will drop Fragments on the ground, thereby committing sacrilege and irreverence, even though it is only through negligence as Pope Paul VI taught in his Encyclical (Mysterium Fidei 1965, Sept. 3.)

Since the minister knows this will happen he is not allowed by the very terms of this official document granting "the indult" of giving Communion in the hand. He is also bound by Divine Law in these circumstances to not give Communion in the hand even if his religious superior should command him.

With these two principles explained, the average reader should realize why Communion in the hand in practice is still forbidden by the current law of the Church even where the indult has "technically" been allowed. In other words the terms of the permission, both in Divine Law and in Church Law are so strict that almost never is it allowed in practice.

Before we finish we must recall that the person receiving Communion is also responsible to see that no irreverence is committed, but his responsibility does not excuse the minister from taking all the precautions necessary.

The following correspondence should further illustrate and illuminate the Church's teaching and law forbidding Communion in the hand and the persecution priests endure, who for reasons of conscience do not follow this practice.

Some Reflections on Certain Theological Points

Is it not true that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the priest? (C.J.C. 845, 1; Council of Trent 13 c.8, 22 c.1) St. Thomas tells us:

"Accordingly as the consecration of Christ's Body belongs to the priests, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him." S.T.III, q. 82 a. 3

And it is not true that the minister is responsible to God for the proper administration of the Sacraments that he personally administers? But some priests ask themselves "How can a priest be held responsible by God, if God (and the Church) does not also give to us priests the authority to dispense this Most Holy Sacrament according to God's law and the universal law of the Church?"

And is not the universal law of the Latin Rite still that the Consecrated Host be placed on the tongue of the communicant as the document Memoriale Domini (1969) says:

"... the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering Holy Communion to the Faithful.

"The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed."

The Rights and Obligations of the Priest as Minister of Holy Communion

It seems then to a number of Roman Catholic priests that a priest is not ever obligated by Divine or Ecclesiastical law to give Holy Communion in the hand, even in those dioceses where the bishop has licitly given permission for the priests to give Holy Communion in the hand. As the indult given by the Holy See only dispenses a minister from the law of Holy Communion on the tongue, it does not command a minister to give Holy Communion in the hand.

Further, it seems that the indult to give Holy Communion in the hand allows this practice only under certain conditions, one of which is:

"Si deve fare attenzione a non lasciare cadere ne disperdere frammenti de Pane Eucharistico. Come pure si deve curare la conveniente mondezza delle mani ..." (A.A.S. 1969, p. 547. Notiziae 1973, circa p. 295.) (One must pay attention to not let fall or disperse fragments of the Eucharistic Bread. As also care must be taken of the proper cleanness of hands ... )

Therefore it would seem that the priest giving out Holy Communion must judge if in fact the conditions set down by the Holy See for this indult are in fact present at the time he is distributing Holy Communion.

And it would further seem that if the priest is to obey the law of the Catholic Church for the Latin Rite he must not give Holy Communion in the Hand, if in fact the necessary conditions for using the indult are not present.

Further, it seems that when the priest finds that to give Holy Communion in the hand would be against the law of God and his conscience, he would be obligated to not give Holy Communion in the hand. (As for example would happen when he is morally certain that the Faithful through ignorance or negligence will cause Consecrated Fragments to drop on the ground after they consume the Host.)

It further seems then that if a priest chooses to not give Holy Communion in the hand on some or on all occasions, he should not, on this account, be punished or hindered in his apostolic works by anyone, even by one or more Roman Catholic bishops.