Print This Page

“Communion in the hand should be rejected," Dietrich von Hildebrand, November 8, 1973

There can be no doubt that Communion in the hand is an expression of the trend towards desacralization in the Church in general and irreverence in approaching the Eucharist in particular. The ineffable mystery of the bodily presence of Christ in the consecrated host calls for a deeply reverent attitude. (To take the Body of Christ in our unanointed hands—just as if it were a mere piece of bread is something in itself deeply irreverent and detrimental for our faith.) Dealing with this unfathomable mystery as if we were merely dealing with nothing but another piece of bread, something we naturally do every day with mere bread, makes the act of faith in the real bodily presence of Christ more difficult. Such behavior toward the consecrated host slowly corrodes our faith in the bodily presence and fosters the idea that it is only a symbol of Christ. To claim that taking the bread in our hands increases the sense of the reality of the bread is an absurd argument. The reality of the bread is not what matters—that is also visible for any atheist. But the fact that the host is in reality the Body of Christ—the fact that transubstantiation has taken place—this is the theme which must be stressed.

Arguments for Communion in the hand based upon the fact that this practice can be found among the early Christians is not really valid. They overlook the dangers and the inadequacy of re-introducing the practice today. Pope Pius XII spoke in very clear and unmistakable terms against the idea that one could re-introduce today customs from the times of the catacombs. Certainly we should try to renew in the souls of Catholics today the spirit, fervor, and heroic devotion found in the faith of the early Christians and the many martyrs from among their ranks. But simply adopting their customs is something else again; customs can assume a completely new function today, and we cannot and should not simply try to re-introduce them.

In the days of the catacombs the danger of desacralization and irreverence which threatens today was not present. The contrast between the saeculum [secular] and the holy Church was constantly in the minds of Christians. Thus a custom which was not danger in those times can constitute a grave pastoral danger in our day.

Consider how St. Francis regarded the extraordinary dignity of the priest which consists exactly in the fact that he is allowed to touch the Body of Christ with his anointed hands. St. Francis said: “If I were to meet at the same time a saint from heaven and a poor priest, I would first show my respect to the priest and quickly kiss his hand, and then I would say: ‘O wait, St. Lawrence, for the hands of this man touch the Word of Life and possess a good far surpasses everything that is human.’”

Someone may say: but did not St. Tarcisius distribute Communion though he was no priest? Surely no one was scandalized because he touched the consecrated host with his hands. And in an emergency, a layman is today allowed to give Communion to others.

But this exception for emergency cases is not something which implies a lack of respect for the holy Body of Christ. It is a privilege justified by emergency—which should be accepted with trembling heart (and should remain a privilege, reserved only for an emergency).

But there is a great difference between this case of touching the consecrated host with our unanointed hands and that of taking Communion in the hand as a matter of course—on all occasions. To be allowed to touch the consecrated host with unanointed hands is in no way presented to the faithful as an awe-inspiring privilege. It becomes the normal form of receiving Communion. And this fosters an irreverent attitude and thus corrodes faith in the real bodily presence of Christ.

It is taken for granted that everyone receives the consecrated host in his hand. The layman to whom the great privilege is granted for special reasons has to touch the host, of course. But there is no reason for receiving Communion in the hand; only an immanent spirit of paltry familiarity with Our Lord.

It is incomprehensible why some insist on a way of receiving Communion which opens the door to all sorts of accidental and even intentional abuses.

First, there is a much greater possibility that some particles of the consecrated host may fall. In former times the priest watched with great care whether or not some particles of the host fell, in which case he would immediately take greatest care that the sacred particles would be reverently picked up and consumed by himself. And now without any apparent reason, many want to expose the consecrated host to this danger in a much greater degree than before—this at a time when the host is made more and more to resemble bread and to crumble more easily.

Second, and this is an incomparably worse problem, the danger exists that a communicant, instead of putting the consecrated host into his mouth, will place it in his pocket or otherwise conceal and not consume it. This unfortunately has happened in these days of revived Satanism. Consecrated hosts are known to have been sold for blasphemous uses. In London, the price is said to be 30 pounds for one, which reminds us of the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas sold the Body of Our Lord.

Is it believable that instead of applying the most scrupulous care to protect the most sacred consecrated host, which is truly the Body of Christ, the God-man, from all such possible abuses, there are those who wish to expose it to this possibility? Have we forgotten the existence of the devil “who wanders about seeking whom he may devour”? Is his work in the world and in the Church not all too visible today? What entitles us to assume that abuses of the consecrated host will not take place?

The greater our respect, and the greater our love, the greater our realization of the ineffable holiness of the Eucharist—the greater will be our horror of its being abused; and our eagerness to protect it from all possible blasphemous abuses.

Why—for God's sake—should Communion in the hand be introduced into our churches when it is evidently detrimental from a pastoral viewpoint, when it certainly does not increase our reverence, and when it exposes the Eucharist to the most terrible diabolical abuses? There are really no serious arguments for Communion in the hand. But there are the most gravely serious kinds of arguments against it.