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Receiving Communion In The Hand Is Contrary To Tradition (Editor's note: This article is reproduced from a photocopy. As such, the exact date when it was published in the Brazilian magazine Catolicismo is unknown. However, it does appear to have been written about the time that "Communion in the hand" was being introduced. The arguments here presented are quite valid today.)

Mysterium Fidei, the bulletin of religious information edited in Brussels by Alfredo Denoyelle, has published a study on tradition in relation to the manner in which the faithful receive Holy Communion.

As is well known, the innovators, who want to impose the new way of receiving Communion by which the faithful receive the Sacred Particle in their hand, do so by appealing to tradition. They affirm that in the first ten centuries of the Church people received Communion like that. And they cite, above all, Mystagogical Catechesis V of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386).

Mysterium Fidei clears up this mistake through the perspective provided by various documents which show that it was usual, even in antiquity, for the faithful to receive the consecrated Particle on their tongue and through an analysis of the text of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem which the innovators adduce as a proof that tradition is favorable to Communion in the hand.

Let it be said in passing that this expression is inadequate because Communion takes place at the swallowing of the consecrated Particle. Therefore, “Communion in the hand is a communion which the faithful gives to himself, thus dispensing with the role of the priest as minister, in the strict sense of the great Sacrament.


The custom of receiving the sacred Particle on the tongue is attested to by Saint Leo I, Pope (440-46 1), for in commenting on the words of Our Lord, related in Chapter 6 of St. John’s gospel, 5:54, St. Leo the Great speaks of receiving Communion in the mouth as that which is in current use-: “One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith” —“Hoc enim ore sumiter quod fide creditur” (Serm. 91.3). Note that Saint Leo the Great does not express himself in the manner of one introducing a novelty, but rather as one recording a common fact ordinary in the habitual use of the Church.

A similar usage is confirmed by the testimony and example of St. Gregory the Great, Pope (590-604). He tells us in his dialogues (Roman 3, c. 3) how Pope St. Agapito performed a miracle during the Mass after having introduced the Body of Our Lord into the mouth of a person. And John, the Deacon, in the life of the same holy Pope assures us that he distributed Communion to the faithful in this manner.

These are testimonies of the fifth and sixth centuries. How can one affirm that Communion in the hand was the official manner for the faithful to receive Communion until the tenth century?


In fact, in the first centuries, Communion in the hand was permitted only by exception, when because of a grave reason the faithful faced the alternative of not receiving Communion or receiving by themselves. St. Basil (330-379) says clearly that communicating with one’s own hand is permitted only in times of persecution, or — as happened with the monks in the desert — when no priest or deacon was there to administer it. “It is not necessary to show that it does not constitute a grave fault for a person to communicate with his own hand in a time of persecution when there is no priest or deacon” (Letter 93, the emphasis is ours). And the Saint based his opinion on the custom which the monks who lived in solitude, where there is no priest, had of keeping Communion in their house, which they would take with their own hands. In this passage, St. Basil considered Communion in the hand to be so irregular that he did not hesitate to consider it a “grave fault,” when there were no exceptional circumstances to justify it. Leclerq (Dictionnaire d’Archelogie Chretienne, verb “Communion”) declares that the peace conceded to the Church by Constantine was bringing the use of Comrnunion in the hand to an end, thus confirming the affirmation of St. Basil that the persecutions created the alternative of either not communicating or communicating with one’s own hand.


The survival of this habit in some places was considered to be an abuse, which was in disharmony with the custom of the Apostles. This is proved by the measures taken in various regions to put an end to it. Thus the Council of Rouen, which met in 650, says: “Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywoman hut only in their mouths.” A like measure was taken at the Council of Constantinople (695), which was known as in trullo: it prohibited the faithful from giving Communion to themselves (which is what takes place when the Sacred Particle is put in the hands of the communicant), and it punishes with excommunication for a week, those who do so when a bishop, a priest, or a deacon is present.

Already in the third century, St. Eutiquianus, Pope (275-283), severely warned the priests, exhorting them themselves to take the Communion to the sick and not to entrust this obligation to a layman or a woman: “Nullus praesumat tradere communionem laico vel feminae ad deferendum infirmo” (P.L.V., col. 163-168).

Saint Thomas Aquinas (S.T. 3a. 82, a.3) gives us the reason: “The administration of the Body of Christ belongs to the priest for three reasons . . . In the third place, because of the respect that is due to this Sacrament, it is not touched by anything that is not consecrated. That is the reason that the Corporal and the Chalice are consecrated. And likewise the hands of the priest are consecrated in order to touch this Sacrament. Accordingly, no other person has a right to touch it except in the case of necessity, for example, if the Sacrament falls on the ground or in a similar necessity.”

The Council of Trent declared that the custom of only the priest giving Communion to himself with his own hands is an Apostolic Tradition (s. 13, c. 8).


Summing up this immemorial tradition, the Catechism of St. Pius X gives the following norm for the communication of the faithful: “In the moment of receiving Holy Communion, it is necessary to be kneeling, to have the head slightly raised, the eyes modestly turned toward the Sacred Host, the mouth sufficiently open and the tongue a little bit out of the mouth resting on the lower lip.

It is necessary to have a towel or a patent which can receive the Sacred Host if it should happen to fall . . . If the Sacred Host sticks to the palate, it is necessary to loosen it with the tongue and never with the finger.” (P. IV, c IV, no. 40).


Nevertheless, the conciliar documentation of the past centuries restricting Communion in the hand testifies that such a manner of communicating had infiltrated itself in various places. Whence comes this abuse if it does not have an apostolic origin?

Mysterium Fidei observes: “The only ones to communicate always standing and with their hands outstretched were from the beginning the Asians who obstinately denied the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and who could not see in the Sacred Eucharist any more than a simple symbol of union, which can be taken and handled at will.”


And it is in this context that we must place Mystagogical Catechesis V of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem when considering the testimony from it to which the progressives appeal in order to impose the habit of communicating in the hand as being more apostolic.

D. Henri Leclerq (Dict. cited above) sums the matter up as follows:

“Saint Cyril of Jerusalem recommended to the faithful that on presenting themselves to receive Communion, they should have the right hand extended, with their fingers together, supported by the left hand and with the palm a little bit concave; and at the moment in which the Body of Chrisi was deposited in the hand, the communicant would say: Amen.”

What is to be said of this text?

1. Considered in context, it becomes suspect. For it speaks of a strange custom entirely alien to the highest veneration which the faithful have always had for the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In fact, the Catechesis says that one must touch one’s eyes to the Sacred Host:

“Sanctify thine eyes with contact by the Holy Body,” and afterwards with the fingers wet in the Most Holy Blood, pass them over one’s eyes, on one’s forehead, and on one’s other senses to sanctify them: “When thy lips are still wet (after receiving the Sacred Blood), touch them with thy hand, and pass them over thine eyes, thy forehead, and thine other senses, to sanctify them.”

2. In view of this unheard of liberty which is incompatible with the total veneration due to the Sacred Species, those who are learned in these matters think of an interpolation, at least in the text of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Some (Scherman, Esans, Richard, Teifer) attribute the text to St. Cyril’s successor; others (Cross) think of a primitive text of St. Cyril which was retouched by his successor. And there are codices which attribute it to St. Cyril and to his successor. Accordingly, one may think of an accommodation made by the Patriarch John, the successor of St. Cyril in Jerusalem.

Now, according to the correspondence of St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine, that Patriarch. John, is of suspect orthodoxy, Mysterium Fidei calls him a crypto Arian.

3. Migne, the editor of the Mystagogical Catechesis of St. Cyril, warns in the preface that, from the liturgical viewpoint the Mystagogical Catecheses have much in common with the Apostolic Constitutions. Now it happens that the Apostolic Constitutions are infiltrated with errors due their author, a seminarian, Syrian. One must say the same about the Apostolic Canons, which are the last part of the Constitutions. For this reason, they were rejected by the Council of Rome of 494 under Pope St. Gelasius I (492-496).

Once the Mystagogical Catecheses of St. Cyril has been placed in this historical context, one sees that they cannot, by themselves, be proposed as an authentic testimony of the traditional usages of the Church. In the case of Communion in the hand, they contradict the usage attested to by authors about whom there is no suspicion.


The observations above show how far from historical truth are the progressives who pretend to justify Communion in the hand by that which supposedly was the common manner of communicating in the first centuries of Christianity.

As was the case with the Arians who dedicated themselves to introducing liturgical rites that minimalized the Sacred and Divine character of the Holy Eucharist, so also today a darkening of faith in the Real Presence is shown by those who joyfully adapt themselves to innovations such as Communion in the hand, in spite of the fact that the Holy See has affirmed that the traditional manner of communicating indicates a greater reverence on the part of the communicant in relation to the Holy Eucharist and form part of the preparation required for the Body and Blood of Our Lord to be received with the greatest fruit. (cf. Memoriale Domini).

The article was originally published in the September 2001 issue of The Catholic Voice.