What is Rome saying about Communion in the hand?

First published on 1-22-2011.

What is Rome saying today about Communion in the hand?

In February 2008, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship called for reconsideration the practice of Communion in the hand.

In the preface to a new Italian-language book, Dominus Est, on the Eucharist, written by Bishop Athanasius Schneider and released in January by the Vatican's official publishing house, Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith (now Cardinal) suggested that the reception of Communion in the hand has contributed to a general sense of "carelessness" about the Eucharist, as well as some flagrant abuses.

The practice of receiving Communion in the hand was not mandated by Vatican II, nor was it introduced in response to calls from the laity, Archbishop Ranjith wrote. Instead, he argued, an established practice of piety—receiving the Eucharist kneeling, on the tongue—was changed "improperly and hurriedly," and became widespread even before it was formally approved by the Vatican.

In light of a widespread lack of reverence for the Eucharist, the archbishop suggests that it is "high time to review" the policy. While he does not condemn the practice of Communion in the hand, the Vatican official praised Bishop Schneider for arguing in favor of the older practice, saying that it helps to foster a proper sense of reverence and piety.

For several months now, Communion in the hand has not been given in St. Peter's Basilica at Rome. The Holy Father is giving Communion on the tongue to kneeled faithful.

However, this traditional practice is not back at Rome as a rule for reason of principle. It is why many have been shocked to see Benedict XVI giving Communion in the hand to the Spanish Queen Sophia during his last trip in Spain.

In his interview book Light of the World, the Holy Father explains his thought:

I am not opposed in principle to Communion in the hand; I have both administered and received Communion in this way myself.

The idea behind my current practice of having people kneel to receive Communion on the tongue was to send a signal and to underscore the Real Presence with an exclamation point. One important reason is that there is a great danger of superficiality precisely in the kinds of Mass events we hold at St. Peter’s, both in the Basilica and in the Square. I have heard of people who, after receiving Communion, stick the Host in their wallet to take home as a kind of souvenir.

In this context, where people think that everyone is just automatically supposed to receive Communion—everyone else is going up, so I will, too—I wanted to send a clear signal. I wanted it to be clear: something quite special is going on here! He is here, the One before Whom we fall on our knees! Pay attention!

This is not just some social ritual in which we can take part if we want to."

This particular point illustrates how the way back to traditional practice cannot be complete as long as the doctrinal reasons and thinking would not lead it. In Liturgy, the prayer has to be ruled by the Faith: “lex credendi—lex orandi!