From Gratia Plena:
Given the Pope’s recent Corpus Christi Mass, I’ve been thinking about communion in the hand in general, particularly its history and how it came about after VII.
The jury seems to be in agreement that the practice was introduced in modern times through disobedience.
According to Von Hildebrand, Cardinal Suenans of Belgium first introduced communion in the hand in the mid 60’s, contrary to the universal law of the Church. Other European territories quickly followed suit; and soon, Paul VI had found himself faced with a growing opposition.
In response the Pope came up with a compromise. While affirming that communion on the tongue was the norm, he permitted individual bishops’ conferences to vote on the issue. If a two-thirds majority were reached in favor of the practice, Rome would access the situation, and if the votes were approved by Rome, the bishops would be given the authority to allow communion in the hand via indult in their respective dioceses (cf., Memoriale Domini).
Pope Paul VI had hoped that by doing this, communion in the hand would be restricted to the local territories where it had been introduced illegally. However, it became apparent pretty soon that the concessions granted to a few began to spread to many. What was intended to be an exception became the norm, and interestingly enough, places where the faithful never expressed interest in the practice began to feel pressure to adopt the ‘new rite’ of communicating from their pastors.
From then on it was history. The majority of Catholics have come to accept the two methods of receiving communion as the norm. Even Pope Benedict, when formally known as Cardinal Ratzinger, had expressed his approval, he pointing out how he “wouldn’t fuss over that” since “it was done in the early Church” and “A reverent manner of receiving Communion in the hand is in itself a perfectly reasonable way to receive Communion” (The Living Liturgy: A Gift from Heaven).
Ratzinger’s words gave me pause here. It lead me to ask myself what exactly would constitute a reverent manner of receiving communion in the hand. Because lets face it, the practice in itself does not inspire reverence. If it did, Pope Paul VI would not have seen fit to point out the dangers of scandal and loss of faith associated with the practice.
Archbishop Bugnini himself recounted the Pope’s trepidation on this point. In his book “The Liturgical Reform”, he mentions how Paul VI had the greatest concern that Catholics would come to see the Eucharist as nothing more than ordinary bread, and so, he entrusted the concilium with the task of finding a solution to the problem. The bishops from all over the globe were consulted. The feedback was largely negative – the bishops clearly did not want the manner of receiving communion changed.
The bishops who did express approval, however, had reservations themselves. They proposed that along with communion in the hand, additional legislation should be put in place in order to safeguard Eucharistic reverence. Some suggested communion in the hand be forbidden to young children up to a certain age; others feared the possibility of dropping particles, and so suggested that the faithful receive through a corporal or purificator placed on the palms. Another went so far as to propose that a washbasin be made available near the sanctuary.
All these concerns had arisen because the Pope and the bishops knew well that communion in the hand was not intrinsically a sign of reverence.
So what about today? Quite a few Catholics who are deeply loyal to the Church see nothing wrong with this practice, including the current Pope. Therefore the practice of communion in the hand seems to be here for the long haul. Until this changes, perhaps a solution could be proposed to the Holy See that would incorporate a more reverential attitude? Maybe go over some of what the bishops purposed to Paul VI? One such proposition would be to require communicants to kneel when choosing to receive in the hand.
With knees bent and hands folded in a begging position, this would certainly intensify the symbolism of adoration and unworthiness befitting our Lord in the Eucharist. And with the rumors going on, it certainly appears to be a feasible solution as well. But as Msgr. Guido Marini reportedly said, “we’ll see…“