Communion in the hand? The tradition speaks


By: Matthew Schultz

In an interview with Mother Teresa of Calcutta on Good Friday of 1989, Father George Rutler asked, “Mother, what do you think is the worst problem today?”  Without any hesitation, Mother Teresa said, “Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand.”  For most of us, Mother Teresa’s comment is startling-why does she not name one of the more obvious candidates: famine, disease, abortion?  And, if Mother Teresa is right to identify communion in the hand as “the worst problem today,” why does holy mother Church permit it?  Perhaps our surprise at Mother Teresa’s intense dislike for communion in the hand is becuase of our own ignorance on this issue.

Communion in the hand was never a universal custom or practice in the history of the Church.  Popes St. Sixtus (115-165 A.D.) and St. Euchtyian (275-283 A.D.) both forbade the faithful from receiving communion in the hand; St. Basil (330-379 A.D.) permitted this practice only in times of persecution; St Leo the Great teaches, “one receives in the mouth what one believes by faith.” Eventually, communion in the hand was forbidden universally because, as Pope Paul VI states, “with the passage of time as the truth of the eucharistic mystery, its power, and Christ’s presence in it were more deeply understood the usage adopted was that the minister himself placed the particle of the consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant” [Memoriale Domini, 8].  If Catholics did not believe in the Real Presence, then to argue over which mode was more reverent would be superfluous and ridiculous.  

In 1965, Cardinal Suenans, Archbishop of Belgium, introduced the practice of receiving communion in the hand to his diocese. Pope Paul VI addressed this flagrant act of disobedience in 1969 with the release of his encyclical Memoriale Domini. Pope Paul VI explains in his encyclical why communion on the tongue is the norm of the Church and enumerates the many dangers attached to receiving communion in the hand. Communion on the tongue is the preferred norm of the Church because it “more effectively ensures that communion is distributed with the required reverence, decorum, and dignity; that there is less danger of disrespect for the Eucharistic elements…[and so] caution is exercised which the Church has always counseled regarding the particles of the consecrated bread”[11].

In addition to Pope Paul VI’s concern for the safety of the Eucharistic elements, by receiving communion directly on the tongue one also recognizes and gives reverence to the consecrated hands of the priests (“because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it but what is consecrated”[Aquinas, S.T.,VIII,Q.82, Art.13]).

Pope Paul VI’s abundant praise for communion on the tongue is withheld when he turns to speak of communion on the hand; his tone changes to one of caution and worry: “A change in so important a matter that has its basis in an ancient and honored tradition does not simply affect discipline, but can also bring with it dangers that, it is feared, may arise from the new way of administering communion.

In particular, these dangers are both the possibility of a lessening of reverence toward the august sacrament of the altar, its profanation, and the watering down of the true doctrine of the Eucharist“[12, emphasis mine].  Paul VI is concerned that the changing of this discipline will cause a weakening of faith. So great was his concern over the question that he polled his entire episcopate.  The results were overwhelming: 1,233 bishops opposed such a measure compared to 567 in favor.  Having examined the issue at length and having consulted the counsel of the bishops, the pontiff decided “not to change the long-accepted manner of administering communion to the faithful”[18].  He then urges the faithful “to obey conscientiously the prevailing law, now reconfirmed” [19].  Paul VI closes his encyclical by permitting communion in the hand not as a preferred practice but only in “special circumstances”[20].  The widespread extension of this practice, then, attests to the failure of the clergy and laity to heed the counsels and intentions of the Church on this matter.

Let us return once more to Mother Teresa. Can we now perhaps begin to understand why the most remarkable woman of the 20th century could declare that communion in the hand gave her the greatest sadness?  What is implicit in her sadness is made explicit by Father John Hardon, S.J., who writes, “Behind Communion in the hand-I wish to repeat and make as plain as I can-is a weakening, a conscious, a deliberate weakening of faith in the Real Presence.”

Communion in the hand, even though it is permitted, departs from the tradition as it is expressed in the teachings of the popes, the writings of the saints, and the councils of the Church.

Cardinal of Bologna Restricts Communion in the Hand

Archbishop of Bologna, Italy, H.E. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra

Archbishop of Bologna, Italy, H.E. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra

By way of the Italian blog Cantuale Antonianum we learn that the Archbishop of Bologna, Italy, H.E. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, has issued new norms for the distribution of Holy Communion in his archdiocese. Here is an NLM translation of the communiqué of the Office for Social Communications of the Archdiocese:

On the first Sunday of Advent twenty years ago, in 1989, entered into force the resolution of the Italian Bishops’ Conference which authorised, with the approval of the Holy See, the distribution of Holy Communion in the hand.

 In recent weeks, parish priests and rectors of churches in our diocese have received notice of the provisions issued by the Cardinal Archbishop, in the face of grave abuses that have occurred in this regard. In particular, the Cardinal has ordered that in the Cathedral of St. Peter, in the Basilica of San Petronio and in the Shrine of the Madonna di San Luca, Communion is distributed to the faithful on the tongue only.

 Read the entire story




Cardinal Cañizares on Communion Received Kneeling

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is still at the same time Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Toledo. There, during Holy Week, he reinstated the communion rail in the Cathedral and encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue…Read the entire article

Paul VI saw liturgical abuse as “smoke of Satan”

Rome, May. 16, 2008 ( – When Pope Paul VI spoke about the “smoke of Satan” entering the Catholic Church, he was referring to liturgical abuses, according to the prelate who served as his master of ceremonies.

Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the chief Vatican liturgist during the pontificate of Paul VI, spoke candidly about the late Pope’s concerns in an interview with the Roman Petrus web site. The Italian prelate– who was also the Vatican’s top liturgist under Pope John Paul I and the early years of the pontificate of John Paul II– is now retired, and at the age of 86 his health is failing. In his interview with Petrus he concentrated primarily on his years serving Pope Paul VI.

[The full interview has been translated by Father John Zulsdorf on his What Does the Prayer Really Say blog.]

Pope Paul accepted the liturgical reforms after Vatican II “with pleasure,” Cardinal Noe said. He added that Paul VI was not be nature a sad man, but “he was saddened by the fact of having been left alone by the Roman Curia.” Regarding the late Pope’s famous remark about the “smoke of Satan,” Cardinal Noe said that he knew what Paul VI intended by that statement. In that denunciation, he said, the Pope “meant to include all those priests or bishops and cardinals who didn’t render worship to the Lord by celebrating badly Holy Mass because of an errant interpretation of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He spoke of the smoke of Satan because he maintained that those priests who turned Holy Mass into dross in the name of creativity, in reality were possessed of the vainglory and the pride of the Evil One. So, the smoke of Satan was nothing other than the mentality which wanted to distort the traditional and liturgical canons of the Eucharistic ceremony.”

For Pope Paul VI, the cardinal continued, the worst outcome of the post-conciliar liturgical reform was the “craving to be in the limelight” that caused many priests to ignore liturgical guidelines. Cardinal Noe recalled that the Pope himself believed in careful adherence to the rubrics of the Mass, firmly believing that “no one is lord of the Mass.”

Speaking for himself, the former top Vatican liturgist said that the liturgy must always be celebrated with reverence and careful respect for the rubrics. He said with regret that in the wake of Vatican II “it was believed that everything, or nearly, was permitted.” Cardinal Noe said: “Now it is necessary to recover– and in a hurry– the sense of the sacred in the ars celebrandi, before the smoke of Satan completely pervades the whole Church.”

Liturgical abuses according to Cardinal Cipriani Thorne invoke greater rigor

…and also the neocatechumens are adapting to the directives of the Church.

by Bruno Volpe from Vatican City

Translated by Una Voce Carmel’s Henri Amour.

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne (in the photo), Archbishop of Lima and Primate of Peru, influential exponent of the Sacred College and of the Opus Dei, is one of the best experts of the Catholic Church in moral theology and liturgy. And specifically on the topic of the liturgy, so current these days, has gladly accepted to answer the questions from PETRUS 

Your Eminence, what is the true liturgy?

“I will be synthetic: it is the pure face of the Faith. Beyond the mere external aspect or the observance of formal rules, the liturgy is the Mystery of Christ, dead and Resurrected, celebrated with joy. Therefore, it is important to celebrate the Holy Mass with dignity and accuracy ; with a liturgy faithful to the canons of the Church, out of respect for Jesus. I appreciate, in such sense, the continuous reminders of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to respect the decor of the liturgy “.

In the last years, a concerning growing number of liturgical abuses were recorded. How can this negative trend be explained ?

“The idea of sin became lost, so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was ill-treated and vilified by thought currents, also within the Church. It justified and tolerated everything, thereby creating a questionable dimension of circular and asembly gathering around the ceremony of the Eucharist. Subsequently, and I believe this is part of the mistakes of the roman Curia after Vatican II, a loosening occurred, above all as an interpretation of the Council. This situation urgently needs to be remedied ; I believe that the vertical dimension of the Eucharist is absolutely necessary for the faithful to comprehend the great gift of Christ. For sure, the faithfuls will only risk to scandalize and distance themselves with these so-called show-Masses in which are committed, in the name of freedom and creativity, all kind of nefariousness”

We come then to the manner of administering Communion…

“Even in this case, the ‘loosening’ of many priests has ridiculed, in the eyes of Catholics, the value of the Eucharist. Personally, I maintain that the best way to administer Communion is on the tongue, such that in my Diocese I have prohibited the Eucharist in the hand. In past Masses with huge attendance, we have found lost particles on the floor of the church.”

‘Petrus’ is taking care of the Neocatechumens: the path created admiration but also concerns and suspicions.

“I have no doubt that the intentions of the neocatechumens are praiseworthy and that they really seek God with warmth and joy. I think that a healthy dialog with them will occur and when it does it will be firm in the truth. Even the Vatican is trying to find a solution in order to approve the status. However, in the celebration of the Holy Mass by neocatechumens there are aspects that I absolutely do not share. I remind and reaffirm that the liturgy is unique and must be respected the same way by all. In summary, tolerance towards the neocatechumens yes, however it is the duty of the Church to recall them to the respect of the Eucharist”.


What’s Behind Liturgical Abuses?

Bishop Rifan with HH Pope Benedict XVI

Interview With Leader of Traditional Mass Community

By Alexandre Ribeiro

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, APRIL 9, 2008 ( The bishop of a Brazilian community that celebrates the Mass according to the 1962 missal contends that abuses in the liturgy can be attributed to the lack of a serious spirituality.

Bishop Fernando Arêas Rifan, apostolic administrator of the St. John Maria Vianney Personal Apostolic Administration in Brazil, spoke with ZENIT about the richness of the extraordinary form of the Mass. The use of that form was extended with Benedict XVI’s “Summorum Pontificum,” released last July.

The St. John Maria Vianney group was founded by Bishop Licínio Rangel, who was ordained a bishop without papal approval in 1991 by bishops themselves illicitly ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X.

Bishop Rangel later asked to return to full communion and expressed the necessary dispositions. He received a letter granting his wish from Pope John Paul II and returned to the Church in a ceremony in 2002, presided over by the Pontiff and Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

Bishop Rifan

Today, the apostolic administration continues serving Catholics in Brazil devoted to the traditional Mass, and have full communion with the Catholic Church.

Q: In your apostolic administration, the ancient Roman Rite is celebrated, the one preceding the reform of 1970. What are the characteristics of this type of Mass?

Bishop Rifan: There are various motives for this love, for this preference and the conservation of the extraordinary form of the Roman liturgy. Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, our current Pope, speaking with the Chilean bishops in Santiago, July 13, 1988, summarized it this way: “Even though there are numerous motives that could have brought a great number of faithful to find refuge in the traditional liturgy, the most important is that they find preserved there the dignity of the sacred.”

In fact, because of its richness, beauty, elevation, nobility and ceremonial solemnity, because of its sense of the sacred and reverential, because of its sense of mystery, its greater precision and rigor — thereby offering more security and protection against abuses, without leaving space for ambiguities, for the liberty, creativity, adaptations, reductions and manipulations, as Pope John Paul II lamented in the encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” — and being for us the best liturgical expression of the Eucharistic dogmas and solid spiritual nourishment, it is one of the treasures of Catholic liturgy, with which we express our love and our communion with the holy Church. And the Holy See recognizes this adhesion of ours as perfectly legitimate.

Q: Could the ancient form of the Mass be more promoted in the life of the Church, though as an extraordinary form, as is indicated and permitted by “Summorum Pontificum”? What benefits would this bring?

Bishop Rifan: This was already the desire of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, when he affirmed in his [letter issued] “motu proprio” “Ecclesia Dei” on July 2, 1988. “To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition, I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations. […] Moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.”

This desire has been reinforced and amplified to the entire world by Benedict XVI with the [letter issued] “motu proprio” “Summorum Pontificum.”

The benefits of the reintroduction and the diffusion in the Church of this extraordinary form of the Roman Rite have been mentioned by the current Pope in his “motu proprio,” when he says that in the celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI, this sacredness that attracts many to the ancient tradition could be manifested in a more intense way. This is exactly what has been emphasized by Cardinal [Francis] George of Chicago — “The Holy Father himself, a while ago, called our attention to the beauty and the depth of the St. Pius V Missal. […] The liturgy of 1962 is an authorized rite of the Catholic Church and a valuable font of liturgical understanding for all the other rites. This liturgy belongs to the entire Church as a vehicle of the Spirit that should radiate as well in the celebration of the third typical edition of the current Roman Missal” — in the Prologue of the 2002 Proceedings, “Liturgy and the Sacred,” from the International Center for Liturgical Studies.

When I participated in August 2007 in the Oxford Congress, a gathering to teach the celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form to more that 60 diocesan priests from the United Kingdom there present, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham said in the solemn opening Mass to the priests participating that, after having learned the Mass in the ancient form, even if in their parishes they would celebrate Mass in the current rite of Paul VI, they would anyway celebrate it better. I think that is a benefit backed by the Pope in his “motu proprio” “Summorum Pontificum.”

Bishop Rifan

Q: What indications do you give for avoiding scarce attention and respect for the liturgy?

Bishop Rifan: Speaking of the abuses following the liturgical reform, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lamented that the liturgy degenerated into a show, in which they seek to make religion interesting with the help of stylish elements, with momentary successes in the group of the liturgical “manufacturers” [in the] introduction to the book “La Réforme Liturgique” by Monsignor Klaus Gamber, page 6 and 8.

Cardinal Edouard Gagnon was of the same opinion. “It cannot be ignored that the [liturgical] reform has given rise to many abuses and have led in a certain degree to the disappearance of respect for the sacred. This fact should be unfortunately admitted and it excuses a good number of those people who have distanced themselves from our Church and their former parish communities [in] “Fundamentalism and Conservatism,” interview with Cardinal Gagnon, “Zitung — Römisches,” November-December 1993, page 35.

I think that the central point of the abuses was indicated by Cardinal Ratzinger himself: the door left open to a false creativity on the part of the celebrants [in an] interview in “L’homme Nouveau,” October 2001.

Behind this is the lack of a serious spirituality, [the idea that] to attract the people, novelties should be invented. Holy Mass is attractive in itself, because of its sacredness and mystery. Deep down, we’re dealing with the diminishment of faith in the Eucharistic mysteries and an attempt to replace it with novelties and creativity. When the celebrant wants to become the protagonist of the liturgical action, abuses begin. It is forgotten that the center of the Mass is Jesus Christ.

The current secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Bishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith, laments: “Holy Mass is a sacrifice, gift, mystery, independently of the priest who celebrates it. It is important, I would say fundamental, that the priest draws back: The protagonist of the Mass is Christ. I don’t understand, therefore, the Eucharistic celebrations transformed into shows with dances, songs or applause, as lamentably happens many times with the Novus Ordo.”

The solution to the abuse is in the norms given by the Magisterium, above all in the document “Redemptionis Sacramentum” of March 25, 2004, which asks that “everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favoritism” — No. 183.

But, as Bishop Ranjith says, “there are a lot of documents [against these abuses] that unfortunately have remained a dead letter, forgotten in libraries full of dust, or even worse, thrown into the waste basket.”