History of Communion: Tongue/Hand

Some Considerations on Holy Communion in the Hand
The original article can be found here–>HISTORY OF COMMUNION

The history of Communion in the hand is often presented in certain quarters as follows:

From the Last Supper on, Holy Communion was, as the norm, continually given in the hand. So it was during
the age of the martyrs. And it continued to be so during that golden age ofthe Fathers and of the liturgy after the peace of Constantine in 313 A.D. And it continued to be the common practice until at least the tenth century. Thus for over half of the life of the Church it was the norm.

An argument for the above is held to be found in a text of St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s fifth Mystagogic Catechesis (21f), which he preached to neophytes in 348 A.D., in which he counsels the faithful to “place your left
hand as the throne of your right one, which is to receive the King [in Holy Communion]” (apudL’Osservatore Romano. English edition of June 14, 1973, p.6). This Father of the Church further counsels great care for any Fragments which might remain on one’s hands.

According to some critics’ version of history, popular in certain quarters, Communion on the tongue became the universal norm in this way: During the Middle Ages certain distortions in the faith and/or in approaches
to it gradually developed. These included an excessive fear of God and an over-concern about sin, judgment and punishment, as well as an over-emphasis on Christ’s divinity– so emphasized as to down-play His sacred humanity or virtually deny it; also an over-emphasis on the priest’s role in the sacred liturgy, and a loss of the sense of the community which the Church, in fact, is. In particular, because of excessive emphasis on adoring Christ in the Holy Eucharist and an over-strict approach to moral matters, Holy Communion
became more and more rare. It was considered enough to gaze upon the Sacred Host during the elevation. (In fact, in certain critics’ minds the elevation, exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament find their
origins during the ‘unfortunate’ Middle Ages, a period whose liturgical practices we would do well– so they think– to rid ourselves of.) It was in this atmosphere and under these circumstances, they argue, that the practice of Communion in the hand began to be restricted. The practice of the priest placing the consecrated Bread directly into the mouth of the communicant thus developed and, they think, was unwisely imposed.

The conclusion is rather clear: We should get rid of this custom. We should forbid or at least discourage the Communion-on-the-tongue practice whereby the faithful are not allowed to “take and eat,” and should return to the pristine usage of the Fathers and Apostles, namely, Communion in the hand.

It is a compelling story. It is too bad that it is not true.

The sacred Council of Trent declared that the custom whereby only the priest-celebrant gives Communion to himself (with his own hands), and the laity receive It from him, is an Apostolic tradition.

(1) A more rigorous study of available evidence from Church history and from writings of the Fathers does not support the assertion that Communion in the hand was a universal practice which was gradually supplanted and eventually replaced by the practice of Communion on the tongue. Rather, facts seem to point to a different conclusion: Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) is an early witness of the traditional practice. In his comments on the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel he speaks of Communion in the mouth as the current usage: “One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith.”

(2) The Pope does not speak as if he were introducing a novelty, but as if this were a well established thing.
A century and a half later Pope St. Gregory the Great (died in 604) is another witness. In his dialogues he relates how Pope St. Agapitus performed a miracle during Mass, after having placed the Body of the Lord into
someone’s mouth.

We are not claiming that under no circumstances whatever did the faithful receive by their own hands. But under what conditions did this happen? It does seem that from very early times on, it was usual for the priest to place the Sacred Host into the mouth of the communicant. However, during times of persecution, when priests were not readily available, and when the faithful took the Sacrament to their homes, they gave Communion to themselves by their own hand. Rather than be totally deprived of the Bread of Life, they could receive by their own hand. The same applied to monks who had gone out into the desert, where they would not have the services of a priest and would not want to give up the practice of daily holy Communion. St. Basil the Great (330-379) indicates that reception of Communion by one’s own hand was permitted precisely because of persecution, or, as was the case with monks in the desert, when no deacon or priest was available to give It.

(3) In his article on “Communion” in the Dictionaire d’Archeologiae Chretienne, Leclerq declares that the peace of Constantine in 313 A.D. served toward bringing the practice of Communion in the hand to an end. After persecution had ceased, evidently the practice of Communion in the hand persisted here and there. Church authority apparently judged that it invited abuse and deemed it contrary to the custom of the Apostles.

Thus the Synod of Rouen, France, in about 878 directed: “Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywomen, but only in their mouths” (“nulli autem laico aut feminae eucharistiam in manibus ponat, sed tantum in os eius”).

(4) A non-ecumenical Council of Constantinople known as “In Trullo” in 692 A.D. prohibited the faithful from giving Communion to themselves (which is of course what happens when the Sacred Particle is placed in the hand of communicants), and decreed a censure against those who would do so in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon.

Promoters of Communion in the hand generally make little mention of the evidence we have brought forward, but do make constant use of the text attributed above to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the fourth century
at the time of St. Basil. But scholars dispute the authenticity of the St. Cyril text, according to Jungmann-Brunner, op. cit., p. 191, n.25. It is not impossible that the text is really the work of the Patriarch John,
who succeeded Cyril in Jerusalem. This John was of suspect orthodoxy, as we know from the correspondence of St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine.

But is it not a form of clericalism to allow the priest to touch the Sacred Host and to forbid the laity to do the same? But even priests were not allowed to touch the Blessed Sacrament except out of some need to do so.
In fact, other than the celebrant of the Mass itself, no one else receiving Communion, not even a priest, could receive It in the hand. And so, in the traditional liturgical practice of the Roman Rite, if a priest were
assisting at Mass (and not celebrating) and if he wished to receive Holy Communion, he did not do so by his own hand; he received on the tongue from another priest. The same would be true of a Bishop or even a Pope. When Pope St. Pius X was on his deathbed in August of 1914, and Holy Communion was brought to him as Viaticum, he did not and was not allowed to receive in the hand. He received on the tongue according to the law and practice of the Catholic Church.

This confirms a basic point: Out of reverence it seems better that there be no unnecessary touching of the Sacred Host. Obviously someone is needed to distribute the Bread of Life. But it is not needful to make each
man, woman and child into his own ‘eucharistic minister’ and multiply the handling and fumbling and danger of dropping and loss of Fragments. Even those whose hands have been specially consecrated to touch the Most Holy Eucharist, namely the priests, should not do so needlessly.

As for the present situation, in those countries where the indult for Communion in the hand has been granted by the Holy See, an individual bishop may forbid the practice; but no Bishop has authority to forbid the
traditional way of receiving Our Lord on the tongue.

But surely the Apostles received Communion in the hand at the Last Supper? It is usually presumed that this was so. Even if it were, though, we would point out that the Apostles were themselves priests, or even Bishops. But we must not forget a traditional custom of middle-eastern hospitality which was in practice in Jesus’ time and which is still the case; that is, one feeds his guests with one’s own hand, placing a symbolic morsel in the mouth of the guest. And we have this text of St. John’s Gospel (13:26-30): “Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give this Morsel when I have dipped It.’ So when He had dipped the Morsel, He gave It to Judas… So, after receiving the Morsel, he [Judas] immediately went out…”

Did Our Lord place this wet Morsel into Judas’ hand? That would be rather messy. Did He not perhaps extend to the one whom He addressed later in the garden as “friend” the gesture of hospitality spoken of above? And if so, why not with Holy Communion, “giving Himself by His own Hand”? —

CANADA. Fr. Paul McDonald, Pastor, St. Patrick’s Church, 123 King St., Pt.
Colborne, Ontario L3K 4G3.

EDITOR’S NOTE TO READER: If any of you fear that Fr. McDonald has drawn
some of this material from mistaken historical data, and you can cite
precise sources which show anything Father says to be inaccurate or
misleading, he and we would be grateful if you would write us about it. —


4 Responses

  1. Dear Bfhu,

    Thank you for this explanation of your practices, and for the offer for us to share any information we have that contradicts what your “Father” has written. It appears well written and researched. However, the problem is that it is diligently researching the teachings of men rather than diligently seeking God in the things He has written for our learning.

    “All Scripture is breathed by God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God might be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work (1 Timothy 3: 16-17).”

    The Scriptures give us all that we need to be pleasing to God.

    “6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder OF THOSE WHO DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM (Hebrews 11: 6, NKJV).”

    And, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

    You will not attain unto true faith by diligently studying the teaching of mere men. You might end up a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Catholic, or etc., but you will not attain unto the True Faith once and for all time delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

    God does not write the Scriptures the way you would demand because He wants those who diligently seek him. We must dig in and study reasonably, logically, humbly, and prayerfully.

    In Acts 20:1-7 it is written, “1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. 2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed away from Philippi AFTER THE DAYS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, and IN FIVE DAYS joined them at Troas, where we STAYED SEVEN DAYS.

    7 Now on the FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK, WHEN THE DISCIPLES CAM TOGETHER TO BREAK BREAD, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight (Acts 20: 1-7; NKJV).”

    Here we see many truths being taught, including that the disciples of Jesus came together to break bread (partake of the Lord’s Supper or Communion) almost two weeks after the Days of Unleavened Bread (Passover). (This demonstrates the Jehovah’s Witness practice of observing the “Lord’s Evening Meal” only once a year on the Anniversary of Passover is simply wrong, in spite of their claims, similar to yours, that their leaders are virtually infallible.) It also shows us that Paul and his companions tarried in Troas for seven days so that they might have the opportunity to share in the Lord’s Supper with them when they came together as the church to “break bread.” In addition to observing the Lord’s Supper with them on Sunday, Paul taught them until midnight.

    This shows us that the disciples came together as one body to observe the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, on Sunday rather than on every day. The Scriptures say that this was the day when the disciples came together to break bread. They did not do this daily. It is like saying, “On Friday, when the workers received their paycheck…” This is magnifying the uniqueness of Friday as compared with the other days of the week, indicating the reason for the uniqueness. The workers received their paychecks that day. We can understand that they did not receive their paycheck every day, but only on Friday.

    Next, in 1Corinthians 11: 17-34, Paul writes, “17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, WHEN YOU COME TOGETHER AS A CHURCH, I hear that THERE ARE DIVISIONS AMONG YOU, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 THEREFORE when you come together in one place, it is NOT to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 FOR IN EATING, EACH ONE TAKES HIS OWN SUPPER AHEAD OF OTHERS; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

    23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat;[b] this is My body which is broken[c] for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
    26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

    27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood[d] of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[e] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s[f] body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
    33 Therefore, my brethren, WHEN YOU COME TOGETHER TO EAT, WAIT FOR ONE ANOTHER. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come (1 Corinthians 11: 17-34; NKJV).”

    Notice that when the Apostle says that he does not praise them because they are not taking the Lord’s Supper when they come together as the church, he is not condemning them for neglecting to “observe” the Lord’s Supper. In stead, he is condemning the manner in which they do in fact observe it. He condemned them for the factions and divisions that existed among them and says that for this reason, or in his words, “20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11: 20; NKJV).” Nevertheless, he testifies that they are in fact “observing” it in an unworthy manner. He says, “For IN EATING, each one takes his own supper ahead of others…” Later he indicates that when they eat and drink the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy MANNER, not loving and not discerning the body of Christ, who they individually and as a whole are, they eat and drink damnation to themselves. “27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy MANNER will be guilty of the body and blood[d] of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread (Testifying that this is in fact BREAD) and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[e] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s[f] body (Again referring to the manner in which they observe selfishly and unlovingly against the church that is the body of Christ. JD; 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29; NKJV).” This is about loving the church in truth, and about the fact that if we do not love the church that is the body of Christ, then we do not truly love Christ. As it is written, “20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can[a] he love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4: 20; NKJV)?” It is not about the bread and fruit of the vine being the literal body and blood of Christ. This is as an aside.

    Back to the main point. When he says, “each one takes his own supper ahead of others, ; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” and, “28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” He indicates that the individual had a great deal of control over their consumption of the Lord’s Supper/Communion. It does not sound at all as if a priest was distributing these elements to the individuals. Especially not a single priest in order to minimize the handling of the “Host” as you so earnestly contend is an Apostolic Tradition. Paul in no way mentions that a priest ought to distribute or control the taking of these elements. If there were a priest overseeing these proceedings, don’t you think Paul would mention that this priest was in error by allowing these failures? Nevertheless, Paul in no way mentions a priest, he is speaking to the entire congregation because it is the responsibility of each individual to observe the things taught and commanded by God, for every Christian is a priest. At least every Christian man is a priest; I am not yet convinced that women qualify, although most of my brethren would contend that Christian women are as well. I admit that they are very possibly correct, but I cannot yet confirm that.

    Furthermore, your priests and bishops do not qualify as Overseers and Pastors since they are not husbands of one wife (See 1Timothy 3: 1-2).

    Therefore, your failure to trust the Scriptures and your desire to look to the teachings of mere men on this and other topics, as if their writings were Scripture, has allowed you to be led astray.

    Also, “9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason GOD WILL SEND THEM STRONG DELUSION, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2: 9-12; NKJV).”

    Because He wants those who diligently seek Him and Love His Truth, he sends a strong delusion into the world that they who do not diligently seek Him may believe the lie, because they do not receive a love of the Truth. He does not intend to make it impossible for you to believe the lie; He wants you to choose to love the Truth. This is one reason why He did not write the Bible the way you demand. Nevertheless, the Scriptures are definitely full of the things one needs to prove the doctrines of the faith and to protect us from believing the lie. It is definitely capable of making the man of God complete and of thoroughly equipping him unto every good work (2 Timothy 3: 16-17).

    Much more could be said. Thank you for your time.



  2. Dear Joe,
    Are you a man? So why should anyone listen to you?

    But we should listen to Jesus.

    The writings of the New Testament and the ORAL TEACHINGS OF THE APOSTLES, as mentioned by St. Paul should be listened to.

    1 Corinthians 11:2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.

    2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.

    2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

    So, we as Catholics choose to listen to the apostles in both their written an oral teachings. We do not choose to listen to the denunciations of modern day Protestants or heretical Catholics.

    We don’t just listen to any men or the teachings or traditions of some man but to the very teachings of the APOSTLES who taught what Jesus had taught them

    Luke 10:16 The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” .

    If you don’t accept this or believe it, that is your choice. But we do believe it and will NEVER listen to you or any other Protest-ant over the voice of Our Lord through His Apostles.

  3. Dear bfhu,

    I greatly appreciate that you do not want to follow me. That is good. I will be the first one to tell you that you should not. I believe I did say that to you a couple of times over these past months. However, if I quote the Scriptures to you and you reject that, you in fact reject the true Apostolic Tradition and Jesus Christ the Lord.

    This is why I try to support what I say with the Scriptures. I know that they are from God. Who knows where the things the men you follow got their doctrine? You claim things about them that cannot be proven. Worse, some of their doctrine can be demonstrated to be contrary to the Scriptures that we know are from God!

    Examine the Scriptures. Test all things and hold fast to that which may be proven good (1Thessalonians 5: 21). If the Apostle told you something personally and face-to-face, you certainly ought to hold to that knowing that it is from God. However, if what even that Apostle says to you in person and face-to-face contradicts what he or another Apostle has already told you face-to-face and in person or by their epistle, let even the Apostle, or even an Angel of God be accursed (Galatians 1: 6-9)!

    Paul said, ” 1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (1Corinthians 11:1; NKJV).” If Paul is imitating Christ, then we should imitate Paul; but, if Paul is not imitating Christ, then neither should we imitate Paul. This is because the point is that we are to imitate Christ rather than Paul. Therefore, we must be sure that we are in fact following Christ rather than mere men who may not be following Him. The Scriptures protect us from folly.

    Additionally, if the Apostle did not tell you this doctrine in person and face-to -face as he did to the ones he was speaking to in the context of the Scripture you refer to (2Thessalonians 2: 13-15), then as far as you know, you are simply trusting the words of a man. The Scriptures say that you should test ALL things, this includes the things these men claim are from the Apostles, and hold fast what may be proven good (1Thessalonians 5: 21).

    If you do these things, you will recognize that it is a faithful saying that a man must be, and must continue to be, the husband of one wife to be considered for the office of a bishop, regardless of what man may claim an Apostle, or Angel from God, told him in person and face-to-face (1Timothy 3:1-2; Galatians 1: 6-9). In addition, you will let the man who contradicts the Scripture be accursed. If you do these things, you will not be following me; you will be following God, just as I do.

    Much more could be said. Thank you for your thoughtful and hopefully prayerful consideration.



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