It was not listed as a topic for discussion, but the question of Communion in the hand versus Communion on the tongue received attention at the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
Cardinal Janis Pujats of Riga, Latvia, was the first to raise the issue, telling the synod Oct. 3 that he thought Catholics should receive Communion on the tongue — while kneeling. When communicants stand, Cardinal Pujats said, he feels like a dentist looking into their mouths.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, who heads the Vatican’s worship congregation, responded by saying that arguments could be made for both Communion practices, in the hand and on the tongue, according to information released by the Vatican. Ultimately, he said, it’s up to bishops’ conferences to decide what is best in each country, but he added that Communion in the hand needs better catechesis.
Cardinal Arinze said non-Catholics in particular sometimes fail to understand Communion in the hand. He related a story about one person who went up and received Communion and then took it home and kept the host in his scrapbook.
The cardinal added that Communion in the hand does make it easier for sacrilege against a consecrated host. He reminded bishops that a host reportedly received at a papal Mass in 1998 was put up for sale on eBay earlier this year before being withdrawn by the seller.
Speaking Oct. 4, Archbishop Jan Lenga of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, called Communion in the hand a “fad.” He proposed that the Vatican issue a universal norm to gradually do away with it and return to Communion on the tongue while kneeling.
The archbishop said Muslims in his predominantly Islamic country consider it disrespectful to receive Communion in the hand while standing. He said Catholics could learn a lot from Orthodox Christians and Muslims about how to show reverence to God.
He added that Communion in the hand adds to the risk of host fragments breaking off and falling to the ground and to the risk of profaning the consecrated host.
One synod participant noted that objections to Communion in the hand were coming from bishops in Eastern Europe, where the liturgical changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council have been implemented only recently.
A different perspective was offered by Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria. He quoted the fourth-century writings of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who described how Communion should be received in the hand as if the hand were a throne for the Lord. Communion in the hand was the common practice in the early centuries of the church.
The Vatican opened the way for a return to Communion in the hand in 1969, allowing local bishops’ conferences to adopt the practice as an option. At the time, the Vatican cautioned that the change should be introduced gradually and with instruction, so that a sense of reverence was preserved.
“The agents of hell seek to ravish My Son’s Body, My child. Protect Him! Do not allow the agents of satan to desecrate Him! Foul and unclean hands snatch Him. My child, save My Son! I plead with My children not to place My Son’s Body in unclean hands. You must not give My Son’s Body over to unclean hands. O woe! Whatever shall become of this degenerate generation!” – Our Lady of the Roses, November 23, 1974