HOLY COMMUNION IN THE HAND AND ON THE TONGUE

 HOLY COMMUNION IN THE HAND AND ON THE TONGUE

 

Rev. Fr. Christopher Nnubia

 

Introduction

The Church has always celebrated and revered the Eucharist. The practice of distributing Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hand has been an ancient practice. Many Theologians and the Councils have deliberated on the better method to be adopted than the other. The history of the liturgy shows that the practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue was early in the sixth century chosen over receiving Holy Communion in the hand. Some also said earlier than sixth century. Before the sixth century or earlier, the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand was in force.

In this period of COVID 19 pandemic, the controversy has continued with increased warmth, and not without bitterness, so much so that the consciences of some faithful have been disturbed. Some faithful who based their argument on the acclaimed apparition messages of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are of the view that it is a sin to receive Holy Communion in the hand and those who do, will not merit heaven. Some of these people are seriously discouraging those who receive in the hand. It is also speculated that some of them have decided to abstain from Holy Communion until when the ban on Holy Communion on the tongue would be lifted. It is at this background that I have decided to write this piece to enlighten the faithful on the Holy Communion on the tongue and in the hand.

This piece intends to describe the distribution of Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hand in the cause of the history of the Church. The discourse will be based on the reception of Holy Communion in the Gospel, Holy Communion in the times of the early Christians, Holy Communion in the times of the early Church Fathers, manners of receiving Holy Communion in the Middle Ages, the Council of Trent on Manners of receiving Holy Communion, the Second Vatican Council on receiving Holy Communion, reception of Holy Communion after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis on Receiving Holy Communion, reception of Holy Communion by a faithful who has celiac disease, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, CBCN on receiving Holy Communion and receiving Holy Communion during the outbreak of a disease.

Reception of Holy Communion in the Gospel

The Gospels of Matthew 26: 26-30; Mark 14: 22-26; Luke 22: 14-20 have similar accounts of the institution of the Eucharist. Matthew 26: 26-28 says “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying. “Drink from it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” In Mark 14: 22-26, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take it, this is my body.” “Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them; and they drank from it.”

Luke 22: 14-20 narrates thus: Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this is memory of me.” In the same way, he gave them the cup after the supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”

In Luke 24: 30, Jesus sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. In John 21: 12, 13, Jesus said to his seven disciples, “come, have breakfast”, then he came over and took bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.”

The instruction of Jesus Christ on the bread is “Take and eat,” while his instruction on the wine is “drink from it.” Any position taken here on the manner of taking and eating the bread can be right depending on the school of thought. The school of thought of receiving on the tongue may back their position with what happened in Ezekiel 2: 8; 3: 2: “…Open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.” “So, I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat.” Or what happened in Revelation 10: 9 &10: So, I went up to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. He said to me, “Take and swallow it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth, it will taste as sweet as honey. I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it.

In the case of Ezekiel, he was instructed to open his mouth and take what he was being given to eat whereas it is not categorically stated. The instruction of Jesus Christ in the Gospel did not state it as in the Book of Ezekiel but it can still be argued, in the light of the encounter of Ezekiel. On another side, it is evident that the disciples were eating before Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” From the angle of the statement of Jesus that one of his Twelve will betray him, that is, the one who dips with him into the dish, it can also be said that his disciples received his Body in the hand and not on the tongue.

Reception of Holy Communion in the times of the Early Christians

 In the Acts of the Apostles (c. 63-70), there are references to Christians gathering to “break bread,” called an “Agape Love Feast.” “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42 “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:46. The love-feast custom originated in the early Church and was a time of fellowship for believers. The Eucharist was often a part of the love-feast, although at some point (probably between the latter part of the 1st century AD and 250 AD), the two became separate.

In 1 Corinthians 11: 23-34, Saint Paul recalls the institution of the Eucharist and gives instructions on how to receive it in a worthy manner. Saint Paul teaches that those who eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, eat and drink judgment on themselves. He observes that some are weak, sick and even dead as a result of eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord unworthily. Saint Pauls calls for an examination of oneself before approaching the Eucharistic meal.

The expression, “breaking bread,” no doubt includes the celebration of the Eucharist. Yet, that the Eucharist was celebrated at the end of the love feast (or, as part of it) is quite clear from I Cor. 11: 23-30. In those verses, Paul expressly mentions Jesus taking bread and saying, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you” (1 Cor. 11:24). Paul also points out the wrong perception of the Eucharist among the Corinthian Church and also tries to differentiate the Eucharist from the normal meal. He says, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgement, 1 Cor. 11: 33-34.

 Reception of Holy Communion in the times of the Early Church Fathers

 The early church fathers fall into three basic categories: apostolic fathers, ante-Nicene church fathers, and post-Nicene church fathers. The Apostolic Fathers were contemporaries of the apostles who were probably taught by them, carrying on the tradition and teaching of the apostles themselves.  Some of them were Clement of Rome, Linus, Bishop of Rome mentioned in 3 Timothy 4: 21. The ante-Nicene fathers were those who came after the apostolic fathers and before the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Such individuals as Irenaeus, Ignatius and Justin Martyr are ante-Nicene fathers, Eusebius, who wrote a history of the church from the birth of Jesus to A.D. 324, one year before the Council of Nicaea. The post-Nicene church fathers are those who came after the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. They were Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo, Saint John Chrysostom, called the “golden-mouthed” for his excellent oratorical skills; Saint Jerome (342-420) who translated the Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate and Saint Ambrose, who was largely responsible for Augustine’s conversion to Christianity, St. Basil the Great, he was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed.

Justin Martyr, writing around 150 A.D. in Rome, provides a unique perspective into the weekly practice of Communion among second century Christians. The elements were placed in the hands of each communicant by the clergy who were present, or, according to Justin, by the deacons alone, amid singing of psalms by the congregation (Psalm 34), with the words: “The body of Christ;” “The blood of Christ, the cup of life;” to each of which the recipient responded “Amen.” (eminent Church historian Philip SchaffHistory of the Christian Church: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325 [Vol. II], Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1976, from fifth edition of 1889, Chapter Five: “Christian Worship”: § 68. Celebration of the Eucharist, 238-239).

St. Dionysius of Alexandria [190-264 A.D.] was the Patriarch of Alexandria, writing to one of the popes of his time, speaks emphatically of “one who has stood by the table and has extended his hand to receive the Holy Food” (Eusebius [263-339], Hist. Eccl., VII, ix).

Eusebius [265-340 A.D.], wrote: But I did not dare to do this; and said that his long communion was sufficient for this. For I should not dare to renew from the beginning one who had heard the giving of thanks and joined in repeating the Amen; who had stood by the table and had stretched forth his hands to receive the blessed food; and who had received it, and partaken for a long while of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eusebius: Church History Book 7).

Cyril of Jerusalem [313 -386] left a more detailed and ritualistic instruction for Communion ((Latin communionem meaning “fellowship/sharing”). While the Didache concentrates on prayer and thanksgiving, Cyril’s instructions emphasize technique:

“Approaching (Communion)…come not with your palms extended and stretched flat nor with your fingers open. But make your left hand as if a throne for the right, and hollowing your palm receive the body of Christ saying after it, Amen. Then after you have with care sanctified your eyes by the touch of the holy Body, partake…giving heed lest you lose any particle of it (the bread). For should you lose any of it, it is as though you have lost a member of your own body, for tell me, if any one gave you gold dust, would you not with all precaution keep it fast, being on the guard lest you lose any of it and thus suffer loss? How much more cautiously then will you observe that not a crumb falls from you, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones. Then having partaken of the Body of Christ, approach also the cup of His blood; not extending your hands, but bending low and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, be you sanctified by partaking, also of the blood of Christ.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 23:21-22).

St. Basil the Great [330-379]: It is good and beneficial to communicate every day, and to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ. For He distinctly says, "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life." And who doubts that to share frequently in life, is the same thing as to have manifold life. I, indeed, communicate four times a week, on the Lord's day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on the Sabbath, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of any Saint. It is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take the communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offence, as long custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves. All the solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, take the communion themselves, keeping communion at home. And at Alexandria and in Egypt, each one of the lay people, for the most part, keeps the communion, at his own house, and participates in it when he likes. For when once the priest has completed the offering, and given it, the recipient, participating in it each time as entire, is bound to believe that he properly takes and receives it from the giver. And even in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand. It has the same validity whether one portion or several portions are received from the priest at the same time. (St. Basil the Great [330-379], Letter 93: To the Patrician Cæsaria, concerning Communion).

John Chrysostom [347-407 A.D.]: Tell me, would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with unwashed hands? No, I suppose, not. But you would rather choose not to come at all, than come with soiled hands. And then, thus scrupulous as you are in this little matter, do you come with soiled soul, and thus dare to touch it? And yet the hands hold it but for a time, whereas into the soul it is dissolved entirely. (St. John ChrysostomHomily 3 on Ephesians).

St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo [354-430] :  To this we may add, that I refer to a man who lived with you, whose birthday you were wont to celebrate with such large assemblies, with whom you joined in the kiss of peace in the sacraments, in whose hands you placed the Eucharist, to whom in turn you extended your hands to receive it . . . (St. Augustine, Against Petilian the Donatist book 2 chapter 23 par 53).

Distribution of the bread and wine took place at the chancel rail, where the people came forward to stand and receive from the hands of the bishop and/or deacons. Bread was placed into the joined hands with the words, ‘The Body of Christ,’ to which the recipient responded: ‘Amen’ . . . The cup was offered to each by another minister, with a similar exchange. (from Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, general editor: Allan D. Fitzgerald, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1999; “Eucharistic Liturgy,” p. 338; this article written by Robin M. Jensen and J. Patout Burns).

Council of Toledo (400) in its canon 14 orders that anyone who shall have received the Holy Eucharist from the priest without eating it, shall be driven from the Church as guilty of sacrilege.

Manners of Receiving Holy Communion in the Middle Ages (from 5th century to 15th century)

One account has it that from the sixth century, in Rome, the custom of placing the Sacred Particle in the mouth, rather than in the hand of the communicant, and in Gaul from the ninth century (Van der Stappen, IV, 227; cf. Saint Gregory, Dialogue, Book III, chapter iii). (Catholic Encycopedia: “Genuflexion”). The change of attitude in the communicant may perhaps have come about nearly simultaneously with this. Greater reverence was being insisted upon; and if it be true that in some places each communicant mounted the altar-steps, and took for himself a portion of the consecrated Eucharist (Clem. Alex., Strom., I, i) some reform was sorely needed (Catholic Encycopedia: “Genuflexion”).

John Damascene (676-749 A.D):Let us draw near to it with an ardent desire, and with our hands held in the form of the cross; let us receive the body of the Crucified One: and let us apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal (John Damascene: An Exposition of the Faith Book 4 Ch 13).

The Sixth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (AD 680–681) also forbade the taking of Communion in the hand by the laity, under threat of excommunication: “Wherefore, if any one wishes to be a participator of the immaculate Body in the time of the Synaxis, and to offer himself for the communion, let him draw near, arranging his hands in the form of a cross, and so let him receive the communion of grace. But such as, instead of their hands, make vessels of gold or other materials for the reception of the divine gift, and by these receive the immaculate communion, we by no means allow to come, as preferring inanimate and inferior matter to the image of God.” (Council of Constantinople, Trullo Canon 101).

Centuries later Saint Thomas Aquinas [1225-1274] gave us an explanation of how this mystery happens. He called it transubstantiation. By that he meant that the “accidents” (the visible reality) of bread and wine remain, but the “substance” is changed into Christ’s Body and Blood. This has also come to be understood as what Catholics mean by the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist.

Saint Thomas Aquinas further taught: “The dispensing of Christ’s body belons to the priest…out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated, hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this Sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity” (Summa Theologica).

The Council of Trent on Manners of Receiving Holy Communion

 The Council of Trent (1545-1563) distinguishes three ways of receiving this Sacrament. Some receive it sacramentally only. Such are those sinners who do not fear to approach the holy mysteries with polluted lips and heart, who, as the Apostle says, eat and drink the Lord's body unworthily. Of this class of communicants St. Augustine says: He who dwells not in Christ, and in whom Christ dwells not, most certainly does not eat spiritually His flesh, although carnally and visibly he presses with his teeth the Sacrament of His flesh and blood. Those, therefore, who receive the sacred mysteries with such a disposition, not only obtain no fruit therefrom, but, as the Apostle himself testifies, eat and drink judgment to themselves.

Others are said to receive the Eucharist in spirit only. They are those who, inflamed with a lively faith which worketh by charity,' partake in wish and desire of that celestial bread offered to them, from which they receive, if not the entire, at least very great fruits.

Lastly, there are some who receive the Holy Eucharist both sacramentally and spiritually, those who, according to the teaching of the Apostle, having first proved themselves and having approached this divine banquet adorned with the nuptial garment, derive from the Eucharist those most abundant fruits which we have already described. Hence it is clear that those who, having it in their power to receive with fitting preparation the Sacrament of the body of the Lord, are yet satisfied with a spiritual Communion only, deprive themselves of the greatest and most heavenly advantages.

Prohibition of the Lay Faithful from handling or touching the sacred vessels by the Council of Trent. To safeguard in every possible way the dignity of so august a Sacrament, not only is the power of its administration entrusted exclusively to priests, but the Church has also prohibited by law any lay person but consecrated persons, unless some case of great necessity intervene, to dare handle or touch the sacred vessels, the linen, or other instruments necessary to its completion.

The Second Vatican Council on Receiving Holy Communion

The Council Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) did not discuss the manner of distributing Holy Communion in its sessions. However, the Council summarizes the effects of the Holy Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life, Lumen Gentium 11.

Reception of Holy Communion after the Second Vatican Council

 Sacred Congregation of Rites:Eucharisticum Mysterium, 25 May, 1967

The Sacred Congregation of Rites in its document Eucharisticum Mysterium no. 34 states: “In accordance with the custom of the Church, Communion may be received by the faithful either kneeling or standing. One or the other way is to be chosen, according to the decision of the episcopal conference, bearing in mind all the circumstances, above all the number of the faithful and the arrangement of the churches. The faithful should willingly adopt the method indicated by their pastors, so that Communion may truly be a sign of the brotherly union of all those who share in the same table of the Lord.”

“When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration.” “When they receive Communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. This should be done at the right time and place, so that the order of people going to and from Communion may not be disrupted.”

Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship: Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion, Memoriale Domini, 29 May, 1969

Taking all this into consideration, Memoriale Domini declared: “From the time of the Fathers of the Church... Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favour of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is two-fold: a) first, to avoid the dropping of Eucharistic particles and b) to increase among the faith devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Three questions were asked of the bishops, and the replies received by 12 March 1969 were as follows:

1. Do you think that attention should be paid to the desire that, over and above the traditional manner, the rite of receiving Holy Communion in the hand should be admitted? Yes: 597; No: 1233; Yes, but with reservations: 315; Invalid votes: 20.

2. Is it your wish that this new rite be first tried in small communities, with the consent of the bishop? Yes: 751; No: 1215; Invalid votes: 70.

3. Do you think that the faithful will receive this new rite gladly, after a proper catechetical preparation? Yes: 835; No: 1185; Invalid votes: 128.

From the returns it is clear that the vast majority of bishops believe that the present discipline should not be changed, and that if it were, the change would be offensive to the sentiments and the spiritual culture of these bishops and of many of the faithful.

The Apostolic See consented that where the usage, that of placing Holy Communion in the hand, prevails, the episcopal conferences should examine matters carefully and should make whatever decisions, by a secret vote and with a two-thirds majority, are needed to regulate matters. Their decisions should be sent to the Apostolic See to receive the necessary confirmation, accompanied with a detailed account of the reasons which led them to take those decisions.

 General Instruction of the Roman Missal on Receiving Holy Communion, Revised in 2000

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal on Receiving Holy Communion (GIRM) states: The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood (GIRM 160). The Instruction further states: If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ). The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes it entirely (GIRM 161).

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament:Redemptionis Sacramentum, 24 March, 2004

 Redemptionis Sacramentum 91 establishes: In distributing Holy Communion it is to be remembered that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who seek them in a reasonable manner, are rightly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them”. Hence any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law must be admitted to Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing.

Redemptionis Sacramentum 92: Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.

Communion received on the tongue and while kneeling (Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff)

The most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand. The history of the liturgy, however, makes clear that rather early on a process took place to change this practice.

Over the centuries the Church has always characterized the moment of Holy Communion with sacredness and the greatest respect, forcing herself constantly to develop to the best of her ability external signs that would promote understanding of this great sacramental mystery. In her loving and pastoral solicitude the Church has made sure that the faithful receive Holy Communion having the right interior dispositions, among which dispositions stands out the need for the Faithful to comprehend and consider interiorly the Real Presence of Him Whom they are to receive. (See The Catechism of Pope Pius X, nn. 628 & 636). The Western Church has established kneeling as one of the signs of devotion appropriate to communicants. A celebrated saying of Saint Augustine, cited by Pope Benedict XVI in n. 66 of his Encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis, ("Sacrament of Love"), teaches: “No one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it” (Enarrationes in Psalmos 98, 9). Kneeling indicates and promotes the adoration necessary before receiving the Eucharistic Christ.

From this perspective, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger assured that: "Communion only reaches its true depth when it is supported and surrounded by adoration" [The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 90]. For this reason, Cardinal Ratzinger maintained that “the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favour a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species” [cited in the Letter "This Congregation" of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 1 July 1, 2002].

John Paul II, in his last Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia ("The Church comes from the Eucharist"), wrote in n. 61: “By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, and by being careful not to diminish any of its dimensions or demands, we show that we are truly conscious of the greatness of this gift. We are urged to do so by an uninterrupted tradition, which from the first centuries on has found the Christian community ever vigilant in guarding this ‘treasure.’ Inspired by love, the Church is anxious to hand on to future generations of Christians, without loss, her faith and teaching with regard to the mystery of the Eucharist. There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery, for ‘in this sacrament is recapitulated the whole mystery of our salvation.

In continuity with the teaching of his Predecessor, starting with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the year 2008, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, began to distribute to the faithful the Body of the Lord, by placing it directly on the tongue of the faithful as they remain kneeling.

Pope Francis on Receiving Holy Communion

Pope Francis in his General Audience of Wednesday, 21 March, 2018 affirms the existing position on the reception of Holy Communion. He says, “the Church strongly desires that the faithful also receive the Lord’s Body with Hosts consecrated at the same Mass; and the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more fully expressed when Holy Communion is received under the two Species, even though we know that Catholic doctrine teaches us that Christ, whole and entire, is received even under only one Species, (cf. GIRM, 85:281-282). According to ecclesiastical norms, the faithful normally approach the Eucharist in a processional manner, as we have said, and receive Communion standing with devotion, or on their knees as established by the Episcopal Conference, receiving the Sacrament either on the tongue or in the hand, if allowed, as preferred (cf. GIRM 160-161). After Communion, silence, silent prayer helps us treasure in our hearts the gift which we have received. To slightly extend that moment of silence, speaking to Jesus in our hearts, helps us a great deal, as does singing a psalm or a hymn of praise (cf. GIRM 88) that can help us be with the Lord.”

Reception of Holy Communion by a faithful who has celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered when someone eats gluten. It can develop at any age after someone starts eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. It is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Circular Letter to all Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences concerning the use of low-gluten altar breads and mustum as matter for the celebration of the Eucharist, (24 July 2003) states:

1. A layperson affected by celiac disease, who is not able to receive Communion under the species of bread, including low-gluten hosts, may receive Communion under the species of wine only.

2. A priest unable to receive Communion under the species of bread, including low-gluten hosts, when taking part in a concelebration, may with the permission of the Ordinary receive Communion under the species of wine only.

3. A priest unable to ingest even a minimal amount of wine, who finds himself in a situation where it is difficult to obtain or store mustum, when taking part in a concelebration, may with the permission of the Ordinary receive Communion under the species of bread only.

4. If a priest is able to take wine, but only a very small amount, when he is the sole celebrant, the remaining species of wine may be consumed by a layperson participating in that celebration of the Eucharist.

The Congregation teaches that hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. It states further that low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread. Also, mustum, which is grape juice that is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing), is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.

The same aforesaid Congregation, as referenced by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, teaches that Eucharistic matter made with genetically modified organisms (GMO) can be considered valid matter (Circular letter to Bishops on the bread and wine for the Eucharist, 15 June, 2017, no. 5).

A question may be asked: What happens when a layperson/priest for severe health reasons other than celiac disease is allergic to both low gluten bread and wine? Is there a way the person can still receive the Eucharist? With the validity of the Eucharistic matter made with genetically modified organisms, it seems there is a way the person can still receive the Eucharist. It would mean manipulating the material for eucharistic bread to remove the component or degree of gluten that is responsible for the allergy. Or cultivating genetically modified non allergic gluten.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, CBCN on Receiving Holy Communion

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in its Plenary in Abuja (1st-5th March 2004) voted in favour of Holy Communion in the hand as an optional practice of receiving Holy Communion in Nigeria, after having considered certain factors, and applied for the recognition of the Apostolic See on January 25, 2005 by the then President of the CBCN, His Grace, Most Rev. John O. Onaiyekan. Another letter to the Apostolic See was written on August 29, 2006 by His Grace, Most Rev. Felix A. Job the then President of the CBCN.

The decision of the CBCN was granted recognition in a decree (Prot: 399/05/L) dated November 7, 2006 by the Apostolic See in accordance with Canon 455 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. The decree was signed by His Eminence, Francis Cardinal Arinze, the then Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Prefect told the CBCN to give the faithful “a previous and thorough formation about this new practice, so as to guarantee a correct and serious devotion to the Holy Eucharist.” The Prefect also stated that “the faithful are always free to receive the Holy Communion on the tongue and in kneeling position.”

With the recognitio of the Apostolic See on November 7, 2006, the Church in Nigeria has now two manners of receiving Holy Communion, namely, on the tongue and in the hand. If any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, the Holy Communion is to be administered to him or her. Every faithful should decide what he or she wants.

Receiving Holy Communion during the Outbreak of a Disease

The question is “Can Holy Communion in the hand as the only practice be imposed by the conference of bishops or any Diocesan Bishop during the outbreak of any disease, such as Ebola or Coronavirus? It is not stated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law although the Code did stipulate on the manner of distributing Holy Communion, any liturgical norms or any Act of the Apostolic See. The Ebola disease is just within the African continent while the Coronavirus pandemic affects the whole world and the Church. The Acts of Apostolic See guided the decisions of the conference of bishops especially the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, (CBCN) and some individual Diocesan Bishops in Nigeria for the sake of the common good. It has not anyway undermined the efficacious power of the Eucharist but to avoid the spread of the disease through saliva contact which is one of the likely means of spreading the virus. The Eucharist remains the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ together with his Soul and his Divinity and no virus or disease can affect it. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man, (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 282).

The decision to be receiving Holy Communion in the Hand only is just for this period of the pandemic. Note that the two manners of receiving Holy Communion, namely, on the tongue and in the hand is still in force. However, this decision taken for the common good should be respected by the faithful not minding the position already taken in accordance with each person’s spirituality.

It is much more important that we ‘take and eat’ rather than worrying about the delivery method so much, as long as it is received reverently and “be in the state of grace, that is, not conscious of being in mortal sin. Also important for those receiving Holy Communion are a spirit of recollection and prayer, observance of the fast prescribed by the Church, and an appropriate disposition of the body (gestures and dress) as a sign of respect for Christ”, (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 291).

Conclusion

As we can see in the various documents of the Church, the most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand. However, it is clear from the above presentation that this practice was early changed. “From the time of the Fathers of the Church, Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favour of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is of two-folds: a) first, to avoid the dropping of Eucharistic particles and b) to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

From the Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion, Memoriale Domini, 29 May, 1969, it is evident in the vote casted by the bishops that the distribution of Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favour of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. According to the same document, however, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has been given permission, Holy Communion can be administered to any communicant who wants it in the hand. It means that the Church permits Catholics to receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or in their hands (in places where the Conference of Bishops permits it with the approval of the Apostolic See), at the discretion of the one receiving holy Communion. Note that the reception of Holy Communion in the hand is not automatic unless it is permitted by the Conference of Bishops with the approval of the Apostolic See.

Not until November 7, 2006, the only practice of receiving Holy Communion in the Nigerian Church was on the tongue. Before the year 2006, no Diocesan Bishop in Nigeria would have issued a decree permitting of the reception or distribution of Holy Communion in the hand in his diocese because the Catholic Bishops’ Conference had not permitted it with the approval of the Apostolic See.

Both modes of receiving holy Communion have their own value and their own beauty. Some Catholics feel more comfortable receiving Holy Communion in their hands.  For some, touching the Eucharist makes them feel more connected to Jesus Christ himself like the woman with a haemorrhage in Mark 5: 28 who said: “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” What is important in the reception of Holy Communion in the hand is to recognise, as many of the Fathers of the early Church recognized, that our hands could be a “throne” for receiving holy Communion—the Lord, the King of Kings.  To make a throne for the Lord with our hands is to signify our total commitment to worship and to Christian service.When they receive, St. John Damascene counselled that they should put their hands “in the form of a cross.” Make your left hand as if a throne for the right, and hollowing your palm receive the body of Christ saying after it, Amen.

Catholics who receive in the hand should ensure, above all, that their hands are clean as they prepare to literally touch the presence of Christ.  They should receive right away, not when they return to their seat. A special care should be taken to ensure that the Communion is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. To pluck, grab or pull the Eucharist into their hands is a sign of great disrespect and could lead to accidentally dropping the sacred host. It is not allowed to receive Holy Communion through other means except either in the hand or on the tongue. An even greater danger and sacrilege is the possibility of someone stealing a consecrated host for trivial or even evil purposes. Every Catholic should be vigilant to see that this does not happen. In agreement with Redemptionis Sacramentum, “if there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.”

Would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with soiled (polluted) hands or lips? No, I suppose, not. But you would rather choose not to come at all, than come with soiled (polluted) hands or lips. And then, thus scrupulous as you are in this little matter, do you come with soiled (polluted) soul, and thus dare to touch it or allow it to be placed on your tongue? And yet the hands or lips hold it but for a time, whereas into the soul it is dissolved entirely.

 

 

 

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