Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pope and Communion Abuse

Again on the Feast of Corpus Christi the Holy Father gave Holy Communion to the faithful only kneeling and only on the tongue. In what has become the normal practice, the faithful form a queue and kneel on a prie-Dieu, whilst the Master of Ceremonies places a communion plate under the communicants chin.
Unfortunately this way of distributing Holy Communion only appertains to the Pope, other priests and bishops at Papal Masses distribute Holy Communion to standing communicants who may receive either on the tongue or in the hand. This manner of distributing Holy Communion, therefore, seems to be more about the Pope than the Lord, a security measure rather than a matter of reverence. There are stories of people keeping the Sacred Hosts distributed by Pope John Paul as souvenirs.
At Papal Masses it seems that even the instructions of Redemptionis Sacramentum are not followed for most communicants:

[93.] The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.

We use a communion plate here, though following the norms set for the reception of Holy Communion by our bishops: the faithful receive Holy Communion standing and are liberty to receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hand.
I don't know if it is peculiar to Brighton but at least once a month we have a "Eucharitic incident", as a result of receiving Holy Communion in the hand. The last one, a man received Holy Communion and simply walked off with the host in his hand, I followed him to the Church door, still carrying the ciborium and demanded the Body of the Christ back. The night before a woman who I hadn't seen before was acting strangely, she had been sitting in the front row, she and her husband ignored any sign of reverence throughout the Mass at Holy Communion she walked off with Host, quietly I asked her to consume it, after Mass she and the man she was with became quite abusive. I have also had the occasional penitent who had retained the Body of Christ to receive it after absolution.
I would prefer everyone to receive on the tongue and kneeling but obviously one can't deny people a right which is accorded them by the bishops and the Church. What I have noticed is that in the Usus Antiquor the distribution of Holy Communion is actually much quicker, partly because the celebrant does not have to wait for the communicant to receive the host before they move away, it is also much less stressful for the celebrant.


Fr. Ignotus said...

I have the experience probably about once a month of someone who is receiving in the hand immediately dropping the host, because of how careless they receive. Probably about once a month also I need to at least go check on someone who appears to have walked away without consuming; maybe one out of four or five cases they actually did not consume the host, so they need on-the-spot instruction. Then there are all the problems with people reaching for the host, receiving with only one hand with a baby in the other arm, etc. etc. Communion in the hand is incredibly stressful, and then to think about how many particles I find on my own fingers, and how no one ever checks their hands (even after I occasionally remind people that they should). The Lord sure has to put up with a lot so that people can receive Him in the hand! I do really hope that the Holy Father removes that indult and we are required to go back to communion only on the tongue (whether standing or kneeling).

English Pastor said...

I have had several incidents over the years: Hosts found under benches; one Host partly consumed and found outside the Church door; one or two folk walking away with it so that I had to retrieve it, and an Extra-ordinary minister laughingly telling me a "funny story" of having taken her pyx with Host, gone shopping, then home to tidy up before taking Holy Communion out and realising she had put on a different coat -that her pyx was at home in her other coat. I was an assistant priest at the time, so the lady continued in her extra-ordinary ministry...and it certainly was extraordinary. To me, it is all very distressing. Certainly the Lord is big enough to take care of Himself, but must His priests be subject to such distress by the fact that He needs to so take care of Himself..?

bernadette said...

"but obviously one can't deny people a right which is accorded them by the bishops and the Church"

I'm not sure about that, Fr Ray. I'd check it out further.

David Kitto said...

I have never been able to understand why the Blessed Sacrament can be given in the hand given the belief in transubstanciation and that the priest alone should be the only one to actually touch the host.

The current practice of having Eucharistic Ministers in some parishes must surely be equally questionable?

I understand that the London Oratory does not give communion in the hand these days following last year's outrage.

On wouldn't pass round diamonds for all and sundry to handle, so why do we do this with the sacred host whose value is limitless?

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

My thoughts exactly, it seems much easier for a priest to have people kneeling and receiving on the tongue. (I've timed it too, and it is indeed faster).

The threat of sacrilege is very stressing for me as well, I worry about people walking off with the Host, I'm sure that it's even more burdensome for you Father's.

I know the Pope is trying to lead by example, but that works when people are on your side, I think at the minimum, Communion in the Hand should not be allowed at Papal Masses (which I think may be the next step)


I find all these very sad and distressing.I think St. Michael's prayer should be said before and after mass.

St. Michael pray for us and cast satan and his servents into hell. I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Marc said...

It is much easier to receive the Host on the tongue if one is kneeling but it is not always easy to kneel if there are no altar rails. I have seen accidents occur when the priest gives the Host on the tongue to someone standing. What should we do, Father?

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

There's some kind of eucharistic theology (which I don't pretend to understand) that sees the act of distributing Holy Communion as some kind of hugely meaningful "procession." This idea (who on earth came up with it?) seems to be at the root of why a preference for communion in the hand has become so entrenched within the hierarchy, and why reversing the current mess meets such resistance.

I once heard a priest explain in a sermon that the reason for not kneeling and receiving on the tongue is that this disrupts the "processional" aspect of the "assembly" "gathering" and "breaking bread" blah blah blah.

Whichever theologian(s) came up with this nonsense either had (a) a very low IQ -- anyone can see that communion in the hand is less reverent and is open to abuse -- or (b) an agenda to detach Catholics from traditional belief in the Real Presence. Or maybe it was both.

Jonathan said...

The Faithful are not to be refused communion if they are kneeling - Redemptionis Sacramentum. The norm in the latin Church remains, I believe, kneeling and on the tongue. Bishops do not have the authority to refuse communion to anyone kneeling. I receive kneeling and on the tongue in the A&B diocese and for most priests it is not a problem.
At papal masses, and in large congregations abroad, I have attended it is the norm to stand and not normally in a line but just somewhere near the minister of communion. This means several rows of communicants receive almost simultaneously as the minister distributes communion in roughly a 180 degree arch. Kneeling in this situations could prolong communion unnecessarily and cause tripping. As few people recieve from the Pope, there is more space and time making it easier to receive kneeling.
In large congregations abroad lines are formed and those at the front tend to receive kneeling while those 1 or 2 rows behind stand. The allows the minister of communion to distribute the host to 2 or 3 rows at a time.
In Lourdes an elderly Polish Lady resident in France wept when my wife received on the tongue. Alternatively, on one occasion, I have felt immense anger from a priest when kneeling, he would have been happier to hit me! It is important not to use reception of Holy Communion as a time of protest so if I feel it may be taken as such I would refrain from kneeling and just receive on the tongue.

In Cruce Vita said...

In “The Stripping of the Altars” by Eamon Duffy, he refers to complaints made by Protestants during the reign of Queen Elizabeth about “a whole range of traditional actions in the communion service: standing while the Gospel was read, kneeling at the name of Jesus, refusing to receive the bread in their hands but insisting that the priest place it in their mouths…”

Richard said...


I have also heard this processional nonsense and heard it connected with breaking bread - meals etc. But if you ask me, I far prefer my meals gathered together with others and taking my time to receive - as with altar rails - rather than queued up like at McDonalds.

Matthaeus said...

I am horrified at the number and frequency of accidents / incidents involving the Blessed Sacrament that occur in our parishes. I feel that these stem both from a common lack of reverence for Our Lord in the Eucharist (probably as a result of deficient or shoddy catechesis) as well as ineptitude in how to receive on the part of a significant number of the faithful (again probably due to poor catechesis and instruction, as well as things, arguably, being made more complex than they need be - various options for posture, recaiving in the hand or on the tongue, communion under both species, etc.).

I would agree with Fr. Ignotus' estimate of about one incident a month, mostly as a result of Hosts or particles being dropped. Taking the Blessed Sacrament away seems less common, but is apparently on the increase. Also, another cause is the use of large 'communal' Hosts which are consecrated as the Priest's Host, but then broken and used for the communion of some of the congregation - if received in the hand, there is almost a certainty of particles adhereing to the palm or fingers: I can recall in the past having to (discrety) lick my palm 'al la Anglican' and keeping fingers conjoined till the end of Mass in order to purify them when taking holy water on leaving the church (which tended to attract some odd look when making the Sign of the Cross during the final blessing!) Needless to say, I no longer receive in the hand!

Some years ago, I was also peruaded to become an Extraordinary Minister in my then parish (I still live there, but have 'defected' to another, far more traditional, neighbouring parish). I gave this up after about two years, principally to avoid being associated with abuses of this ministry (I felt I was not necessary, being used primarily to facilitate the reception of the Precious Blood at Mass, and also because of the behaviour of some fellow EM's - including one man who assumed he could give blessings foramally, making the Sign of the Cross over them as the priest does (additionally, I never saw any priest 'pick him up' over this, despite standing next to him). The last straw was, however, an accident during the reception of the chalice in which I ended up with the Precious Blood spilt over my hand. There was also at least one incident in the same parish where I have had to 'stand guard' over a spot where a Host had been dropped in order to prevent people walking on it (and receiving some quite aggressive 'attitudes' from fellow worshippers because I was in their way).

Finally, can I congratulate you on having the courage to pursue someone taking the Blessed Sacrament away and demanding Our Lord back - I know many priests who would not have done this (even though it is arguably a duty of their vocation).

Dominus tecum.


I.P. said...

Correct me please if I am wrong but did not St Augustine of Hippo say that the host should be received kneeling and on the hand ?
Was it also not usual on the rare occasions when communion was given in the Medieval Church for the communicants to kneel at the rail on which was a cloth to safeguard against the profanation of any fragments? I believe that this custom survived into the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

Someone of the fathers explains how to make a little throne of your hands to receive the Host, and Tertullian writes exhorting a Christian wife of a pagan husband on communing secretly before breakfast (folk took the Sacrament home). So that's not an argument :-)

If someone could tell me where the procession thing came from, I'd be very grateful. It was cited in the pastoral letter five years ago in which the previous bishop of this diocese gave permission for communion in the hand. I should very much like to know where this comes from.

In my (not at all traddy in any shape or form, in fact slight neo-cat) parish, we all kneel around the edge of the (very wide) sanctuary. There are no altar rails (some people get help from someone else to kneel, and some people just stand). Communion takes less time from beginnign to end, and at the same time is less rushed for the communicants - the whole thing is more peaceful and less "busy" than when one has to come in a queue.

Paul Mallinder said...

I can fully understand the Pope's practice because of the risks that people may not consume the Blessed Sacrament for many diverse reasons. I have noticed, throughout the years, that when the Blessed Sacrament has fallen accidentally to the ground at Communion there is no universal practice of what to do! What should happen?

gemoftheocean said...

How come my comment was deleted?

All I stated was the FACT that last year, when that "professor" egged on people to abuse the Host, one was obtained FROM A PRIEST, ON THE TONGUE, KNEELING.

It's a phoney cop out to use the "abuse will stop if only everyone is kneeling and recieving on the tongue." Abuse will NEVER stop as long as there are ignorant and/or EVIL people -- no matter HOW it's recieved.

[And frankly, I find the parochial attitude of Latin rite catholics very irritating with re: to those who compare standing to shuffling along in a McDonald's line. For close to 2000 years the eastern rite catholics have stood "aright and in awe" -- and I think it's an ignorant slap in the face to the Eastern rite to say as such.]

As re: "frisbee" altar breads, I think if the pope wants to do everyone a favor, they need to be abolished. THEY are a real pain, given the massive amount of crumbs they produce.

As to EMs: Too many priests let "nice, but ignorant" people do the job. If I were in charge of appointing them, at the top of the list of questions would be: "Are you prepared to chase someone down the aisle if they take Communion down the aisle if they take Communion out of their mouth, OR don't put it in their mouth within a pace or two?" If the answer is "no" then they don't get to do the job. And as to a priest not doing it, that's inexcusable. 8 years or so of seminary and ordination, and they don't "get this?" UNBELIEVABLE.

And what idiots are in charge of training now? For an EM not to know the procedure for spilled Precious Blood or dropped Hosts is also inexcusable. People should be trained right. Ditto, waltzing around town doing whatever, when one has a Host or Hosts in the pyx is also unacceptable.

And if a priest needs to give a mini lecture about reception of the Eucharist, and how to recieve it and WHY they should do as instructed then he should do so and make no bones about it. If "feelings" get hurt "too bad."

The ignorant are going to mess everything up.

As to Communion in the hand -- it was recieved that way for 100s of years, so it's not inherently disrespectful at all, but again the ignorant will mess this up for the others who know how do do this respectfully. By NOT giving reminders of how one should recieve from time to time, ignorance is allowed to run rampant.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Gem, because it was a rant!

Enbrethiliel said...


For the past few weeks, the Archbishop of Manila has recommended that the faithful receive Communion in the hand in order to prevent the spread of the H1N1 ("swine flu") virus. I've read arguments on traditionalist 'blogs about Communion on the tongue actually being safer than Communion in the hand, because the priest's/minister's hand is more likely to brush against a receiver's hand than his tongue, but I really don't know.

What is your take on that, Fr. Blake?

Elizabeth said...

I think the following might help.

"We were at concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father, and we were absolutely forbidden to give Communion in the hands.
Communion in the hand began, with the publication of the Dutch Catechism with nobody's permission except the bishops—in effect, in principle separated themselves from the Holy See. One country after another began then to ask for permission, which the Dutch bishops never asked for, permission to receive Communion in the hand. I was asked by the [U.S.] bishops' conference to write a defense of Communion on the tongue, and I can again talk for hours.

"In the very, very early Church, Communion was given in the hands. However, as the faith of the Christians weakened in the Real Presence, by the 5th, 6th centuries Communion on the tongue became mandatory—remained mandatory until the present century. Behind Communion in the hand—I wish to repeat and make as plain as I can—is a weakening, a conscious, deliberate weakening of faith in the Real Presence.

And the American hierarchy took most—three times, those wanting Communion in the hand kept pushing and pushing. Finally, meantime, I was asked by the vice-president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops to defend Communion on the tongue, which I did. To get enough votes to give Communion in the hand, bishops who were retired, bishops who were dying, were solicited to vote to make sure that the vote would be affirmative in favor of Communion in the hand. Whatever you can do to stop Communion in the hand will be blessed by God.”

- Fr. John Hardon, S.J., November 1st, 1997 Call to Holiness Conference
in Detroit, Michigan,

Sacred Communion hosts taken from St Peter's in Rome fetch good money???

epsilon said...

I was in the Legion of Mary in the 70s and in 1971 four of us (Irish) spent the summer in Amsterdam in a convent where the priest told us off for taking Communion on the tongue - he thought WE were protesting!

Richard said...


For information, my experience is far from pariochial Latin rite. However, my comments about McDonalds queues are not directed towards standing to receive communion, but receiving in a queue rather than at altar rails. My normal practice is to receive in a queue, but I find that when I do get the opportunity to receive at altar rails (standing or kneeling, on the tongue or in the hand) I find the whole experience far more prayeful and unhurried.

exlaodicea probably expressed my sentiments better than my original comment.

gemoftheocean said...

Okay, Richard.

Elizabeth: Intereresting statement from Fr. Hardon. However, the fact remains that the early Christians, many who were martyred for their beliefs did recieve in the hand. I don't think that in and of itself necessarily means a person will lose belief in the Real Presence, when the actions of the martyrs go contrary to that. [And I think it very wrong to tut-tut at people wanting to recieve kneeling and on the tongue. Matter of fact, I think they *should* bring in the altar rails back so people may kneel if they want to.

FWIW, I'm not a big fan of of the common Communion Cup - but that's just me. [On account of sanitary reasons AND chance of mishandle, and in particular on account of how the Communion cups tend not to be taken care of properly re: purification afterwards.] Once again the 5% of the people will mess it up for the other 95%. I do hate the "lowest common denominator." "Well, some of you are stupid, so we'll treat you all like children." Thanks, guys.

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

I’ve been using Google to try and track down the originators of “processional theology,” alias why it’s poor practice liturgically to receive communion kneeling because it “disrupts the procession.” The US bishops’ conference has this section on its website. I wonder if Fr. Z. has already reviewed it -- if not, it’s a good candidate for one of his analyses.

It seems that the American bishops have mandated standing and ruled out kneeling. However, there's a crumb of comfort in one part of the section: "Those who receive Communion may receive either in the hand or on the tongue, and the decision should be that of the individual receiving, not of the person distributing Communion."

Fr Seán Coyle said...

I read the page to which Francis gave a link. I find the processional 'theology' somewhat strained.

The document also says that the GIRM 'mandates' the singing of the Communion hymn from the moment of the priest's Communion until the last person has received Holy Communion. I have a problem with the idea of people singing, whether choir members or the congregation, taking a brief break from that, only long enough to receive the Body of Christ. I much prefer silence - communal silence - during Holy Communion with, perhaps, a hymn afterwards.

I come from a country, Ireland, where people don't like to sing at Mass but am in a country, the Philippines, where many priests can't tolerate any silence at all.

Every opportunity I get I remind people that what we receive is the Body of Christ, not a symbol, not a piece of bread. I often wonder how many really believe in the Real Presence.

George said...

Paul Mallinder writes and rightly asks - 'when the Blessed Sacrament has fallen accidentally to the ground at Communion there is no universal practice of what to do! What should happen'?

I too have seen this happen on the odd occassion and in most instances the Priest has simply stooped down and picked up the Sacred Host off the floor, and then continued to distribute Holy Communion as if nothing has happened.

What should happen? Well, the one instance where I saw a similar thing happen - Sacred Host dropped on the floor - the Priest immediately held up the entire procedure and made people waiting for Holy Communion stand back from where the Host lay on the floor. He then ordered a couple of Altar Servers to fetch a clean white cloth from the Altar and a candle stick with lit candle. As I remember it the Host was lovingly picked up by the Priest and consumed, the white cloth was immediately and carefully placed over the spot where the Host had fallen and the candle stick was placed on top to clearly mark the place and prevent anyone from treading on any particles of the Body of Our Blessed Lord. These were attended to by the Priest after Mass had finished.

So it held up the Communion queue for a few minutes. So What!!!

This happened some years ago but this memory has remained with me vividly and I treasure it. What a wise and caring Priest and what a beautiful lesson the Faithful had at that Sunday Mass in respect and reverence for the Sacred Host.

Should we ever do any less for the Sacred Body of our Saviour, who has done everything for us?

pelerin said...

The link given by 'Francis' explaining 'processional theology' makes for interesting reading. I have to admit never having connected the 'queue' for receiving Communion in this way before - being in the long procession following all those who have gone before in time.

I don't remember ever hearing this explanation when the 'changes' took place but I am pleased I have read this now.

MMVC said...

George, thank you for sharing this moving experience. I will pass it on to others, especially my priest friends. Yes, we desperately need such examples to help inspire us to a deeper love and reverence for our Eucharistic Lord.

Paul Viola said...

"I once heard a priest explain in a sermon that the reason for not kneeling and receiving on the tongue is that this disrupts the "processional" aspect of the "assembly" "gathering" and "breaking bread" blah blah blah."

Sounds like somebody is teaching a lot of nonsense in seminary ('processional aspect of the assembling gathering')---never heard any nonsense of the sort before.

Paul Viola
(Layman in San Antonio, TX---OLOA parishioner, and glad that the clergy distribute on the tongue)

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