Did the early Church receive the Holy Eucharist in the hand?


#1

I heard that the early early Church received the Holy Eucharist in their hands, is this true?

Thanks, God Bless!


#2

The Instruction [Memoriale Domini](“Instruction Memoriale Domini of Pope Paul VI.”) of Pope Paul VI answers this question.

When the Church celebrates the memorial of the Lord it affirms by the very rite itself its faith in Christ and its adoration of him, Christ present in the sacrifice and given as food to those who share the eucharistic table.

For this reason it is a matter of great concern to the Church that the Eucharist be celebrated and shared with the greatest dignity and fruitfulness. It preserves intact the already developed tradition which has come down to us, its riches having passed into the usage and the life of the Church The pages of history show that the celebration and the receptions of the Eucharist have taken various forms. …]

in recent years a fuller sharing in the eucharistic celebration through sacramental communion has here and there evoked the desire to return to the ancient usage of depositing the eucharistic bread in the hand of the communicant, he himself then communicating, placing it in his mouth.

Indeed, in certain communities and in certain places this practice has been introduced without prior approval having been requested of the Holy See, and, at times, without any attempt to prepare the faithful adequately.

It is certainly true that ancient usage once allowed the faithful to take this divine food in their hands and to place it in their mouths themselves. …]However, the Church’s prescriptions and the evidence of the Fathers make it abundantly clear that the greatest reverence was shown the Blessed Sacrament, and that people acted with the greatest prudence. Further, the care and the ministry of the Body and Blood of Christ was specially committed to sacred ministers or to men specially designated for this purpose …]

Soon the task of taking the Blessed Eucharist to those absent was confided to the sacred ministers alone, so as the better to ensure the respect due to the sacrament and to meet the needs of the faithful. Later, with a deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant.

This method of distributing holy communion must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist. …]

This reverence shows that it is not a sharing in “ordinary bread and wine”[7] that is involved, but in the Body and Blood of the Lord, through which “The people of God share the benefits of the Paschal Sacrifice, renew the New Covenant which God has made with man once for all through the Blood of Christ, and in faith and hope foreshadow and anticipate the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of the Father.”[8]

Further, the practice which must be considered traditional ensures, more effectively, that holy communion is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity. It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species …] Lastly, it ensures that diligent carefulness about the fragments of consecrated bread which the Church has always recommended …]

…] the Holy Father has decided not to change the existing way of administering holy communion to the faithful.

The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church.

Where a contrary usage, that of placing holy communion on the hand, prevails, the Holy See—wishing to help them fulfill their task, often difficult as it is nowadays—lays on those conferences the task of weighing carefully whatever special circumstances may exist there …] In such cases, 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 Rome to receive the necessary confirmation …] The Holy See will examine each case carefully, taking into account the links between the different local churches and between each of them and the Universal Church …]

In the United States, the Conference of Catholic Bishops requested in 1973 and obtained in 1977 that Holy Communion could also be received on the hand.

The current (2011) General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:

  1. It is not permitted for the faithful to take the consecrated Bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them on from one to another among themselves. …]

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.

Also the Instrruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (binding) states:

  1. …] 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.

#3

Yes.


#4

Sticking your tongue out to receive the Blessed Sacrament seems less dignified and decorous to me than receiving it in your hand.


#5

Yes.


#6

I heard from someone somewhere along the line a cloth was also used. And communion wasn’t distributed in round wafer form till the 10th or 11th century.


#7

See quotes from Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal):

He notes in God and the World (Ignatius Press):

“I wouldn’t be fussy about it. It was done in the early Church. A reverent manner of receiving Communion in the hand is in itself a perfectly reasonable way to receive Communion” (pg 410)

and from another work by him:

"…we know that until the ninth century Communion was received in the hand, standing. That does not of course mean that it should always do so. For what is fine, sublime, about the Church is that she is growing, maturing, understanding the mystery more profoundly. In the that sense the new development that began after the ninth century is quite justified, as an expression of reverence, and is well founded. But, on the other hand, we have to say that the Church could not possibly have been celebrating the Eucharist unworthily for nine hundred years. If we read what the Fathers say, we can see in what a spirit of reverence they received Communion…

We should be concerned only to argue in favor of what the Church’s efforts directed toward, both before and after the ninth century, that is a reverence in the heart, an inner submission before the mystery of God that puts himself into our hands…"

Cardinal Ratzinger “God Is Near Us” Ignatius Press Pg 70 2001


#8

That’s right: seems to you. I’ll take the Pope’s impressions, if you don’t mind.


#9

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