There is a perpetual myth found online and on this forum that the Early Church and up until the 9th Century communion in the hand (CITH) was common, normative and absolutely accepted as the good, natural standard thing to do. This myth is often brought up as evidence that CITH is a good thing and to be supported. For the purposes of this post, I won’t go much into this false antiquarinism spirit that latches onto (what is supposedly) a Patristic practice and elevates it to near dogma level (I will speak on the inherent contradiction in this particular point later on).
This post will not be exhaustive, and in fact I acknowledge from the start that I have written it myself as a starting point for more research and a longer paper (which I may write soon, or perhaps in the years to come God willing). I only present discussion points, ideas and certain facts.
To begin: The Early Church - and up until the 9th Century - did not practice CITH has normative, morally good or the absolute rule. Nor was this practice (when it did occur) universal
Notice the contradiction that apologists for CITH cannot overcome once they start (erroneously) saying that CITH is a longstanding tradition - to wit, if we are to take this point seriously and grant the (false) historical premise that the Early Church did pratice CITH we must believe our opponent takes long-standing Church tradition to be something authoritative, favorable and worthy. Yet, when it is pointed out that communion on the tongue (COTT) falls into the definition of a long-standing tradition suddenly our opponent is not inclined to be traditional and wishes to take another line of defense [either the heretical notion that the Early Church practices were more pure and later traditions a corruption or the equally as heretical idea that no matter the history we are a new Church now and should start again with our liturgical customs].
Now to get on to some discussion points.
1. Supposed Patristic sources
There are a handful of oft-quoted passages from some of the Church fathers that apparently prove that CITH was common practice and thus the case is closed. For the sake of this short post I won’t deal with the fact that this defense is usually not a sound argument as it misses the key point of showing how or why it matters that the Church Fathers wrote on the topic and merely assumes that to present a quote from St. Cyril suddenly proves the entire position to be correct.
Instead I’d like to present an examination of these quotes written by John Salza.
Many in favor of Communion in the hand point to the writings of St. Basil, Letter 93, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 23:21, the Quintsext Synod of Trullo, Canon CI; and St. John Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa Book IV, ch. XIII. Not only do these writings fail to establish a consensus on the matter, they provide dubious and even conflicting information. For example, St. Basil (330-379) says clearly that to receive Communion by one’s own hand is only permitted in times of persecution or, as was the case with monks in the desert, when no deacon or priest was available to give it: “It is not necessary to show that it does not constitute a grave fault for a person to communicate with his own hand in a time of persecution when there is no priest or deacon” (Letter 93). The text implies that to receive in the hand under other circumstances, outside of persecution, would be a grave fault. The saint based his opinion on the custom of the solitary monks, who reserved the Blessed Sacrament in their dwellings, and, in the absence of the priest or deacon, gave themselves Communion.
What can be seen, then, is that passages our usually taken out of context and given new meaning in order to qualify the position that CITH was common - when in fact all that can be shown is that the Early Church was in a special position at the time due to persecution. Many chose to flee into the desert in order to live as hermits. These are special circumstances which, needless to say, are not at all evident in today’s Catholic world.
Many people point to Cyril of Jerusalem’s quote of making your hand like a “throne” to receive the Lord. However, Cyril lived in the same century (the 4th) as Basil, so this discounts Cyril’s “throne” quote and makes it an exception (during times of persecution), not the rule. Moreover, Cyril’s quote is of dubious origin; many scholars trace it to Patriarch John, who succeeded Cyril in Jerusalem. But this John was of suspect orthodoxy. This we know from the correspondence of St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine.
Moreover the throne quote often leaves out other particulars - there were instructions requiring one to touch the Eucharist with one eyes and lips first before consuming. If we use the “throne” quote surely then we should follow the instructions and do these other movements too!