Why was communion on the hand instated in the first place?

What was the purpose of allowing the distribution of Holy Communion on the hands anyways? Was there a problem with receiving on the tongue? Is Communion on the hand more easier for priests? Could someone give me an explanation please?

My parish priest told me at the time that priests were delighted with the change.

I have to say, with many years experience now as an EMHC, I know what he meant. It can be pretty horrible giving COTT what with the spit and furry tongues, and nerve-racking as well with older people wearing dentures and scraping the Host off their tongue as they draw their tongue in.

It would probably be a good thing that you stop volunteering since you have described your horrible experience. Thanks for your service.

Why? I am resigned to it, so why should it bother you? The question was asked was the change easier for priests and I answered honestly.

This is so not your place to make this unkind, dismissive comment. As someone who also distributes Communion, I agree it is totally true COTT can be nerve-racking: people have forgotten - if they ever knew - how to open their mouths wide enough and extend their tongues far enough. This leave those distributing the Eucharist in the position of working their fingers into some mouths, or wondering if the Host may fall out, or having just a bit of extended tongue to work with. There is also a heightened sensitivity to passing along illnesses via saliva residue. These are things people in this ministry humbly accept, and the last thing they need is for you to disrespect them so.

Historically, it’s reappearance in the 20th century happened first in the Netherlands, if I recall. At the time, it was done in violation of the rules. Later, when it had spread more, it was given approval by Pope Paul VI. That letter should be on the Vatican’s website, from 1966 or 67, I think.

Although I’m not the form’s creator or a moderator, I’m going to request we keep this on topic, and not turn it into a personal feud.

That being said, I don’t know precisely why the indult was given to receive Holy Communion on the hand. I know that His Grace, The Most Reverend Malcolm Ranjith, former Secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship has written on this. That may be a good starting place.

I’m sure I’ve seen articles by the apologists on the main site on this topic.
If my memory serves correctly, the concept of recieving Holy Communion in the Hand was not a novel concept, and had been practiced in the early church, but had been banned to encourage respect for the Eucharistic Species.

Communion in the hand was the norm for most of the first millennium. Because of the dangers of misuse and the growing concern for reverence, the practice of giving the Host on the tongue was introduced about the ninth century.
The present practice of giving communion in the hand dates from 1969, when Pope Paul VI opened the way for episcopal conferences who wished to reintroduce the practice. Permission was granted to the U.S. bishops in 1977.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century offered a powerful catechesis on the mode of receiving communion in the hand that is still applicable today: “When you approach, do not go stretching out your open hands or having your fingers spread out, but make the left hand into a throne for the right which shall receive the King, and then cup your open hand and the Body of Christ, reciting the ‘Amen.’ Then sanctify with all care your eyes by touching the Sacred Body, and receive it. But be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with that which is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no particles are lost?”

So not a modernist innovation then.

I have been privileged to distribute Holy Communion for about nine years now and agree that COTT can be challenging. There is great variation as people approach to receive the Sacrament. In the old days, and I well remember them, we knelt at the communion rail as the priest went from one communicant to another. As a practical matter, reception in hand is better. In this day of air travel, sanitation is a concern. As a spiritual matter, can one say the tongue is more worthy than the hand? The sins of the tongue may be the more numerous. Our Lord said, “Take and eat”.

Except that women were required to use a cloth in many cases.

I can quote what His Holiness Paul VI had to say in the Instruction Memoriale Domini (1969). Emphasis is mine.

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. The custom does not detract in any way from the personal dignity of those who approach this great sacrament: it is part of that preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord.

This reverence shows that it is not a sharing in “ordinary bread and wine” 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.”

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, in which “in a unique way, Christ, God and man, is present whole and entire, substantially and continually.” Lastly, it ensures that diligent carefulness about the fragments of consecrated bread which the Church has always recommended: “What you have allowed to drop, think of it as though you had lost one of your own members.”

When therefore a small number of episcopal conferences and some individual bishops asked that the practice of placing the consecrated hosts in the people’s hands be permitted in their territories, the Holy Father decided that all the bishops of the Latin Church should be asked if they thought it opportune to introduce this rite. …] 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.

Therefore, taking into account the remarks and the advice of those whom “the Holy Spirit has placed to rule over” the Churches, in view of the gravity of the matter and the force of the arguments put forward, 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 …] Their decisions should be sent to Rome to receive the necessary confirmation …] The Holy See will examine each case carefully …]

In the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops requested permission to the Holy See for the faithful to be authorized to receive Communion in the hand in 1977. That, of course, is not the norm, but a dispensation.

The 2011 General Instruction of the Roman Missal clearly reflects the norm and the dispensation as it states:

The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant.


I was told in RCIA that it was the ancient method of receiving communion but I personally only receive communion on the tongue kneeling from the hands of the priest out of reverence just my personal preference but in the modern church as of the last 40 yrs since the latin mass was done away with it seems most parishes I have been to in the states receive in the hand

What does “COTT” stand for?

Communion on the tongue.

And WHEN was communion on the tongue first instated?

As a loyal, obedient Catholic, I first received communion on the tongue, per the instructions given at the time. Kneeling. At an altar rail. From the hand of a priest only. With an attendant altar boy holding a paten beneath my chin to show reverence for each bit of the Eucharist and prevent dropping accidents. There was much reverence in this and each physical element underscored the importance of the moment and what was happening.

But at the Last Supper (the first mass) it was likely not that way (to say the least).

Considering each apostle a Bishop/priest … that first Eucharist was likely passed from the hands of Christ to apostles down the table and … “communion in the hand” was almost certainly the case for the apostles that night.

But the Church, with power of the keys, wisely decided for a number of reasons to institute rules per this in worship services involving more and more people – and to convey to those people the sublime mystery of the moment.

I personally opt for communion on the tongue each time. When I’ve distributed communion at a service as a CSL (like an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist), once the communicant has affirmed their “Amen” to the proclamation “Body of Christ”, I give them communion according to their option … tongue or in the hand(s).

Certain cautions are better observed with communion on the tongue … i.e., in ANY case the Eucharist is to be immediately consumed by the communicant (and not taken away from the Church to be used in any other way). The worst case scenarios would be people who deliberately want to procure a host for profaning (as in a Satanist ritual). And that sacrilege is more easily accomplished by taking communion in hand and pretending to consume it.

Looking at the above question in a “no-fault” way — one might guess that it was a more “practical” move than an “improvement to the devotion” to the Eucharist.

In my lifetime, most changes have been increasingly “liberal” (not in a political sense), but in what some might “positively” term as a “greater accessibility” to the Eucharist – per lessening things like how long a pre-communion fast from food and liquids must be.

In my parents’ adolescence in Chicago the fasting rule was that one must fast from food and drink from the stroke of midnight Sunday morning - to be able to receive that day. As a result communion was to be the first thing taken each Sunday (excluding water).

When I was in first grade the rule was changed to fasting for 3 hours from food and 1 hour for liquids other than water (at least in our Diocese). This was not necessarily a decrease in fasting (and a “liberalization” in all cases). In the city especially, many parishes had midnight masses on Saturday Night/Sunday Morning … where one hardly fasted at all!

Socially this had the salutory effect of interrupting a Saturday night of drinking in bars
with an “I’ve got to get to mass …” element – and chances were that folks were not going to speed directly from midnight mass to the local bar for “last call” at 2 am.

My Father shook his head when recalling that time (which, with the new fasting rules, tended to reduce the midnight mass numbers) enough that that practice became rarer.

Communion in the hand began (in my time) after I had graduated from a Catholic High School. Once it was allowed many people gave it a try out of novelty I think. And it was not noticed that much since bigger changes were being made. Mass in the vernacular. The eventual reduction of Latin Masses. Mass with the priests facing the congregation. The laity beginning to do more things at or near the altar or at the pulpit that were formerly done by just the priests. etc.

Gone soon were altar rails. Kneeling at communion. The altar boy with the paten. Communion from the blessed hands of a priest only.

The way the altar rail was organized for efficiency was altered into the standing and advancing communion line. Which was “quicker and more practical” in one sense, but like a “communion express line” and less reverent in the sense of many.

Per the mass itself, the culture change seemed to emphasize a bit more of the “WE worship together as community at mass now …” than a more vertical sense of "this is an hour that we dedicate completely to Christ as our King as individuals … as a “community” but with “community” not being an equal focus (during the mass).

In the “old way” community things like a choir were there … but each individual did their own task as part of the vertical worship. In the “new way” (perhaps most evident in the new at the time - “Sign of Peace” in the middle of the service) the “body of Christ” next to you and all around you was acknowledged and a more horizontal focus than before per the mass gained ascendency.

I thank the person who posted this question. It causes me to think more about what is the most important moment of my week (or day, or life!). We serve the Lord with our tongues and our hands. And sin with them too, sadly.

The answer to WHY communion in the hand was “instated” or “re-instated” as an option is probably best answered by those who brought it (back) into practice at the time. Options can mean a lack of unity in form somewhat (vs. one uniform code of how to receive) … but perhaps having to choose which way to receive the Eucharist is another way of calling a communicant’s attention more deeply to the importance of WHAT they are doing. In a best case scenario.

It was introduced, from what I understand, because there was a strong movement to do things the early Church did. Unfortunately, instead of seeking permission for this, some just did on their own authority. The Pope ultimately permitted it, because there was precedence for it.

In addition to St. Cyril, St. John of Damascus said:

“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…”


St. Basil justified the faithful taking large portions of Holy Communion home during persecution, by appealing to the fact that they received it in their own hands anyway:

“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.”


Also, the Quinsext Council’s canons said the following (although this Council was not approved by the Pope, it is evidence of the practice at the time on this point):

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. But if any one shall be found imparting the immaculate Communion to those who bring vessels of this kind, let him be cut off as well as the one who brings them.


CaptFun, to be honest, that was probably the most in-depth answer I have ever seen on Catholic Forums:D. Please don’t thank me :slight_smile: I thank you!

Thank you everyone else for all your answers.

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