Communion in the Hand
Monday September 10, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Colossians 1:24-2:3) Gospel (St. Luke 6:6-11)
In the first reading today Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, talks about how, in Christ, is hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is because He is almighty God; He is the Creator of the universe; He is the Savior of the world; He is God, absolute and perfect. Saint Paul says at the beginning of the reading that he makes up in his flesh for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of Christ's body, the Church.
In Christ, now, there is no suffering, but only in the Mystical Body. But there is one place, which I would like to address this morning, where I believe that Our Lord is truly grieved. I want to challenge you in that area: That is, the manner by which we receive Holy Communion. The Church is very clear in Her documents that she desires that we would receive Holy Communion on the tongue and not in the hand. The bishops of America, as well as a few other countries in the world, have allowed Communion in the hand as a dispensation. But the Church is very, very clear that She does not want us receiving Communion in the hand.
Let me explain a little as to why. First of all, to receive is something that is passive. The priest takes Holy Communion because the priest is the one who offers the Victim in sacrifice. Therefore, the one who offers the Victim must also take part in that Victim. But the people of God are to receive Holy Communion. To take the Host from your hand and put It into your own mouth is to take Communion, not to receive Communion; and so it is an active thing, not a passive thing. The Lord desires to give Himself to you as a gift, not to be taken by you. We need to be very careful that we do not lose the symbolism of what is happening in the Blessed Sacrament.
Also, if you will notice, during Mass after the Consecration, my fingers remain together because of the particles of the Host that are there. When we take Holy Communion in the hand, there are particles of Our Lord that are on our hands and on our fingers. That is why, after Communion, the priest will purify his fingers - because of the particles of the Host. But how often the people of God, after receiving Holy Communion, simply brush the particles onto the ground and walk on Our Lord. Or they put their hands in their pockets, and Our Lord is right there on their clothing. The abuses that this opens them up to are very grave. Not that anyone is intentionally doing that, but I think it is something that we need to consider exceedingly carefully.
What I always tell people is that you can look forward to the Day of Judgment and ask yourself how you intend to approach Our Lord, because He is your Judge. The same Lord you approach in Holy Communion is the same One you will approach on the Day of Judgment. Do you assume that you will put your hand out to Our Blessed Lord on the Day of Judgment? Is your view of judgment that you will shake Our Lord's hand and tell Him how wonderful it is to see Him? Or is your view that you will do great reverence to Our Blessed Lord? My view is that I will be flat on my face - not shaking His hand.
We do not put out our hand to God. Scripture says that God holds us in the palm of His hand. We should not be holding God in the palm of ours. He created us; He made us in His image and likeness. He is the Creator; we are the creature. We must approach Him with the greatest reverence, the greatest respect.
If we simply look at the fruit that has been borne by Holy Communion being taken in the hand, it is not good: the loss of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, the familiarity. Thankfully it is not happening here, but go to most churches and ask yourself if you see people praying before Mass or if they are chatting, goofing around, and talking. We have lost the reverence for the Real Presence because Jesus is just "our buddy" when we put our hand out to Him; He is not our God when we do that. So we need to be very careful.
But beyond that, we can look also at what has happened spiritually to the people of God. Since we have been receiving Communion in the hand, we have lost sight of the idea of going to Confession, of our own sinfulness, of the reverence we must have for Our Lord. We have made Communion so easy a thing and so nonchalant a thing that people have lost that sense of reverence, of awe, and of respect in the Presence of Our Lord.
I challenge you to think very seriously about this issue. The bishops, like I say, have allowed it; it is not a sin if you receive Holy Communion in the hand. In some places in the early Church they did that; Saint Justin talks about it. But the Church stopped it because of the abuses against the Blessed Sacrament that were occurring. I ask you to really pray about that. Look at Jesus in the Eucharist and ask yourself, "Do I really, truly believe that this is God? That this is my Creator and my Redeemer? How, then, do I desire to approach Him?" I really believe, if you pray that through, that there is only one conclusion to which you can come.
Then, I beg you, do not remain silent about it. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Bring that word to others because all those good people out there, I do not think that they are willfully trying to do anything that would grieve Our Lord; they are doing what they have been told to do. But again, look at what has happened in the last forty years of this particular practice and ask yourself if the fruit it has borne has been good. Obviously, you love Our Lord: You are here at daily Mass; you are here every morning. The love of Our Lord is evident in you. Bring that love of Jesus out from here. The love that is in your heart, proclaim it to others and ask them in the same way to consider their actions toward Our Lord. Let us bring the reverence to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament back so that we can give Him fitting worship and praise because He is God, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are contained.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.