I’m always reluctant to do videos on topics like this because the publishing dynamic means anyone could be watching this and I know that for non-Catholics and even for many Catholics, myself included at certain stages of my formation, this just sounds like pedantic nitpicking and far too trivial to create controversy over.
So, I thought I’d start by addressing that concern because for Catholics, Holy Communion or the Eucharist is the reception of the God of the Universe incarnate for us in space and time. If we truly believed that, don’t you think we’d treat the moment we interact with that substance with severe caution?
Like, imagine if you lived in the Marvel universe and some superhero walked up to you and said, I need you to take this, it’s one of the infinity gems, it’s a substance of incredible power. You’d probably have a lot of questions and reservations about being in contact with something like that. Like what’s the protocol with this thing?
Even our prescription medications come with a whole litany of instructions to ensure that we take them exactly as instructed because they are a persuasive substance that will produce considerable effects so you want to make sure that they produce the right ones based on how you use them.
Well, the Eucharist, is the bread of life. It’s the medicine that can heal your eternal soul, as long as you receive it as instructed by the experts. If you recognize the expertise of pharmacists and doctors when it comes to your prescriptions, because they’ve spent years studying this stuff and you haven’t, then we should, likewise, recognize the expertise of bishops and theologians when they tell us how we should treat the Eucharist.
The other reason this isn’t a trivial thing is because the way we practice our faith can create a sense of community and harmony among believers or it can create division and discord. And the current state of affairs, I think, lends itself to the latter so I think it’s important that we try to have these difficult discussions in the hopes that it will educate those who sincerely just want to practice the faith authentically.
So in case you didn’t catch the title of this video, it’s about the Catholic practice of receiving communion in the hand, which is the defacto norm in the Church today, even though that’s NOT the actual norm, which is pretty startling for people like me who, when I converted to Catholicism, was taught that it doesn’t matter.
I’ll start off by saying that I only receive communion on the tongue and the reason I started doing that was because I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to try it and so I did and I’ve found that my appreciation for the sacredness of that sacrament as well as my sense of humility and reverence for it have increased.
It’s helped me to better worship God and appreciate who I am in relation to him and that’s purely anecdotal, but if it’s enough for you, then I’d encourage you to give it a try and see if your experience reflects mine. If you need reasons, then let’s explore that.
I want to start by looking at a particular stream of argumentation for communion on the tongue that I find unhelpful and I’ll share why. The argument goes something like this. When we receive communion on the hand, it increases the possibility that fragments of the host will drop to the floor and subsequently be stepped on leading to the accusation that at any given mass, countless people are unwittingly trampling on the body of Jesus.
The problem I find with this argument is that it strikes me as somewhat Nestorian. Nestorius was the short-lived patriarch of Constantinople which is where the primacy of the Eastern Orthodox Church resides.
He couldn’t fathom the idea that the second person of the Trinity could actually truly become human because this was too vulgar a thing for God to do. So he tried to rationalize it with certain compromises. The Church responded by saying that the incarnation of Jesus was one in which the divine person was fully united in his divinity and his humanity.
This meant that God himself had to sleep, eat, evacuate, suffer illness, fatigue, cold, hunger, and other deprivations and humiliations, not the least of which was death on a cross. Nestorius couldn’t reconcile these things with God, but, God, none the less did do these things.
It wasn’t beneath him to be material and suffer all the risks and apparent indignities that come with it. In his earthly life, he shed skin and hair and probably had someone step on those particles in the process – most likely his closest disciples who spent the most amount of time with him.
God understood these risks and he did not consider it beneath him to embrace them. If someone inadvertently steps on a particle of the Eucharist, I don’t think that this causes grave injury to Jesus any more than it would have in his Earthly life.
Our concern with this kind of thing shouldn’t be in protecting Jesus. Like I said, he’s endured far worse. He can handle it. What we should be concerned with is the effects that a casual approach towards the Eucharist has on us and our fellow Catholics. It ingrains in us a lack of appreciation for the sacredness of the species and the reverence that is due to it.
Remember, again, the analogy I used earlier with the comic book world substance of immense power. If you knew you were going to come into contact with it, it should give you a sense of reverence and humility before it. You’d want to follow all the necessary protocols so that you didn’t injure yourself in the process. Well, this is far MORE consequential in its implications. This isn’t just a powerful substance. It’s God himself.
Now, I think we can all appreciate that in the Church, we develop our teachings and practices based on the consensus of the many. I mentioned Nestorius earlier. He was pushing for his teachings against the many, as heretics always do.
They called a council to discuss the matter, they debated, prayed about it, and examined the scriptures and in the end, the council decided the Nestorius’ teachings were wrong. He left in disgrace and refused to recant his position, as heretics always do.
It is that approach and that consensus that so often produces the doctrines and teachings that we revere. Well, a similar process occurred in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Because the council introduced so much change to the Church, some thought they’d take it upon themselves to change the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue which was the exclusive practice up until that point.
So, Pope St. Paul VI called bishops together to examine if this could be allowed and they overwhelmingly voted that it could not and that the practice of receiving on the tongue should be sustained but that in exceptional circumstances, ecclesiastical authorities could request an indult which is like an exception to Church law.
They issued a document called Memoriali Domini which is quite short and easy to read and so I’d encourage you to take a look at that, but it was a definitive judgement for our time that the norm is for the faithful to receive on the tongue.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that, “out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest's hands, for touching this Sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency.”
St. Augustine famously said that, “No one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it.” This is why kneeling before it as you receive is so appropriate and again why this isn’t a trivial matter. This is the substance that can bring life and healing or cause grave sin to the one who does not treat it with the reverence that is due to it.
This is the teaching of the Church but the popular practice that we see all around us is to receive on the hand because that’s what they were taught by those who placed themselves between the faithful and the actual teachings of the Church and that is a serious betrayal.
And I also point that out because I firmly believe that most faithful Catholics just want to observe what the Church teaches. I had to do my own research to discover what that was because those who were responsible for conveying it to me in my formation did not do that and so I expect that’s true for virtually everyone else.
And it’s that reason that care should be shown in educating people about this and why I don’t like the inflammatory approach that is laced with accusation which is used by so many to correct this problem. That just creates polarization and probably chases people away from wanting to grow in their understanding.
When the teaching of the Church is so clear, that’s what our focus should be. On gentle education not confrontational argumentation and I hope that’s what this video provided for you.