This past Saturday I was instructing our new converts on how to receive Holy Communion. And as I was speaking about the practice of communion in the hand — which the Church permits — the words “a greater responsibility” came to me. Those who avail themselves of the option to receive Holy Communion in the hand have a greater responsibility with respect to the Lord’s body than those who receive on the tongue. I will explain why this is the case.
The Church still recommends today that the communion plate or paten be used during the distribution of Holy Communion, to catch the host or any fragment thereof that might fall. It has been the case at most Masses that I have celebrated in which the paten was used, that after communion, when I was purifying the vessels, I found some particles on the paten that had been successfully “caught”. The paten is most effective when communion is distributed on the tongue.
Those who receive in the hand have a greater responsibility, however, because their hands effectively become the communion plate or paten. They pick the host up off their hand and place it on their tongue themselves; they should then check to see that no particle remains on their hand or fingers! I rarely see anyone do this.
Recently, I was concelebrating a Mass, and at the moment when Holy Communion was distributed to the concelebrants, the main celebrant placed a host in my hand before I could take it myself (the concelebrant is really supposed to pick up the host himself, not “receive” it, but it’s not a huge deal). After I consumed the host a few minutes later, I noticed that a particle from it remained on my hand — which I then brushed into the chalice when I approached to receive from it.
How often do particles end up on the floor because of people not checking their hands? It’s horrifying to think of. We are sacramental realists: if the whole host is consecrated and becomes the Real Presence — body, blood, soul, and divinity — of our Lord Jesus Christ, then visible particles of the host are just as much his Real Presence. If you were to receive only a small particle like that at the time of Holy Communion, you would receive just as much of Christ as everyone who received a whole host!
We need not be scrupulous and start looking for problems where there are none. But I continually come back to this topic because we have pretty much gone to the opposite extreme from scrupulosity today: there is wholesale disregard for the Real Presence when it comes down to brass tacks and how we handle Holy Communion. This is especially the case with the Precious Blood, which I am convinced that in practice, many people regard as nothing more than ordinary wine — but that’s another post topic (which I have written about before, in any case).
Those who choose to receive in the hand do bear a greater responsibility with respect to the Body of our Lord. Bishops, priests, and others in authority have failed to instruct in this matter for a long time now, so we bear a portion of the responsibility as well. Let us pray for eucharistic renewal in the Church today. This could be a special intention for the Easter Season, for it is the Risen Body of our Lord that we receive in each Holy Communion. May he have mercy on us and help us to see how he continues to suffer at our hands due to carelessness and ignorance, and may we make reparation for those who “know not what they do”.
O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine,
all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!