US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is eliminating communion in the hand the next change to the Mass?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

If you haven't had enough change with adapting to the new translation of the Roman Missal, two Australian priests are hoping to make another amendment to our current worship practices: mandatory reception of communion on the tongue.

Fathers Andrew Wise and John Speekman of the Diocese of Sale have started an online petition calling for Pope Benedict to change current communion practices to eliminate receiving the Eucharist in the hand. The petition is accompanied by a blog that details their case and some of the support they've received.

The petition cites "great spiritual harm inflicted on the Christian faithful" by the current practice and claims that receiving communion in the hand causes "the profanation of the Blessed Sacrament." That sounds pretty serious. But is it actually true?

Granted, I've seen some problems with people receiving communion in the hand, which is most often that the person walks away with the host and doesn't consume it right away (this seems to be a problem particularly with kids, but adults do it too). While on vacation last summer, I attended a parish where the extraordinary minister literally had to follow someone back to their seat to admonish them about not consuming the Eucharist.

But at the same time, communion on the tongue has its own share of problems. In this case, it is usually an awkwardness on the part of the person distributing communion, particularly when they are a lay extraordinary minister and haven't had the proper training. This can create an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved, which is just as likely to detract from the sacredness of receiving the Eucharist as receiving in the hand.

In both situations, the problems seem to lie more with our understanding of the Eucharist (and the training of our extraordinary ministers) than in the procedure itself.

Having had the experience of teaching second graders about receiving the Eucharist for the first time, I know how tricky it can be to make sure they understand not just how to go through the motions, but the importance of showing reverence for Christ's presence. And I've also seen how easily they can forget by the next year without those lessons being reenforced. Perhaps what we need then isn't a change in how we receive communion, but more refresher courses to remind us of the reasons why we receive it in the first place.