Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 8: November 2001
Letter from Holy See to American Bishops
Communion in the Hand
Following is the letter of April 3, 1985, from the Congregation for Divine Worship (Archbishop Augustin Mayer) to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (Bishop James Malone, president) [Prot. 720/85] approving Communion in the hand and giving basic instructions for how it is to be administered and received:
The Holy See, since 1969, while maintaining the traditional manner of distributing communion, has granted to those Episcopal Conferences that have requested it, the faculty of distributing communion by placing the host in the hands of the faithful…. It would seem opportune to draw attention to the following points:
1. Communion in the hand should show, as much as communion on the tongue, due respect towards the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For this reason emphasis should be laid, as was done by the Fathers of the Church, upon the dignity of the gesture of the communicant. Thus, the newly baptized at the end of the fourth century were directed to stretch out both hands making "the left hand a throne for the right hand, which receives the King" (Fifth mystagogical catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem, n. 21: PG 33. col 1125, or Sources chretiennes, 126, p 171; Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 47: PG 63, col. 898. etc.).*
* In practice the opposite direction has to be given to the faithful: the left hand is to be placed upon the right hand, so that the sacred host can be conveyed to the mouth with the right hand.
2. Again following the teaching of the Fathers, insistence is to be laid upon the importance of the Amen said in response to the formula of the minister, "the Body of Christ"; this Amen is an affirmation of faith: "Cum ergo petieris, dicit tibi sacerdos `Corpus Christi’ et tu dicis ‘Amen’, hoc est ‘verum‘; quod confitetur lingua, teneat afectus" (Saint Ambrose, De Sacramentis 4, 25: SC 25 bis, p 116).
3. The communicant who has received the Eucharist in the hand is to consume it before returning to his place, moving aside yet remaining facing the altar in order to allow the person following to approach the minister.
4. It is from the Church that the faithful receive the Holy Eucharist, which is communion in the Body of the Lord and in the Church; for this reason the communicant should not take from the paten or container, as would be done for ordinary bread, but the hands must be stretched out to receive from the minister of communion.
5. Out of respect for the Eucharist, cleanliness of hands is expected. Children need to be reminded of this.
6. It is necessary that the faithful receive sound catechesis in this matter, and that insistence be laid upon the sentiments of adoration and respect that are required towards this most holy sacrament. (cf. Dominicae cenae, n. 11). Care must be taken that fragments of the consecrated host are not lost (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 2, 1972: Prot: no. 89/71, in Notitiae 1972, p. 227).
7. The faithful are not to be obliged to adopt the practice of communion in the hand. Each one is free to communicate in one way or the other.
These norms and those indicated in the documents cited above are designed to recall the duty of respect for the Eucharist and apply independently of the way in which communion is received.
Those who have the care of souls should insist not only upon the necessary dispositions for the fruitful reception of communion, which in certain instances demands recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation, but also upon an external attitude which conveys a sense of respect in general and expresses in particular the belief of the faithful in the Eucharist.
From the Congregation for Divine Worship, April 3, 1985.
+ Augustin Mayer, OSB — Prefect