Middle of the Wedge - Holy Communion, Kneeling & On the Tongue

The Blessed Eucharist - Separating the Catholics from Protestants like the Men from the Boys

Catholic Doctrine

The middle of the wedge, the part that does the work of splitting the wood.

It is very apropos that the reception of the Holy Eucharist is really the great divide between Catholics and Protestants.

At its basic level, Catholic believe the words of Christ recorded in the Bible, and Protestants do not:
And whilst they were at supperJesus took bread and blessed and broke and gave to his disciples and said: Take and eat. This is my body27 And taking the chalice, he gave thanks and gave to them, saying: Drink all of this. 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins
Matthew 26: 26-28
The Catholic Church believes what Christ taught, as explained in the Council of Trent. Namely, when the words of consecration are said with the correct form, matter and intention by a validly ordained priest the substance of the bread and wine are completely transformed into the substance of the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Trent Chapter 4). This transformation is called Transubstantiation.

In chapter V of the Thirteen Session of the Council of Trent, the Church explains:
... there is no room left for doubt, that all the faithful of Christ may, according to the custom ever received in the Catholic Church, render in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God, to this most holy sacrament. ... for we believe that same God to be present therein, ...
The Catholic Church teaches that:
No less of caution should be observed by pastors in explaining the mysterious manner in which the body of our Lord is contained whole and entire under the least particle of the bread. Indeed, discussions of this kind should scarcely ever be entered upon. Should Christian charity, however, require a departure from this rule, the pastor should remember first of all to prepare and fortify his hearers by reminding them that no word shall be impossible with God. (The Roman Catechism)
With respect to who should dispense the Holy Eucharist St. Thomas in the Summa  wrote:

... the dispensing of Christ's body belongs to the priest for three reasons.
 First, because, as was said above (Article 1), he consecrates as in the person of Christ. But as Christ consecrated His body at the supper, so also He gave it to others to be partaken of by them. Accordingly, as the consecration of Christ's body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him.
 Secondly, because the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people; hence as it belongs to him to offer the people's gifts to God, so it belongs to him to deliver consecrated gifts to the people.
Thirdly, because 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.
To summarize the teaching we have the following:

  1. The Eucharist is God
  2. The smallest particle of a consecrated host or drop of consecrated wine is also God
  3. Dispensing (following the Summa) of the Holy Eucharist belongs to the priest.

Communion in the Hand - Protestant Style

It is a fact that the present dominant practice in Latin Churches started as an abuse in Holland.  This practice was eventually allowed under an indult and in this form it has spread throughout the majority of the Latin Rite (Novus Ordo).  While there is a claim that this is a return to a older discipline (see reference below), I want to point out that it started as an abuse and that the norm of the Catholic Church for at least 1000 years has been to receive Holy Communion on the Tongue from the Priest.

Traditional Catholics have long held that communion in the hand as currently practiced in the Catholic Church, as does much of the liturgy, is an imitation of protestant 'reformers'. It would be useful to have an understanding of how some of the 'reformers' perceived Communion on the Tongue and only from the hands of a priest. Here are Martin Bucer's words to Cranmer:

I cannot see how the seventh section requiring the bread of the Lord to be put not in the hand, but in the mouth, of the recipient, can be consistent. Certainly the reason given in this section, namely, lest those who receive the bread of the Lord should not eat it but take it away with them to misuse it for superstition or horrible wickedness, is not, it seems to me, conclusive; for the minister can easily see, when he puts the bread in the hand, whether it is eaten or not. In fact, I have no doubt that this usage of not putting these sacraments in the hands of the faithful has been introduced out of a double superstition; firstly, the false honour they wished to show to this sacrament, and secondly the wicked arrogance of priests claiming greater holiness than that of the people of Christ, by virtue of the oil of consecration. The Lord undoubtedly gave these, His sacred symbols, into the hands of the Apostles, and no one who has read the records of the ancients can be in doubt that this was the usage observed in the churches until the advent of the Roman Antichrist.
 As, therefore, every superstition of the Roman AntiChrist is to be detested, and the
simplicity of Christ, and the Apostles, and the ancient Churches, is to be recalled, I should wish that pastors and teachers of the people should be commanded that each is faithfully to teach the people that it is superstitious and wicked to think that the hands of those who truly believe in Christ are less pure than their mouths; or that the hands of the ministers are holier than the hands of the laity; so that it would be wicked, or less fitting, as was formerly wrongly believed by the ordinary folk, for the laity to receive these sacraments in the hand: and therefore that the indications of this wicked belief be removed—as that the ministers may handle the sacraments, but not allow the laity to do so, and instead put the sacraments into the mouth—which is not only foreign to what was instituted by the Lord but offensive to human reason. 
 In that way good men will be easily brought to the point of all receiving the sacred
symbols in the hand, conformity in receiving will be kept, and there will be safeguards
against all furtive abuse of the sacraments. For, although for a time concession can be made to those whose faith is weak, by giving them the Sacraments in the mouth when they so desire, if they are carefully taught they will soon conform themselves to the rest of the Church and take the Sacraments in the hand. (Communion in the Hand and Similar Frauds - Michael Davies)
This, rather lengthy quotation, then is the opinion of a an arch heretic and the reason for placing the Eucharist in the hands of the Laypeople.

What strikes me the most is the unbridled hatred for the Catholic Church that exists in a person when they leave in such a circumstance.

But of more importance is the two reasons that he gives for supporting communion in the hand. In one step they undermine two Dogmas of the Church:
  1. The Real Presence
  2. The Sacramental Priesthood
These are fundamental to Church Teaching and particularly to the Sacrament by which the life of grace flows from the Church to us.

Current Church Law

Just in case there is a temptation to dis-regard the above words etc, here is a recent document (2004) from the Vatican that I would like to draw your attention:

[92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice,[178] if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.[179]
[93.] The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.[180] (Redemptionis Sacramentum)
It is should be noted that the faithful have the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. Communion in the hand is only permitted under an indult.

With communion on the hand there is an ever present risk of profanation in that a particle (ie fragment) may fall from the hands of the communicant if they do not purify their hands immediately.  The most readily available method is for them to lick their hands.

Of course, this would seem somewhat unsanitary in our current culture, although perhaps it would eliminate the 'handshake of peace'.


I have summarized in this article some key points about Church Teaching on the Eucharist and some reasons given by protestant 'reformers' for giving Communion in the Hand.

The best way for a Latin Rite layperson is on the tongue, kneeling, from a priest. By doing so you will:

  1. Profess your belief in the Real Presence
  2. Reinforce the belief in the Sacramental Priesthood
  3. Prevent the loss and profanation of the Blessed Sacrament
  4. Not participate in the profanation that occurs when Eucharistic Ministers don't purify their hands.
  5. Not risk committing the sin of sacrilege.


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