Communion in the Hand

Jesus in the palm of your hand.

We were talking in my formation classes about receiving the Eucharist, and one of my fellow candidates made a telling comment. He claimed that being able to receive Jesus in his hand, and to hold the Master of the universe was a powerful humbling experience.

If that is you, then you get it, and I’m totally cool with that. If every time you receive our Lord in the palm of your hand you are humbled by the experience, and feel the weight of such a great responsibility, then I have no issue with you at all.

If you are like the majority of Catholics I see in Mass filing in to get their holy cookie though, I have some serious reservations.

Now let me say right off that there is definite precedent for receiving in the hand. It was most certainly what was done in the early church, but if you think they did it like we do, I’m afraid you are quite mistaken.

Imagine yourself in early Rome, hiding in the catacombs for you life, celebrating Mass in secret. Did you receive the Most Precious Body in your hand? You bet you did, they didn’t exactly make communion wafers back then, so it could be crumbly. We certainly didn’t want pieces of our Lord to fall in the dirt, and the palm makes a great bowl.

What you would not do is pick it up out of your hand. Instead you would bow to your hand, and pick it up with your tongue. Yup, like you were bowing to the King, which of course, you were. It was a very reverent act.

Contrast that to today. At the Christmas Mass, I had to stand by the front pews to make sure everyone actually consumed the host. That’s right, folks would just carry it back to their pews to do Lord knows what with. It’s a pretty scary thought, that after every major holiday like Christmas and Easter, we find hosts just sitting in the pews. I remember one boy who got upset with me for asking him to consume the host, because it would get in his gum.

My goodness, I wish I were joking.

There is a powerful opportunity for education that we are missing here. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, it is the point on which the entire world turns. There is nothing you will ever do, (well, outside of getting baptized) that will ever be as important as receiving the Eucharist. This is the prime teaching moment, and we are totally fouling it up.

Let’s say you are a marginal Catholic. You come almost every week, but just because you feel you are supposed to. Let’s say you come 75% of the time, that’s almost 40 times a year, so 400 Masses every ten years. There are two ways this can work.

In the first, you get in line, and the priest slaps a host down, you pop it in your mouth like a potato chip and head on. Multiply that times 400. How do you feel about the Eucharist?

In the second, you file in line, and when you get to the front, you have to get on your knees, something you almost never do otherwise, and the priest puts the host directly on your tongue, also something you never do. Multiply this times 400. How do you feel about the Eucharist now?

Sometimes what we cannot teach with words, must be taught to the body to really be understood.

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