Is it a sacrilege to take communion in hand?

In the Old Mass, Catholics receive communion by kneeling down and receive the Holy Eucharist in tongue. In the new mass, this has been changed, Catholics no longer kneel down and take communion in tongue. Catholics believe that the “real presence of our Lord” is in the bread and wine and therefore it is only appropriate to behave in a such manner of reverence that is due to Him. According to tradition and teaching, the priest is the only one allowed to hold the body of Christ because his hands were consecrated.

Out of reverence towards this sacrament [the Holy Eucharist], 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.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) - Summa Theologica, Part III, Q. 82, Art. 3, Rep. Obj. 8

The fact that only the priest gives Holy Communion with his consecrated hands is an Apostolic Tradition.
The Council of Trent (1545-1565)

This method [on the tongue] must be retained.
Memoriale Domini - Pope Paul VI (1963-1978)

To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained.
Pope John Paul II - Dominicae Cenae, 11

It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice, still less that they should hand them from one to another.
Inaestimabile Donum, April 17, 1980, sec. 9.

My question is more about worship and reverence. How do we behave in God’s presence? Yes, we are all dirty rags I know. Like for example in dining, do we use our licking fingers or use fork and knives? Do we exercise ethics and right conduct?


2 Answers 2


Is it a sacrilege to take communion in hand?

The short answer is no! However some may believe otherwise.

If it were sacrileges, the present teaching do not reflect that to be the case. Rome allows this by indult in the New Rite. If it were a sacrilege, that indult would not have been accorded by Rome.

Both ways are permitted within the Ordinary Form of the Mass. While communion on the hand is forbidden in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and is given while kneeling only, unless prohibited due to physical illness.

Communion on the hand may seem less reverent than communion on the tongue, especially to the more traditionally minded Catholics; it is not a sacrilege. The real sacrilege here would be in receiving Our Lord while in the state of mortal sin!

For the first three centuries the Eucharist was celebrated in the houses and homes of Christians. In times of persecution these celebrations would have been in secret, in catacombs and other hidden spots. At other times Christians gathered together openly in each others’ homes or in ‘house churches’ for the Eucharist though Mass was not celebrated publicly as it is in our own time.

In fact, the first Martyr of the Eucharist was a young boy of the age of 12. Although a layman, he was also an acolyte. He died taking the Eucharist to the faithful who were held either in prisons for their faith or to homes of the faithful. Priests could have done this, but it was deemed safe if the young lad went in their stead! He was caught and martyred on the spot.

How can one say it is a sacrilege to receive the Lord on our hands as children carried it in the Early Church.

Tarsicius or Tarcisius was a martyr of the early Christian church who lived in the 3rd century. The little that is known about him comes from a metrical inscription by Pope Damasus I, who was pope in the second half of the 4th century.

The only positive information concerning this Roman martyr is found in a poem composed in his honour by Pope Damasus (366–384), who compares him to the deacon Saint Stephen and says that, as Stephen was stoned by a crowd, so Tarcisius, carrying the Blessed Sacrament, was attacked by a group and beaten to death.

Nothing else definite is known concerning Tarcisius. Since Damasus compares him to Stephen, he may have been a deacon; however, a 6th-century account makes him an acolyte. According to one version of the detailed legend that developed later, Tarsicius was a young boy during one of the fierce 3rd-century Roman persecutions, probably during the reign of Emperor Valerian (253–259). One day, he was entrusted with the task of bringing the Eucharist to condemned Christians in prison. He preferred death at the hands of a mob rather than deliver to them the Blessed Sacrament which he was carrying.

He was originally buried in the Catacombs of San Callisto and the inscription by Damasus was placed later on his tomb. Some time later his relics were moved to the San Silvestro in Capite church in Rome. His feast day is celebrated on 15 August; that day is widely observed as the Feast of the Assumption, therefore he is not mentioned in the General Roman Calendar, but only in the Roman Martyrology.

He is the patron saint of altar servers and first communicants.

Saint Tarcisius

Saint Tarcisius

Communion on the hand may possibly been an Apostolic Tradition. St. Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of it in the following way:

While the Didache concentrates on prayer and thanksgiving, Cyril’s instructions emphasize technique:

“Approaching (Communion)…come not with your palms extended and stretched flat nor with your fingers open. But make your left hand as if a throne for the right, and hollowing your palm receive the body of Christ saying after it, Amen. Then after you have with care sanctified your eyes by the touch of the holy Body, partake…giving heed lest you lose any particle of it (the bread). For should you lose any of it, it is as though you have lost a member of your own body, for tell me, if any one gave you gold dust, would you not with all precaution keep it fast, being on the guard lest you lose any of it and thus suffer loss? How much more cautiously then will you observe that not a crumb falls from you, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones. Then having partaken of the Body of Christ, approach also the cup of His blood; not extending your hands, but bending low and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, be you sanctified by partaking, also of the blood of Christ.” Catechetical Lecture 5

Communion in the Early Church

The BC Catholic on July 28, 2019 published an article entitled Receiving Holy Communion: tongue or hand? It show that communion on the hands has been around a lot longer than we think. It also shows both side of the issue at hand. I find it quite enlightening.

Memoriale Domini, a 1969 Church document on reception of Communion, outlined St. Paul VI’s decision on this matter. After much study and special consultation with all the Bishops of the world, he concluded that “Communion [on the tongue] must be retained ... not merely because it has many centuries of tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist ... This reverence shows that it is not a sharing in ‘ordinary bread and wine’ that is involved, but in the Body and Blood of the Lord.”

So how did it happen that some countries were eventually allowed the indult of reception in the hand as well?

A few countries had already illicitly allowed Communion in the hand. Chief among the reasons was that some felt Communion in the hand represented the most ancient form of Communion in the early Church.

But while it is true that Communion in the hand certainly happened in the early Church, it is unclear exactly when this practice started and how universal it was. There are quotes from Church Fathers supporting both practices.

A quote, purported to be from St. Cyril of Jerusalem (around AD 350), is often given in support of reception in the hand: “placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King ... receive the body of Christ.” But scholars now tell us that this quote was likely not written by St. Cyril at all, and several ancient manuscripts attest to this.

On the other hand, there is also ample testimony from great saints like St. Basil, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Leo the Great, among others, suggesting that reception on the tongue was the standard for the early Church.

For example, St. Basil the Great, doctor of the Church (AD 330–379), would teach: “The right to receive Holy Communion in the hand is permitted only in times of persecution” (e.g., the laity could touch the Host to distribute it secretly).

The Councils of Saragossa (AD 380) and Toledo (fifth to seventh centuries) threatened excommunication to anyone who continued receiving holy Communion by hand.

Similarly, the Synod of Rouen (AD 650) decreed: “Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywoman ... only in their mouths.”

The Sixth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (AD 680–681) also forbade the taking of Communion in the hand by the laity, under threat of excommunication. And the Council of Trent (1565) added, “The fact that only the priest gives Holy Communion with his consecrated hands is an Apostolic Tradition.”

This brings us to St. Thomas Aquinas: “The dispensing of Christ’s body belongs to the priest ... 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” (Summa Theologica). This is a powerful testimony, as much of the Church’s theology is based on the theology of St. Thomas.

Taking all this into consideration, Memoriale Domini declared: “From the time of the Fathers of the Church ... Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is two-fold: a) first, to avoid ... the dropping of Eucharistic particles [today, consecrated Hosts are regularly stolen for use in satanic Masses and other blasphemous practices – even sold on eBay!]; b) second, to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”

It then mandated that “this method of distributing Holy Communion [on the tongue] must be retained” and “emphatically” urged “bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed ... by the majority of Catholic bishops.”

But after all this, Memoriale Domini then added a surprising disclaimer, leaving an avenue open to those bishops currently in disobedience over this issue. “Where ... Communion on the hand prevails,” bishops could request an indult to continue this practice, and Rome would consider it.

And these countries requested exactly that – and the indults were given – I am sure much to the sadness of St. Paul VI. A flood of requests then followed from countries, including Canada, where Communion on the hand did not prevail. These countries hadn’t been given permission to even ask for this indult. But ask they did.

Now some might say, “What’s the big deal?” After all, we are talking disciplines here and not unchangeable doctrines. True. And this is certainly not an area about which to quarrel or to judge one another’s spiritual intentions. Many insist that they feel equal reverence when receiving in the hand, and that the key is the attitude of the heart. There is truth in this too.

But the point is that the very document that permitted the seeking of an indult for Communion on the hand in very limited cases at the same time strongly advocated for Communion on the tongue, adding that it “is a sign of the reverence of the faithful toward the Eucharist” and is “needed for the most fruitful reception of the Lord’s body” (Memoriale Domini).

With bodily signs we show interior beliefs. In “The Theology of Kneeling,” an excerpt from his book The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), Cardinal Ratzinger highlights this truth: “the bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning ... when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates.” Later, as Pope Benedict XVI, in continuity with St. John Paul II, he gave Communion to the faithful on the tongue while they knelt.

I write this not to stir up controversy, but to provide a context against which individuals may decide how best to receive Jesus’ Precious Body and Blood, especially in our current culture. Many faithful Catholics are unaware of all of this background, as I was. Perhaps it is worthwhile to reconsider how we receive the Eucharist, for “not as common bread and common drink do we receive these” (St. Justin Martyr, AD 150).

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    Thanks for this great effort you put through. It is well balance and not one sided. To conclude, communion in tongue is the proper reverence to God and communion in hand must only practice in certain extra ordinary circumstances.
    – Kaylee A
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 2:12
  • 1
    An interesting response to sedevacantists regarding their objections on this topic. Thanks for the detail, though I suspect that the second qoute could be trimmed somewhat. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 14:37
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    @KorvinStarmast, I find sedevacantist arrogant and self righteous. They have blocked me on their site for questioning and voicing out my opinion.
    – Kaylee A
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 20:16
  • @KayleeA Sorry, I did not mean to imply that you were one, but I now realize that the way I phrased that might be taken that way. The note was more of a thanks to Ken. Next time I hear about this topic from one of those, whom I know, I'll have a better tid bit to offer them. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 20:34
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    @jaredad7 Would you consider posting a question about this. It has some merit to it!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 14:40

"As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. But I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”" (Matthew 26:26-29 CSB)

"Is it a sacrilege to take communion in hand?" If so, then the apostles appear to have committed sacrilege in Matthew 26, since Jesus did not place pieces of unleavened bread in their mouths; he gave them the broken bread and told them to "take and eat it". But someone will say, "Yes, but they were apostles and we are not." A closer reading of the text will reveal they were but disciples at this point, as are we all. Even once they became apostles sent out into the world after having received power from on high (Acts 2), they shuddered at the idea of being revered more than any other men.

"Why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness?" (Acts 3:12 CSB)

"When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up and said, “Stand up. I myself am also a man.”" (Acts 10:25-26)

"When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought bulls and wreaths to the gates because he intended, with the crowds, to offer sacrifice. The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting, “People! Why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them..."" (Acts 14:11-15 CSB)

"What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."" (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)

While the church is partly built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone, Ephesians 2:19), the apostles and prophets serve as foundational stones, not due to an inherent holiness or sanctity unattainable for "ordinary" Christians but due to the authority given to them by Christ to receive the Holy Spirit who guided them into all truth (John 16:13), a truth which they faithfully proclaimed and recorded in the Scriptures, but which has been twisted and distorted by more than 19 centuries of the inventions and fables of men.

"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 CSB)

All Christians are equal sharers in that one bread, the body of Christ. All break it and all commune in Him. What does the breaking signify but the result of our individual sins? Or do only ordained priests sin, and can only they, therefore, break the bread? But through that breaking we all who are in Him are made whole.

"So, then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world." (1 Corinthians 11:27-32 CSB)

It is not the touching of the bread with the hands which defiles a person, nor does that defile the bread any more than the unclean people who touched our Lord defiled him. But what does defile a person and cause him to come under the judgement of God is eating and drinking without recognizing the body of Christ. That is what the Christian should be most concerned about in the supper of the Lord.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 18:32

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