“Eucharistic Coherence” and Communion in the Hand

When the bishops of the United States were preparing for their November 2021 meeting in Baltimore, a central theme being discussed was “Eucharistic Coherence,” understood as a living of the Faith consistent with reception of the Holy Eucharist. Furthermore, it was generally acknowledged that a large number of Catholics in the United States do not understand or do not believe in the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. At the same time the American bishops themselves were seen as following opposing policies regarding the reception of Communion by pro-abortion politicians. The final document, prepared by a committee led by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, was accepted by a 222-8 vote. According to an opinion expressed in the National Catholic Register,1 the bishops, on both sides of the dispute about pro-abortion politicians, were finally united at least on the need for promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

This development, however, cannot be viewed in isolation. A loss of faith in the Real Presence could not have become so widespread were it not for a neglect on the part of those responsible for teaching the Church’s sacramental doctrine. The Catechism of the Council of Trent is clear on the duties of pastors to instruct the faithful about the nature of this Sacrament. In his book Holy Communion, Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise quoted the opening passage from this Catechism’s chapter on the Holy Eucharist, which contained a warning against the “unholy or irreligious use by the faithful of that which is full of holiness, or rather which contains the very author and source of holiness.” And to this the Catechism added the following: “In order that the faithful…may derive therefrom abundant fruit of grace and escape the most just anger of God, pastors should explain with the greatest diligence all those things which may seem calculated more fully to display its majesty.”2

The current decline of faith in the Real Presence did not begin merely in the last few years, but started in the late 1960s when the practice of Communion in the hand was introduced through acts of disobedience. In his book Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise explains the circumstances that led to this practice. In September of 1965 Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Mysterium Fidei, in which he upheld the traditional teaching of transubstantiation, the Church’s doctrine explaining the nature of Our Lord’s Presence in the Eucharist. However, attempting to replace this teaching were new theories known as transfinalization and transignification, which undermined the doctrine of the objective nature of the Real Presence in favor of a subjective perception of the purpose or significance of the Eucharist. Advocates of the new theories inevitably led the way to diminishing the awareness of Our Lord’s presence in any small particle of the Sacred Host. Bishop Laise documents this in his book, relating it to the controversy provoked by the Dutch Catechism, which favored the new theories.

This diminishing of the sense of the objective reality of the Eucharist Presence would only lead to a loss of a sense of all that is sacred. Bishop Laise explained how the practice of Communion in the hand spread in total disregard for the will of Pope Paul VI as expressed in the regulations that he established to prevent it. In his preface to the more recent editions of Bishop Laise’s book, Bishop Athanasius Schneider described Bishop Laise’s effort in this way: “Often today there arise voices in defense of the many human and temporal needs, but rare are the voices that defend the Eucharistic Jesus. With his book His Excellency Most Rev. Juan Rodolfo Laise, Bishop Emeritus of San Luis (Argentina), has for several years raised his voice in defense of the Eucharistic Lord….”3 While Bishop Laise explained how Pope Paul VI intended to prohibit this practice, Bishop Schneider more recently stated that Paul VI had authorized it. Both bishops were correct in their interpretations, for Paul VI de lege prohibited the spread of Communion in the hand, but de facto he authorized it by allowing episcopal collegiality to prevail over his own papal authority.

As the practice of Communion in the hand therefore continued to spread, there also came with it a widespread negligence with regard to teaching the respect owed to the Holy Eucharist, even to the point of allowing the reception of Holy Communion unworthily by those who act and live in an objectively sinful manner. In the words of Bishop Laise: “…often ignoring the mandate of the Church, many approach Holy Communion without having confessed mortal sins. The spreading of this practice and the lack of insistence on this point in preaching and catechesis, makes it possible to understand that to so many people the gravity of the recent proposal of admitting to Communion people who live habitually in an objective state of sin is not evident in what concerns the sixth and ninth commandments, because many have been receiving Communion for a long time while being in this state with respect to some of the other eight commandments.”4

Inevitably this trend would have political significance, not only because of politicians who have taken advantage of this abuse, but also because of cases where bishops have allowed themselves to take similar advantage of both ecclesiastical and political circumstances, using the Holy Eucharist itself to promote objectives foreign to the traditions of the Church. Bishop Laise mentioned the case in Germany of denying Communion to the faithful for purely financial reasons, by citing Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who had stated, “The problem is that, fundamentally, one is excommunicated if he does not pay the ecclesiastical tax.”5

Finally, the most recent abuse by some in positions of ecclesiastical authority is that of the latest attempt to suppress the traditional Roman rite of the Mass, which, by its very nature, emphasizes far more than the new rite the sacrality and supernatural nature of the sacred liturgy. For this reason, the classic work on the traditional rite, The Liturgical Year by Dom Guéranger, takes on a new significance. For it manifests how the Church for nearly two millennia had developed a rite that made respect for the Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Mass and the Holy Eucharist central to Catholic life. Therefore, those who uphold the traditional rite, to borrow the words of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, demonstrate “with the greatest diligence all those things which may seem calculated more fully to display its majesty” – the majesty of the Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.


1 Lauretta Brown, “US Bishops Try to Keep Focus on Eucharist, Not Politicians: Unlike in June, They Were United About Document’s Content,” National Catholic Register, vol. 97 (December 5, 2021), no. 26, p. 2.

2 Fathers J. A. McHugh & C. J. Callan, trs., The Catechism of the Council of Trent (New York: Joseph Wagner, 1934; South Bend: Marian Publications, 1972; Rockford: Tan Books, 1982; Boonville, New York: Preserving Christian Publications, 2021), p. 213.

3 Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise, Holy Communion (Boonville, New York: Preserving Christian Publications, 2018), p. iii.

4 Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise, ibid., pp. 203-204.

5 Ibid, pp. 204-205, footnote 211.