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The practice of receiving Communion in the hand has become so widespread throughout the Church that one might easily conclude that it has been approved by Rome. And those who are unfamiliar with the history of the Church’s liturgical practices might think that this custom had been in use in previous centuries, to such an extent that it is a longstanding practice of the Church.
Both of these impressions are incorrect. The Most Rev. Juan Rodolfo Laise, Bishop Emeritus of San Luis, Argentina, wrote a book for the faithful of his diocese nearly two decades ago, in order to explain why he was preserving the only traditional practice of the Church for receiving Communion, which is Communion on the tongue. His Excellency demonstrates that the opposite practice, that of Communion in the hand, is not approved by the Church but instead is merely tolerated as an abuse, in very limited circumstances, in order to prevent a greater evil. The book is Communion in the Hand: Documents and History.
Bishop Laise begins by transcribing the complete texts of the two Vatican documents that constitute the Church’s current laws governing the reception of Communion. Their meaning and purpose are very clear. Because the practice of Communion in the hand had been introduced in certain regions without Rome’s permission, in violation of the Church’s laws, the Holy See, after consultation with the bishops, established norms whereby individual bishops, when faced with this disobedience within their dioceses, could allow the practice on a limited basis. The obvious purpose of this legislation by Rome was to avoid a greater evil, that of a more intensive revolt against the authority of the Church. An individual bishop’s authorization to act in this manner depended in turn on a general request to be made by the episcopal conferences of individual countries, followed by authorization from Rome. In this manner the practice of Communion in the hand could be limited to those regions where the abuse arose, preventing the disobedient practice from spreading elsewhere in the Church.
In the decades that followed the enactment of this legislation, however, many individual bishops as well as representatives of episcopal conferences did not examine the legislative texts carefully, and began to introduce the practice on a widespread basis, overlooking the strict requirements imposed by the Holy See for the purpose of limiting its use. As a result this practice became almost universal, which is the very situation that Rome emphatically wanted to prevent. It was an abuse that the Church never approved, but merely tolerated in order to avoid the greater evil of widespread rebellion against the authority of the Church.
The second false impression that Bishop Laise disproves and corrects is the mistaken idea that Communion in the hand is a longstanding tradition in the Church, having its origins in the early Church, and that the reintroduction of it today is merely the revival of an ancient tradition. In disproving this theory Bishop Laise enters into a profound and detailed analysis of what constitutes authentic tradition within the Church and how the Church employs the principles of natural law and canon law in governing the faithful, while preserving the Church’s doctrinal, moral and liturgical traditions. Bishop Laise’s book is therefore a simple but comprehensive explanation of the Church’s profound love and respect for the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
• Communion in the Hand – 2013 113 pages hardback $14 #85671
• Comunión en la Mano – 2014 124 pages hardback $14 #63284