The Regulations of the Vatican Concerning
Comminion in the Hand
Due to the interest and requests addressed to the Editor for this information, we present the following translation of the letter which the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship1 sends to those Conferences of Catholic Bishops which have petitioned the Pope and which have received permission from His Holiness to allow the practice of giving Holy Communion in the hand. It is then the responsibility of each Ordinary, that is the Bishop or Archbishop in charge of a diocese to allow or not allow this practice within the confines of his territory. For those places where this practice is legitimately allowed, the Bishop Ordinary is advised that this practice be allowed only under the following conditions as set out by this letter of permission.
The instruction (in the preceding, Memoriale Domini)3 is completed in pastoral matters by this letter which concedes to Episcopal Conferences the indult4 of distributing Holy Communion in the hand of the faithful. This letter has all the conditions necessary for allowing the use of this indult.
In reply to the request presented by Your Episcopal Conference asking for permission to distribute Holy Communion by giving the Host into the hand of the faithful, I hereby transmit the following communication:
While recalling the subject of the enclosed instruction of May 29, 1969, by which the traditional practice is maintained, the Holy Father has taken into consideration the reasons in support of your request and the results of the vote taken in this matter. He grants that, in the territory of Your Episcopal Conference, each Bishop, according to his prudence and his conscience, may authorize in his own diocese the introduction of the new rite for the distribution of Holy Communion. This is granted on condition that every occasion of scandal on the part of the faithful and all danger of irreverence towards the Eucharist is avoided.
In this matter, the following norms are to be followed:
1.) The new manner of giving Communion must not be imposed in such a way that the traditional practice is excluded. It is especially important that each one of the faithful has the possibility to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, wherever the new practice is legitimately allowed, and at the same time as other persons who receive the Host in the hand. In effect, the two ways of receiving Communion may co-exist without difficulty in the same liturgical action. The purpose of the foregoing is so that no one will find in the new rite a cause to have his own spiritual sensibilities towards the Eucharist disturbed and so that this Sacrament, which is of its nature a source and cause of unity, does not become an occasion of discord among the faithful.
2.) The rite of giving Holy Communion in the hand must not be used without discretion. In effect, since we are dealing with a human attitude, it is linked with the sensibilities and the preparation of the one who assumes it. It is convenient therefore to introduce this practice gradually, beginning with groups and social environments (milieu) which are more suited and more prepared. It is above all necessary that the introduction of this rite be preceded by adequate catechesis, in order that the faithful understand exactly the meaning of the gesture and may perform it with the respect due to this most august Sacrament. The result of this catechesis must be such as to exclude any appearance that the Church is weakening in any way Her faith in the Eucharistic presence, and such that there is no danger of profanation or even the appearance of danger of profanation.
3.) The possibility offered to the faithful to receive in his hand and to put in his mouth the Eucharistic Bread must not offer to him an occasion of considering It to be like ordinary bread or something merely blessed; on the contrary, this possibility of receiving in the hand must5 augment in the faithful the sense of his dignity as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, into Which he is incorporated by Baptism, and by the grace of the Eucharist, and this possibility also must5 increase his faith in the great reality of the Body and Blood of the Lord Which he touches with his hands. His attitude of respect will be proportioned to how he carries out this sacred gesture.
4.) Regarding the manner of doing this, the guidelines of the old tradition should be followed which make evident the ministerial function of the priest or the deacon so that he is the one who places the Host in the hand of the communicant …6 the faithful receiving Communion must consume the Host before returning to his place. The part of the minister will be underlined by the customary formula: “The Body of Christ”, to which the communicant will reply, “Amen”.
5.) Whatever manner is adopted, one must take care to not drop or lose any particles of the Eucharistic Bread, one must also take care to see that the hands are suitably clean, and that there be observed the proper composure of gestures according to the customs of the various peoples.
6.) In the case of Communion under both species distributed by intinction, it is never permitted to place in the hand of the faithful the Host which has been dipped in the Blood of the Lord.
7.) Bishops who permit the introduction of the new manner of giving Holy Communion are requested to send after six months a report to this Sacred Congregation concerning the results of this concession.
I take this occasion to express to Your Excellency, my sentiments of profound esteem.
Signed by the Cardinal Prefect
and the Archbishop Secretary.
1 - The Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship is now known as The Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship. This Sacred Congregation has general competence over the ritual and pastoral aspects of divine worship in the Roman and other Latin rites. This Sacred Congregation supervises the discipline of the Sacraments without prejudice to the competencies of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and other curial departments.
2 - Taken from the Acta Apostolicae Sedis 1969 pages 546-547.
3 - In the volume for 1969 of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis the Instruction Memoriale Domini immediately precedes this letter. This instruction confirms that the law of the Church for the Latin Rites is that Holy Communion is to be received on the tongue. In 1980, the instruction Inaestimabile Donum issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, dated April 3, 1980, confirmed that the instruction Memoriale Domini is still in effect.
4 - An indult is a permission granted by a legitimate authority.
5 - In order to permit the use of this indult, two “musts” are required in this paragraph, namely: the sense of dignity of the faithful thus receiving must be increased, and the communicant's faith in the great reality of the Eucharist must be increased.
6 - … In the original norms laid down, the option of the faithful himself picking up the Consecrated Host was mentioned but shortly thereafter this option was no longer allowed. And it was definitely forbidden by authority of Pope John Paul II as can be seen in the Instruction Inaestimabile Donum, published in English in an early June 1980 issue of L’Osservatore Romano. This document was approved by Pope John Paul II in April 1980.