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Communion in the Hand: When Did it Start?

Issue: When was Communion in the hand first permitted?

Response: In 1969 Memoriale Domini provided for the reception of Communion in the hand in limited areas and under special circumstances. Then, in the 1973 instruction Immensae Caritatis, the Church granted wider permission because many episcopal conferences had asked for permission to allow Communion in the hand.

Discussion: The first document on receiving Communion in the hand, Memoriale Domini (Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion), was issued in 1969. Memoriale Domini for the most part reported the votes of Latin Rite bishops worldwide who mostly favored retaining the traditional practice of reception of Communion on the tongue. The Holy See agreed, though at the end of the document some guidelines were given for those limited areas in which Communion in the hand was permitted:

Where a contrary usage, that of placing holy communion on the hand, prevails, the Holy See—wishing to help them fulfill their task, often difficult as it is nowadays—lays on those conferences the task of weighing carefully whatever special circumstances may exist there, taking care to avoid any risk of lack of respect or of false opinions with regard to the Blessed Eucharist, and to avoid any other ill effects that may follow. (Memoriale Domini)

In 1973, the Church granted wider permission for Communion in the hand in the instruction Immensae Caritatis (On Facilitating Reception of Communion in Certain Circumstances). A few directives are given that essentially reflect the directives in Memoriale Domini. In addition, the Holy See acknowledged the increase in episcopal conferences seeking permission to allow Communion in the hand.

Currently, the practice in the United States is that one receives either on the tongue or on the hand at the discretion of the communicant. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal states:

If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The Body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes it entirely (GIRM no. 161).



  1. Joseph Gonsalves Reply

    Actually it was a question always in my mind since when it was started receiving holy communion on hand. Today I have got the answer. Many thanks for the posting.
    I am a Bangladeshi Catholic. From our childhood we used to receive communion on tongue (however the church allows on hand) in Bangladesh. My mother used to tell us to receive it on tongue instead of on hand. Because it’s Christ’s body better to take directly on our tongue. Priests and Eucharist Ministers hand is cleaner than our own hand. Because they wash hands before touch the Holy Communion. Even as of now, I have seen that surprisingly most people takes Holy Communion on tongue in Bangladesh.
    Now I partially live in Canada, and there however I try to receive the holy communion on tongue but it looks awkward even the Eucharist Minister feels embarrassed to give on my tongue, because 100% people taking on hand.
    My wife told me(who lives permanently in Canada ), people afraid of diseases from the priest like Seasonal Flu, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Mad cow, SARS, MERS and so on……

  2. Cai Cantillo Reply

    Priests are Alter Christus. their hands were being ann0inted even when they get ordained as deac0ns. meaning, their hands are blessed and holy….
    the lay ministers, though n0t blessed to be ‘an0ther Christ’ as priests were privileged, they’re given the blessing by the Church to give Holy Communi0n….
    Since the Sacred Host is very holy because it is Jesus Himself, He deserves to be given and received through/by the best, the greatest and the most reverent way.

  3. Therese Reply

    I was taught in Catholic school that we were never to touch the Eucharist with our hands. Only consecrated hands can touch the Eucharist. I will always receive Our Lord on the tongue. There are more opportunities for someone who receives on the hand to desecrate the Host. Very bad decision on the church. We should also have the opportunity to kneel to receive Him (if we are able to kneel). He is Our Lord and we should show him the highest respect, no matter what others think here on earth, every knee shall bend! Amen

    1. Rhonda Reply

      I totally agree with you. I will never disrespect the Holy Host with my hands. I too went to a Catholic school and was taught the same.

  4. Linda Bodisch Reply

    To many things have been changed without thought of the sacredness of The Lord our God…..Tradition holds so much sacredness in its actions toward our God. We never had any thought of catching anything by way of Holy Communion. Faith in our God to keep us in His care was always first and formost in our hearts and minds and there was never any reports of anything like that happening. The head covering for women out of respect and honor for our God and Holy Scripture…..disappeared too. But not for all, there are still many who understand, respect, honor and humility in God’s house! They still wear head covering…. Now we need to work on covering the body!

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