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).