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Marisa D. wrote:

Hello,

My name is Marisa. I'm 48 years old and have been married for 25 years. I went to Catholic school my first eight years followed by four years of public school. I have 23-year-old twins and live in the USA.

In Catholic school, I was taught that we should never touch the Blessed Host, never. If our priest drops the host during Communion on my chest, the floor, anywhere, we are not to touch it. Touching it will remove the holiness/blessedness it received during the Mass. We were taught only the priest may touch it and put it in your mouth. All that teaching was fine with me. That's one of the things that makes a priest different from us. He can bless things. I believed it and all my family and friends believed it.

Well, sometime after I got married this [rule/law] changed. It is now OK to touch and hold the Blessed Host! Not only that, but the Church needs regular people to help distribute the Blessed Host at Communion time and they will put the host in your hands so you can put it in your own mouth.

  • How could a rule that is so big and a teaching, of my generation, my parents generation and my grandparents generation, now change with no gasping by anyone?
  • Who made the rule back then that no one touches the blessed host other that a priest or bishop?
  • Who made the decision that all that blessed stuff really isn't blessed — and that we can all touch it after all?

I feel that I have been lied to all these years. I was graded on this stuff in school. The Church makes up rules off the top of their heads and then changes their minds.

I still do not receive Communion from anyone other than a priest. Where ever the priest is, that's the line I go to during Communion time. At 48 years old, I have never touched the blessed host. Please, look during Communion time, there are a lot of us who still believe in not touching the Holy Host with our hands.

This changed rule was not made clear to many of us. I don't remember any explanation given us as to why the Blessed Host would remain blessed after the faithful are allowed to receive the host in their hands.

Please clarify this issue for me.

Thank you for your time,

Marisa

  { Can you clarify why we can now touch the Blessed Host at Mass when I was brought up not to? }

Eric replied:

Hi Marisa,

You said:
My name is Marisa. I'm 48 years old and have been married for 25 years. I went to Catholic school my first eight years followed by four years of public school. I have
23-year-old twins and live in the USA.

In Catholic school, I was taught that we should never touch the Blessed Host, never. If our priest drops the host during Communion on my chest, the floor, anywhere, we are not to touch it. Touching it will remove the holiness/blessedness it received during the Mass.

If by removing the holiness/blessedness it received during the Mass is meant that it loses the Real Presence and ceases to be the Body and Blood of Christ — which is really what happens during the Mass — the Church has never, ever held that it was possible to deconsecrate the host simply by touching it. For hundreds of years, we have believed that the only way that the Eucharist can be deconsecrated or unblessed is if it ceases to have the appearance of bread and in the Early Church people received on the hand, so the Communion-on-the-tongue rule does not go back to the Apostles. It may have some merit to it, but it's not Apostolic.

What sometimes happens, especially back before the 60s, is that teachers of the faith would tell little white lies to get children to behave properly. For example, I was told that you were not to chew the host and that you had to let It dissolve in your mouth. Theologically, this has no basis but it prevents kids from being irreverent. I suspect your teacher:

  • was either misinformed (religion teachers are fallible, after all)
  • told this as a white lie to convince you why you should not touch the host, or
  • you misunderstood her.

One can make an argument (not that I would) that the host is deconsecrated by being touched, but this can't mean that the Real Presence goes away and, if the Real Presence does not go away, it will remain the holiest thing on the face of this earth. So to deconsecrate the Eucharist means really to show It grave disrespect or to profane It, but it doesn't change It in the slightest.

You said:
We were taught only the priest may touch it and put it in your mouth. All that teaching was fine with me. That's one of the things that makes a priest different from us. He can bless things. I believed it and all my family and friends believed it.

Well, sometime after I got married this [rule/law] changed. It is now OK to touch and hold the Blessed Host! Not only that, but the Church needs regular people to help distribute the Blessed Host at Communion time and they will put the host in your hands so you can put it in your own mouth.

  • How could a rule that is so big and the teaching of my generation, and my parents and grandparents generation now change with no gasping by anyone?

It was simply a discipline and disciplines can change.
It wasn't a doctrine — something that is unchangeable, and I don't think anyone claimed that it was.

You said:

  • Who made the rule back then that no one touches the blessed host other that a priest or bishop?

I personally do not know; it was a rule that had been around for many centuries. It would likely have been a Pope.

You said:

  • Who made the decision that all that blessed stuff really isn't blessed — and that we can all touch it after all?

Pope Paul VI.

You said:
I feel that I have been lied to all these years. I was graded on this stuff in school. The Church makes up rules off the top of their heads and then changes their minds.

It could be your teachers deliberately lied to you, deceived you, or there could have been a misunderstanding.

That said, the Church has the prerogative to change Her rules. That has always been the case. Doctrines and dogmas, she cannot change, but rules are always changing. Rules fit the times, and times change. What was right for the 16th century is not necessarily right for today.

The last thing you probably want to tell a kid though is that rules can change, since it undermines the authority of the rule and leads to questioning so no one probably told you this was a disciple subject to change.

You said:
I still do not receive Communion from anyone other than a priest. Where ever the priest is, that's the line I go to during Communion time. At 48 years old, I have never touched the blessed host. Please, look during Communion time, there are a lot of us who still believe in not touching the Holy Host with our hands.

This changed rule was not made clear to many of us. I don't remember any explanation given us as to why the Blessed Host would remain blessed after the faithful are allowed to receive the host in their hands.

Please clarify this issue for me.

The blessed Host is God — in particular, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of God Almighty. You aren't going to change God or ruin Him or make Him less holy by touching Him — believe me.

In the worse case, like a flaming ember, it will burn through your hand and destroy you, but that's worst case. :-) Don't worry, that's never happened to anyone. What I mean though, seriously, is that if something is wrong with this, it isn't God (i.e. the Host) one should be concerned about.

It's like worrying about scratching a diamond — it simply can't be done.

Hope this helps,

Eric

Mike replied:

Hi Marisa,  

I can empathize with a lot of your e-mail, but I think it's important to reiterate several important points.

You said:
Touching it will remove the holiness/blessedness it received during the Mass.

What makes the host permanently blessed is the:

  • the form (words used during Holy Mass)
  • the matter (unleavened wheat bread and grape wine), and
  • the minister (a validly ordained Catholic priest) who has the intent to do what the Church expects from him.

Eric stated:
For hundreds of years, we have believed that the only way that the Eucharist can be deconsecrated or unblessed is if it ceases to have the appearance of bread and in the Early Church people received on the hand, so the Communion-on-the-tongue rule does not go back to the Apostles. It may have some merit to it, but it's not Apostolic.

Although the Early Church received the Blessed Eucharist in the hand, members did so with reverence. The communicant would hold one hand out over another in the form of a throne.

As time passed and the Church grew in its understanding, development, and theology of its doctrines, a greater reverence was rightfully developed in the Church for the Blessed Sacrament. Remember, it took four centuries to define the theology of Jesus Himself and, though the Church always believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it was not formally defined until 1215 A.D.!

I also go to a priest most of the time, but as Eric implied, it's the same Jesus, so, if I am visiting my brother and wish to stay with my family, I just go to the nearest Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist. The only one that should be called a Eucharistic Minister is a priest or deacon.
Lay Catholics who are trained to distribute the Blessed Sacrament in extreme circumstances are called Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist.

You said:

  • Who made the rule back then that no one touches the blessed host other that a priest or bishop?
  • Who made the decision that all that blessed stuff really isn't blessed — and that we can all touch it after all?

I don't know when the Church changed from the Apostolic times of Communion in the hand to receiving on the tongue. e.g. pre-Vatican II.

It's my understanding that the bishops in America, back in 1968 petitioned the Vatican to allow Communion in the hand.  In order to petition Rome they would have needed at least two thirds of the bishops agreeing on the motion. Although I've heard that there were issues around getting two thirds of the bishops, they were able to get it, and Pope Paul VI did approve of the practice.

What Pope Paul VI did not mean to imply is: all that blessed stuff really isn't true. Even he would say:

It is  still truly Jesus under the appearance of wheat bread and grape wine.

  1. Doctrines cannot change.
  2. Disciplines can change.
  3. Individual Catholics have a right and duty to express their spiritual needs and concerns to their pastors and priest. (Sacrosanctum Concilium — Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy)

The following is my personal opinion on this issue.

I personally think this was one of the least faithful and worst things the American bishops could have petitioned the Vatican for. I also think it was a very poor decision on discipline by Pope Paul VI.

  • Why?

Because the Catholic Faith involves believing in something, despite what our five senses:

  1. Seeing
  2. Hearing
  3. Tasting
  4. Smelling, and 
  5. Touching

tell us.

For example: Though I visibly see nothing where I am currently sitting, my faith tells me there is a guardian angel there assisting and guarding me in this life.

The same is true with the Blessed Sacrament.

  • Although it tastes like we are receiving just a wheat bread host at Holy Communion, our Faith tells us we are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord Jesus.
  • Although when we drink from the chalice, and it tastes like we are drinking just grape wine, our Faith tells us we are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord Jesus.

Because the Blessed Eucharist is the source and submit of the Catholic Faith (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 11), of all disciplines that should have been changed the last one should have been how we receive the Eucharist.

  • Why?

Because our outward behaviors and actions do two things:

  • they re-affirm to us, what we say, we believe and
  • re-affirm to others, the Catholic faithful at the Mass we are attending, what they say, they believe.

This is such an important, but overlooked point; probably never mentioned in our Catholic seminaries!!

Another problem, in some circles, is the music sung at the Mass.

It reminds me of what Arius did in the Early Church. He purposely put lyrics and words in the music that would result in the congregation denying the divinity of Christ, while they are singing the song!!

Well, guess what? It's being done today! This is why I hate that song:

Taste and see, taste and see, the goodness of the Lord.

No Catholic in the pew or in the Communion line should be singing this. These word focus on the senses, not the Catholic faith behind the Eucharist. When we go up to receive the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ despite what the senses tell us!! A better replacement, that some parishes have adapted to is:

Take and eat, take and eat, the goodness of the Lord.

This would be far better!

A Eucharistic Faith is a very difficult article of faith for any Catholic to maintain in today's culture. One can believe with their mind, but at times the body does not want to be as devotional as the mind. Nevertheless, our behaviors and actions re-affirm, what we say and what we believe, not only to ourselves, but to others.

On a personal note: I remember back around 1980, when Communion in the hand was first being instituted at my local parish. Most everyone was receiving Our Blessed Lord in their hand. I was confused and still trying to figure out the best thing to do. Up to that point I had always received on the tongue. I liked the idea of sticking your tongue out at a priest.

Just kidding guys! Just kidding!

At the same time, I had been going to St. Benedict's monastery where I always knelt to received Our Blessed Lord; the priest just placed the Blessed Sacrament on my tongue.

Then it dawned on me, it's the same Jesus up at the Abbey as was down at my local parish, so why don't I start always receive on my knees all the time. (Something allowed by Canon Law for ALL Catholics. A priest can never tell you that you have to receive Holy Communion in the hand.)
If he does, contact your local bishop and make him aware of this!

I remember talking to a liberal sister after Mass at my local parish: Sister Mary from the Order of St. Joseph. She came up to me and said,

"Michael, Don't you think you are over doing it a little."

My reply was,

"No, Sister Mary, I think you are under doing it a little.", then I left :-)

For short, you sound like a normal, devout Catholic. We need more like you in our Church.

Mike

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