First of all, permit me a moment to gloat. I find it utterly hilarious that Lutherans who hate all things Roman Catholic would have so quickly and joyfully adopted this practice from Rome and, especially, since Vatican II. The same folks who choke on incense, bristle at chant,itch at vestments, gag at genuflecting, and rue ritual have adopted the "new" Roman idea of communion in the hand with nary a second thought.
Second of all, permit a curiosity. Why is it that some folks who are so keen on not receiving from the chalice because of all those, well, you know, possible germs, choose to receive in their hand? During the offertory I (the Pastor) go into the Sacristy and wash my hands prior to the distribution. My hands are clean. But where have your hands been? Unless we all take a bathroom break in the liturgy, your hands have shared the piece, rubbed your eyes, turned the pages in the bulletin and hymnal, scratched that itch, dealt with that runny nose, and, perhaps, if you are a mom, done the same thing to all your children. So, if you are all bent out of shape about being sanitary, why would you choose to receive the host in your hand and then put it in your mouth? If you were really concerned about this, you would receive in the mouth from the clean hands of the Pastor. Okay, now that I got these two things out of my system, I will go on to more serious fare.
Certainly, the practice of receiving in the hand is not new. In a text of St. Cyril of Jerusalem's fifth Mystagogic Catechesis (21f), which he preached to neophytes in 348 A.D., in which he counsels the faithful to "place your left hand as the throne of your right one, which is to receive the King [in Holy Communion]." On the other hand, not much later it appears the communion in the mouth has become the norm. Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) is an early witness of the traditional practice. In his comments on the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel he speaks of Communion in the mouth as the current usage: "One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith." The Pope does not speak as if he were introducing a novelty, but as if this were a well established thing.
While I do not have a particular issue with communion in the hand, I do prefer a certain decorum -- one that honors the host and cup as the Body and Blood of Christ, as His Word says it is.
- Do not pick up the host with two fingers as if you were picking a hair out of your soup. If you are going to receive in the hand, receive in the hand and do not try to pick the host out of mid-air.
- If you are going to receive in the hand, remember that this is the Body of Christ. Don't plop it in the hand and then toss it in the mouth like kernels of popcorn. Cross your hands, one over the other, and then bring both hands to your mouth and use the one to place it on your tongue.
- If you are going to receive in the hand, then you have the perfect opportunity to respond to the Pastor who says "The Body of Christ for you" (or some other such words) with "Amen." Yes, it is most appropriate to say "Amen" when the Body and Blood of Christ are distributed. Faith's answer to all of God's gifts is "Amen."
- If you are a parent, do not break off a little piece to give to little Bertha who thinks it is unfair that she does not get a snack from the Pastor. Do not show it to you kids as if this were a teaching moment. Let your children learn by watching you reverently receive the Body and Blood of Christ, pray in thanksgiving for His gift and for your gracious reception in faith, and acknowledge where you have been with a bow or genuflection upon leaving the altar rail. This is the most powerful teaching you can do for your children.
- If you have non-communing children (or adults) who have come to the rail for a blessing, have them cross their arms and hands over their chest so that those distributing know clearly who communes and who does not. Think of how a pretzel looks and cross the arms in the same way. Sometimes the Pastor forgets how old or how young your children may be.
As I see this has run a little long... we will take up the individual cups and chalice another day. . .