An old movie called Krull has a scene in which the heroic figure is aided by an older version who failed when he was young. He has a series of tests or trials to go through, one of them being a giant spider web. He enters the Widow's cave which contains a giant spider web. He is immediately pursued by the Widow's guardian, a large white spider. He calls out the Widow's name, which is the same as Colwyn's bride, Lyssa, and the Widow turns over an hourglass, stopping the spider until Ynyr can enter her chamber at the center of the web. Ynyr and the Widow have a history of unrequited love and the Widow reveals that she is trapped forever in the web because she killed the newborn son that resulted from their romance. She agrees to help Ynyr; but for Ynyr to leave the web alive, she gives him the sand from the hourglass. Ynyr cannot stop the sand from leaking out of his hands and the widow gravely warns him that his own life will run out when all the sand has run out. In the movie, Ynyr holds the sand in his hand, alarmed that this precious sand cannot be fully contained and that he is losing it with every passing moment. In the end his time runs out and he surrenders his life as the last of the sand passes through his fingers.\
What I find so interesting is the truth common to all things precious -- we hold them tightly in our hands and fear losing any bit of it. To use another image, how would you hold on to a handful of gold dust? That is exactly the point of St. Cyril in talking about the reverent reception of the Lord's body in the Holy Communion. He describes reception in the hand -- but not the typical was so many receive today. No, he commands that the Host be received onto the right hand which is supported by the left hand
as by a throne, and received by lifting the palm of the hand to their
mouths, and then checked, as St. Cyril insists, that no crumb remained
("be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you
as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given
you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch
lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more
careful with what is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no
particles are lost?"
Writing in 350 A.D. Theodore of Mospsuestia, in Homily XV wrote of communion in the hand, "do not approach with hands extended and fingers open wide. Rather make of your left hand a throne for your right as it is about to receive your King, and receive the Body of Christ in the fold of your hand, responding ‘Amen.’.... Take care that you do not even lose one piece of that which is more precious than gold or precious stones."
It is an act of reverence and pious faith. The Lord's body is precious. The most solemn and reverent care must be taken. But fast forward and today it is typical to find people treating these precious gifts of God without much care or concern at all. I have watched as people grabbed the host as if it were snack food and the cup treated as if it were mere wine for the taste buds. I have seen spills treated as if nothing mattered -- certainly not the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament. It is clear that this is nothing precious but rather something common and ordinary. How can it be that we would treat other things so carefully and then treat the body and blood of our Lord as something routine -- no bid deal at all?
I do not mind reverent reception in the hand although I prefer communion on the tongue. It is not so much the method but the attitude which bugs me most. Solemnity and reverence are not the enemies of joy but the fruits of a holy joy that cannot but remember how the Lord has condescended to bestow upon us what which is not ours by right. We have turned the things of God into casual moments and the problem is that we no longer are aware of or concerned about the consequences of meeting God where He has promised to be. If we thought the food God gives us was as precious as a handful of gold dust, how different might we treat the bread that is His body? We use a chalice and paten and ciborium of precious metal that reflects the precious food of Holy Communion. We kneel in humility honoring the Lord who comes to us in this Blessed Sacrament. We care not only for the distribution but for the manner of distribution as a sign of faith, the recognition of our awe before the grand mystery of His presence. Faith can do nothing less.