Like many people, I have reservations about the view expressed recently by the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the method to be used when receiving Communion. My aim here is not to examine which method(s) may be more ancient or whether ancient methods are to be preserved by reason of their antiquity. Nor do I wish to examine whether one method is more closely associated with affirmation of Christ’s Real Presence in the consecrated elements. I offer here simply a meditation on what receiving Communion in the hand has meant to me lately.
Over the Christmas holiday, I traveled from Pennsylvania to visit family in Georgia. On the last day of my stay in Georgia before heading on to Washington State, I broke a bone in my left hand. It was not my first go-round with such an injury. Back in 2010, I broke my right wrist in a fall from a bicycle. That injury required the surgical placement of screws and a plate to realign the bones in my wrist. In 2013, I underwent surgery again, this time to address a life-threatening problem with my heart. Happily, the procedures in 2010 and 2013 were both successful. My right wrist experienced essentially a 100% recovery and my heart, though it will require monitoring for the rest of my life, is out of the immediate danger zone. As for the most recent incident, I thought my finger was only badly sprained. When a doctor confirmed that it was indeed broken and that I would need surgery, I was disappointed, of course, but I knew well the incapacity I would have to live with until healing fully set in.
From the end of December 2017 until early February 2018, my typing had to be done with one hand (hence no recent Pray Tell posts from me). I had to ask friends to open bottles of medicine and jars of salsa. I had to ask them to change the linens on my bed. I had to buy shoes that I could close with velcro (no tying shoelaces for me). Since I wished to continue receiving Communion in the hand, I had to improvise the formation of a throne, resting my right hand in the cast wrapped around my left hand. I had to carefully transition the consecrated bread from my right hand to my mouth, unable to maneuver it to my fingertips. The cast came off on 5 February so at Mass on the weekend of 11 February, I again used my right hand to cup my left hand, received in my left hand, and picked up the consecrated bread with my right hand. I was thrilled to be able to perform this exercise again.
However, this meditation is not simply about using my injured (and now healing) left hand again. As I noted, the injury to my right wrist years ago was caused by a fall from a bicycle. My heart condition, corrected by surgery in 2013, was one over which I had no control. The broken bone in my left hand in December was different. It took place on the last day of my visit to family. I said goodbye to my 2-year old nephew Leo and his twin brother Simon. I picked up my 1-year old nephew Perry, gave him a kiss and a hug, and put him down on the couch. I turned to make my way to the door to catch the shuttle to the airport. Perry was faster. He scrambled off the couch and unaware of his surroundings, placed himself directly under my right foot as it was coming down to the floor. I had already shifted my balance to that foot. It was *going* to come down and it was simply a question of where. I pivoted on my left foot so that my right foot would not stomp on Perry. I knew that I would lose my balance. I fell, with very little control over my body and terrified that I would land on one or more of my nephews. I reached out with both hands for anything I could grab. On my left hand, the pinky, ring finger, and middle finger felt the ledge on which a fireplace was set. I shifted *all* of my weight to those fingers. I snapped the shaft of my ring finger behind my left palm. As for the children, Leo sustained a bloody nose but there were no other injuries.
My bone broke because as best I could I directed the risk of harm from my fall to myself and away from my nephews. Addressing the break required the surgical insertion of pins to realign the pieces of the shaft of my finger. The hand that received the Body of the Lord on that February weekend had scars where the pins had been. The place of my self-offering, the outcome of placing myself at risk of harm, cradled the One whose being was self-offering.
I am not seeking to glorify myself here. When I regarded others as they received, I wondered what their hands had done in service of another’s well-being by changing soiled diapers, by holding the hand of one who is frightened, etc. I wondered about those who lose limbs and lives in service of others while my hand is well on the way to a full recovery. I was reminded of Lumen Gentium, no. 34:
The laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.
In however small or haltingly a way, my hands consecrate the world to God. My / our hands also engage in desecration when I / we choose sin. For that, I / we need healing. And of course, the point of the consecration of the bread at Mass is not merely that members of the assembly may hold the Lord in their hands. Yet when the Lord is in their hands, there is an encounter worth pondering.
Featured image: a “selfie” of sorts of the author.