Documentation: Approval of Communion in the Hand under Pope Paul VI

The Holy See has made it abundantly clear that both manners of reception of Communion – on the tongue and in the hand – are permitted, that Communion should be received reverently, and that the manner of reception should not become an occasion of division in the church. Pray Tell here documents two statements of the Congregation for Divine Worship issued under Pope Paul VI.

Permission for administering Communion in the hand was granted by the Holy See to the following countries and regions under Pope Paul VI:  [UPDATED 3-2-18] 

Belgium, 31 May 1969
France, 6 June 1969
Germany, 6 June 1969
Chad, 18 September 1969
The Netherlands, 18 September 1969
Bolivia, October 15 1969
Luxembourg, October 15 1969
North Africa, October 15  1969
Scandinavia, October 15  1969
Uruguay, October 15  1969
Monaco, 31 October 1969
Middle Africa, 3 February 1970
Canada, 12 February 1970
Djibouti, 6 March 1970
Jamaica, 12 March 1970
Japan, 27 June 1970
Upper Volta and Niger, 20 February 1970
Indonesia, 27 March 1971
Paraguay, 27 September 1971
Madagascar 2 March 1970
Yugoslavia, 1971
South Africa, 1971
Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), 2 October 1971
Zambia, 11 March 1974
New Zealand, 24 April 1974
Australia, 26 September 1975
England and Wales, 6 March 1976
Papua and New Guinea, 28 April 1976
Ireland, 4 September 1976
Pakistan, 29 October 1976
United States, 17 June 1977
Scotland, 7 July 1977
Malaysia and Singapore, 3 October 1977

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SACRED CONGREGATION FOR DIVINE WORSHIP, Letter “En reponse a la demande,” to presidents of those conferences of bishops petitioning the indult for communion in the hand, 29 May 1969: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 61 (1969) 546-547; Notitiae 5 (1969) 351-353.

In reply to the request of your conference of bishops regarding permission to give communion by placing the host on the hand of the faithful, I wish to communicate the following. Pope Paul Vl calls attention to the purpose of the Instruction Memoriale Domini of 29 May 1969, on retaining the traditional practice in use. At the same time he has taken into account the reasons given to support your request and the outcome of the vote taken on this matter. The Pope grants that throughout the territory of your conference, each bishop may, according to his prudent judgment and conscience, authorize in his diocese the introduction of the new rite for giving communion. The condition is the complete avoidance of any cause for the faithful to be shocked and any danger of irreverence toward the Eucharist. The following norms must therefore be respected.

  1. The new manner of giving communion must not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional practice. It is a matter of particular seriousness that in places where the new practice is lawfully permitted every one of the faithful have the option of receiving communion on the tongue and even when other persons are receiving communion in the hand. The two ways of receiving communion can without question take place during the same liturgical service. There is a twofold purpose here: that none will find in the new rite anything disturbing to personal devotion toward the Eucharist; that this sacrament, the source and cause of unity by its very nature, will not become an occasion of discord between members of the faithful.
  2. The rite of communion in the hand must not be put into practice indiscriminately. Since the question involves human attitudes, this mode of communion is bound up with the perceptiveness and preparation of the one receiving. It is advisable, therefore, that the rite be introduced gradually and in the beginning within small, better prepared groups and in favorable settings. Above all it is necessary to have the introduction of the rite preceded by an effective catechesis, so that the people will clearly understand the meaning of receiving in the hand and will practice it with the reverence owed to the sacrament. This catechesis must succeed in excluding any suggestion that in the mind of the Church there is a lessening of faith in the eucharistic presence and in excluding as well any danger or hint of danger of profaning the Eucharist.
  3. The option offered to the faithful of receiving the Eucharistic bread in their hand and putting it into their own mouth must not turn out to be the occasion for regarding it as ordinary bread or as just another religious article. Instead this option must increase in them a consciousness of the dignity of the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, into which they are incorporated by baptism and by the grace of the Eucharist. It must also increase their faith in the sublime reality of the Lord’s body and blood, which they touch with their hand. Their attitude of reverence must measure up to what they are doing.
  4. As to the way to carry out the new rite: one possible model is the traditional usage, which expresses the ministerial functions, by having the priest or deacon place the host in the hand of the communicant. Alternatively, it is permissible to adopt a simpler procedure, namely, allowing the faithful themselves to take the host from the ciborium or paten. The faithful should consume the host before returning to their place; the minister’s part will be brought out by use of the usual formulary, The body of Christ, to which the communicant replies: Amen. [Note: It was later forbidden for communicant to take the host themselves.]
  5. Whatever procedure is adopted, care must be taken not to allow particles of the eucharistic bread to fall or be scattered. Care must also be taken that the communicants have clean hands and that there comportment is becoming and in keeping with the practices of the different peoples.
  6. In the case of communion under both kinds by way of intinction, it is never permitted to place on the hand of the communicant the host that has been dipped in the Lord’s blood.
  7. Bishops allowing introduction of the new way of receiving communion are requested to send to this Congregation after six months a report on the result of its concession.”

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SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DISCIPLINE OF THE SACRAMENTS, Instruction Immensae caritatis, on facilitating reception of Communion in certain circumstances, 29 January 1973: AAS 65 (1973) 264-271; Not 9 (1973) 157-164.

Part 4. Devotion and reverence toward the Eucharist in the case of communion in the hand

Ever since the Instruction Memoriale Domini three years ago, some of the conferences of bishops have been requesting the Apostolic See for the faculty to allow ministers distributing communion to place the eucharistic bread in the hand of the faithful. The same Instruction contained a reminder that “the laws of the Church and the writings of the Fathers give ample witness of a supreme reverence and utmost caution toward the Eucharist” and that this must continue. Particularly in regard to this way of receiving communion, experience suggests certain matters requiring careful attention.

On the part of both the minister and the recipient, whenever the host is placed in the hand of a communicant there must be careful concern and caution, especially about particles that might fall from the hosts.

The usage of communion in the hand must be accompanied by relevant instruction or catechesis on Catholic teaching regarding Christ’s real and permanent presence under the eucharistic elements and the proper reverence toward this sacrament.

The faithful must be taught that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and that therefore the worship of latria or adoration belonging to God is owed to Christ present in this sacrament. They are also to be instructed not to omit after communion the sincere and appropriate thanksgiving that is in keeping with their individual capacities, state, and occupation.

Finally, to the end that their coming to this heavenly table may be completely worthy and fruitful, the faithful should be instructed on its benefits and effects, for both the individual and society, so that their familial relationship to the Father who gives us our “daily bread,” may reflect the highest reverence for him, nurture love, and lead to a living bond with Christ, in whose flesh and blood we share.

Pope Paul Vl approved this Instruction, confirmed it with his authority, and ordered its publication, setting the day of publication as its effective date.

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As seen above, the U.S. bishops were not among the first to permit Communion in the hand. During the debate by the conference in the 1970s, a bishop said that he had seen a recent photo of Paul VI giving Communion in the hand to a little boy. The debate was interrupted by lunch. When the bishops reassembled, Cardinal John Carberry of St. Louis, a determined opponent of Communion in the hand, was quick to get up to set things straight. He said that he had checked with the then Apostolic Delegation and had been assured that the pope was giving the boy a rosary. It is reported that a bishop shouted out, “On the tongue or in the hand?”

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As further documentation, Pray Tell provides this excerpt from the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal in Latin and English on the reception of Communion.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal



  1. I did an internet search about the history of communion in the hand in the U.S. and the only thing I found was an article by the NLM.

    Obviously, for better or worse, the NLM has an agenda. But is the impression they give generally correct? That the conference had voted twice but failed to approve the practice and then only won the third vote by gathering absentee votes which is the article claims was “unlawful”? Or is there more context that is missing?

    1. The author claims that Communion in the hand could only be authorized in countries where it was an established practice but doesn’t give a citation. I’m not aware of that limitation and would like to see proper documentation. But whatever the case, it is the Pope who decides to authorize it for countries, and it is indisputable that he did so. I think that settles it.

      I’m skeptical of the claim that collecting absentee ballots for bishops’ conference votes is unlawful. It is standard procedure so I wonder what the basis of this accusation is.

      The author seems to think that liturgical reforms should consist of only what an ecumenical council prescribed. This is a fundamental misunderstanding. Councils establish principles (and rarely go into specific points) and then leave it to a commission to carry out the detailed work after the Council. The missal of 1570 eliminated almost all sequences and moved the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar to the beginning of the Order of Mass – though the Council of Trent never said a word about either. So the author’s claim that he is “exactly Vatican II” is doubtful. And of course Pope Paul VI was adamant that all the reforms carried out under him were faithful to the Second Vatican Council.


  2. Father, as to the limitation on what regions might request this indult, Memoriale Domini stipulated that “Where a contrary usage, that of placing holy communion on the hand, prevails, the Holy See […] lays on those conferences the task of weighing carefully whatever special circumstances may exist there […]. In such cases, episcopal conferences should examine matters carefully and should make whatever decisions, by a secret vote and with a two-thirds majority, are needed to regulate matters. Their decisions should be sent to Rome to receive the necessary confirmation, […].” The document does not have numbered paragraphs to cite, but you’ll find it a few paragraphs after the tabulation of votes collected from bishops.

    1. Aaron, this describes what the countries are to do where Communion in the hand was being practiced. I don’t read any statement with canonical force saying that only those countries may apply for an indult. Nor did the Vatican interpret it that way, near as I can tell.

      1. I think you’re right that, without an explicitly limiting clause, there is no canonically binding restriction to those countries, and that the subsequent granting of dispensation ultimately belied such restriction. Still, while not the direction eventually taken, I believe restriction to be the more natural reading of the Vatican’s intent at that moment in time. After stipulating the historical practice of Communion in the hand, Memoriale Domini:

        – defends the development of discipline that led to Communion on the tongue
        – cites vote tallies to defend a claim that a large majority (longe plurimos) of bishops not only oppose introducing Communion in the hand but consider it “tum sensui tum spirituali cultui […] offensioni”
        – “vehementer hortatur” retention of current practice while invoking the common good of the Church

        That rhetorical flow and its further implicit objections (i.e., take care lest XYZ) *could* be a setup for a generous grant of indults, but given the overall negative tone I don’t think it accidental or inconsequential that the prospect of permission is only mentioned “in these cases” where contrary practice already prevails. Hence, my theory is that the wide granting of the indult exceeded its initially intended scope as continued prompting from advisors and larger-than-anticipated requests from conferences overcame the pope’s reluctance.

  3. In comparing the indult list provided in this post with the brief history of Fr. O’Donaghue’s post, I note with interest that the countries in which Communion in the hand is alleged to have been most prevalent either did not apply for or at any rate receive an indult in these first 8 years of results. Does anyone have an explanation for why France, Germany, and the Low Countries were not quickly regularized once the opportunity was available?

    1. FYI, the announcement that approval for Communion in the Hand was given (in 1969) to Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, and Chad appeared in Notitiae in v. 6 (1969), no. 48 (Sept/Oct), pg 361. Later that year approval was given to Luxembourg, Scandinavia (Scandia), North Africa, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Monaco (see Notitiae v. 7 (1970), no. 51 (Feb), pg 62).
      Back issue of Notitiae are accessible via the new website of the Congregation for Divine Worship at:

  4. 3. “The option… must not turn out to be the occasion for regarding it as ordinary bread or as just another religious article.”

    I feel this is a underrated point in recent discussions on the reception of Holy Communion, both here on PT and elsewhere. In light of some genuinely moving testimonies on the merits of reception in the hand, we cannot ignore that reverence for the Eucharist and belief in the Real Presence among Catholic laity has greatly declined since around the time in which this practice reenterred the Roman Rite after a millennium of absence. Surveys from CARA and Pew reflect this, though I admittedly doubted them until I attended mass with a fellow Catholic at church that predominantly received on the tongue and my friend jeering remarked, “why don’t they receive in the hand like normal people? It’s just BREAD!!”

    For whatever reason, reception on the hand does not appear to convey the same level of reverence in the public consciousness as reception on the tongue. Maybe this is due to its similarity to practices in most Protestant churches, many of which (Anglicans and Lutherans notwithstanding) fundamentally don’t believe in a sacramental Communion substance. Maybe this is due to decades of poor or heterodox catechesis on the Sacraments. Maybe this is part of a grand conspiracy by Satan to destroy the Church (ok, probably not that).

    My overarching point in all this (as someone who receives comfortably in both manners) is that I don’t think common concerns with reception in the hand have been treated with adequate seriousness by many its defenders. I don’t think reception in the hand is destroying the Church like what some prominent leaders in the Church have implied, but this practice has still had wide ranging [and not entirely positive] ramifications in the Church over the last half century, far beyond the obvious choice of the individual communicant. These need to be taken seriously if one wants to effectively engage in these discussions with the likes of Cardinal Sarah and others.

    1. Dear Patrick,
      Reverence can be good if it opens us to God & neighbor and makes us more loving. It is bad if it makes us prideful/judgmental and distracts from more important things. I make no judgment about who is guilty of this- I don’t know most of the people by far and am in no position to judge. I do make the point that reverence, while important, is not the only or most important aspect of Communion. Some advocates of communion on the tongue, at least online, seem guilty of thinking that (however much more virtuous than I they probably are in their lives).

      There is so much to Communion. All of us are only grasping a hint of it. It is adoration of Christ, meal of fellowship, union with other communicants (hence the Church wants us to sing during reception), sharing in Christ’s self-sacrifice, mystical union with angels & saints, sharing even now in the heavenly banquet, having the life of the Risen Christ in oneself, a call to charity and works of justice and making real on earth the peace foreshadowed in Communion, etc.

      What if we were passionate about all that? What if our reception made us all more loving of one another, whatever our views on how to receive? What if our way of calling our fellow Christians to a higher way were based on loving example and not polemics? (I don’t direct this at you, I mean it to everyone on all sides.)

      Some of the online advocates of kneeling/tongue seem to focus only on adoration of the Real Presence – and now a cardinal has said that those who receive standing in the hand – most Catholics by far! – are on the side of Lucifer. This helps explain why this line of thought isn’t gaining much traction except on the right fringe.

      One could have “perfect” adoration of Real Presence in humble posture and, at least in theory, miss the point of Communion. I think proponents of tongue/kneeling will get a better hearing if they uphold all aspects of Communion. They would find many more areas we all need to work on than just their main focus.


      1. Fr. Ruff, I think we both agree that internal reverence is the most important aspect of this discussion (and therefore the ways each manner serves that) and I know many reverent people who do both. I guess my point is that regardless of our internal reverence (or lack thereof), the way we verbally and literally communicate our faith to others, especially our children, is still very important. In the context of the reception of Communion, this means a cognizance of both Church history and contemporary cultural nuances. The way we communicate the Gospel message is almost as important as the Gospel itself. The infamous coffee cup masses Dorothy Day describes in her book may have had good intentions behind them, but the way they appeared to trivialize the Holy Sacrifice of the mass lent no dignity to the then new Pauline mass. I similarly think Cardinal Sarah’s frankly ridiculous comments about Lucifer are draining credibility from his cause (one that I admittedly align with sometimes), even if some of his proposals are good ones.

        To be honest, I don’t really belong to either camp on this, and like you, I think the polarization on this issue is doing more harm than good. That said, there are dimensions to this discussion that I think are both valuable and haven’t been given much screen time overall. There’s no simple solution to this issue.

    2. Many of us would treat your claims skeptically as unsupported rumor and gossip.

      On ” … reverence for the Eucharist and belief in the Real Presence among Catholic laity has greatly declined …” I don’t think this has ever been proven. More people have received Communion in the past century. Do we have faith in the efficacy of the sacraments or not? Do we accept an experience of the Real Presence only when the externals and the lingo of 1950 are seen and heard?

      As for ” … decades of poor or heterodox catechesis on the Sacraments,” it seems more likely that catechesis has never been better, more Scripture-based, and more soundly theological. So what’s missing? The cultural backing. A situation that, in the US certainly, was not necessarily governed by external uniformity (given the varieties of ethnic piety and cultural practices).

      “Maybe this is part of a grand conspiracy by …”

      My sense is that if there’s something demonic in all this it is the Galatians moment in which many Catholics find themselves, especially those on the traditional side. Biting, tearing, casting aspersions on the faith of other Catholics: this is a damnable situation in the Church. The showing of tooth and claw by some traditional-leaning Catholics is a scandal that discourages neighbors, and puts a very ugly face on the Body for others to view.

      Please take responsibility for the lies, the bile, and the sinful stuff. Confess it and move on.

      1. Todd, yes, the Church as a whole is growing thanks to the great efforts of missionaries in Africa and Asia (many are now coming back here), and yes, more people are receiving the Sacraments now than ever. We should rejoice in that. But back in the West, where most of us at PT are from, the Church is struggling. Churches are closing, priests are dying off, masses young people are dropping their faith, and the Church is slowly slipping into obscurity in its own homeland. The causes are myriad and often interconnected. Was changing the mode reception of Communion one of them? IMHO no, contrary to what some real traddies may say.

        My simple point is that the individual ways our Church evolves over history have a significant impact on its life thereafter, often in ways we don’t expect. Just look at what making donating money an indulgence-eligible corporal work of mercy resulted in during the Renaissance. My three “hypotheses” were less well researched opinions on my part, they’re not (that last one was a joke on Cdl Sarah’s comments, sorry if that wasn’t clear), but simply launchpoints in an honest discussion on the impact of Pope Paul’s Indult, and the circumstances surrounding it, whether or not they hold any real merit. Take this from someone who receives in the hand sometimes, I would never do it if I thought it was enabling Lucifer to corrupt my soul.

        I wholeheartedly agree with your comment on another thread that this ongoing discussion is frivolous and is only causing needless division. I honestly get sick of it too. Our worship ought to create common unity under Christ, not destroy it.

      2. The symptoms are myriad–I certainly would assent to much of what you cite. I think the Holy Spirit was nudging people closer to the problem, which was already in evidence decades before the Council. Paul VI had a measure of it in 1974, and we hav emostly missed the wisdom of Evangelii Nuntiandi.

        The Church in Europe struggled mightily–and some might say in futility–against centuries of violence, sect on sect, nation vs nation. No wonder so many people there have given up on Christianity. The US might have been little-touched by the scorched earth of world war, and perhaps our feel-good stance astride the planet delayed the decay somewhat. Now we feel our affluence threatened, and the Gospel gives no comfort on that front.

        The problem is a lack of intentionality across the board, starting with the laity. What some call discipleship, others evangelization–new or whatever, or some speak of discernment and application of spiritual gifts. 95% of parishes shrinking, seminaries empty, young people disengaged: it will happen in Africa and Asia too when the culture of the secular West overwhelms the Third World. Unless there is a sense of discipleship rooted in baptism. Holt Orders cannot sustain the Church, no matter how much traditionalists preach priests are of the utmost importance. The Council was a start, but we have allowed ourselves to get sidetracked in silly and divisive banter. The wind has left our sails and many of us are adrift on uncertain seas. We have no nets to cast deeply. And some who do have lost their strength or nerve.

        I happen to accept the role of darkness within the Church, but it strikes me as being perpetrated all too often by those who style themselves the most faithful or loyal to God.

  5. Whatever procedure is adopted, care must be taken not to allow particles of the eucharistic bread to fall or be scattered.
    So it is not just tiresome traditionalists who worry about particles.
    I suspect that Christ can cope with particles that get dropped but the care we show, or the lack of care, is what counts. Look how military inspectors demand very high standards of care when inspecting barracks for cleanliness. We owe the Lord as much attention to detail.

    1. Sure, I’ll go along with that. The way you put it, it doesn’t sound obsessive-compulsive but salutary.

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