Communion in the Hand: What is the History? [UPDATED]

The book by Enrico Zoffoli, Communione sulla mano? Il vero pensiero della Chiesa secondo la vera storia del nuovo rito – “Communion in the Hand? The True Mind of the Church according to the True History of the New Rite” – was published in Rome in 1990. In it, the author attempted to demonstrate that communion on the tongue was in use in Rome in the 5th-6th century and passed from there into the regions of Gall in the 7th century.

Zoffoli’s book was soon reviewed in Ecclesia Orans by Matias Augé, longtime professor at the Benedictine pontifical liturgical institute of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, and more recently a member of the commission appointed by Pope Francis to examine Liturgiam authenticam and the issue of liturgical translation. Augé shows that the author’s historical claims are not supported by the sources, and raises critical questions as well about the author’s methodology.

Pray Tell offers in translation Augé’s review of Zofolli, in the hopes that it will be a constructive contribution to the discussion which has recently arisen: “Concerning Communion in the Hand” by Matias Auge.

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Pray Tell Readers will also be interested in Fr. Augé’s recent blog post covering much of the same territory: “La distribuzione della Communione sulla mano: storia o ideologia?” (“The Distribution of Communion in the Hand: History or Ideology?”). (Let Google Translate work for you and you’ll have a pretty good translation – that service is getting better and better.)

Augé’s post is especially interesting because it addresses the historical errors in the recent book La distribuzione della Communione sulla mano by Federico Bortoli. It is this historically inaccurate book for which Cardinal Sarah wrote the preface that has recently aroused controversy.

Featured image: Institution of the Eucharist, Giusto di Grand (Joos van Wassenhove), active c. 1460-1480.



  1. It’s very interesting that the change in reception took place during the time of the change from leavened to unleavened bread. The author argues, the reason for this change was to protect against dropping the particles of unleavened bread that cling to the hands. This makes sense to me considering what St. Cyril of Jerusalem said about the care one should have when receiving communion in the hand — to care even for the particles because they are more precious than gold dust. Since we are still using unleavened bread, it can be argued that we should continue the practice of communion on the tongue. Even if it were a 9th century development, it agrees with the mind and spirit of the Fathers prior to the 9th century. It preserves in essence the reverent reception of the Eucharist as described by them more than our contemporary practice.

    1. Well no, that’s not quite what the author argued. You seem to have shoe-horned his varied statement into the mold of the position you held before reading the piece. Read it again. The author argues that there is a cluster of things which came together in the Carolingian era to bring about changes which he clearly does not think are all to the good, and surely not the mindset of the Fathers. “Respect becomes distancing!” the author writes, with exclamation point for emphasis. Statements like that might have helped you grasp his argument better.

      “We should continue the practice of communion on the tongue…” – well, we can’t very well continue a practice not used by most Catholiccs for nearly 50 years now.


  2. I know tradition and history are important considerations, but we also need to read the signs of the times. The times we are living in have more and more virulent viruses that only require a small amount of viral material to infect. We also have the issue of the “ super bugs” that are resistant to almost all antibiotics. To engage in a practice where there is significant potential for contact with another person’s potentially infective body fluids ( saliva ) and then carrying that to the next orrson in the communion line is dangerously irresponsible. I have observed this happening. Just recently I had a conversation with a priest who told me he often encounters this when someone wants communion on the tongue: his fingers come in contact with someone’s tongue. Bless him that he says he will then reach down to his alb to wipe off his fingers, but that is not a totally effective way to sanitize the hand. Believe me I know because I worked as a clinical lab scientist in hospitals for 40 years. Bad hand sanitizing is a big issue in hospital contracted Infections. The cup is surprisingly not as big of an issue because of the presence of alcohol in wine and IF the EM’s are trained to wipe the cup properly. I know a microbiologist who studied this extensively. Also the CDC has apparently studied it. Imho, we should not engage in the practice of communion on the tongue for any reason because of the serious potential for spreading disease.

    1. Many thanks for posting. A wonderful read. An object lesson in the art/science of review.

      There’s a typo in the dates for Pope Eutychian (275-283).

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