Dutch prelates began administering Communion in the hand illegally after Vatican II; American prelates obtained permission deceitfully for this liturgical abuse in the '70s; and clerics worldwide are in violation of Rome's conditions meant to control the practice.
The first notion to dispel is that Vatican II called for the practice of Communion in the hand. Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, former secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship (CDW), dispels this myth in the preface to the book Dominus Est—It Is the Lord, written by Bp. Athanasius Schneider Astana, Kazakhstan.
In the preface, Ranjith writes,
I think it is now time to evaluate carefully the practice of Communion-in-the-hand and, if necessary, to abandon what was actually never called for in the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium nor by the Council Fathers but was, in fact, "accepted" after it was introduced as an abuse in some countries.
The abuse to which the cardinal refers was introduced principally in the Netherlands by such prelates as Cdl. Leo Suenens of Belgium and Cdl. Bernardus Alfrink of Holland.
Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, prefect of the CDW in the late '60s when this liturgical abuse began, wrote in his memoirs of these incidents in his massive tome "The Reform of the Liturgy, 1948–1975."
On page 640 of this work, Bugnini includes an excerpt from the Vatican's liturgical commission— the Consilium — addressed to Cdl. Alfrink in 1965 that reads,
The traditional way of distributing Communion is to be maintained. ... The Holy Father ... does not think it proper that the Sacred Host be distributed in the hand and then received by the faithful themselves in one or other fashion; and therefore he urgently asks the Conference [Netherlands] to issue appropriate regulations so that the traditional way of receiving Communion may be everywhere restored. ... [Bugnini goes on to say] these and other reminders did not have any effect.
The prelates of the Netherlands, including Suenens and Alfrink, in response to the Vatican's call to obedience claimed they were unable to stop Communion in the hand from spreading in their own dioceses.
The Catholic Church had a longstanding liturgical law that said Communion must be given only on the tongue. So Seunens and Alfrink asked Rome for an indult (special permission) that would allow Communion in the hand to be legalized. They did this instead of complying with the Holy Father's order to stop allowing this abuse to continue.
Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise, retired bishop of San Luis, Argentina, on page 39 of his book Communion in the Hand: Documents and History, wrote,
On May 8, 1968, three years after telling the hierarchy of the Netherlands to stop Communion in the hand, these same prelates asked again to receive the indult (or special permission to do it). Rome again said no ... this time via the Sacred Congregation of Rites with the words "non expedire"... in English ... "It is not expedient."
There was considerably more back and forth between the Vatican and Netherland's prelates, trying to get them to stop the liturgical abuse — all to no avail.
This was the historical setting for Pope Paul VI to order the CDW to write the instruction "Memoriale Domini," which reaffirmed Rome's desire that the practice of Communion on the tongue be retained and the abuse of Communion in the hand not to be spread.
But the instruction included a stipulation that in a location where Communion on the hand already prevailed (principally at the time the Netherlands), the bishops could by secret ballot and with the consent of a two-thirds majority of bishops, petition Rome to legitimize the abuse.
Rome would grant permission for the practice, but only with a set of seven conditions that must be kept when using their permission. The American bishops — under the leadership of Cdl. Joseph Bernardin — would later go on to circumvent these permissions in order to impose Communion in the hand in the United States.
Watch the full episode: "The Download—Communion in the Hand.”