When I was at school in the early 1980's I used to go to mass in the morning and benediction in the evening in the church of St. Mary, Harvington. This is course is part of the famous shrine of the English Martyrs at Harvington Hall in Worcestershire. There the Jesuit lay-brother St. Nicholas Owen built the ingenious priest hiding places, while the Franciscan St. John Wall ministered for some years to the flock there.
At that time we all trooped in from school to the rather grim Novus Ordo mass on Sunday morning, where we use to sing the dreadful Coventry Gloria, and the host was handled by all and sundry as if it was nothing really special. In the evening however at benediction Father Tucker used to treat the blessed sacrament with greatest care, kneel with reverence and wore the humeral veil to hold the monstrance. As a result for several years in my ignorance I used to think that the host used was completely different from what we received at mass! This boyhood error was only later corrected by the good monks of Downside Abbey.
I mention this anecdote to show how much the principle of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi matters! Children gain their main understanding of Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist not from catechism classes but from what they see at mass! It shows that the practice of communion in the hands has done more than anything else to weaken faith in the real presence.
Communion in the hands may have existed in the early church at one point, but it soon stopped because it was realised that it led to too many abuses and irreverence. It was then reintroduced by the Protestant reformers to emphatically deny the real presence. And it was later brought in as a completely unauthorised innovation by the bishops of the Netherlands in the 1960's. Of all the liturgical reforms brought in the wake of Vatican II, this was one that Paul VI himself opposed: he tried to ban the practice in Italy, but with only limited success for a few years.
Why was it introduced? For the same reason as Luther and Calvin did: to implement liberal theology into the hearts and minds of the faithful, particularly that of Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Kung. It can be expressed in some sentiments I have heard: we do not approach the Eucharist as if we are coming to a feudal lord. We do not be fed like babies: we eat like adults! In other words, we do not believe that what we are receiving is God himself, the word made flesh, under an appearance of bread and wine. Instead, in sharing bread and wine 'Jesus the man' comes among us, and makes us feel good.
In effect, communion in the hands has had the effect of reviving among the faithful not only the heresy of Luther, who denied the real presence, but also the heresy of Arius: Jesus Christ is stripped of his Godhead. Bread and wine do not become God, who makes us 'feel guilty' about our sins by the re - enactment of his sacrifice of the cross, nor do we kneel down in profound adoration as unworthy sinners. In treating the host casually we have a new faith and a new theology whose primary and real aim is to reconcile christianity with the culture of death.
Recently Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary to the Congregation of Divine Worship, has called for a review of the practice. In truth, there is only one thing that should be done, and that is for communion in the hands to be stopped completely. Unfortunately, any attempt to do so will almost certainly lead to a wholesale revolt among bishop's conferences if not outright schism in certain places. Below is a photograph of the 1962 mass at St. Mary's, Harvington today, now a regular centre for the extra - ordinary form of mass.