On Canonical Digits and Eucharistic Particles

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“Why does the priest keep his index fingers and thumbs together after consecration?” It’s no doubt a question that some Catholics are asking themselves as an increasing number of priests return to this traditional liturgical practice.

The answer is simple. They do it out of love for Our Lord. They do it to prevent the loss of Eucharistic particles through carelessness. And while the rubrics for the new Mass do not require it, more priests are embracing the historical practice which is required in the traditional Mass.

Answering this very question a few years back, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (blogger Fr. Z) explained that:

…what the priest is doing, by keeping his index and thumbs together, is consistent with what priests have been required by the rubrics to do during Mass after the consecration. Priests are still, in the Extraordinary Form, required to keep index and thumbs pressed together at the “pads”, as it were, lest any recognizable particle that might have adhered to the fingers were to fall some place outside the corporal (the square linen cloth spread out on the altar on which the chalice and Hosts rest). This is also why, after the consecration, the priest was to keep his hand as much as possible over the corporal.

Fr. Z continues by explaining a practice which I recently discussed in another Liturgy Guy post:

This is also why it is good during Mass when the chalice is uncovered for the priest gently to rub his fingers and thumbs together over the chalice, for the sake of letting particles fall into the chalice rather than elsewhere. It becomes habitual and it takes no effort or delay to do it.

Bottom line: when you see a priest keeping his index fingers and thumbs together after consecration, and until purification (following the distribution of Communion), he is doing so to prevent the loss of particles. He is doing so out of love.

This is also why it’s imprudent for priests to pat childrens heads, or make the sign of the cross on someone’s forehead with an index finger, when they come up during Communion. By keeping the pads of his fingers together he can still impart his blessing without risking profanation of the Eucharist.

Returning to Fr. Z, he explains that while these gestures are not required by the rubrics of the Novus Ordo:

  • It is a good thing to do anyway.
  • First, it makes sense. Second, it’s what priests do.
  • Some will object that this practice seems fussy or even – gasp – scrupulous.
  • I respond saying that recognizable particles remain the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of the Lord. I think the Eucharist deserves our care and attention.

He concludes with this compelling argument:

I am a sinner, but when I come before the Lord for His judgment He won’t tell me I was careless with the Him during Mass. Shame on those priests who are careless.

Let us hope that more return to this venerable practice. Protecting the Eucharist from profanation should be something that all priests practice, regardless of form or Rite.

[Photo credit: Brent Hohman]

Posted on January 4, 2018, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Sister Bridget prepared us for First Communion when I was in second grade. (Good Lord. That’s 75 years ago). She taught much about the Mass, including why the priest held thumbs and forefingers together. She related the events of St. Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary to America. The saint was captured by the Mohawks, tortured, and they cut off his thumbs and forefingers. Unable to say Mass, the saint sailed back to France and had his bishop re-consecrate other fingers so he could hold the Sacred Species properly. He returned to America.

    • Timothy Danaher

      The Indians didn’t just cut them off, they chewed them off. Even after this torture he went back several years later to convert these tribes. What a great example of love and perseverance for the salvation of the souls.

  2. Aren’t the priests’ whole hands consecrated at ordination?

  3. I am an extraordinary Eucharistic Minister and I do likewise, because of the same reasoning.
    I also do not impart a blessing on children or adults who cannot receive
    With the other 3 digits I touch there forehead and say “May Jesus bless you “

    • Michael Mercer

      Surely as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion you cannot give any type of Blessing to a Communicant.

  4. One time when I received Communion in the hand the priest gave me a part of the broken host and a few small particles crumbled off in my hand. I saw them and did the only thing I could think of and raised my hand to my mouth and licked off those pieces. That was about 18 years ago and was one reason why I stopped receiving in the hand.

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