Strange to say, it was in the Middle Ages, "the Ages of Faith", that Communion was less frequent than at any other period of the Church's history. The Fourth Lateran Council compelled the faithful, under pain of excommunication, to receive at least once a year (c. Omnis utriusque sexus). The Poor Clares, by rule, communicated six times a year; the Dominicanesses, fifteen times; the Third Order of St. Dominic, four times. Even saints received rarely: St. Louis six times a year, St. Elizabeth only three times. The teaching of the great theologians, however, was all on the side of frequent, and to some extent daily, Communion [Peter Lombard, IV Sent., dist. xii, n. 8; St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, Q. lxxx, a. 10; St. Bonaventure, In IV Sent., dist. xii, punct. ii, a. 2, q. 2; see Dalgairns, "The Holy Communion" (Dublin) part III, chap. i]. Various reformers, Tauler, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Vincent Ferrer, and Savonarola, advocated, and in many instances brought about, a return to frequent reception. The Council of Trent expressed a wish "that at each Mass the faithful who are present, should communicate" (Sess. XXII, chap. vi). And the Catechism of the council says: "Let not the faithful deem it enough to receive the Body of the Lord once a year only; but let them judge that Communion ought to be more frequent; but whether it be more expedient that it should be monthly, weekly, or daily, can be decided by no fixed universal rule" (pt. II, c. iv, n. 58). As might be expected, the disciples of St. Ignatius and St. Philip carried on the work of advocating frequent Communion. With the revival of this practice came the renewal of the discussion as to the advisability of daily Communion. While all in theory admitted that daily reception was good they differed as to the conditions required.
Frequent communion was the prerogative of the few. Lady Margaret Beaufort received only monthly, and even so was considered something of a prodigy. For most people receiving communion was an annual event, and it was emphatically a communal rather than an individualistic action. In most parishes everyone went to confession in Holy Week and received communion before or after high Mass on Easter Day, an act usually accompanied by a statutory offering to the priest. Only after the completion of all this was one entitled to break one's Lenten fast and resume the eating of meat.
Both laypeople and members of religious orders felt increased reluctance about a sacramental reception that would, because it placed God objectively in their mouths, damn them if any element of their spiritual intention or preparation was flawed. The faithful were urged to encounter with eyes where encounter with lips was dangerous and rare, to 'eat' by seeing. By the thirteenth century, we find stories of people attending mass only for the moment of elevation, racing from church to church to see as many consecrations as possible, and shouting at the priest to hold the host up higher.