The Affirmative Argument for Receiving Communion on the Tongue


A recent post at the site Roman Catholic Man has focused a great deal of attention on the manner in which the faithful receive Communion. As any discussion regarding the Eucharist is a discussion about Our Lord Himself, the importance of this topic cannot be overstated.  Bishop Athanasius Schneider recently noted that we are experiencing the fourth great crisis in the history of the Church, and our casual and “banal” treatment of the Eucharist is the greatest sign of this crisis.  

Now is indeed the time to revisit the topic.  Putting aside opinions and personal preferences, let us objectively discuss this matter of paramount importance.  Unfortunately, all too often it is viewed as the third rail of liturgical discussions.  But it need not be this way.  

The argument in favor of the traditional practice of receiving Communion on the tongue is indeed an affirmative one:

For over a thousand years the faithful of the Roman Rite only received communion on the tongue while kneeling.  

It is true that some communities in the early Church received the Eucharist in the hand; however, the universal practice of only receiving communion on the tongue is evident by the eighth century and remained until the 1970’s.

Indults permitting communion in the hand were an innovation of the Seventies to accommodate those countries who had already initiated the practice illicitly.

The majority of eastern rite churches have never permitted the faithful to receive in the hand. For that matter, the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in the Roman rite also does not permit reception in the hand. 

Rome has continuously instructed the faithful on the merit and universality of the traditional practice for as long as the indults have been in place.  As recently as 2008, the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff stated:

“From the time of the Fathers of the Church, a tendency was born and consolidated whereby distribution of Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is two-fold: a) first, to avoid, as much as possible, the dropping of Eucharistic particles; b) second, to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”

Belief in the Real Presence has steadily decreased for forty years as the posture of kneeling has been lost. In his seminal work “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prophetically noted that “the man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered…” (p. 194)  

Thankfully, the faithful need not wait for the indults to be lifted in order to recapture this venerable practice. Holy Mother Church has given her children ample instruction on the matter. Pope Benedict provided us extensive catechesis on this subject, most particularly by his personal example at papal masses.

Clergy need not wait either. There are parishes today reinstalling communion rails in order to recapture this sacred tradition. Others are simply bringing in kneelers for the faithful to use during Mass in order to recover this posture of reverence and adoration.

Cardinal Antonio Canazares Llovera, when he was prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said it best when he noted that receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling “is the sign of adoration that needs to be recovered (by the Church)…we cannot lose a moment as important as that of Communion, of recognizing the real presence of Christ there.”

Posted on April 11, 2015, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. stephen decesare

    one should be receiving the Eucharist reverently and worthily. how is secondary.

  2. This is a great piece! It should be shared more! Thank you for all your articles! May the Lord bless this ministry.

  3. Hi .i want to make a trifold handout about church etiquette. How to behave, what to do, like bless urself, genuflect upon entering pew, bow in the Creed , arrive early to pray , stay till end and pray a prayer of Thanksgiving u guys have something with this info. I would like to cite references though, like for example in the GIRM parragraph # says….

  4. I disagree with your assumptions that everyone who receives communion in the hand is being irreverent. IF done properly with your hands forming an appropriate altar on which to receive the body of Christ. then it is every bit as respectful as receiving on the tongue. The problem is that too many people want to just reach out and grab it.

  5. Irene Budness | September 7, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    God bless you for all you are doing to bring back and to teach those who have no clue as to what beauty we had in the Traditional Latin Mass. Our customs of the past brought reverence as we knelt before Our Lord to receive him in the Sacrament of His love.There is everything right about kneeling and receiving on the tongue.

  6. Maybe the return of the tabernacle to the center of the main altar will suggest a more positive presence of the Lord. Too long now, the priest has been the center of the Mass. You can forget about kneelers. I haven’t been in a Catholic Church since the ’70’s which has them. Abuse abounds when the Holy Eucharist is “handed” to someone. Not the way it’s supposed to be. You will hear the argument that the Apostles were handed the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Those Apostles were priests ordained by Christ himself.

  7. We are blessed by the Lord Jesus Himself when we receive both His Body devotedly and eagerly in our hands, and His Blood from the cup. This is how Jesus ordained it at its institution on Holy Thursday. Anything less, theological gymnastics and pretzel twisting notwithstanding, is less than the fullness of Jesus in His Body And Blood as given unto us. We are the Church militant, the integral part of the Body of Christ. It’s taken two millennium for the faithful to finally be recognized again as equal, worthy, and chosen to sit at His banquet as were the Apostles, who as I recall, we’re not priests when they sat at the Last Supper. Didn’t their ordination, such as it was, occur at Pentecost? When he commanded them that as often as Ye do these things, do them in Remembrance of Me, He didn’t tell them to have everyone else knell devotedly, and stick out their tongue, and no wine for the unwashed and theologically ignorant masses of sheep of His flock. I guess if you think rails, tongue and kneeling are what makes the Mass real, well that is fine and good for you, and those who thinkand/or believe as such. But that doesn’t make it Dogma or necessary for salvation. I would just simply ask that you not try to drag the rest of the faithful back to a time and practices we are all happy to have seen go out of the Church when Beloved St. JohnXXIII Introduced “Aggiornamento” at Vatican II.

  8. I believe that taking the Most Holy Body of Jesus Christ in your hand is much closer to the way that Jesus instituted this sacrament during the Last Supper. The Church has spent a lot of time and effort changing the image of the supper with Jesus. We kneel in thanksgiving to God when we arrive back in our pew. Taking Communion on my hand is so much more meaningful to me. He also gave His Body to one of the worst sinners of all time.

    • Thank you for commenting but I have to disagree. In actuality, the gospels never states how the apostles received (hand or tongue). Also, just because the apostles received in the hand doesn’t argue that we should. Today’s bishops, through holy orders and their consecration, are the successors to the apostles, not you and I. Finally, as I lay out in the article, the organic development of this discipline resulted in the Church abandoning communion in the hand over 1,100 years ago. The Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff (at the Vatican website) states why the Church stopped distributing in the hand: a fear of lost Eucharistic particles and a loss of belief in the Real Presence.

  9. What’s the matter LG? Truth hurt?

    • Let’s keep it simple Jimmy. Intelligent comments that actually further the conversation stay. Anti-Catholic, anti-clerical, and historically inaccurate comments gets deleted. Understood?

  10. As a Roman Catholic, I believe that when I receive (eat) the Host, I am eating the Whole Jesus, not just His Body or just His Blood. When I drink from the chalice, I am drinking, not wine or blood, but the Whole Jesus. The Church’s use of synecdoche (part for the whole) in expressing the Truth, can be confusing when the liturgical texts are analyzed.

  11. I Miss the Old Church
    E. A. Santoro

    I am sure some people feel the way I do; this is my opinion.
    I miss the old church tradi-
    tions. I remember when we
    used to walk into a church
    and the men would remove
    their hats and the women
    would cover their heads.
    The lighting was subdued
    and the noise was on the
    level of silence. The statues were illuminated; people were kneeling and praying at a railing between them and the altar.
    One could feel the mystery of our religion and the reverence toward a divine being.
    We could sense this was God’s house; we came to ask Him for a favor, or to ask for something we need through prayer.
    I would go to confession before Mass.
    After confession, and doing my penance, I would get this immaculate feeling, I was almost floating, if I was
    struck by lightning I felt I
    would go straight to Heaven.
    Before each Mass and be-
    fore the priest entered the
    sanctuary a bell was rung
    and everyone stood-up.
    The Mass was said in Latin
    and there was an aura of
    mystery about it. The Host
    was taken on the tongue while we knelt at the railing
    and we knew it was the
    Body, Blood, Soul and Di-
    vinity of our Lord Jesus.

    Today it is a different am-
    biance as you enter the
    church. The church is
    fully lit, people are stand-
    ing around talking and
    laughing, women do not
    cover their heads, no bell is
    rung, Mass is in English,
    the Host is mostly taken by hand, and the procession of toilet goers begins and continues throughout the Mass. In the old days, I never knew they had toilets in churches.
    Today, when the Mass begins, we are serenaded by a five or six piece band. Possibly including: a
    couple of guitars, piano,
    drums (with cymbals), and a fife.
    The people sing and clap
    their hands to the music.
    When the priest begins the
    Transubstantiation the
    symbols demonstrate the
    “Doppler Effect” just be-
    fore it happens, I feel like I
    am at a Broadway play.
    Mass has become more like
    entertainment than glorify-
    ing God.
    I guess I am being judg-
    mental; that is one of my
    most sinful faults.
    As I was kneeling, during Communion, I was impressed by the
    number of people lined-up
    to receive the Body and
    Blood of Christ; I guess the
    people are coming be-
    cause they like things the
    way they are. I think Jesus deserves more than what we offer; the constant revising of the liturgy leaves me asking “Why?”
    I sure miss the old days.

    • Liberty Prosper

      E.A., I sure do miss it too. That’s why I go to Latin Mass. Weekend Masses in most parishes is banality you describe. But some parishes have a quiet and mostly reverent daily Mass, except for the nonsense of “Eucharistic Ministers” and no patens and not using an altar rail.

  12. Annette Petrone

    Thom Beran, your idea of our hands being “altars” receiving Jesus is ludicrous! If your idea has any merit, then we ought to sit while the Gospel is proclaimed – our laps can become the receptacle for the Word of God.

  13. I honestly believe that receiving Holy Communion on the tongue communicates something far deeper than reverence, it communicates both dependence and great love. Consider what “types” of people are fed in such a manner. Three come to my mind, small children, those incapacitated by illness, and the beloved fed by the lover. Up until the time I was in high school, we had always received communion on the tongue from either a priest or a deacon. I’ll be honest, the demand that we receive communion on the hand, and subsequently from the laity seemed very disordered to the very point of disordering our relationship with God. I can only say, having returned to the faith and the sacraments, I have to accept, that before God, I am all three of these “types” of people. Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue is a communication before God that I rejoice in my dependence and His great love and kindness towards me.

  14. For completeness sake: the cardinal’s name is Antonio Cañizares LLovera

  15. In the Eastern Rite they give communion by intincture. (The Host is dipped in the Sacred Blood then the priest (“feeds his sheep”) on the tongue. I think just as in the natural order of things God has given lay men and lay women the gift of procreation which is a special gift within their voccation. So too should lay people when receiving Communion allow a priest to “feed his sheep” This is a special gift given by God to His priests and we should not rob our Priests of this gift either by giving ourselves Communion after the priest places it on our hand. Or by receiving Communion from a Eucharistic Minister. There is a line from the Lord of the Rings in the first movie. It says That above all else men desire power. I think on the unconscious level people want to be Eucharistic Ministers because they desire power. I think that is also why people receive Communion on the hand. Lay people would feel scandalized and betrayed if priests were participating in conjugal acts that are reserved for married couples. We should be scandalized by ourselves for not allowing our priests to fully do what they have been called by God to do. We as lay people have enough responsibility and gifts from God taking care of our families. We do not need to overstep boundaries and preform the Priests duties. Those are gifts and responsibilities given to him by God.

  16. Ahhhh, yes!

  17. What about being denied The Holy Eurcharist on the tongue during the pandemic? It is the Universal Right of the Church, but Priests are refusing to “allow” Catholics to exercise that Right.

  1. Pingback: The Affirmative Argument for Receiving Communion on the Tongue – sanctusdominusdeus

Leave a Reply to liturgy guy Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: