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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.”

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