One Priest’s Thoughts and Experiences
Concerning Communion on the Tongue
When I was a child and preparing to receive my First Holy Communion, I remember being taught to do so the traditional way: on the tongue. In fact, if memory serves, we received Holy Communion via intinction that first time i.e. the priest carefully dipped the host in the Precious Blood before placing it on our tongues. (We were further instructed to allow the host to dissolve and not chew it; I believe this was very practical advice, for if we chewed it particles might have gotten caught in our teeth, which could then fly out if we coughed, sneezed, or just talked.)
Ever since that important day in my life – though there were many years when I did not go to church in-between – I have always preferred to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. It just seems right. And even now, as a priest, on the occasions when I simply attend Mass in choir, I still receive on the tongue.
In fact, once I was ordained and started reflecting at much closer range, so to speak, on these things – reflections often connected with practical matters, like how to distribute Communion well and efficiently, how to purify the sacred vessels properly, etc. – I went from having a personal preference against Communion in the hand to having serious misgivings about it for more objective reasons. I also started to be aware of the fact that many other priests shared these misgivings as well.
From the lack of reverence that many people show when receiving in the hand (oh, the stories!), to the dirty hands that they present… From the particles of the Sacred Host that most certainly end up on their hands and on the floor (Lord have mercy!), to the real possibility of theft for malicious purposes (which has happened in many places)… Communion in the hand has become something that greatly distresses me. I do not deny that the Church allows it – in the United States, at least – but I do not think that it is an advisable choice for us to make.
Regarding the very widespread practice of Communion in the hand, there are also particular problems with children receiving that way. Besides the fact that they frequently have dirty hands from playing before (or during!) Mass, they also often lack coordination and judgment: it has happened several times that children have dropped hosts that I placed squarely in their hands, due to their movements or a lack of attention.
I remember preaching about the proper way to receive Holy Communion in the hand on one occasion, in particular: about the need to form a “throne” with one’s hands, to consume the host right away, and then to check for particles on the hand, and so forth. And I noticed exactly zero change in how people approached and walked away from the Communion line at that very same Mass! It seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Why did it fall on deaf ears? I think it is because there has been a loss of faith in the Real Presence. Few Catholics would openly deny this dogma with their lips; but in practice, we see it denied all the time. I think this teaching has become something kind of “magical”, if I may put it that way: Christ is sort of mystically present in the host, but he’s not worried about crumbs. Even if such an erroneous belief is better than not believing in any sort of Real Presence, no matter: it is erroneous, not at all what the Church teaches.
Father Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L. is Rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama and is Chancellor of the Diocese of Birmingham. He blogs at http://fatherjerabek.com.
Editor’s Note: In Part II, Fr. Jerabek discusses whose hands are consecrated for handling the Blessed Sacrament, what other priests and bishops think of the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand, and provides recommendations (and links) for further reading.
Art for this post on Communion on the Tongue: Partial restoration of San Carlo Borromeo comunica San Luigi Gonzaga (St. Charles Borromeo communicates St. Aloysius Gonzaga), tapestry by unknown artist, photographed by Giovanni Dall’Orto, June 22, 2007, copyright holder allows use for any purpose, provided copyright holder is properly attributed, Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Fr. Bryan Jerabek used with permission.