In an episode of The Vortex, Michael Voris spent over six minutes and probably 1,500 words talking about why Holy Communion should only be received on the tongue, and here were some of his points:
  • The ‘preferred and recommended’ method to receive Holy communion is on the tongue.
  • Reception on the hand is the exception, not the rule, and don’t anyone, including a priest, tell you different.
  • Reception on the hand has never been and never will be the preferred method.
  • Reception on the tongue demonstrates a profound respect and reverse for the sacred Species (the Body and Blood of our Lord), which is often sorely lacking in the practice of reception in the hand.
  • The only argument that the ‘in the hand crowd’ can muster is that ‘Early in the Church reception in the hand was the norm’.
  • Receiving on the tongue is a sign of respect.

Let me first say that I truly appreciate the ministry of Michael Voris, and all those who have a calling to call fellow Catholics into a more authentic expression and practice of our faith. I’m not picking on Michael here; just using his arguments that are common to the ‘on the tongue only’ crowd. Finally, I must admit that I don’t have a dog in this fight, I receive in both ways from the hand of the priest, but only in the hand when I am receiving from an extraordinary minister.

Indeed, the duty of the Catholic prophet is to call the people of God into the narrow parameters of what the Church teaches; and this is why you hear them admonishing Catholics who support abortion, contraception, homosexual marriage, and etc. The prophet can even go so far as to calling the people of God into a discipline that is even more narrow than what the Church has delineated; and within the confines of religious orders are where we see those strict disciplines more commonly expressed.

What I don’t appreciate hearing the prophet do is call the people of God into an even more narrow discipline than what the Church has clearly delineated, while simultaneously labeling and demonizing those who are without the narrow confines of the discipline, but still well within the parameters of what the Church expects. This bickering within the Church over the reception of the Holy Eucharist reminds me of those Baptists who insist that the only authentic Bible is the second translation of King James; as if the Word of God cannot be received outside of the Kings English.

Therefore, the first thing that I am going to do in this article is clear the air concerning what the Catholic Church actually teaches on the issue. I’m going to lay out the clear parameters here. While it is true that Pope Benedict XVI is famously on record concerning his preferred method of offering communion, and when you are in Rome you will receive as the Bishop of Rome desires you to, let us not confuse any Bishops’ preference, even the preference of the Holy Father Rome, with what the Church actually teaches. Pope Benedict XVI also once said, “I am not opposed in principle to Communion in the hand; I have both administered and received Communion in this way myself.” Then finally, I am going to briefly summate the Scriptural history of worthily receiving the Body of Christ and His prefigurements in the hand, and then in closing, I am going to refocus the bickering back to real issue.

What the Catholic Church Actually Teaches About
the Reception of the Holy Eucharist

1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the faithfully and systematical presentation “of the teachings of the sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in the Church and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers, Doctors, and saints of the Church”, which allows for a “better knowledge of the Christian mystery for enlivening the faith of the People of God” (Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum. On the Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2).

In other words, if you want to know what the Catholic Church actually teaches then go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to find out. In the instant case, concerning whether the preferred method of receiving the Holy Eucharist is on the tongue as the ‘on the tongue only’ crowd posits, well, it turns out that paragraphs 1384 to 1389 of the Catechism has a wealth to say in about how to prepare ourselves, the words we must utter, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, by only say the word and my soul will be healed.’ Cf. Mt. 8:8, how our body demeanor (gestures, clothing) should be for reception, and even where and when the Eucharist is best received, but it says absolutely nothing about whether the Sacrament should be received in the hand or in the mouth, nor does it say anything about whether we should be kneeling or standing.

2. Now turning to documents from the congregations of the Catholic Church, again, we find something other than what the ‘on the tongue only’ crowd preaches.
a. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Eucharist, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum: On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist:

    [92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, (Cf. Missale Romanum, Institutio Generalis, n. 161.) if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognition of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Dubium: Notitiae 35 (1999) pp. 160-161).

    [104.] The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter.

It is true here, as Michael points out, that it is a decision of the Bishop’s Conference of a particular region to allow for the practice of receiving the Sacrament in the hand, but the concern here is not on how it is given, but, rather, on that it is actually consumed and on profanation. Neither is there anything here that mentions any exception or norm. For within a real parameter everything within its boundaries is the norm, and there is no such thing as an exception. For example, on the highway the minimum speed may be 45 and the maximum speed may be 65, and within that parameter I can go any speed I so choose. It’s only when I decide to go below 45 or above 65 that I am making an exception for myself, or going outside of the established norm. In the instant case, reception in the hand, if so chosen by the Bishops’ is an accepted norm and well within the parameters.

3. Concerning particles – there are some Catholics who argue that the Sacrament should only be received by the mouth, in fear of particles from the Species falling/flaking off and not reaching the mouth. A few basic things that need to be considered here is that, (1) When the priest breaks the Species, there is no telling where those particles fly; and (2) There is no certainty that there aren’t any particles falling off between that time that the Sacrament travels from the paten to the mouth or hand. Responding to a Catholic who addressed this brand of concerns to the Vatican, Secretariat of State, Monsigniore Pedro Lopez Quintan, responded to him in this letter dated June 21, 2002 (saved from the website of Society of St. Pius X in the United States). I appreciate how the Monsignor ends his letter admonishing the writer to be more concerned about his love of Christ Jesus than any scrupulousness.

4. Concerning the difference between the priest’s hands and ours – the most confusing argument of the ‘in the hands only’ crowd is that only Catholic priest’s hands have been consecrated to touch the Sacrament. That is true, but it is also true that we have extraordinary minister’s (male and female), who are not priests, who also distribute both Species. More importantly, In Christ the Baptized ARE a consecrated PEOPLE, and a part of the baptized-non-ordained priesthood – equal in mission and distinct in ministry from the baptized-ordained priesthood (Cf. Jn 17; CCC 873).

Examples of Self Hand to Mouth Reception in Sacred Scripture

1. The Holy Eucharist/Passover Meal prefigured at Melchizedek’s bless of Abraham (Genesis 14:17-24):

    18 Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: 19 Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

2. The Holy Eucharist/Passover Meal prefigured at the first Passover is clearly a finger-food (Exodus 12:1-11):

    The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household. If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it. The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two door posts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It shall not be eaten raw or boiled, but roasted whole, with its head and shanks and inner organs. None of it must be kept beyond the next morning; whatever is left over in the morning shall be burned up. “This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD.

3. The Holy Eucharist/Passover Meal prefigured in the Manna in the desert, which the children of Israel collected by hand and ate by hand (Exodus 16:21-23):

    Morning after morning they gathered it, till each had enough to eat; but when the sun grew hot, the manna melted away. On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers for each person. When all the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses, he told them, “That is what the LORD prescribed. Tomorrow is a day of complete rest, the Sabbath, sacred to the LORD. You may either bake or boil the manna, as you please; but whatever is left put away and keep for the morrow.”

4. Then when Jesus celebrated the New Covenant Passover Meal with His disciples, there is every appearance of it being a Seder, in which those gathered would have sat on the ground, around a large rug, perhaps sitting on pillows, and they would have eaten the entire meal with their fingers. After Jesus broke the bread He would have passed it around, and each person gathered would have tore off a piece of the bread with their own hands and consumed it – the Body of Christ. Certainly they were New Covenant priests, but the point here is that Christ as the High Priest did not place His broken Body onto their tongues Himself (Luke 22:13-20):

    Then they went off and found everything exactly as he had told them, and there they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it (again) until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you (that) from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.

5. Ok maybe not the best example, but here at Seder Jesus clearly places the intincted host in the hand of Judas, not in his mouth (John 13:26-27):

    He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it. “So he dipped the morsel and (took it and) handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

I raise all of these counter arguments for receiving in the hand, not to take sides on the issue, but, rather, only to debunk the claim that the ‘in the hand only’ crowd has only one historic argument to stand on. Now that the playing field is even, I move to address the real issue here.

The Crux of the Matter – Due Reverence

    “The most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand. The history of the liturgy, however, makes clear that rather early on a process took place to change this practice.

    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” (Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff – Communion received on the tongue and while kneeling).

Let no one be mistaken, the Holy Eucharist is serious business in the Catholic Church. No other Christian community believes what we do about the Sacrament, and no other community loves Jesus the Holy Eucharist as Catholic do. No other Church has even come close to writing, teaching, preaching, adoring, and parading the Sacrament as we have. We are protective of His Body and Blood, and we cherish every consecrated drip and particle of Him.

Nonetheless, as the Church has clearly pointed out throughout history, that the issue of concern here is one of reverence – reverence – reverence. How does the Church go about ensuring that the people of God rightly discern and properly receive the Body of Christ? One solution has been to communicate the seriousness and Holiness of Holy Communion through ritual. As I wrote in Finding God through Ritual, “ritual is a comprehensive action that is performed to convey a meaning that is intended to either be permanently impressed upon the mind of participant or to serve as a veiled mystery.” I also talked about how the weakness of ritual is that it provides for no guarantee that the participant will discover the mystery, because it works from the outside in; and although it will always reach the body, it may or may not ever reach the heart or brain. So when Catholics are compelled to perform a ritualistic action, without being frequently instructed in what the purpose of that action is, the ritual becomes vain and empty. Anyone can say Lord Lord or receive the Species on the tongue or hand, and still not know or be known by Christ.

Indeed, proper reception of the Holy Eucharist is a matter of the whole self – the mind, body, and soul alone. If you truly love and revere our Triune God and you truly know that Jesus IS the Holy Eucharist; that it is His real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and you are worthy to receive Him who has come to you as the Holy Sacrament, then approach your God with the degree of reverence that your maturity in the faith has brought you to. Only you know your relationship with Jesus, so do not accept the judgment of anyone who is basing it off of your external gestures and appearance; for, God sees your heart and man cannot. And don’t be ashamed, scandalized, or embarrassed to receive it in the hand, just because you heard that it isn’t proper. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t respect the Lord because you aren’t as scrupulous as them. Rather, simply believe that Jesus is the Holy Eucharist, and embrace the gift of free-choice that He has given you to either love or hate Him, just as He came 2,000 years ago to give away His Body to those who loved Him and hated Him. That you did choose rightly to love Him and now desire to love Him better is evidenced by your participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Therefore, choose again to receive Him as your heart desires and within the parameters of the Church who is His Bride.

If you practice this little thing frequently, you will discover that the true mystery and beauty of the Mass is not in receiving, but, rather is in sending. Indeed, you may have come to the Mass to receive the Lord, but He came so that you might give Him away. Now go in peace to love and in serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Related Links:

  • What is the correct Posture for Receiving Communion, Dioceses of Madison Catholic Herald
  • The Red Herring of Communion in the Hand