Cardinal Sarah stirred the pot last week when we said that receiving communion on the hand was a “diabolical attack” on the holiness of the Eucharist. Catholic Herald reports on his words here.

Cardinal Sarah wrote:

Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?

“[Receiving kneeling and on the tongue] is much more suited to the sacrament itself. I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this manner. In my opinion and judgment, this is an important question on which the church today must reflect. This is a further act of adoration and love that each of us can offer to Jesus Christ.”

Someone argued the point and said, “Where does it say in the Bible that you should receive kneeling and on the tongue?” Half joking I replied, “What about Philippians 2:10-11 which says, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.'”?

I say half-joking because although the verse is not referring to the reception of Holy Communion, it is still making the more general point that we honor the Lord and submit to him through the physical signs of kneeling and confessing with our tongue publicly.

I remember when my Protestant mother once asked my newly Catholic brother why he genuflects when he goes to church he quipped, “Because the Bible says ‘every knee shall bow’ I’m just getting some practiced.”

The problem, of course, is that receiving communion standing and in the hand is actually permitted, so it remains a matter of choice. As to kneeling to receive, some dioceses have policies that forbid the installation of altar rails and call for the faithful NOT to kneel and receive communion. It seems as difficult and pastorally tricky to enforce this as it it is to forbid people to pray the Lord’s Prayer at Mass holding hands or praying in the orans posture. (with hands extended)

A traditionalist priest may find himself in the tricky situation where he ignores the instruction to forbid kneeling to receive communion while enforcing the prohibition on laypeople praying using the orans posture.

So, if you come forward in communion and kneel to receive and the priest or minister tells you to “Get up we don’t do that here.” Don’t be too annoyed. It could be that in that diocese there is a prohibition on kneeling for communion and he is just doing what he’s been told.

Although receiving on the hand is permitted, I am noticing that an increasing number of Catholics are receiving communion on the tongue, and I think this is a good thing for several reasons.

  1. It increases reverence for the Holy Eucharist
  2. It is less likely that a non-Catholic will receive communion in this fashion.
  3. It requires a little bit of humility to stick out your tongue
  4. It decreases the possibility of profaning the sacrament by being dropped on the floor, stuck in someone’s pocket who doesn’t know what it is, etc.
  5. It sets Catholic Eucharist apart. Non-Catholic Christians (usually) do not receive on the tongue.
  6. It is a deep connection with the tradition of the ancient church.

Which leads to the question, “Is it early church practice to receive on the tongue or the hand?” A quote from St Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century has become famous as a defense for communion in the hand. He instructs:

When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen.” (Catechesis mystagogica V, xxi-xxii, Migne Patrologia Graeca 33)

However, my friend Taylor Marshall explains the context and the wider teaching of the church fathers on the subject in an interesting post here. It seems both Pope St Gregory the Great and Pope St Leo the Great are on record calling for the faithful to receive communion on the tongue.

I’m on their side. In our parish we allow people to choose, but we certainly remind them to receive reverently and to make a sign of reverence before receiving. I’m going to also begin some catechesis and recommend that our faithful receive on the tongue.

Finally, here are some practical tips for those who wish to receive communion on the tongue:

  1. Signal your intention by keeping your hands together in a prayerful position.
  2. Open your mouth wide. Make your mouth into a landing pad, not a quarter slot.
  3. Stick out your tongue. Don’t be embarrassed.
  4. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Sticking out your tongue will insure that his hand doesn’t come into contact with your teeth (or lips – gross!)
  5. Please do not chew the Holy Eucharist. Let it soften in the mouth and then swallow. By doing this, you’ll avoid having the smallest particle of Our Lord stuck in your teeth where it might be desecrated later by coming into contact with the profane.