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Why Communion on the Tongue? Part II of II

September 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Christopher Carstens, Eucharist, Sacraments

Why Communion on the Tongue?
Part II of II
The Passive Action of Communion

Editor’s Note:  In Part I, Christopher Carstens introduced the topic of the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. Today, in Part II of the series, he offers three considerations for receiving the Holy Eucharist in this way.


Part II: The Passive Action of Communion

An ancient maxim of the Church teaches that “the law of prayer is the law of belief” (lex orandi, lex credendi). Belief and prayer—and prayer and belief—are integrally connected to one another. We pray, for example, in the name of the Father and of Son and of the Holy Spirit because we believe that God is one substance in three persons. Similarly, our belief that Jesus is truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament is deepened by humble prayer on our knees during periods of adoration (See CCC [Catechism of the Catholic Church] 1124 and Pius XII’s Mediator Dei 46-48).

This liturgical law clarifies the Church’s discipline regarding the reception of Holy Communion. Like most things liturgical—words, music, postures, time, ministers, architecture—the manner of receiving Communion should be understood and carried out in light of our belief. Our reception—whether on the tongue or in the hand—ought to reflect our Eucharistic faith and, at the same time, foster that same faith within us and in the Church.

So, what does the Church, and we as her members, believe about Holy Communion? While there are many (perhaps innumerable) dimensions to receiving the Eucharist, I find three particular notions enlightening to the question of Communion in the hand or on the tongue.

37.448First, in Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church,” the late pontiff offers a remarkable comparison between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Communicant. “There is a profound analogy,” he says, “between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived ‘through the Holy Spirit’ was ‘the Son of God’ (Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin’s faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine” (55). He goes on to liken Mary to a tabernacle—“the first ‘tabernacle’ in history” (ibid.).

If there is a lesson for the communicant, it is that, like Mary, our reception of Jesus is characterized by lowliness, humility, and docility.

laultimacomuniondesantateresamuseolazarogaldianomadrid for the post communion on the tongue part ii of iiA second consideration of Eucharistic Communion stems from the texts of the Roman Missal. At the end of the preparatory rites prior to the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest commands us to “Pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”

This notion of sacrifice, says Pope Benedict, is “a concept that has been buried beneath the debris of endless misunderstandings” (The Spirit of the Liturgy 27). While it is tempting to think of “sacrifice” as essentially pain, loss, suffering, and deprivation, at its heart sacrifice is union with God, divinization, and “becoming love with Christ” (76).

Consequently, if Eucharistic Communion is the fruit of Christ’s—and our own—sacrifice, that is, his action of selfless turning to the Father, our manner of reception likewise needs be characterized by our heartfelt desire to unite to God our entire freedom, memory, will, and all we possess (“Prayer of Self-Offering,”* St. Ignatius of Loyola, found in the Roman Missal).

SanLeocadioChristWithTheHostFinally is the amazing insight of St. Augustine. Recounted by Pope Benedict in his exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, “Augustine imagines the Lord saying to him: ‘I am the food of grown men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into me.’ It is not the Eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we who are mysteriously transformed by it” (70).

If we believe that this “mysterious food” (ibid.) has the power to change us—if we believe as St. Augustine and Pope Benedict believe—our manner of eating must signify such belief. Eucharistic food is “not something to be grasped at” but is received with humility and obedience (Phil 2:7-8). Only then will we be, like Christ, “highly exalted” (Phil 2:9).

The three above reflections offer a number of common elements relative to Eucharistic Communion: humility, docility, fidelity, selflessness. Which manner of receiving (the lex orandi) best expresses and fosters these truths (the lex credendi)?

Even though, as Pope John Paul acknowledges, Communion in the hand can be carried out with reverence and devotion; and even though reception on the tongue is no guaranteed symbol of fidelity and humility; Communion on the tongue is, all things being equal, the most suitable manner of reception.

In certain cultures, including our own, the bride and groom often receive from the hand of the other a piece of wedding cake at the wedding banquet. When done with love and devotion and faithfulness, the small gesture signifies not only the care one pledges to the other, but also the concern a vulnerable spouse can expect from the other. At the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, our humble reception of the fruits of his saving work likewise show our devotion to him, our Spouse, and express our abandonment into his care.


Christopher Carstens is Director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, instructor at Mundelein’s Liturgical Institute, and editor of the Adoremus Bulletin.


*The Prayer of Self-offering (commonly known as the Suscipe) of Saint Ignatius of Loyola can be found on page 1484 of the Roman Missal by clicking here.


Art: Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church (Central City, Kentucky) – stained glass, portal tympanum detail, I AM the bread of life, Nheyob own work, 6 June 2014, CCA-SA 4.0 International; Modified detail of The Annunciation, Bicci di Lorenzo, circa 1430, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; La [última] comunión de Santa Teresa (The (last) communion of Saint Teresa), Juan Martín Cabezalero, circa 1670, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Christ with the Host, Paolo de San Leocadio, 4th quarter of 15th century, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Christopher Carstens

Christopher Carstens is Director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, instructor at Mundelein’s Liturgical Institute, and editor of the Adoremus Bulletin.

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  • Marge Wilcox

    Interesting that this article appears at this time – for me anyway. Recently It has been on my heart to receive the Eucharist on the tongue. I don’t know where the thought started or why, but everytime I prepare to receive it’s as if I am being asked by the Lord Himself to consider how I am receiving. I will prayerfully consider the reasons laid out today and continue to follow the stirrings of my heart in regards to this.
    Thank you, Christopher

    Marge Wilcox

    • paulineo

      This is a subject very dear to my heart. I have been receiving Holy Communion on the tongue for at least the past 3 years, when I discovered, through reading, that this manner of reception in the PREFERRED way.
      Think about this for a minute: When the Extraordinary minister places the host on your cupped hand, you then pick it up and place it in your mouth. You “self-communicate”, which is forbidden! If the Apostles received Our Lord in this manner at the last supper, they were all priests, and were permitted to do so.
      I attended a funeral earlier this week, and the man who had died was a lapsed catholic since his childhood. He died at the age of 65, and for the previous 3 years had dementia. As far as I know, he had never been to confession. He and his wife had been married on a beach somewhere, and his wife rarely went to Mass.
      His son, who had been baptized as an infant, married a non-practicing catholic, on a beach. It is possible, and I hope, that the son and his wife had been to confession, in order not to commit a sacrilege, but judging from the complete ignorance in when to stand, kneel, in lack of knowledge of the responses, it looked as though they had not been to Mass in a very, very long time. Of course, I must not judge. But knowing the mother for a long time, and on one occasion managed to bring her to Mass with me, I have some knowledge of the family.
      Everybody receives Holy Communion, and in Fr Gobbi’s blue book, “To The Priests, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons”, Our Lady has said, ” Not a single Mass is celebrated, that sacrilegious communions are not commited.”
      There are very few catholics who believe in the Real Presence, that is why there is so much noise in our churches, no little acts of reverence such as genuflection, not even before the Blessed Sacament exposed for adoration. Many people, especially men, sad to say, do what one priest told me that he referred to, “the twitch”.. I am sure you have all observed it before Mass on Sundays, or weekdays. They don’t know what to do before entering the pew, so they make a “bob or half curtsy!”
      The reception of Holy Communion in the hand was an act of disobedience first started by nuns in the Netherlands. Read what Archbishop Athanatius Schneider has to say about it. It will sadden you.
      When did you last hear a priest inform you from the altar, on how to receive reverently on the hand. Did you know that you should genuflect or bow, prior to receiving the host.
      This sounds like a terrible rant, but I really want to inform you, if, like me, you did not know.
      Our Lord has already suffered for all these sacrileges during his passion, but in the “mystical body”, He still suffers and reparation has to be made.

  • Cheryl Nahas

    Aside from the need of reverence, humility, fidelity, fiat, etc. that is expressed here, the one thing not mentioned is remembering the careful, loving handling of the Host when it is placed in the hand. Since Christ’s body is in every particle of the Host, we see the priest ritually at every single mass making sure every particle of Christs body is gathered or brushed from the paten into the Chalice after Holy Communion, and again of the ablution of the priests fingers with water to make sure again that all of the particles are lovingly placed away. As a Eucharistic minister, we also engage in the ablution of the fingers into a watering bowl after we administer Holy Communion so as to catch every particle. In some churches the ritual of an altar server placing a Holy Communion plate under the chin to catch a fallen host or host particles is still reverenced as the priest places the Host on the tongue.(See Mother Angelica’s masses on EWTN.) As a EM, I am acutely aware there is a special reverence when placed on the tongue by the priest’s ordained hand. However here, sadly I often observe a disconnect with the reverence of consumption when a person taking the Host in hand to mouth casually walks away. How I wish, hope and pray that each person who receives makes the connection to the sacredness in what they too have just amazingly held in their own hands.
    God bless.,

  • LizEst

    “Open wide your mouth that I may fill it” (Psalm 81:11c)

  • Glenn G. Miller

    Well, I know how important it is to recognize Jesus’ true presence in both species of Holy Eucharist; I agree with all that is presented in these two parts from very holy Shepherds, and Devout Christian Friends, I am very grateful.

    I remember how humbled I was the very first time I served as Eucharistic Minister. I still am and I do contemplate the depth of this ministry. Often it comes in the form of remembering when God told Moses at the burning bush, “Come no nearer!” Yet here am I approaching God even closer than Moses… Mercy. Lord, please have mercy on me.

    Well, there are some practical matters too in presenting the Sacred Host to the tongue of the recipient. I don’t know that I will ever master this duty… I do the best I can where I am now as a Faithful Servant of God. Some of my brothers and sisters just don’t know how to present their tongue properly. Sometimes the tongue doesn’t come out at all, and their teeth don’t open very far either. One individual in particular is a challenge to me and it is so easy to bump the edge of the Sacred Host into her gums. My skills have improved into getting the Sacred Host at the correct angle and elevation to barely slip it into the very narrow space between her teeth. Sometimes she used to frown at me so bad after receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist… through lowly me… I am truly sorry.

    More often, somehow the recipients wet tongue contacts my fingers where their saliva has the opportunity to mix with other recipients later… not the best either. Transferring Jesus in the Holy Eucharist to the Christian hand does have its practical aspects. I don’t know all of the answers yet.

    May God help us as we partake in His Holy Gifted Treasure of Himself in this Beautiful self emptying generosity in which we are filled with His great Mystery which the whole universe cannot contain.

    With all my Love,

    Glenn G. Miller

    St. Patrick Parish, KCKS

  • bduncan2184

    Another argument for Communion on the tongue would be that in the Old Rite of Baptism the priest would often place exorcised salt on the tongue of the infant followed by the prayer, “take this salt in sign of wisdom. May it be for you likewise a token that foreshadows everlasting life.” Because the tongue is blessed at your baptism it is therefore considered the least profane part, besides one’s hands, for receiving our Lord.

    • LizEst

      Excellent point, bduncan. Yet, I wouldn’t maintain (and you haven’t) that the tongue stays pristine in that way. But, great point, nevertheless!

      • bduncan2184

        Correct, @LizEst:disqus. No I certainly don’t maintain that the tongue remains pristine, but it is an interesting practice nonetheless. God bless!

  • Christopher Carstens

    There have been some good questions here and elsewhere about receiving communion via “intinction.” Intinction given by the priest to the recipient–when the priest himself dips the host in the Precious Blood and gives the intincted host to the communicant on the tongue–is permitted in the US according to GIRM 245 and 285 and the USCCB’s Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under both Kinds 24 and 49.

    But the communicant is never permitted to receive the host alone and then intinct it in the Precious Blood himself, a practice often called “self-intinction” to distinguish it from the licit practice named above. See USCCB’s above-mentioned Norms at n.50.

  • Rose

    I have often wondered when on Holy Thursday Jesus said “This is My Body…This is My Blood”…how did the apostles receive Him? Did they pass the Body and the Blood to each other where each received Him at their own hand or did they receive from each other or did Jesus give each apostle individually His Body and Blood ? I have never heard an interpretation on this and so many times we go back to how the apostles did something…does anyone know?

    • blueforever

      The Last Supper was the institution of the Holy Eucharist and of the Priesthood. The apostles were all Priests thereby having consecrated hands which can touch the Eucharist. Technically only consecrated hands, chalices, monstraces…. etc. are allowed to touch the Holy Eucharist. The position of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion has been greatly abused. Just my two cents. I’m not a theologian. I started recieving on the tongue this year. Would like to get on my knees but no courage. Hopefully one day.

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  • Kirry

    I started receiving on the tongue about 2 years ago. I was looking for ways to show more respect for Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist. I dont think I could ever go back to receiving in the hands. I feel that we say and show with our bodies what we believe in our hearts. Our bodies often times say more than our mouths. Communion lines these days look the same as a line for a movie ticket and that makes we want to cry. So I decided to “be the change”. Some fellow parishioners have followed suit and that has made me happy. Sometimes it just takes one person to lead and others feel more comfortable following. I am not a leader by nature so this was hard for me but I felt called. I am grateful the Holy Spirit gave me the courage to step out in faith even if it is such a small matter. We have to start taking those leaps of faith in small matters before we can work up to bigger ones.

  • Andrew Pardue

    Ok the problem with this argument is that the conclusion is totally subjective in nature. In the end you present the reader with the image of the bride and groom feeding each other wedding cake. Of course, you have to qualify this by adding “When done with love and devotion and faithfulness,” because so many of us have also seen bride and groom playfully smash the cake (a sugary confection of little nutritional value, thus not life giving) in each others face. One might have taken most of your article and gone to the image of a victorian street beggar holding out their hand for a morsel of bread to sustain their life another day. Or for that matter an ancient Roman being feed grapes by their slaves. One could have then have drawn the complete opposite conclusion than you were going for. The beauty of the Church is that it includes, objective truth, subjective truths. All that is objective is in the Dogmas and Doctrines and the subjective is covered by her disciplines. The problem with the moderns and some traditionalist is that the moderns don’t believe in objective truth and some traditionalist seem to insist that all of it is. In doing so the traditionalist blurs the distinction between discipline and doctrine. So that when the Church changes her discipline from time to time the outsider or the casual believer is left with the idea that everything is up for grabs.

  • linda eaton

    I kiss my lord before consuming him. No other food receives this affection from me and he knows it.

    • LizEst

      Do you receive on the tongue?

      • linda eaton

        No. My tongue is no more holy than my hands. My tongue slips far more often than my hands.

        • LizEst

          Still, you do put the Lord into your mouth! Hmm, something to work on then! ; ) … for all of us!

  • marybernadette

    ‘Interesting as others have mentioned, I have been thinking of receiving the Lord on my tongue too. I believe this could be from the lord, so I will definitely pray about it.’

  • Giuseppe DePalo

    As a Catholic priest for 40 years, I don’t find communion on the tongue any more reverent than in the hand. Through the years I’ve had my fingers licked, bitten, have had false teeth fall down on my fingers, have had to put up with awful tobacco breath, colored tongues from candy or lozenges, and communicants trying to grab the host with their teeth. I’ve been conscious of the fact that sometimes my fingers would be wet with saliva from one person only to be passed on to the next communicant. Certainly, communion in the hand has its problems, too, but I would much rather reverently place the Sacred Host in someone’s outstretched hand than on the tongue.

    • LoloJim

      “Because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this sacrament.”— St. Thomas Aquinas

      • Giuseppe DePalo

        Corporals are not consecrated. Nor are priests’ lips, tongues, etc. Nor are ciboria, chalices, patens, etc. And what about the tongues, lips, teeth of communicants. Consecrated?

        • LizEst

          LoloJim is quoting Aquinas here. Perhaps he means blessed. Not sure. Ask the good Doctor of the Church! ; ) Sorry you’ve had so much trouble placing the Body of Christ on people’s tongues over the years. Smell of the sheep and all!

  • Vincenzo De Luca

    Brilliant explanation. Thank you so much for writing this article. I will share it right away and ask for it to be printed out and shared with the Bible study group I attend in Bournemouth in the UK. God Bless.

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