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Communion on the Tongue – One Priest’s Thoughts and Experiences – Part I

April 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Eucharist, Fr. Bryan Jerabek, Sacraments

One Priest’s Thoughts and Experiences
Concerning Communion on the Tongue
Part I
for post on 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.

Fr. Bryan Jerabek

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.

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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.

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About Fr. Bryan Jerabek

Father Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L. is a priest of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, currently serving as Rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Chancellor of the Diocese, and Judge on the Marriage Tribunal. He received his License in Canon Law from the Pontifical College of the Holy Cross in Rome. His personal blog is fatherjerabek.com. Besides his native English, Father also speaks Spanish and Italian. He enjoys traveling and so far has been to 18 countries. Father’s present favorite food is Spanish tortilla.

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  • Cornelius

    I share your thoughts entirely. Knowing how this practice of communion in the hand came about (through disobedience) and having to witness this malpractice at every mass in our parish church by 100% of those presenting themselves for communion. I, myself seem to be in a minority of one receiving on the tongue which some regard as somewhat quaint and old school harping back to the bad old days of having to fast from midnight and attend regular confession. My wife and I have witnessed a man dressed in black receive the communion host, turn on his heel and leave the church with the host firmly clasped between his palms. Our immediate thoughts were that it was going to end up at a black mass…horror of horrors. It all started in my opinion with what I regard as false ecumenism and the pandering to protestantism. I am nearly 70 years old now and still hanker for the good old days of the Latin mass, full churches, alter rails, kneeling for communion and sincere belief and respect for the real presence.

    • Jo Flemings

      The practice of receiving in the hand, objectively speaking, is an ancient one- whether or not in our time it is common because of some maleficent motive, I do not know- but it is not an innovation, in the true sense. Might be a type of recycling… ;o)

      • Cornelius

        Talking of ancient times….Communion in the hand was condemned at the council of Rouen in 605 because of the abuses that were happening back then. Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas….only the anointed hands of a priest should touch the precious species. To this I would concur.

    • Jo Flemings

      I hope you can find a Mass in the Extraordinary form near you! A lot of the younger priests are learning to be able to offer both- in the seat of my diocese we have a wide variety of options for both- beautiful!

    • Caihlyn

      Does the priest know about the person you have seen leaving the church without consuming the Sacred Host? If not, please tell him what you have seen. Let no one abuse the most sacred Body of our Lord. May the Lord’s mercy be upon them and convert their hearts to loving Jesus and trusting in His Mercy.

      • Cornelius

        I cannot say if the priest was aware that the host was removed without consuming, but in the past I have pointed out to him that non Catholics were presenting themselves and receiving communion during the bi annual invitation masses that are held at our church. He seemed thunderstruck at my mentioning this but did not reply. He knows who these people are but never refuses communion to anyone, even the Anglican vicaress! in her clerical garb. The manner in which these non Catholics do a one handed grab and some dunking the host in the chalice is quite shocking to my sensibilities. I have stopped attending these masses.

  • Philip George Regan

    Interesting article – personally I only receive the Eucharist on the tongue – if you are receiving the Body and Blood would you risk contaminating it with your hands or crumbs of Our Lord falling to the floor ? Moreover we have to remind ourselves the fantastic miracle and privilege of receiving Holy Communion – and how important it is to venerate Jesus at this time …. ~”My God- My God- My God – I Love you in the Blessed Sacrament.” As Our Lord commented to Saint Faustina ..

    “Wen I come to a human heart in Holy Communion , My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. … They treat Me as a dead object.
    – Our Lord speaking to St. Faustina (Diary of St. Faustina, 1385)

    • LizEst

      Good thoughts. I would not describe Our God as a crumb, though, not just for the verbiage but practically speaking because he is present completely is every piece of the Host.

  • LizEst

    Thank you, Philip George Regan. One administrative note, we have allowed it this time, but please keep your responses to 300 words. Please see our FAQ (frequently asked questions) and read over, in particular, question 4 and its subquestions here: http://www.spiritualdirection.com/frequently-asked-questions

  • BHG

    Good points. But my own experience is that the only time a host dropped toward the floor when I was receiving was the first time I received on the tongue. 🙂

  • Jo Flemings

    I have questions about traditional Church thought on conversion. Clearly, our people lack faith, but faith is not just something transmitted by way of explanation; and true devotion is not a rote practice, although I would think that practicing a sacred standard of piety certainly disposes one to greater potential for conversion. The improvement in demeanor for receiving the Blessed Sacrament has to spring from change of heart in our people- but how do we best achieve that?

    Is it better to try to strengthen everyone in a deeper love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, thereby hoping that conversion will then bring about more devout reception of the sacrament? Or do we address this from the angle of proper reception technique, believing that pious exterior practice will conform the heart to proper interior focus? Or is it all of the above simultaneously?

    And in OUR CURRENT CULTURE, it strikes me that telling people about loving God by explaining His great love for them, although these truths are the essential component of evangelism; I am afraid it will not give them all they need when it comes time to suffer well for the sake of that love. By suffering well, I mean, for starters on the smallest scale, mortifying our own inclinations and desires for the sake of reverence and piety in the Mass.

    There is a HUGE gap between what is understood by many of the ordained and a few of the faithful, and the larger whole of the faithful in the US today. I am not judging, I think our statistics and what you have observed here, Father, reveal that to be the case, not to mention the state of things in our ‘domestic Denmark’, so to speak.

    • Jo Flemings

      (Sorry, Liz! I think I blew over the 300 word limit! I’ll do better, I promise!)

      • LizEst

        😉 … domestic Denmark! never heard that before … but apt.

  • Jo Flemings

    I know this is wordy, but honestly, I had never heard this before about the angel- or maybe I read it one time a looooong time ago, and had since forgotten it. I knew the BATL prayer– I believe, adore, trust and love you and beg pardon for those who do not, B, A, T, and L… etc. but I really think this is a gift to me personally today with which I can encourage my young children to a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist. Children seem to naturally love the angels, and the stories about them seem to really resonate with them- thank you, Lord! And Phillip! And Liz!

  • Isobel

    Once when I was about 8 years old I went to the altar rails to receive Holy Communion. I kept my eyes closed as we did in those days and stood there with my mouth open and tongue extended. I waited for what seemed a long time when my brother dug me in the ribs. I opened my eyes and the priest had gone back to the Tabernacle to collect more hosts. I felt so foolish and for years I kept one eye open as I approached the altar. Then about 10 -15 years later we were told we could receive Communion in the hand. How I rejoiced, for now I could approach with more reverence rather than furtive anxious glances mind on not being in that early situation ever again. . BUT I even said to my parish priest at the time, should I receive on the tongue because I wanted to receive on the hand? He told me to accept it, to worry about whether I should or should not just complicated matters. 50 plus years later I am an extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and housebound. How blessed that is. If Christ comes to us we accept him in humility, dignifying Him. Poking the tongue out to receive never seemed dignified to me, as well as my fear of looking ridiculous again, so thanks be to God I may receive my precious Lord into my hands. Surely in the early church all received into their hands?

    • mon38228

      Surely not!

    • Bershawn300

      I think the main point of the article may have been lost. Perhaps another one might help? http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2014/03/truth-about-communion-in-hand-while.html#.WOA0AWe1vIU

      • Isobel

        Straining at gnats. We are taking the Lord into our bodies whether the hands or the mouth it is the same! Our attitude is what makes it important. He broke bread and gave it. If I am given anything I receive it into my hand and I give the Lord to others in my role as a extraordinary Minister. I am not convinced by any of these articles. I receive in reverence, not sticking my tongue out as if in mockery.
        Thanks be to God for coming to us in this way.

        • LizEst

          It is not mocking a doctor to stick out one’s tongue when he or she is examining a patient. Likewise, it is not mocking the Lord to receive the Divine Physician on one’s tongue…but, perhaps it is for you as you yourself have said. So sad.

          • Isobel

            It s not a gesture of honour either, it is a bodily function. And you chose to insult me by accusing me of dishonouring my Lord. Sad that. I now leave this conversation.

          • LizEst

            Isobel — You misinterpreted what I wrote. In fact, I indicated that you yourself consider sticking out your tongue mockery. You yourself said “Our attitude is what makes it important… I receive in reverence, not sticking my tongue out as if in mockery.” Your words, not mine.

        • Melissa Vaca

          Regarding extraordinary ministers:
          http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2008/11/01/questions-about-eucharistic-ministers/
          So many Catholics do not know the true position of the Church on so many issues.

  • Laurie

    I only received the Eucharist on the tongue for my entire life until the church I go to now. I had been taught that my hands had not been consecrated to actually touch the host. At this church that I now attend the priest always touches my mouth. Probably not a big deal and very common but I can’t seem to get it out of my head when walking up to receive communion. Am I opening my mouth enough? Should I kneel so it’s easier for him? etc. So, since it’s not out of the norm in my church (in fact, most receive in the hand) I changed to receiving in the hand and feel like now I can focus on what I’m supposed to be focused on – the Precious Body of Christ. However, at other churches, I go back to receiving on the tongue. I feel like a crazy woman even sharing this but it really became a big deal until I looked into the reasons why it’s okay to receive in the hand- with reverence of course- and was relieved that it was accepted. What’s a girl to do?

  • olhg1

    Decisions, decisions, decisions. Which European Roman Catholic customs to keep and which ones are to evolve. Revelation (Dogma, Morality) won’t change, even if some of the most prominently “progressive” influential Churchpeople seem to be.

  • Quiet Lurker

    This article makes some great points, and in a perfect world we’d all receive on the tongue. But I feel it is uncharitable to insist on the tongue if I have a bad cold. It is gross to have Father’s fingertips so close to the radioactive germ factory that is my nose & mouth.

    And the times I’ve gotten someone else’s saliva on my mouth because the priest or the extraordinary ministers have bad aim. Badly aimed fingers gets slimed and the yuck passes along the line of people kneeling. DOUBLE YUCK.

    When I have a cold I offer up the dirty looks when I’m kneeling at the communion rail of our (very conservative) parish with my hands extended. From the fear of all those holy people thinking I’m a heathenish Cafeteria Catholic, deliver me, Jesus. Besides, truly holy people are not watching what the other communicants are doing.

    I’m assuming Our Lord doesn’t mind a sinus infection nor carefully and reverently received Communion on the hand but He does mind irreverence, lack of love, or (God forbid) the presence of mortal sin on the soul He is entering.

  • Mary L Nelson

    Our parish has ‘brought back’ receiving the Eucharist on the tongue over about the last 18 months. At first we received this way standing, like those receiving in their hand, but this was very awkward for both the one parishioner and the priest. They then brought in two kneelers and this solved the problem. I love receiving on the tongue now. This, and other parish changes, has really brought a new level of sacredness to the Mass that has been missing for decades.

    • Julia Kinyon

      You’re lucky they let you have kneelers. They banned them in my diocese. ?

      • LizEst

        What diocese is that?

        • Julia Kinyon

          Sacramento (of all places)

          • LizEst

            Oh, the irony!

          • Julia Kinyon

            Yup. Please pray for us here! Only the places where the Extraordinary Form are celebrated are allowed kneelers at Mass. But for SOME reason, the Novus Ordo Masses cannot. ?

          • LizEst

            Prayers.

  • Julia Kinyon

    Amen! Thank you Father! I’ve been chastised many times for receiving (or wanting to receive) on the tongue. Very sad. And they wonder why people do as they do? It’s because they don’t seem to realize WHOM they are receiving and by the lack of reverence (and mystery) Our Eucharistic Lord deserves!

  • retiredconservative

    Thank you, father. I wish every parish priest and deacon in my diocese could read this.

  • http://www.renegaderadio.org/ William E Bauer

    In my parish we went back to the tongue while we were Anglicans Now we are Russian Orthodox and – there is no other way.

  • E.M.

    Thank you for this post. It was very edifying. My husband and I receive on the tongue, and reading posts like this helps us understand more about why we do it. I love that by receiving on the tongue, I am like an infant who must depend on a care giver to feed her. It is a tangible reminder of the goodness of God and my dependence on Him. He is this nourishment we must have to live, and in tenderness He feeds His children so we don’t perish! May our hearts be made open to this beautiful mystery.

  • Mark_OR

    Thank you for the post. I have heard and understand discussion both ways. given the option I choose on in my hands as I am much taller than most EM’s and would have to bend down considerably to receive on the tongue. Kneelers would be great but as our church is newer it would be impractical. Now I am in complete reverence that the creator would allow me to hold him in my hand even for and instance, like holding the infant, or better from a William Blake poem, holding infinity in the palm of my hand, The love shown from this one act bring me closer to Jesus.

  • Jennifer Lee

    Father, can individual priest require/request the laity to receive only on the tongue? I think it would set a good example if every on on the Alter received on the tongue. Referring to the alter boys and the extraordinary ministers, can the priest at lease require/request them to receive on the tongue?

  • Nighten Gayle

    For my First Communion, I wasn’t really sure how to receive, on the tongue or in my hand. The priest who Confirmed me helped me make the decision by placing it right in my mouth. He must have noted my pure amazement that I didn’t know what to do. From that point forward I have only received on the tongue. It’s a good thing because my knees are week every time I go up to receive. It’s bad enough that my hands are shaking when I take the chalice for the Precious Blood. God is good all the time. I am so thankful for the Eucharist.

  • marybernadette

    I remember hearing about a Rabbi, I think or maybe a Jewish
    person who entered a Catholic Church with a Catholic and said looking toward the Tabetnacle, Iif I believed God was there, I would be prostrated before Him. As you say, it’s the interior disposition towards the Blrssed Sacrament, of course, kneeling before Him in the Tabernacle and when receiving Him into our souls.

  • marybernadette

    Not too long ago, I had a strong sense that I needed to receive The Lord on my tongue. It’s good of course, to ask the Holy Spirit for Confirmation as perhaps it’s not from the Lord. However, I am at peace with it but try to make sure my tongue is positioned right to make it
    acceptable, not letting the Host fall or
    getting saliva on the Minister’s fingers

  • Nighten Gayle

    Are you referring to receiving by way of the host as well as the chalice? If so, I’ve never heard this. Of course, I’ve only been in Full Communion for about 10 months. But I have read the Catechism and that wasn’t addressed that I recall.

    • LizEst

      Yes, some parishes allow a person to first receive The Body of Christ…and then, after receiving The Body of Christ, to receive the Precious Blood. In some parishes, it is a long-standing practice. In others, it is only reserved for special circumstances. The Church has published specific instructions on this. Christ is totally and completely present: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity no matter what species one receives under.

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  • Mary Jo Gretsinger

    I am nearly 73 years of age. When I received my First Holy Communion back in 1951, there was no option as to how to receive – everyone received on the tongue. I was nineteen when the first session of Vatican II took place, and changes in the Mass began to be the norm. When it became possible to receive in the hand as an option in the States I tried it and liked it much better. I have been receiving in the hand and drinking the Precious Blood when ever possible, often times daily in parishes in the States. I must add that I spent nearly seven years in Rome as a student at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum. I received the STB, STL, and JCL. I then spent 22 years serving as a canonist for the Diocese of San Diego. Now for the past seven years I am serving as a lay missionary in the Archdiocese of Kaduna, Nigeria where I teach courses in canon law at Good Shepherd Provincial Major Seminary, and also serve on the Provincial Marriage Tribunal. Most people here receive on the tongue, but I usually receive in the hand, with no problems. I also serve as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Buona Pasqua = Happy Easter to one and all!

  • Kathleen Daley

    Fr Jerabek says a “a loss of faith in the Real Presence” is one of the reasons why Our Lord should be received on the tongue, which I take to mean that if the Church re-institutes tongue reception only then people will magically believe in the Real Presence. Wouldn’t constant proper teaching in a way that inspires faith be a better answer to the problem, instead of fixating on hand or tongue?! Jesus, the Bible tells us, handed the bread around to the disciples. Since it was good to Jesus then to place His Body in His followers hands, I’m sure its still good to Him now!

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