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Communion on the hand or on the tongue?

Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s book argues for reverence for the Eucharist and concentrates the mind wonderfully

By on Thursday, 24 February 2011

A priest handing out Communion at Mass

A priest handing out Communion at Mass

This is a question I had not thought about until recently: is it more reverent to receive Holy Communion standing and in the hand or kneeling and on the tongue? The reason I pose it is because I have just come across a most moving and scholarly little book that makes a powerful plea for the latter mode of reception. It is called Dominus Est – It is the Lord! by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who was the auxiliary bishop of Karaganda, Kazakhstan and is now the auxiliary of the Kazak capital Astana in Central Asia. (I add these geographical details because until I read the book I had not heard of Karaganda and although I had heard of Kazakhstan I had only the vaguest idea of its whereabouts.) It is available from Gracewing for £5. 99.

I guess that my question is a polarising one: on the one side are almost all the faithful who attend the Novus Ordo Mass; and on the other is the eloquent, passionate and often learned minority who attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I have friends in both camps but my own practice is to worship in our local parish church in the Ordinary Form. At the same time, I have always knelt to receive Communion on the tongue. Why? Because I could see no good reason to change the practice I had been taught as a child.

Reading Bishop Schneider makes me think that perhaps I was also clinging to the idea of a reverence that I did not think I would feel if I changed my custom. It so happens that I have rarely attended Mass where there have not been altar rails or at least a place to kneel and the priests I know have always made it clear that parishioners are free to choose either mode of reception.

Yet reading this book has concentrated the mind wonderfully, so much so that there now seems only one answer to the question I posed at the beginning of the blog. Bishop Schneider does not provide liturgical arguments in favour of the Extraordinary Form of Mass (though I suspect he is sympathetic to it); he simply asks, what is the reverence that is due to God at the supreme moment of our Communion with Him, and how do we properly show it? He begins with an affecting personal history: the story of three ‘Eucharistic women’, his mother, his great-aunt and a parishioner, all of who taught him by their example of “extraordinary love, care and the greatest reverence possible.”

The Schneider family, along with other German Catholics, were exiled after the war to central Asia. There they struggled to live their Catholic Faith, far from a priest, parish or church. A visiting priest once allowed the Bishop’s mother to have a consecrated Host to give to her dying mother; for this she wore new white gloves, held the Host with tweezers and burnt the envelope in which it had been kept. His great-aunt was allowed to retain a Host to display secretly for an hour’s adoration on the nine first Fridays of each month before reverently consuming it. The lady parishioner travelled several hundred miles every year to receive a pyx containing consecrated Hosts, which she would distribute on Sundays in her hidden ‘parish’ for 30 years.

In the second part of the book, the Bishop provides scholarly references to the Church Fathers and the saints concerning reception of Our Lord kneeling and on the tongue. He includes a quotation from Fr Faber while still an Anglican, deeply impressed by the sight of the Pope in the Church of St John Lateran in 1843, as he “descended from his throne and knelt at the foot of the altar…a scene more touching than I had ever seen before.”

The book’s preface is written by Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He writes: “It is now time to evaluate carefully the practice of Communion in the hand and if necessary to abandon what was never actually called for in the Vatican document, Sacrosanctum Consilium.”
Bishop Schneider himself concludes: “The Church must be reformed, starting with the Eucharist!”

There you have it; and I am at last able to give reasons for clinging to an old habit other than an inchoate sense that it was appropriate.

  • Jonathan

    Recently I was lucky enough to attend Mass at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Manchester. The ordinary form of Mass was celebrated with great reverence. They still have an permanent alter rail across the sanctuary and almost all the people received Holy Communion kneeling. I normally stand because everyone in my parish does but seeing so many people kneeling before the Body of Christ really helped deepen my faith in this Sacrament and encouraged me to greater reverence.

  • Anonymous

    I am lucky enough to usually attend an Oratorian church where communion is always received kneeling, and so now it feels presumptuous to do so otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with Mother Theresa on this one…It’s the saddest thing in the world to see communion in the hand.

  • IanW

    The advent of the Ordinariats gives an interesting perspective on this issue. Anglicans – including Anglo-Catholics – are used to receiving kneeling, accepting the wafer reverently in crossed hands.

  • nineinthemorning

    When I came to the church back in 1994 I was taught by a very reverant priest. Bowing & Genuflecting when entering / crossing the sanctuary and Holy Communion kneeling. I see no reason not to continue this wherever possible. I know the Lord is always with me and that my lifestyle should reflect my faith everywhere but I would like to think that he appreciates that there is a time and place where I show him the reverance and awe he is due. After all he is the same God yesterday, today and forever so as well as being at the relaxed last supper he is the God who dictated the levitical laws and was worshipped in the temple.

  • Jana

    Bishop Schneider talking about communion on the hand:

  • Brad

    Kneeling and on the tongue, although altar rail has been removed before I was born. Thanks, swinging hipsters.

    PS to my fellows: why are so many of us bowing to the altar when our Lord is in his tabernacle nearby? When present, He takes precedence over the altar, so we must genuflect in His direction. The altar pales at that time, no need to acknowledge it, really. Can, but not at the expense of genuflecting toward His location.

  • B nasca

    Just a thought…………if you look at Scripture, Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples. He didn’t
    put it on their tongue. Isn’t that action just as meaningful? bwn

  • Mary

    I live in the United States, and I was fortunate to have attended a parish for many years that offers the novus ordo mass, but never removed and never stopped using the communion rail. I currently attend the extraordinary form mass on Sundays, but daily mass I attend the n.o. and I always receive on the tongue.

    I was raised protestant and I still have family members who attend various protestant churches. I always find it rather ironic that my Methodist relative receive communion kneeling, which to them is just a symbol, while in Catholic churches all over the same area people are receiving the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus in their hand and standing.

  • J

    I kneel, ever since a courageous priest on the Feast of Corpus Christi gave a bold homily exhorting us to do this. That was six years ago and I’ve always knelt since (even though in the two parishes I’ve lived in since, everyone else stands, receives in the hand, and even, one person I saw, pockets the host and walks out of the church with it).

    Once I was told by a priest at a parish in Washington D.C., as I knelt before him, “We stand here.” He then turned away from me and ignored me until I stood up. It wasn’t a face off or anything; I didn’t try to besiege him kneeling. But he made it clear that he wasn’t going to let someone receive communion kneeling.

  • Jackie Parkes

    The Brigittine Sisters & Carmelites stand & receive on the hand!

  • Emptyness

    I agree absolutely with you, my dear friend B. If we are to follow what we were told, who better than Jesus Himself? Did He put the bread on the tongue of His disciples…?

  • LeFloch

    Communion in the hand was brought in as a result of disobedience. In 1969 Paul VI issued Memoriale Domini, after consulting with the Bishops of the world. The Instruction noted that the bishops were overwhelmingly against the innovation and that the traditional manner (on the tongue) should be retained. However, a failure of nerve on the part of the Holy See allowed areas which had introduced the practice to petition for its retention. Areas which had never known the custom also exploited this loophole. The end result was a situation where parishioners could be angrily denounced for the ‘crime’ of kneeling and receiving on the tongue (as I was by a parish priest). Those loyal Catholics were accused of pride in ‘knowing better than the Church’ in an Orwellian reversal of the truth.

  • Jsokola

    I’ve seen other sources that dispute this. We don’t know for sure how Jesus gave His body (no longer bread but under the appearance of bread) to His disciples at the Last Supper.

  • Charleswoodbury

    In the 60s & 70s our bishops and priests systematically destroyed most of the reverence for Jesus in the tabernacle, and also in the Blessed Sacrament, then wondered why some 70% doubt His real presence. So it will rightfully be bishops & priests that make His house once again a house of prayer, through the power of our rosarys, prayers, and hours of adoration.

  • Anonymous

    …to whom did Our Lord give His Body & Blood?
    His Apostles – so this argument is a non-sequitur as to how we should receive.

  • J

    Yeah. One often gets the impression that the baby boomer feels that she must prove how holy God is and how sinful she is by categorically rejecting any and all effort to glorify him.

    Humble, in a perverse way, but ultimately motivated by an ideology that is not Christian.

  • Anonymous

    …and Al Capone was good to his mother!!!

    Jackie: St Augustine and St Francis de Sales both went birdhunting; so that makes bloodsports ok?

  • J

    Also, what kind of Mass are you going to, B nasca? Are you also sitting at a dinner table and is Jesus at the middle, holding up a piece of bread with John leaning his head on him, à la da Vinci? I assume all this is happening at your parish.

    I also wonder if you notice the other significant difference between the times when Jesus walked the earth incarnate and the times when he has humbled himself to submit to the disrespectful treatment of his people in the form of bread. If the spite of his people crucified the incarnate Lord, then what role do we play when we handle his body and blood with less care that that with which we kiss our newborn sons and daughters?

  • Christina

    This is appalling. What have you done about this person who ‘pockets the host and walks out of church with it’? Have you reported this to the officiating priest?

  • D Dethlefs

    Makes no sense at all.

  • J

    Perhaps not, but neither do we insist on going up to the altar after the consecration and sticking our hand into the bowl to prove to ourselves that it’s really him, which your appeal to the apostles equally sanctions.

    Why not, like John, another apostle, climb up on the altar and lay our heads upon the priest’s chest while he says the words of consecration, while we’re at it?

    To take further out of context our exempla, why not deny Christ three times before his enemies (a thing which he himself tells us elsewhere will result in his denying us before the Father)?

    There’s no limit to the license we can permit to ourselves by plucking Scriptures out of their context.

  • J

    It happened right in front of the officiating priest.

    I stood with the other servants warming my hands at the fire.

  • Fred

    The Apostles were the first Bishops and Priests, so basically their hands were consecrated. Be that as it may, I will defer to the Apparition of Our Blessed Mother at Garabandal, Spain, where She stated that our Lord was very much displeased with Communion in the hand. There was a miracle of a Host appearing in mid air before the visionary, and turning to flesh on her tongue. This was done in front of many witnesses. Enough proof fo me that “Private Revealation” or not, I will listen to our Mother’s revealation from her Divine Son!

  • Jackie Parkes

    Paul..what’s wrong with blood sports?

  • Brad

    But as a Catholic I am not sola scriptura. There is too much good Magisterium (about 1960 years) between that night in the cenacle and me on Sunday. Do I think say…Sts. Joan of Arc or Catherine of Siena…received in the hand? No. And I am a much ranker sinner than they ever were, so there we go.

  • J

    I’m sorry for the aggressive sarcasm. I don’t suppose you were trying to be as imperious as I am. It’s an innocent and appropriate question.

  • PhilipH

    But as far as I know very few if any Anglicans receive Communion on the tongue – I certainly didn’t when I was one. As for kneeling – that’s not possible in our local mass center at the moment as there is no altar rail. We hope to be able to put one in eventually, but as the diocese won’t lend us any money, we’re saving up.

  • Highlander

    I have seen people put it in their pocket for later. An afterthought, if they feel peckish later that Sunday afternoon, perhaps? On the tongue, received immediately, and with true grace.

  • Anonymous

    Odd, this – I live in a large town, and normally we celebrate Mass in the Ordinary form and recieve Communion in the hand. The only time I’ve ever seen people recieving it on the tongue is at high Church Anglican cathedrals.
    I’m grateful for this article – I wasn’t really aware of the difference before now. I’m still not sure that it matters that much – better the best form in which we can make it, but I’m sure God will take whatever in the spirit in which it is recieved – if a pious Catholic takes Communion not knowing the difference, I don’t think it matters which way they recieve the Sacrament.

  • Anonymous

    I have struggled with this myself. I have always believed it was a matter of reverence. However, I have more recently been swayed by the argument of the tearing of the curtain in the temple, not to mention the fact that Jesus himself did not segregate himself from the people whilst on Earth. This along with the good point B nasca makes about the last supper means that I have been probably worrying about this for no reason.

    However, I am not going to sit on the fence on this one. I accept that it is more than permissible to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the hand, however, I prefer to kneel at an alter rail purely out of choice, because despite the fact that I can stand I genuinely want to kneel.

    I wish to go a step further. I do not believe we will ever go back to Latin although there are many things that were ‘disposed of’ at Vatican II (by ‘those’ liberals) which need to return. These include altar rails, the crowning of Mary, the processions of Corpus Christi, presentations of scapulars, the singing of the Salve Regina after mass or adoration, even the Prayer for England could be restored after Mass.

    These are all simple things that have been lost, but only take a few seconds/minutes which would bring a significant amount of reverence back to the Church.

  • Martin

    Whilst i have to admit that recieving on the tongue looks more reverent, isn’t it the heart attitude that should matter the most regardless of which is preferred? Some people may not like someones elses fingers in their mouth. It doesn’t mean they are any less reverent.

    As to standing or kneeling, as a ex protestant it was the normal practise to kneel. Now that i am a Catholic i stand! This is what bothers me the most and what makes it reverent or not. Surely one should kneel in the presence of the King of Kings and Lords of Lords?

  • Chris Moore

    I agree with you, the Eucharist is a sacred meal – ‘Do this in memory of me’. The sacred body and blood can received both reverently and safely (i.e. without the contamination of germs being passed from one mouth to another). If we all follow the example of Jesus, as I believe we are meant to, there would be fewer arguments and intricate rules about how we should or shouldn’t do things. I recall that Jesus was none to impressed with the people of his day who followed the minutae of ritual and yet were hypocrites and sadly there are many Phiarisees in the Church today. Keep it simple, follow the example of Our Lord and you can’t go far wrong.

  • Thomas

    Reverance begins and ends interiorly!

  • Elleblue

    I have attended the new mass most of my adult life and am now in a parish where things are a bit more traditional or should I say more reverent!

    We all receive communion on the tongue, standing or kneeling, but on the tongue. I love this! I firmly believe the priest is the only person who should be touching the host.

  • Shamshir

    I’m sorry but where have you been for the last fifty years? “In hand or on the tongue” is THE question of the post-Vatican II Catholicism. Anyway, for me the choice is clear: on the tongue and preferably kneeling. The reasons are many but – to avoid a lengthy discussion of them – it is clear that nothing bad can result from choosing this option (except, perhaps, catching an occasional virus which you can get anyway from your own hand after shaking strangers’ hands during the Sign of Peace…).

  • Sandra

    Praise God, Old St. Mary’s Church in the inner city of Cincinnati has retained the altar rail and the practice of kneeling. When I attend somewhere else (usually for daily Mass), I genuflect before receiving.

  • Ratbag

    erms?????? For the love of Ada, Chris Moore! Are we back in the TARDIS to the early 1980′s now, when I knew one of the many silly people who would not take the chalice for fear of catching AIDS or – in the present day – Swine Flu????

    Get a grip, people!

    The chalice is purified before being passed to the next communicant (and I, for one, am scrupulous about this) and there IS a way of placing the Sacred Substance on the tongue without passing on any perceived infection.

    If more communicants were as scrupulous and concerned about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ Our Lord in the form of bread as they are about germs, the Church would be better off!

    Showing (over)due reverence to Christ in the Sacred Substance by kneeling down is not only our ultimate opportunity to show reverence and respect to Christ but it is also practical and efficient. I would personally like to see the Altar servers use the paten beneath the communicant’s chin as well as the communicants kneeling to receive the Sacred Substances. Lately, I retrieved the Body of Christ from the church floor after it was dropped because whoever received it was in a hurry to place it in the mouth!

    There is a difference between rituals performed by ‘pharisees’ for the sake of show … and rituals of respect directed to the Lord our God.

    Mr Moore – if the Queen were to give you a knighthood or a medal, you are briefed by a member of her staff on how to bow/curtsey, when to bow, how to bow, and how to walk backwards etc. etc. Failure to comply would have you put on YouTube for your 15 minutes of fame. You’d be the talk of the country, if not the world.

    As for how to treat Our Lord, many people are sadly lacking….

  • Dan Mcneill

    The idea of receiving our Lord in the hand can only be due to the new age conception that communion is a symbolic gesture as opposed to the Real body and Blood of our Savior. The protestantizing of the Mass(Novus Ordo) via Vatican II, where protestants were present and involved in consultaion. This goes back the the hereseies of the early church where the divinity of Christ was questioned. Sadly, the lay members have accepted this without question. Most are not adequetley informed in the history of their church.

  • Ratbag

    Erms… meant to be ‘Germs’

    Sorry for the typo!

  • Ratbag

    You need help, bud!

  • Ratbag

    I read reports about church cleaners sweeping up the Host from under seats. If I saw someone put the Host in their pocket, I would not hesitate to tell the priest. It is our duty when we see this abuse go on to tell the priest.

    Where are these people going with the Host in their pocket? I heard (and it is true) that some people walk up to Holy Communion, take the Host in their hand and it ends up being abused at satanic rituals or other heinous abuses.

    Mother Theresa is right, paulpriest… it is the saddest thing in the world to see communion taken in the hand. I am an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and the only one who takes the Sacred Presence on the tongue and I ask God to forgive communicants who treat the Sacred Blood like one of those tasting tables at Tesco…

  • Ratbag

    Amen, Amen, Jonathan! No wonder that beautiful church is full!

    If that doesn’t send a clear message to our priests and bishops, nothing will..

  • Ratbag

    How about some sound and steady prie-dieus (single kneelers with arm rest), like they do when The Holy Father does an open air Mass? Sadly, with so many churches closing, there are bound to be good quality altar rails and prie-dieus at second hand church suppliers… if that helps!

    There is one church I know which bought a reclaimed stained glass window from a church that had to be demolished. The window made use of natural light in a vacant part of his church. It looked beautiful in its new home and the sun shone through it. It added awe and reverence to what was otherwise a modern building…

  • Ratbag

    Oh, how I agree with you, Charleswoodbury!

  • Ratbag

    These little things mean a lot, MJCarroll, and would make a huge difference. The Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel was also recited… why on earth haven’t we brought it back??? The Prayer for England, too.

    Heaven, do we need them!

  • Ratbag

    Pray for that errant priest, J. He did wrong.Christ knows he did wrong and is waiting for said priest to explain himself.

    Another priest I knew did this to another parishoner.

    What is it with them? Whose house is it anyway?

  • Brad

    It is a grace from above that we respond to; does not originate in us. And once it is kindled within, we respond to it by “suddenly” desiring to revere Him, and to do so properly. The properly part is the visible signs e.g. genuflection. Thus it does not end interiorly, it ends externally. Thus reverence, an actual grace, to use CCC language, does not begin nor end interiorly.

  • Mary Pinnock

    Receiving on the tongue is definitely much easier and safer when holding a baby. It was therefore the habit I adopted approximately 12 yrs ago as an “Anglo-catholic” new mum. I miss kneeling now I’ve been Received into the Church, but now I’m confident I’m receiving Christ – For real! It’s confusing though, I receive in the hand from one Preist who I know doesn’t like to adminster on the tongue and I must admit I’m not so sure of receiving on the tongue from Lay Eucharistic Ministers because they sometimes don’t seem so confident administering in this way. I was worried to begin with about not fitting in by doing things differently to everyone else but one of the things I like about how it’s done in our local parish is that reverence is expressed in different ways.

  • Anonymous

    Any time this subject is debated, I notice these little jibes from the alleged liberals, about reception on the tongue – in your case “some people may not like someone else’s fingers in their mouth” – nasty.

    Nobody’s fingers go into anyone’s mouth. Unless you are subjected to the scandal of lay people giving Holy Communion, of course, I can’t speak for them. But in all the years I’ve been receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, I’ve never had any priest’s fingers in my mouth, or any of the other nasty little jibes put forward to insult the priests who administer the Blessed Sacrament in the traditional way.

    Reception in the hand is a Protestant import, arising – as someone else has already said – out of the whole novus ordo project, a protestantizing process that has resulted in the widespread loss of Catholic faith – the apostasy – we are experiencing today, across the world.

    Pope Benedict has made clear that he prefers the traditional practice of kneeling/tongue. He’s not pope-enough to command that this discipline be restored across the Church – but the next pope will, so be prepared.