Receiving the Holy Communion: Hand vs Tongue

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Receiving the Holy Communion: Hand vs Tongue

Brian Holdsworth lives in Edmonton, Canada. He is a passionate convert to Catholicism. He owns a digital marketing company holds Worth Design and has thoughtful explanations on Catholic teachings on his Youtube Channel. He shares his views on the importance of receiving communion on the tongue.


I will address that concern because for Catholics Holy Communion or the Eucharist is the reception of the God of the universe incarnate for us in space and time, and I realize for non-Catholics and even for a lot of Catholics that’s a hard teaching to accept. For if Catholics truly believe that that’s the case, don’t you think that we would treat the moment we encounter that substance with severe caution. Imagine if you lived in the Marvel Universe and some superhero-like Thor or somebody ran up to you and said like, here I need you to take this. This is one of the infinity gems, it’s an incredibly powerful substance. Wouldn’t you be like -I’ve got a lot of questions here. Like, how do I handle this? How do I approach this thing? What’s the protocol here? I don’t want to injure myself.

Even our prescription medication comes with a litany of instructions to make sure that we use them properly because they are a persuasive substance that can produce considerable effects. So, you want those effects to be the right ones based on how you use them rather than the wrong ones.

Also read: Archdiocese Of Bangalore To Resume Masses From June 13 – Is It A Right Move?

‘What is the Holy Communion?

Well, the Eucharist is the bread of life, it’s the medicine that can heal our eternal Souls as long as we receive it as we were instructed to by the experts. If we recognize the expertise of doctors and pharmacists when it comes to consuming medicine because they’ve spent years studying this and we haven’t, shouldn’t we also recognize the expertise of Bishop and theologians who have devoted their lives in understanding this and who have given us instructions for how it is that we are to receive the Eucharist. The other reason, I don’t think this is a trivial thing, is because the way that we observe and understand our faith and practice the faith through its various disciplines can create a sense of community and harmony or it can create a sense of division and discord. The current state of affairs in the church, I think, lends itself to the latter. So I think it’s really important that we have these difficult discussions in the hopes that it will educate those who just sincerely want to practice the faith as it has been transmitted.

The tradition and the reverence

The Catholic practice of receiving Communion in the hand which is the de facto norm in the church, even though it’s not the actual norm of the church. This is pretty startling for people like me who when I converted to the church was taught that it doesn’t really matter what you do and most people receive in the hand so you should just do that. I’ll start by admitting that I only receive Communion on the tongue and I started doing so because I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to try that out, and so I did and I found that my sense of reverence and my appreciation for the sacredness of that sacrament as well as my sense of humility before it, increased. I found that it helped me to better worship God and to appreciate who he is, and who I am in the context of that relationship. If that’s good enough for you, then I would encourage you to try it and see if your experience reflects mine.

Arguments for Communion on the tongue

If my experience is not good enough for you, and if you feel like you need more reasons then let’s explore that. I want to start off by looking at a particular stream of argumentation for communion on the tongue only that I frankly find unhelpful. It goes something like this when people receive Communion in the hand it increases the likelihood that fragments or like crumbs of the host will fall on the floor and risk being stepped on by people in community procession. Which means that at any given mass countless people are unwittingly trampling upon the Lord. The problem that I have with this argument is that it strikes me as somewhat Nestorian. Nestorius was the short-lived patriarch of Constantinople, which is where the primacy of the Eastern Orthodox Church resides. He couldn’t fathom the idea that God would actually truly become human because this was too vulgar a thing for God to do. So he tried to rationalize it with certain compromises, and the church responded by saying that the incarnation of Jesus was one in which his divinity and his humanity were fully united. This meant that God himself had to sleep, eat, evacuate suffer illness such as cold fatigue and other infirmities, deprivation, and humiliations. Not the least of which was death on a cross. Nestorius could not reconcile these things with God, but God in His sovereignty nonetheless did do these things. It wasn’t beneath him to be material and to suffer the risks and apparent indignities that come with that. In his earthly life, he would have shed his skin and his hair and people would have walked upon those particles, some of whom were probably his closest friends and disciples that were spending the most amount of time with him. Insects and microscopic creatures probably consumed those particles. God understood these risks, and he did not consider it beneath him to embrace them. If someone inadvertently steps on a particle of the Eucharist I don’t think it causes any more grave injury to Jesus than it would have in his earthly life. I don’t think our concern with this should be so much on protecting Jesus-he’s endured far worse, I think he can handle it.

Modernism and a casual approach to Holy Communion

What I think we should be concerned with is how a casual approach towards the Eucharist affects us and our fellow Catholics because it can ingrain in us a lack of appreciation for the sacredness of the species and the honorand reverence that is due to Him. Again, remember that analogy from the comic book universe if you knew you were going to come into contact with some extremely powerful substance you would approach it with a sense of humility and grave caution wanting to follow whatever protocol those who understood it had set for you. Well, the Eucharist is far more consequential than something like that.

It’s not just some powerful substance, its God himself. Now I think most people can appreciate that in the church we develop our teachings and our practices based on the consensus of the many, again those experts that have devoted their lives to it.

Heretics in Church history

I mentioned Nestorius earlier because he was an example of someone who was trying to assert his own individual teaching against the many, as all heretics do. So, they called a council together to consider Nestorius’ teaching, to pray about it, to debate it, and to examine the scriptures. In the end, the council decided that Nestorius’ teachings were wrong, and they invited him to repentance, which he refused to do and left in disgrace, as all heretics do.

Second Vatican Council

Again, it’s that approach in that consensus that so often produces the teaching that we have that we revere. Well, something similar happened in the wake of the Second Vatican Council because that council introduced so much change to the church that some people thought that they could just take it upon themselves to change the practice of receiving the Eucharist exclusively on the tongue which was the exclusive practice of the church up until that point. So Pope Paul the sixth gathered together a group of bishops to consider the matter, and they overwhelmingly voted that the current practice should be sustained. The current practice being exclusively communion on the tongue, and then they said that in places where there are exceptional circumstances, the ecclesiastical authorities could ask for an indult, which is like an exception to Church law. Then they issued a document explaining what this was all about, and why they made this decision called Memoriale Domini which I would encourage you to read it’s really short. Click here to read Memoriale Domini. It’s like only a couple pages long at most, and it’s easy to understand and it helps provide better arguments than I could for why this practice should be sustained. That was the decision for our time, the practice of receiving exclusively on the tongue is the norm of the church.

Teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine

For a little extra context, St.Thomas Aquinas taught – “Out of reverence towards the sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands for touching this sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency.”

St. Augustin famously said that “no one eats of the flesh without first adoring it that we would sin if we did not first adore it” Which again emphasizes the fact that we should kneel before it as we receive it. This is what satisfies that that behaviour of adoring it and it reinforces that. Again, this is not a trivial matter. This is something that can cause healing and redemption and salvation for our bodies and our souls, but it can also cause grave injury because of the sin if we don’t treat it with the reverence that is due to it.

So much of our church history is thrown out by bad actors after Vatican II

Communion on the tongue is the teaching of the church but it’s not the practice of the faithful and the reason for this is because there are those who put themselves between the teachings of the church and the faithful and taught them that receiving in the hand is just fine and that’s the way that to do it. If you ask me, as someone who was taught that, that was a massive betrayal and I also point this out because I firmly believe that the majority of faithful and intentional Catholics just want to know and practice what the Church teaches, and in my case, I had to go digging for that and studying that on my own because those who were responsible for conveying church teaching to me failed to do so and that’s why I expect that that’s the case for virtually all the Catholics who just don’t know any better.

Gentle education for the faithful Catholics

That is why I think great care should be shown in educating people about this issue, and why I don’t appreciate the approach that is taken by so many, which is laced with inflammatory accusation. I think that just polarizes people and chases them away from doing the right thing, which I think they would want to if we just educated them. The teaching of the church is so clear and well documented I think that’s what we should be doing – gentle education rather than inflammatory argumentation.

Click here to watch the full video on Youtube by Brian HoldsworthComminion on the hand

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