Equal Dignity

Introducing a book, CDWDS Secretary Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don concedes:

It is true that if one can receive on the tongue, one also can receive in the hand because this organ of the body has equal dignity.

Yet he goes on to suggest this:


(T)he introduction of the practice of receiving Communion in the hand coincides with the beginning of “a gradual and growing weakening of the attitude of reverence toward the sacred eucharistic species.”

I can think of many other coincidences since Communion in the hand became widespread: the explosion of cable tv, the widespread use of personal computers, the Reagan Revolution, the fall of the Shah of Iran, the career of Meryl Streep and Sting, or the pontificate of John Paul II.

It would be silly to connect any of these to a loss of reverence. They are coincidences. By definition, that means that they happened at or around the same time. It doesn’t follow that coincidences are involved in a causation.

I would agree with the Archbishop on the need for reverence. But I think a serious look at causation would be prudent. At the top of the list, I would put the parish priest and the example he sets in distributing Communion.

Communion in the hand may be a problem for some clergy because it may induce them to pragmatism, to getting it over with, to undue and irreverent speed. Even a little bit.

Whether it comes to rearing children, teaching, or liturgical leadership, I’m a believer in setting the example one wishes to see in one’s children, students, or assembly.  If the priest doesn’t sing, he communicates music is unimportant. If the cantor overuses the mic, she or he communicates the voice of the assembly is secondary. If a Communion minister rushes, then the sense of reverence may be poisoned.

We don’t need uninformed politicos in the Vatican spouting off like this. When they do they embarass themselves for a poor grasp on the problem and ignorance of possible solutions. Good liturgical example is set by the reverent example of those whose leadership matters to the local community.

The notion that Communion in the hand is a barrier to reverence is laughably naive. Well, it would be, but I suspect it’s more of an excuse for the political agenda of turning back the clock. It’s probably a just a coincidence with the wash of motumania.

Maybe the solution would be to give the TLM a decade or so to reform according to Catholic teaching as set down in the Vatican Council, and bring the liturgy into alignment with orthodoxy and orthopraxis. No problem with receiving on the tongue, though. That part of the body has equal dignity with the hand.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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13 Responses to Equal Dignity

  1. aplman says:

    “Communion in the hand may be a problem for some clergy because it may induce them to pragmatism, to getting it over with, to undue and irreverent speed. Even a little bit.”

    Todd, are you old enough to remember the priest(s) moving from one end of the communion rail to the other, and back, distributing communion on the tongue and droning, “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi…” The communicant seldom heard the rest of the formula, “…custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen.” because Father often seemed “induced to pragmatism, to getting it over with, to undue and irreverent speed.” Even a lot!

  2. Liam says:

    Kneeling and the tongue by themselves do not prevent irreverence. I can recall how the initial introduction of the changes seemed to me to introduce a greater sense of reverence, but that dissipated as it got more familiar.

    And so I am fine with standing/kneeling, hand/tongue. My own preference, as I’ve stated before, would be if we could have only one communion “station” and receive from the same hands. But I concede most would find that intolerably long.

    I do find horrifying the stories, which I have no reason to doubt, of people trying to abscond with the Host. It apparently is more common (albeit still uncommon) in thronged or urban churches. Anyone care to comment on that?

    PS: I read a priest who indicated that the average “speed” for administering communion is about 20 persons per minute.

  3. FrMichael says:

    One vote here for Communion in the hand leading to irreverence on the part of many. Multiple reasons:

    1) Non-Catholics more likely to receive.

    2) Wool and cotton gloves leading to crumbs entrapped in the fibers. I administer only on the tongue for people so clothed.

    3) Parents carrying baby trying to receive in the hand. After some years of suffering with this I now only administer on the tongues to parents carrying a child.

    4) Improperly formed “throne,” leading to people grabbing for the Host. Repeated catechesis reduces but does not end this practice as newcomers and guests are ever-present.

    5) Severe problem with people walking away with the Host for multiple reasons:
    — not Catholic, not sure what to do.
    — bringing back to the pew to communicate somebody else.
    — self-intinction with the Precious Blood.
    — for using in Satanic activity, a real concern in this neck of the woods.

    In any case, we permit Communion in the hand but I sure wish we went back to tongue-only.

  4. Fr Michael

    Hand or mouth does not remove abuses. Protestants can stick out their tongues just as much as Catholics. Satanists don’t care if they spit out the eucharist or not if they are going to use communion for any Satanic abomination (although I suspect this happened far more often in earlier times, when there was no communion in the hand going on), etc.

    There is reverence in either action. What I see is a lot of people thinking pre-VII there was this perfect age of liturgy, no abuses. They should read the history. It was always full of abuses, and Tridentine era the same as now. And some really should read about medieval festivals — they will learn the kinds of masses they ridicule the most (“clown mass”) goes back pre VII.

  5. Tony says:


    Are your first communion classes taught the proper way to receive on the tongue (in addition to in the hand) and offered the option?

  6. Todd says:

    Tony, I don’t know. But I observe that the pre-Communion bow doesn’t seem to sink in.

  7. FrMichael says:

    Henry, my points aren’t based on any pre-V2 practices since I wasn’t alive at that time. My point is that receiving on the tongue does reduce the number of irreverent Communions. These are pragmatic reasons, not theological ones. Using my schema from above:

    1) Few Protestant churches receive on the tongue: it is a practice foreign to their experience and serves as a psychological barrier against Protestants receiving Communion during Mass.

    2) Self-evident

    3) The danger of dropped Hosts.

    4) Self-evident

    5) The second sub-point, not many people would be willing to receive Communion if the Host was coming from the mouth of another person.

    Self-intinction becomes impossible with the Host already in the mouth.

    A Host in the mouth already begins to decompose, reducing the amount of time the Real Presence will persist and the Host be able to be used for Black Masses and other satanic activities. I’ve never actually seen a Satanist spit out a Host; I’m more concerned with Satanic rituals.

    Anyways, I’m not trying to make theological points here, I’m trying to point out that as a practical matter irrelevant reception of Communion occurs more often with reception in the hand than on the tongue.

    And certainly children should be catechized in both manners of reception. In my parish, what posture they receive their First Holy Communion is left to the family to decide.

  8. Jimmy Mac says:

    When are these poor laysheep going to realize that they can’t be trusted to do anything right? What is wrong with them?

  9. Fr Michael

    Do you have any statistics to justify this claim that more abuses have happened after communion in the hand than before?

    And if you are going to say there is more now than before, you must talk about pre-VII time periods. Otherwise, the “more” is — well — huh? More one day with communion in the hand than another day with communion in the hand?

  10. FrMichael says:

    Mr. Karlson:

    Read comment #7 about how the practice of receiving on the tongue prevents or reduces the incidence of irreverent Communions. With psychological barriers to non-Catholics receiving, with fewer dropped Hosts, with fewer self-intinctions, receiving on the tongue is superior in its mechanics to receiving in the hand.

    Since statistics are not kept of irreverent Communions, obviously no appeal to statistics can be made by either side of the debate.

    Once again, my argument isn’t a theological one: a proper Communion in the hand in my book isn’t inferior to a proper Communion on the tongue. The question here is which practice leads to more opportunity for abuse. Communion on the tongue reduces such opportunities for abuse for the reasons I have listed in my comments here.

  11. Todd says:

    I’m not convinced that receiving on the tongue is mechanically superior. Some communicants do not open their mouth or extend their tongue as they could. Even an extended tongue is a smaller target than a hand. Hosts are dropped more often due to the inattentiveness of the minister than the faulty practice of the communicant.

    Most lay people receive Communion once, and they focus intently on that. A Eucharistic minister may give Communion fifty to a hundred times at a Sunday Mass. It takes concentration and focus to do a simple mechanical task with a sense of reverence.

    What we need is more/better catechesis of children, especially pre-adolescents who are falling into poor and careless habits. We also need a reinvigorated sense of reverence from clergy, who all too often can be seen going through the motions.

  12. Tony says:

    Todd, thanks for the honest answer. We have that same problem in our church. The first communion children are taught one way only to receive communion. If we don’t teach it, how do we expect to promote it.

    As for dropping, I had suggested to our pastor that we could begin using patens again regardless of whether a communicant received in the hand or on the tongue. He said: “We don’t have enough altar servers to do that”. I said: “Then let’s institute ‘ordinary ministers of the paten'”.

    A nice licit way to give those obsessed with the incorrect definition of active participation “something to do”.

  13. Teresa says:

    As a small child being taught to receive Jesus “on the tongue” (in 1969)I was horrified at being asked to “stick out my tongue” at Jesus and Father. It just seemed so irreverent to me. When they instructed me a few years later to “make a throne” for Jesus, and to “take and eat” it seemed so much more consistent with the words in the scripture and with the holiness that I felt at being invited to approach the Table of the Lord.

    When some try to make me feel less reverent or somehow less Catholic because of this preference of receiving in the hand and standing it is very hurtful to me.

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