Friday, November 27, 2015

Communion on the tongue - a sign of intimacy

With the alleged sacrilege of the Blessed Sacrament in Pamplona, there are many calls to revisit the manner of the reception of Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion.

Here, after a spate of people running off with the Sacred Host, or the Host was found discarded, I moved the front row of pew kneelers forward and started giving Holy Communion there, rather than giving people Communion in a queue. It gave people more time to be a little more leisurely at Communion. People are free to receive Holy Communion kneeling or standing, in the hand or on the tongue. It is quicker, if people receive on the tongue I can pass on, if they receive in the hand, I can wait until the host is consumed. It is quite remarkable that when given the option people choose to receive kneeling and on the tongue. It is those of a certain age who tend to receive in the hand, or children at school who are told this is normative.

There is a certain power in the reception of Holy Communion in the traditional manner of the Western Church: kneeling and on the tongue.
I had an Indian priest staying with me and his bishop came and arranged to spend the weekend appealing for money in the local parishes. I had had to speak very sternly to him after he celebrated Mass here, he more or less made up his own Eucharistic Prayer, which barely reflected the Church's understanding of the Holy Eucharist, I think he had done his post-grad studies in Germany. In the evening we had a reception for some of the leading Indian Catholics in Brighton.

I am sure the Bishop was not in favour of the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue but he took great delight in giving tit-bits to the more attractive young women, insisting they didn't use their hands. I could understand why a young non-Catholic husband muttered darkly about 'punching his lights out', after the bishop had given his wife a third piece of honey coconut cake, I think it was the licking of his fingers by her, that he insisted on, that finally upset her husband. I managed to persuade him to take her home rather create an unpleasant scene.

Feeding someone in this way is an act of deep intimacy, it is the act of lovers and of parents of small children. It highlights in a very powerful way trust and union, it is an almost perfect sign of the intimacy of Holy Communion. It calls for an act of trust from the the recipient, in the sense of, "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? Or a scorpion if he asked for an egg? ..."

Without any good reason, except the very nature of the intimacy of the relationship of Jesus and his disciples and the nature of the gift he was giving, I can quite easily believe that Jesus himself fed the disciple the Holy Eucharist directly into their mouths. It simply says a lot more about the nature of the Eucharist than handing something round on a plate or picking it up themselves.


Mrs McLean said...

The story about the bishop is very sad. What an abuse of ministerial power.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

As a Catholic, it grieves me deeply when I have to criticise our Church. Sadly, over the years the Church has let many traditions/beliefs go by the wayside in an attempt to become more modern and sophisticated.

Back in the day, Communion was given always on the tongue, with the Altar server holding a plate under one's chin in case any fragments fell. Back in the day, you had to abstain from food for a period before taking Communion. In those days, ladies covered their heads in Church, people genuflected when moving from one side to the other and crossing the centre aisle, and Religious Instructions in Catholic schools meant just that. Youngsters were taught about the Sacraments and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They were taught what our Religion is and what it stands for.

But these days ... some Catholic priests don't even believe in the Real Presence and consider it all as just symbolism. What hope is there?

God bless you.

Barbara Jensen said...

Our present culture has long misunderstood the difference between intimacy and familiarity. Intimacy is predicated on knowing difference, while familiarity is the product of group think assumptions. The courtesies implicit in sensitive awareness of the other have been lost today, and this loss is the underpinning of lack of reverence between people. Nowhere is this more true than in the way the Holy Eucharist is treated now in our Church. I love your thought of intimacy expressed in the way you described receiving on the tongue. Instinctively I know this, and having it expressed is comforting to my heart.

Patricia Phillips said...

In my parish (which I no longer frequent) Holy Communion was given either on the hand or tongue, although I always received on the tongue. No plate was ever used, although there were nearly always altar servers, even at weekday Masses. The seriousness of this was brought home to me one day as I went to Holy Communion. At the point of receiving Our Lord, the sun shone through the stained glass window to the right of me, and as the priest was about to give me Holy Communion I clearly saw a small fragment from the Host drop to the floor. I returned to the pew but I was very disturbed about it. I later wrote to the priest and explained what had happened, and asked why one of the servers couldn't use a communion plate. He replied and said that there was no necessity for it, or words to that effect. I stopped going to the parish after that (not just because of this issue, which was just the straw that broke the camel's back). I now exclusively attend the traditional rite of Mass so the issue doesn't arise for me anymore. But people need to be aware that when they approach the altar, they could well be trampling on particles of the Host if enough care hasn't been taken while distributing Holy Communion.

Highland Cathedral said...

In my experience it is the usual practice of priests at Novus Ordo Masses to give Communion on the tongue without using a communion plate. (For understandable reasons.) However, on one occasion in Austria (Yes, Austria) the priest used the ciborium as a communion plate. I think the same thing happened on one occasion in the UK.
On the question of tongue/hand and the ease of taking the host away for sacrilegious purposes, would it not be possible for someone to receive on the tongue, close their mouth but not swallow? I don't think that communion on the tongue would solve the problem.

Fr Ray Blake said...

We use one!

Fr. John Mary, ISJ said...

Beautiful reflection, Father! Thank you.

David O'Neill said...

I have to say that a fairly newly ordained priest gives Communion on the tongue or in the hand but, when on the tongue, holds the ciborium under my chin. Sadly some walk away from the altar holding the host

Liam Ronan said...

Long ago when I was an altar boy, we would hold the Communion patten under the chin of the party receiving the Holy Eucharist at the altar rail and we were carefully instructed by the priest never ever to let the Holy Eucharist fall to the floor for it was Our Lord Himself.

When (God forbid!) the Sacred Host fell to the floor, the altar boy would hold his breath and, with time seemingly suspended, the priest would immediately, if briefly, halt the distribution of Communion and place a white cloth (can't remember the name) over the spot where the consecrated Host touched the ground. Communicants then gave that spot wide-berth for the remainder of the distribution of Communion and after Mass the priest would shoot-out of the sacristy to scrub the floor where the Host had fallen.

Such was the concept of the Real Presence reinforced in my mind over the years.

"Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea."


Paul Hellyer said...

I have been asking for the provision of a kneeler for years in my diocese (Leeds). I have been refused over and over again. I have given up on trying to get our Bishop to lean just a little bit towards tradition. I have always received on the tongue as I was brought up to do. I see no reason to change. I just wish I could complete my act of worship by kneeling. Keeling without a kneeler is not an option for me due to age. I have difficulty getting up again.

Anita Moore said...

"For I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." Psalms 80:11

Someone recently suggested that receiving Communion on the tongue is a kind of counter to and act of reparation for Adam and Eve pridefully reaching out their hands to take the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; in the light of which, we ought to think twice about reaching out our hands to take the Sacred Host.

nickbris said...

One has to be knocking on a bit to remember how serious we took First Confession & Holy Communion before Confirmation by the Bishop. We spent weeks learning all the words and the procedure. There was only one way to take Holy Communion,on the tongue and kneeling. That was in the days when we Genuflected properly when passing in front of the Tabernacle.

So much has changed.

Liam Ronan said...


I realize it's just a matter of semantics, but where I was raised in the 50s and 60s in the Eastern United States, the terminology was always that one 'receives Communion'. I learned much later that the customary language in other areas of the world was that one 'takes Communion'.

Perhaps it is a distinction without a difference, but one 'receives' a gift and (more often than not) 'takes' what they deem to be theirs.

Not quibbling. Just a thought.


Stephen Turton said...

I've often thought reverence or otherwise in the church towards the Eucharist is a perfect reflection of the church's spiritual health. I think the general social babble and commotion before mass these days reflects what is little more than practical atheism. No wonder the church is 'disappearing'. Of the existence of Grace, they have no inkling.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

What does any Protestant memorialist do? That's what Novus Ordites are prescribed. The concept of transubstantiation is at least not perverted in Protestantism because they refuse obedience to it. With such an ideology tongue or palm, it's just a matter of taste/aggiornamento.

PS. At the Last Supper Christ dipped the bread in wine and then offered it. He would hardly have placed in someone's palm.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

PS. The 'outdated (according to the Novus Ordo) past dead gone thing of Trent' said, 'our Redeemer, in that last supper, instituted, and delivered to the apostles, this sacrament in two species, yet is to be acknowledged, that Christ whole and entire and a true sacrament are received under either species alone...' The Church doesn't degenerate. Communion in the hand is a powerful Protestant two-fingers up to the Real Presence. But then why did communion in the hand, post-Christendom, converge with, or flourish from, the Novus Ordo rites?

Jacobi said...

The Church's position on reception of Holy Communion has been established for at least 15 centuries. It is to be administered only by the anointed hands of a priest, (or deacon) and to be received on the tongue as the early Christians believed was done at the Last Supper.

That changed after Vatican II. Personally, I think it was by intent with a specific objective. It was never “instructed” but became practise and was then “permitted” . The classic gradualist approach of the Modernist so-called Spirit factions who took over from the late 60s onwards.

The objective as we now see was to diminish gradually belief in the Real Presence and the Mass as a sacrifice, to a widely acceptable protestant type, hymn singing, communion service . And it has largely succeeded!

I saw recently on TV the end of a play. Curtain dropped, audience stood up, gathered into chatty excited groups, mostly backs to the curtain, and wandered out nattering away. That is what happens in my city centre parish after Mass.

The Blessed Sacrament in the central tabernacle is not so much ignored but rather the “audience“ is simply just not aware of it.

The real tragedy lies not so much with the audience, but the priests, who either are also not aware of this or maybe worse, wouldn't dare raise the subject!

Fr Ray Blake said...

I don't want to hear about more sacrilege, one is enough!

Most of what I hear has to do with 'Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion'.

Gatepost productions said...

I'm totally with Victor S E Moubarak on this.

It began with confession, followed on the day by fasting until one had received communion - on the tongue. The participants knelt at the outside of the altar rails, held the communion plate under the chin then gave it to the next on the left. It felt like it was the right thing to do to close one's eyes and pray as the 'wafer' was placed on the tongue.

In the evening, 'Tantum Ergo' and 'O Salutaris', I hoped it would be hymn 100: "Daily, daily, sing to Mary'.

A dated story, but the church was always FULL it seemed. Intimacy was the central and we were all involved in being Catholics.

I visited the church 60 years later ... I wish I hadn't.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Jacobi, we might learn from the late Claudio Abbado:

MC Man said...

In my Parish a few years ago we reintroduced the Communion Plate after a short explanation by the Priest in Charge at the time.The greater majority of the Congregation accepted it with no problem but a very small minority of elderly Parishioners who should Know better kept on complaining to me as the MC.Another Parishioner told me that he didn't need a napkin to eat Spaghetti so he certainly didn't need a Communion Plate. He said that he would refuse to receive Communion if I persisted in holding the Plate for him.I had to relent for him and lower it out of the way to prevent him jostling me aside as he did once.Our retired Priest in the Parish told me that he had complaints from 4 or 5 people and that I was not to use it when he said Mass as it wasn't necessary as he was careful.A few weeks later a Host dropped to the floor.It is still not used at any Mass.

Mrs McLean said...

I have been worrying about that young married couple for days now. Was the incident reported to the parish "safeguarding" committee? To be frank, it may have been better for the bishop (and the couple) if HAD there been an unpleasant scene. Was everyone supposed to pretend he hadn't been making coercive sexual demands on a married woman who did't wish to be rude to an important guest? And how on earth does the young couple feel about their Church now?

And if he's doing stuff like that in public in a foreign country, what on earth might he be getting away with in India?

fzk5220 said...

I have been receiving Holy Communion for over several decades.
Receiving Holy Communion while standing whether in the hand or the tongue is essentially of the same religious value
It is the kneeling which is the essential and deliberate and holy difference and without it is only an imitation of the real thing

Fr Ray Blake said...

Except that receiving on the tongue is an act of trust, you could be given a stone, snake or scorpion - you accept it. If you receive in the hand you examine what you receive.
Communion is not just a union with the Lord but 'the Lord within his Church', it is ecclessial act of trust.

Pelerin said...

In all the comments I have read in the Catholic blogosphere about the two ways of receiving, there is one major difference which I have never seen mentioned.

When I receive on the tongue I am able to keep my eyes closed in prayer trusting as Fr Ray says that I will indeed be receiving the Body of Christ and not a stone or a snake. I don't remember ever being told to close my eyes it just seemed natural and I have read somewhere that Priests prefer this so that the recipient remains static.

When receiving in the hand we are forced to keep our eyes open and cannot close them until we get back to our seats.

fzk5220 said...

Father Ray, I learn something new with each of your posts
That is why I am a devotee of your words and wisdom
You are the "gift" that keeps on giving

fzk5220 said...

I notice that in the photo even StJPII despite his Parkinsonism is still kneeling as best he can
The phrase "the Lord within his Church" is one I will commit to my memory

Clare said...

Nothing upsets me more when a priest dishes out communion like it is going out of fashion. It is an incredibly intimate moment and I can tell the level of understanding of the real presence by how he administers communion to me.

Childermass said...

I entered the Catholic Church in 2006, and not once have I touched the sacred Host with my hands. I just cannot imagine, though I will not make judgments about those who do. But yes, remove the insult so that we all can receive in what I fervently believe is the best and safest possible way.

Father Ray, I am planning to visit my mother in Brighton for Christmas, and I'm hoping to get her to accompany me to mass at your parish (she's been fallen away for 40 years). Could you tell me what time Christmas Eve Mass is this year? Many thanks, Father.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Our "Midnight Mass" (properly Mass during the Night) is at 9pm.

Pelerin said...

Thank you Father for the advance notice.

Father Gregory said...

I've said for years that we only feed those who are children, who are sick, or with whom we are in intimate love. Since all of us are spiritual children, sick with sin, and yet deeply in love with our Divine Spouse, the only true way to receive is kneeling and on the tongue. We are at Christ's nuptials. What does the Spouse do there but feed his Bride in a most intimate and loving way?

Anonymous said...

I did this today at a church I've never been to before. I would normally take bread on my tongue but decided to take it in my hand I then turned away to move out of the way if others and place it in my mouth more privately but the priest grabbed me by the shoulder and told me I had to take it now as I did that I looked a little shocked at being collared there and then he then asked me in front Of everyone if I was a catholic I felt really embarrassed can you shed any light on why this happened?

Fr Ray Blake said...

He most probably believed what he had given you was indeed no longer bread but the Body of Christ, he would if he was Catholic.

If you seemed to wander off rather receive in front of him as you are supposed to, he would have presumed you had taken the Body of Christ either mistakenly or for some nefarious purpose, that happens in Brighton quite often.

A priest is the custodian of the Eucharist, there is nothing worst finding a Host desecrated on the floor or in a hymn book.

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