Tuesday, July 8, 2008


You have probably heard this already: “Dateline VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI intends to return to the old way of distributing Communion at Masses.” One wonders why newspapers do not bother to consult a practicing Catholic when writing these things. *sigh*

In the interest of integrity in reporting here is a better nuanced version of the same story. “The pope is going to rescind the special indult that allowed people a different way to receive Communion from that which is normative.” This is not a “return to Pre-Vatican II” ways but what has always been the preferred and normative way to receive communion. Even in the United States it is by special indult that we are permitted to receive Communion in the hand. Personally I have no problem with it unless someone does not have full use of both hands and both arms. However I find it neglectful that we teach our children that there is only one way to receive, and as we are want to do, we usually teach them the secondary method as the only way to go.

It is important however that they learn both ways even if they never intend to receive on the tongue. No matter which way a person decides to receive, it is their right and none of the business of the priest. But there are times when it is necessary. Who knows? Maybe they will travel to Rome where they must receive on the tongue and they will be standing there looking quizzically at the Pope who is trying to get them to open their mouth.

But there may be times even in one’s own parish when receiving in the hand should be avoided. The first would be when carrying a child. A hand is pried from underneath the child’s bottom to receive Our Lord and then popped into the mouth while crushing the child to one’s body. It also provides a moment when the host might be swiped away by the child. This is an instance when receiving in the hand is both impractical and irreverent.

For that matter, when one is carrying an open hymnal, has an arm in a cast, is on crutches, has dirty hands or has a phone number scribbled across the palm when it would be most appropriate to receive in the normative fashion. To receive properly requires both hands and if one does not have such free use of both, then they should receive in the normative fashion.

This is one of those times I am so happy to be a priest. There is not thinking about it. There is one way for us to receive and there is no wondering, “Which way would I like to receive?”

For the same reason I am glad we only wear black. There is no, “What color should I wear this morning?” Like Henry Ford once said, “Any color you want, just as long as it’s black.”


Anonymous said...

This is one of the (few) times I'm happy to be working in the church. Becase I can take this information and require that the catechists teach the children how to receive on the tongue. I tried on the one occasion I had to assist directly with the class, and only one boy even tried it. (And he was so cute!)

The biggest point of angst for the kids: what if they drop Jesus!? If we teach them to receive on the tongue, that angst will be gone because if He is dropped, it's not their fault.

I was taught only to receive in the hand with maybe a mention that some people don't. They never instructed us. And then when I wanted to try, I was afriad of "doing it wrong". Until...I went to a Latin mass (Novus Ordo) and knelt at the Communion rail...and you know...it was completely natural. Now I only receive on the hand if it's an Extraordinary Minister because in so many parishes if you stand there with your hands folded they look at you in complete confusion wondering why you're sticking your tongue out at them! Sad...every time I receive in the hand I actually apologize to Jesus now. Not sure when I started doing that, but now it's knee-jerk.

Just like my long-winded comments. Sorry again.

Anonymous said...

There's quite a bit of content for second grade catechesis, particulary since the sacrament of penance has been recently made a de facto fourth sacrament of initiation, thus requiring preparation during the first semester. There are precious few months to devote to pre-sacramental catechesis for First Communion, and only so much can be devoted to the logistics of communion reception without detracting from the dogmatic content. Taking precious time away from dogmatic catechesis to teach children both equally approved options for receiving communion detracts from their preparation, and adds to their anxiety and confusion. Since in actual practice the majority of their parents and grandparents are receiving communion in the hand, it is reasonable to teach them that method, since it is what is being modeled for them in the domestic church in easily 95% of the homes. There are teenagers and adults who subsequent to additional spiritual teaching and reflection have adopted the practice of communion on the tounge, but adding this to the already jammed graded course of studies would be irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

It's about Jesus, not about us. Do what your heart tells you to. If we receive the Risen Him in the hand similar as to how Mary received Him in the Deposition, and place Him on our own tongues, "Come into me, Lord, I knowingly take You fully into me," then receiving in the hand is fine. If we are only being sheep, tho', "THIS is the only way," and stick out our grody tongue for the poor altar boy to blink at and return to our seats as rather large-ish First Communicants in perfect order (outwardly), then we'd do better to receive Him with the greater love of our hands who already know that we are not worthy to receive Him, but that He said the Word. We are receiving the Lord Himself. If we could see Him, we'd fall to the floor, hide our faces, and raise our hands only because He asked us to.

And of course, I still cannot chew the Host. There are some things that never change for us sheep. But some of us make zero apology for receiving Him in our hands.


Anonymous said...

Oh, please, anon. It would be easy. The children are a LOT more prepared than you think; it's adults that put up walls and throw big words around. Children totally "get" Jesus in the simplicity of who He is. We actually had several who would have been ready even before they got to the "hands on" stuff! Then it was just teaching mechanics.

Besides, as with anything, it begins with implementation, not a sudden switch. The Church moves slowly, and so in catechesis, so must we. But that doesn't mean we just ignore what the Pope is doing because a few adults who prefer communion in the hand don't really want to spend time teaching what has always been custom and has been ignored for about 40 years or so.

I will be asking my catechists to spend more time teaching the cildren how to receive on the tongue, and the second grade teachers as well. The children will still have a choice; but at least they'll know how to do it. And it's those children who are going to teach their parents true reverence for Christ.

Anonymous said...

Good points about the kids, Anonymous. I had subbed or taught religious ed to all grades but the one preparing kids to receive Jesus-- I did not want to tackle that one, much as I'd not wanted to be nominated even by a priest for the Liturgy Committee. However, one year, tne teacher of this most Holy Sacrament got very very sick halfway through, so I was called and did indeed step in. Since she had been preparing the children to receive Him in their hands, that is what I went with, too. I wasn't going to mention receiving on one's tongue, unless one of the students asked. One did, of course. But I knew that none of these kids went to uberTrad churches, so I answered the question and moved on to practicing their receiving Him in hand as well as to sip the Precious Blood, because that was to be their happy Reality shortly after May.


Anonymous said...

Adoro, it's not about what the Teach wants. It's about what's best for the kids. I suppose, tho', it has to start somewhere--and truly, I'd much rather it had never changed; but it did. It might be wiser to call a parent meeting and speak with the kids' parents about what you're going to implement. You presume most parents don't give a damn, but most parents simply can't afford parochial school and are stuck with only religious ed one hour a week to supplement what they've labored to teach and show their kids for all their lives.

Our programs now offer adult religious ed to occur at the same time as the kids'.. it seems to be working well. Communication is everything.


Anonymous said...

Carol ~ Actually, our program has a home component and this will be explained to the parents, and an opportunity for THEM to ask questions and learn so that they can aid their children. They can also be given the explanation of the change coming and why it would be good for THEM to know this and be prepared...and thus prepare their children.

The vast majority is done at home, and the parents do a GREAT JOB. So when the kids come in to class, the ones who don't get worked with at home are able to obtain a little more attention and even the other kids help.

My catechists and the teachers at the school are all very experienced and at this point, they're basically running the program blindfolded with their hands tied behind their back..it's second nature. Time to shake THEM up a little bit, too! LOL :-)

Also the program I oversee is both the parish program AND the school's...it's blended. We do also offer an adult program, but no one comes.

This year we're gonig to have a parish mission at the start of the year so we're hoping it'll jump-start everything else and help us keep the momentum going.

Anonymous said...

When I came into the church I wasn't taught to receive on the tongue. I really wanted to, but I didn't want to make a big stink over it at the Easter Vigil. After about six months I switched, and for me it really felt that this was the right thing to do. But I won't bash folks who receive in the hand because I've seen lots of people who can receive that way quite reverently. And my priest has been very good in using his homilies (particularly on Corpus Christi) as catechesis on receiving our Lord reverently.

I just practised at home until I felt comfortable I could get it right in public. And now that I've received on the tongue for a while the initial anxiety I had about dropping Jesus is gone.

What I can't stand is the homemade bread instead of the wafers, which I've encountered when I've been at our cathedral on special occasions. It's in chunks which makes it very hard to receive on the tongue, and one wonders if they are openly discouraging the normative practice.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm . . . have not seem homemade bread in a while since it is tricky to make . . . had a wedding two years with homemade bread made with only whole wheat flour and water, the bread was quite good, but fragile and does not travel well. It was flat and the large disk was scored in recangles. It worked very well for the wedding, but impractical for daily use since it is difficult to make, and as stated, it does not keep well or travel well.

Anonymous said...

Nancy & Anon -

I wish they would ban the homemade bread. It becomes very messy and extremely disturbing when broken to distribute...thus Jesus being dropped, on the floor, stepped on. I hate it. Crumbs are all over - including the communicants and EMHC hands. In Columbus, I used to be a parishioner of a Catholic Church that only used homemade bread.

I also was in RCIA, both for my own catechesis and as a sponsor. It was never brought up to receive the Eucharist on the tongue. About 2 years ago I changed to ONLY receiving the Eucharist on my tongue. It was a bit awkward at first (my own misgivings), now I love it. I feel like I am being fed Jesus, rather than feeding myself. (I'm not sure if I put that the right way).

Anonymous said...

Our parish uses the bread for First Communion. They pair up the Eucharistic Ministers, one holding the plate and one breaking off the bread where it is scored. I was Eucharistic Minister one year but held the plate because I didn't feel comfortable breaking the bread. I agree with Lillian Marie, it's messy, Jesus being dropped on the floor, crumbs etc. It just feels irreverant to me, although I know that's not the intent of those planning the First Communion.


Anonymous said...

Fr. V., you have to check out this post:


The second paragraph is the one applicable to your post. :-)

Anonymous said...

Yuck to breaking while distributing, that's what the fraction rite is for. The bread at the wedding I referred to was an excellent product, beautifully scored and not crumbly at all, really was perfect for the wedding, although as stated not practical for every day due to storage and transport issues. Also, a little uncomfortable with overly prolonging the fraction rite to a length of time disproprotionate to it liturgical significance. S'pose a deacon could help during the fraction, but with a mass with only one priest and no deacons it would take way to long to break into 50-100 pieces and pour two communion cups as well. Also, following the same logic as above (teaching the communion in the hand because that is what is familiar) I would not encourage a differnt kind of bread for First Communion than what is used ordinarily. To me, having TWO EM's per station (one to break, one to distribute) is TACKY, TACKY, TACKY, and also, even with EM's pretty sure since it is an initiation sacrament the priest should give communion to the children (at least the host). Attention-span wise, we're not big fans of adding all kinds of things to the first communion and coming up with "something for every child in the class to do" such as readings, multiple petitions, setting up the altar, etc., we emphasize that what the second graders are doing at First Communion is RECIEVING FIRST COMMUNION (!) and we have teen and adult ministers do those other roles. It simplifies the liturgy and keeps its length in accord with the attention span of a second grader.

Fr. V said...

Great discussion.

I understand Anon's aversion to taking more time away from dogmatic teaching on the Eucharist. BELEIVE ME I DO! We are on the same page as far as that goes. I would however may add this nuance. Especially with children - but all Catholics, I think we can learn other equally important lessons from our practice as we do in in formal instruction periods. (We need both together.) Making explicitly clear that there are times not to recieve in the hand because Jesus is so special and requires your best effort will instill more of belief and reverence for the Real Presence than deep intricacies (where is speek check when you need it?) of Transubstantiation (at least with second graders.)

I think that is 50% of the cause of why so many people do not believe in the Eucharist today anyway: our practice. It has to do with the way in which we refer to the Body and Blood, how we celebrate the Mass, how people show signs of reverence, HOW THEY RECEIVE HIM, etc.- a lesson that a classroom can only take so far. A mind won is not a heart on fire.

Take that for what it is worth. I am not denying Anon's real concern, but think that this is not irresponsible but perhaps leading in a way that better augments beleif. And quite frankly - I've taught a classroom of thirty kids how to recieve both ways with Necco Wafers in about 15 minutes.

Thank you for this discussion - great food for thought.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that, Adoro. I watched a then-bishopless corner of Alberta break under a very orthodox cowboy of a stubborn new priest. It actually came to blows between the people, and some families preparing their little ones to receive Him have never returned to the Church at all.

The way this Holy Father works a thing (first the MP, then the term "Gregorian Mass" and availability of TLM Mass in every parish, then possibly receiving on the tongue) it is entirely possible he is ultimately bringing us around to the Communion rail again. That would be very catholic (and very welcomed in many ways). Some of America's religious freedom's luxuries are EMHCs and Pastoral Directors and a bazillion parish ministries; if we, rather, had to gather clandestinely under constant watch, threat and genuine danger, Mass (and the whole Church here) would become Max Kolbe-simple once again.

Maybe Papa (may God forbid) foresees great troubles to come further than persecution in the mideast and Asia-- judging by his own shrinking and smited Europe-- and wants to get us all to the most catholic Catholicism asap, but meanwhile, when Jesus said, "Take and eat, take and drink" (unleavened-for-a-reason bread), surely some of the Apostles didn't stand while others knelt, and some didn't receive on the tongue and others in the hand!, so here, too, wisdom and mercy can only say it is a matter of "when in Rome, do as the Romans do".


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

When I was catechized for First Holy Communion, I didn't even know that receiving on the tongue was an option. (Mid-90's)

I believe this firmly in my heart. A child's mind is quite literal in nature. When we teach them Communion in the Hand, we're equating (even if not intentionally) normalcy to the Eucharist. What is it that makes eating the Eucharist different from eating cookie or hot dog? (retorical question).

Interior belief should be expresed exteriorly. When we teach Communion on the Tongue, we teach them that the Eucharist is something different, special. set apart.

What I didn't know was that in the Tradiional Baptismal Rite, the tongue was sprinkled with salt. Setting it apart, in a way consecrating it. Nothing touches the host but what is conserated.

Once I learned that Vatican II said NOTHING about Communion in the Hand I changed to the tongue. And from there I graduated to kneeling. Now it doesn't matter whether I'm at a NO or a TLM, I always kneel and receive on the tongue.

I don't think Communion in the hand is inristically sacreligious, but it can lead that direction.

I believe that the kids should be taught the norm only. Kneeling and on the tongue. (I remember kneeling for my First Communion, but received on the hand)...