Some Queries Regarding Communion on the Tongue



Further to my post here, I thought I should report a discussion which developed on Facebook and produced what I thought were some very important points.

It is important I think, while expressing one's own valid preferences and expressions, not to give the impression that there is something wrong or disrespectful about a practice explicitly approved by the Church. Reception on the tongue and on the hand are both permitted and I have seen both practised with great devotion. I have also seen both practised carelessly, though I am sure unintentionally so. If the Church gives us a choice then people are entitled to make either choice without any judgment being made about their interior disposition.
It is a matter for you if you make that choice and I do not doubt your devotion. To make a judgment about the heart of someone who receives in another way is not appropriate though. It's not a question of the letter of the law. Both practises are long established in the tradition of the church and both can be practised with great devotion. If you find it more devotional to receive on the tongue then of course, you should do that, but please don't set on believer against another by suggesting that the alternative and no less ancient practice is for those who 'aren't there yet'. St. Cyril of Jerusalem is certainly recognised by the Church as 'being there'.
My response is as follows:

Thanks I think that's a very wise assertion, and we can see how easy it is for such things to become divisive.

I did try to begin my piece with that in mind, knowing many devout Catholics who have developed the habit of receiving on the hand, who have been told it is valid and acceptable by priests or catechists and have taken to the practice. I also note that Cardinal Arinze says that Communion in the hand or on the tongue must not cause a barrier to reception. However, clearly, the two means of reception ARE NOT equal. The canonical status of the two ways of receiving Communion are that Communion on the tongue is allowed universally. Communion in the hand is permitted by indult.

With regard to choice: my study of the subject leads me to understand that the Church is clearly not happy with CITH, which has been introduced by the back-door, as it were, and yet, by means of indult, has regularised it to avoid mass scandal.

With regard to St. Cyril, the situation changes when one hears the context for this situation in the early Church. It is true that Holy Communion in the hand did in fact happen. However, when we read the Patristic passages in context we discover the reason for why Holy Communion in the hand was tolerated. It was only allowed during times of Church persecution.

St Leo the Great and St Gregory the Great are early witnesses to Communion on the Tongue as the normative. However, St Basil admits that Communion on the hand did happen. Saint Basil explicitly explains that Communion in the Hand was only allowed under certain circumstances:
"If ["if" denotes a conditional clause] one feels he should in times of persecution, in the absence of a priest or deacon, receive Communion by his own hand, there should be no need to point out that this certainly shows no grave immoderation [that's pretty serious]; for long custom allows this in such cases [notices how he writes "in such cases" - that's the key]. In fact, all solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, reserving Communion in their dwellings, receive It from their own hands."
So then, Saint Basil says that Communion in the hand is allowed:
1) under times of persecution where no priest is present
2) for hermits and ascetics in the wilderness who do not have priests

He says that that Communion in the hand under any other circumstance is "grave immoderation." Thus, the laity were allowed to hold and touch the Holy Eucharist with their hands in exceptional cases. This practice, says St Basil was not, however, the norm.

Let us now turn to the most controversial quote regarding Holy Communion in the hand. It comes from one of the five mystagogical (i.e. post-Easter) lectures ascribed to Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in about the year AD 350. We currently have 18 undoubted lectures from Saint Cyril given to his catechumens in preparation for Holy Baptism at Easter. Now then, there are an additional five mystagogical lectures allegedly given by Cyril to this same group of people - now his audience has been baptized, confirmed, and has received the Holy Eucharist. So the manuscripts preserving Saint Cyril's catechesis go like this:
  • 18 Lectures for Catechumens preparing to become Christians
  • Easter initiation of this Catechumens
  • 5 Follow-Up Lectures for these Newly Baptised Christians
Now the five follow-up lectures are highly debated and may not be authentic. In other words, they may have may been added by someone other than Saint Cyril. In fact, there exist manuscripts that do not attribute these five lectures to Saint Cyril. Hence, it is not entirely responsible to quote these last five lectures as a valid authority, the five later lectures are questionable.

Anyway, here's the classic "Communion in the Hand" passage from the fifth follow-up mystagogical lecture attributed to Saint Cyril:
"When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen." (Catechesis mystagogica V, xxi-xxii, Migne Patrologia Graeca 33)
This is the passage on which the Patristic argument for Communion in the Hand stands or falls. Whereas there is this ONE alleged quote from St Cyril (the one just above from the disputed Catechesis mystagogica), there are many undoubted quotes by other Fathers that affirm Communion on the tongue (both "great" Popes Saint Leo the Great and Saint Gregory the Great) explicitly witness to Communion on the tongue. So why take the dubious quote when there are others to go by?

I want to add one more argument against the alleged Saint Cyril of Jerusalem passage listed above. The "make your hand a throne" passage goes on to say that the faithful should touch the Holy Body of Christ to their eyes before consuming it. Then it also says that the faithful should touch their lips still moist with the precious Blood of Christ and touch the Blood to their eyes.

Even if this passage is authentic (and I don't think that it is), then Communion in the Hand should also include touching both the Holy Body and the Holy Blood to our eyes. Yet who wants to argue for this custom?! I think that every Catholic would find this abhorrent. It is an aberration from holy tradition. So then, it seems that the early Church administered Holy Communion on the tongue with the exception of the absence of a priest in times of persecution. If a priest were absent, then the faithful might not need to receive on the tongue.

Let me just add that I am by no means a Patristic expert and I'm very open to being corrected. I'm even more interested in any passages in the Church Fathers that support Communion in the hand as normative. So far, I've not encountered any such passages. The only evidence given is the quote quote from Saint Cyril about making your hand into a throne - and from what has been argued above, that argument is not convincing.

Moreover, it is beyond doubt that Communion on the tongue WAS certainly the norm of the Church until the "Spirit of Vatican II" did whatever it did to allow this practice.

It is for these reasons I think that Communion on the tongue is normative, should be taught and encouraged, fosters a better attitude to reception of Holy Communion and the role of the priest, and that we have a responsibility to encourage this practice returns to being the normative manner of reception.



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