Saturday, 5 September 2009

Communion on the Tongue

Many of you have asked me about the reports in last week’s Catholic newspapers of a rumour that a Church document will soon be recommending that we receive Holy Communion on the Tongue. Let me make a couple observations. First, at a worldwide level, the normal manner of receiving Holy Communion is to receive it on the tongue: England is one of a limited number of countries where the bishops applied for a special dispensation for Communion in the hand to be permitted as an additional option. Second, receiving directly on the tongue is the normal practice because it is the most ancient practice: early Church law documents indicate this was the ancient practice; and Scripture scholars tell us that this is probably how the Apostles received Communion at the Last Supper (i.e. at the first Mass) –ancient Middle Eastern practice had the host of a meal place portions of certain food courses directly into the mouth of his honoured guests. Third, for us today, receiving directly on the tongue is one manner of reminding ourselves that in Holy Communion we are engaging in an act radically different to any other type of feeding we partake in. Holy Communion is not ordinary food, it is the Lord Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life, and it makes sense for us to receive Him differently to how we receive other food. Finally, on a personal note, when I made my First Holy Communion I was taught to do so in the hand: along with most of my generation I was not told that it was even permitted to receive on the tongue! Later, as a teenager, I learnt that Communion on the tongue is actually the norm and my own experience is that I find it to be a more humble and receptive mode of receiving Our Lord. In short, the rumoured new church document is not likely to be saying anything radically new but reminding us of what is already the case: Communion on the tongue is the norm, but in England it is also permitted to receive it in the hand. On a related point, may I point out that you should only receive in the hand if you have two hands free to do so, i.e. if you are juggling a bag or child in your other hand it is more suitable for you to receive on the tongue on that occasion, I hope this makes sense and does not cause offence. Thank you.

From parish newsletter 5th September 2009

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