Tongue or Hand?

I've never been a huge fan of disputes over how best to receive Holy Communion. Some folks seem to prefer receiving on the tongue, others in the hand; some kneeling at a Communion Rail, others while walking in procession. I have my own preference, of course--who doesn't?--but I've usually thought that it was best to "choose your battles", as they say in the childrearing business, and not fuss too much when other folks did things differently than I, just so long as what they do is respectful and licit.

Now Fr. Finigan of The Hermeneutic of Continuity has found some evidence that Communion was received on the tongue as early as the middle of the 7th century. What strikes me about this issue, when presented in this way, is that the evidence shows that Communion on the tongue developed as a response to abuses occuring when Communion was received in the hand. In short, Communion in the hand has, in some times and places, been forbidden or even condemned, while Communion on the tongue has never been either forbidden or condemned. There are those who don't like it, of course, but it would be absurd to suggest that receiving Holy Communion on the tongue could lead to anything like the abuses that could occur when reception is into the hand.

It may come as something of a surprise to learn, then (I suppose), that I myself receive Holy Communion in the hand. My reasons, I'm afraid, have more to do with sanitation than reverence, but I don't think that I'm in any danger of treating the Body of Our Lord with anything but the utmost dignity and reverence. "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." As a matter of general principle, though, I'm beginning to think that I ought to change my ways. Whether or not I am likely to misuse the Sacrament, there is something to be said for the setting of the example. It is also rather humbling to receive on the tongue--it is a rather touching moment of submissiveness, or perhaps even a kind of self-abasement. In this moment we realize that, whether rich or poor, ill or well, strong or weak, we are all one and the same, fully dependent upon Our Lord's grace and love, which he is happy to give to those who love him and who freely come to him in the Sacraments.

My church has removed the Communion Rails, but if they were there I would use them. As it is, I content my self with a genuflexion on my way to reception. It is not something that is provided for in the rubrics, as the bowing of the head is, but neither is it forbidden or condemned (at least not in my diocese). The more such voluntary shows of reverence the better, in my opinion, though of course one does not want a liturgical celebration turning into a kind of liturgical dance with everyone making all sorts of reverences and movements not called for by the rubrics. But some things could become adopted by whole congregations and thus be less disruptive. Consider the threefold crossing that most of us do at the proclamation of the Gospel. This is not called for by the rubrics, but just about everybody does it, even though it is technically something to be done only by the person proclaiming the Gospel. What's wrong with everyone doing it? (On the other hand--literally, in this case--everyone seems to want to hold hands at the Our Father, and I always make it a point to have crippling arthritis on those days. It's hard to think of a more banal gesture for the pollution of our most treasured prayer.)

Thanks to Fr. Finigan for some very interesting thoughts.

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