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Communion on the tongue

Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, recently wrote that he sees receiving communion kneeling and on the tongue as the much more suitable approach. In strong words, he wrote:

We can understand how the most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favoring an unsuitable manner of receiving it. Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and Lucifer on the other, continues in the heart of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated host.

Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?

The debate about this gets surprisingly heated. Some really do see this as the battle line drawn between Satan and Archangel Michael.

The mistreatment of some of the historical documents is reminiscent of the way that some people treat the scriptures, often anachronistically.

When Leo the Great (c. 400 – 10 November 461), in commenting on John 6, claims that “One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith”, this is not some argument that in the fifth century receiving communion on the tongue rather than in the hand is “a well-established fact“. This is simply Leo expressing what we all know – communion, the Bread of Life, is received by eating: in the mouth.

As for what is made of the encouragement by Basil of Caesarea (c. 330 – January 1 or 2, 379) to receive communion daily, and “in times of persecution to be compelled to take the communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister” – this is stretched even further! Basil is clearly writing of people not easily able to be part of a Eucharist service and so they have, at home, bread that has been consecrated. This is the reference to persecution; this is the reference to not having the presence of a priest – Basil is talking about not moving out and about so easily (and hence to church for the Eucharist) because of persecution, and so taking communion by oneself (λαμβάνειν τῇ ἰδίᾳ χειρί – by your own hand – rather than from another) is understandable.

But this is stretched to breaking with claims that “St. Basil the Great considered Communion in the hand so irregular that he did not hesitate to consider it a grave fault.” (And see, similarly, here, here, here, and so on).

To add an Anglican perspective, the communion rite in the 1549 BCP concludes:

And although it bee redde in aunciente writers, that the people many yeares past received at the priestes handes the Sacrament of the body of Christ in theyr owne handes, and no commaundement of Christ to the contrary: Yet forasmuche as they many tymes conveyghed the same secretelye awaye, kept it with them, and diversly abused it to supersticion and wickednes: lest any suche thynge hereafter should be attempted, and that an uniformitie might be used, throughoute the whole Realme: it is thought convenient the people commonly receive the Sacrament of Christes body, in their mouthes, at the Priestes hande.

From this one can conclude that receiving communion in the hand was a reality in 16th-century England.

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