According to Catholic Theology and Tradition, is one method of receiving Holy Communion (in the hand vs on the tongue) more perfect than another? Or are both equal?


2 Answers 2


It is better to receive communion on the tongue than in the hand. And, in fact, in some jurisdictions, namely those without an indult, it is forbidden to receive communion in the hand.

The document Memoriale Domini was used to direct bishops' conferences on how to request such an indult, and itself tells us that communion on the tongue is the better way to receive.

This method of distributing holy communion [on the tongue] must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful's reverence for the Eucharist. The custom does not detract in any way from the personal dignity of those who approach this great sacrament: it is part of that preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord.[6]

This reverence shows that it is not a sharing in "ordinary bread and wine"[7] that is involved, but in the Body and Blood of the Lord, through which "The people of God share the benefits of the Paschal Sacrifice, renew the New Covenant which God has made with man once for all through the Blood of Christ, and in faith and hope foreshadow and anticipate the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of the Father."[8]

Further, the practice which must be considered traditional ensures, more effectively, that holy communion is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity. It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species, in which "in a unique way, Christ, God and man, is present whole and entire, substantially and continually."[9] Lastly, it ensures that diligent carefulness about the fragments of consecrated bread which the Church has always recommended: "What you have allowed to drop, think of it as though you had lost one of your own members."

Saint Thomas Aquinas also gives us theological reasons for receiving communion on the tongue:

[O]ut of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest's hands, for touching this Sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency.

  • Is Aquinas talking about someone else? Or the recipient? ("anyone else") Jan 27, 2022 at 15:58
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    Anyone whose hands are not consecrated, ie anyone who is not ordained to the clergy.
    – jaredad7
    Jan 27, 2022 at 15:58
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    " I don't think that medieval philosophy considered the touch of the hand and the touch of the tongue as the same sort of thing" This is interesting - I'm wondering if there are any references for this. Having said that, the question is about the Catholic Church today (I think ... maybe I'm wrong on this). I'm wondering if there's any official position on this that is more contemporary. Jan 27, 2022 at 19:16
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    Right, the question is about the Church today, but your follow up was about Aquinas. The relevant modern document is Memoriale Domini, which was written in the 20th century.
    – jaredad7
    Jan 27, 2022 at 19:37
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    @OneGodtheFather to the question about the Apostles, they would have used their hands, and the early Church did also use their hands. However, our understanding developed such that we came to understand that touching is improper, and, furthermore, I'm about 90% sure the Apostles were already gifted with their apostolic faculties at the time of the Last Supper, which means they would have been rightly taking the Host themselves even today.
    – jaredad7
    Jan 27, 2022 at 19:39

Is it better to receive communion in the hand or on the tongue?

I prefer kneeling and on the tongue, but I don’t believe there is an argument that can be made for one way being intrinsically superior to another.

The early Church had communion on the hand, therefore it was a traditional custom or way until 900 AD and we are now allowed to do the same, albeit by indult. Things are liturgically regulated differently in our modern times.

Holy Communion in the Hand (Norm till 500-900 AD)

That, in the early Church, the faithful stood when receiving into their hands the consecrated particle can hardly be questioned. . . . St. Dionysius of Alexandria [d. 265], writing to one of the popes of his time, speaks emphatically of “one who has stood by the table and has extended his hand to receive the Holy Food” (Eusebius [263-339], Hist. Eccl., VII, ix). The custom of placing the Sacred Particle in the mouth, rather than in the hand of the communicant, dates in Rome from the sixth, and in Gaul from the ninth century (Van der Stappen, IV, 227; cf. St. Greg., Dial., I, III, c. iii). (Catholic Encyclopedia: “Genuflexion”)

The elements were placed in the hands (not in the mouth) of each communicant by the clergy who were present, or, according to Justin, by the deacons alone, amid singing of psalms by the congregation (Psalm 34), with the words: “The body of Christ;” “The blood of Christ, the cup of life;” to each of which the recipient responded “Amen.” (eminent Church historian Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325 [Vol. II], Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1976, from fifth edition of 1889, Chapter Five: “Christian Worship”: § 68. Celebration of the Eucharist, 238-239)

  1. In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof; for whatever you lose, is evidently a loss to you as it were from one of your own members. For tell me, if any one gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?
  1. Then after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth your hands, but bending, and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen, hallow yourself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem [c. 313-386], Catechetical Lectures, 23:21-22)

And even in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand. It has the same validity whether one portion or several portions are received from the priest at the same time. (St. Basil the Great [330-379], Letter 93: To the Patrician Cæsaria, concerning Communion)

St. Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-542), in his Sermon 227, noted that men received Holy Communion on the hand, and women, on their hand covered with a veil (Omnes viri, quando communicare desiderant, lavant manus suas; et omnes mulieres nitida exhibeant linteamina, ubi corpus Christi accipiant). Synods in Gaul in the 6th-7th centuries confirm the same practice.

Wherefore, if any one wishes to be a participator of the immaculate Body in the time of the Synaxis, and to offer himself for the communion, let him draw near, arranging his hands in the form of a cross, and so let him receive the communion of grace. But such as, instead of their hands, make vessels of gold or other materials for the reception of the divine gift, and by these receive the immaculate communion, we by no means allow to come, as preferring inanimate and inferior matter to the image of God. (Council of Constantinople, Trullo Canon 101, [692 AD] )

“What need of the Eucharist? for you are not yet appointed to die, since you talk so merrily with us, as if you were in good health.” “Nevertheless,” said he, “bring me the Eucharist.” Having received It into his hand, he asked, whether they were all in charity with him, and had no complaint against him, nor any quarrel or grudge. (Venerable Bede [672-735], Ecclesiastical History of England, Book 4, ch 24)

That’s evidence from six Church fathers (at least four of them Doctors of the Church), and also corroboration from the old Catholic Encyclopedia and Church historians.

The facts of the matter of early practice are undeniable, but it’s how they are interpreted in light of the present debate which is interesting. Lots of legalism and emotionalism in equal measure. I’m clearly being objective about it because I practice and prefer one method but refuse to run down (and actually defend to a large extent) the other, in terms of intrinsic inferiority, which is nonexistent.

For more information the following may be of interest:

  • Also Justin Martyr describes how after worship, “to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” That would seem to me an indication of some sort of take out Eucharist under the form of individual cups of wine and bread. With that in mind, Ignatius’ medicine of immortality likely took place along different distribution modes.
    – Jess
    Jan 28, 2022 at 4:35
  • @Jess I doubt that implied the use of individual cups. Portion seems to means under the form of bread only. Even in the Early Church, the accidental spilling of the Sacred Blood would be considered serious matter.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 28, 2022 at 4:48
  • I view Justin describing a process in which a pouring chalice was used to fill up small bottles for the sick. Justin M. writes: “Then bread and a cup containing wine & water are presented to the one presiding..." Just like bread can be distributed in small portions, so also a chalice could have been used to distribute small portions. That being said, it was likely a common practice to drink directly from a chalice as a sign of unity or just plain economy of time. It would be analogous to drinking from a canteen while hiking or directly from a milk container in the fridge when thirsty.
    – Jess
    Jan 28, 2022 at 19:09

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