Rorate Caeli

FIUV PP3: the Manner of Receiving Communion

Today I can publish the third paper in our series, on the Manner of Receiving Communion, about receiving communion directly in the mouth, as opposed to in the hand. The PDF is on the FIUV website.

Naturally this paper owes a good deal to Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and his little book 'Dominus Est', which I very much recommend, on this subject. I met Bishop Schneider when he came to England for one of the LMS priest-training conferences in 2010, where he gave a couple of wonderful talks and celebrated Pontifical Solemn Mass for us in Downside Abbey Church. I sent Bishop Schneider the paper for his comments, and he was kind enough to say:

I am content with your text and agreeing. This text could be spread also regarding the Novus Ordo,
because the arguments are objectively valid and have an universal dimension.

The Position papers are not directly concerned with the Novus Ordo, but I hope they may be a contribution to the wider debate going on about liturgy in the Church.

The next paper will be about Liturgical Orientation (ie celebrating Mass ad orientem or versus populum), which I'll publish in two weeks' time.

Comments can be sent to 
positio AT
Full set of papers, including the introductor disclaimer, can be downloaded from the FIUV website.


The Manner of Receiving Holy Communion

11.      As with the issue of service at the altar by men and boys,[1] the question of the manner of receiving Communion at celebrations of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is settled by the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (2011), which upholds the bindingness, in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form, of the liturgical law in force in 1962.[2] This specifies that Holy Communion is to be received by the Faithful kneeling and on the tongue.

22.      Whereas service at the altar by females has been permitted in the Ordinary Form at the discretion of the local Ordinary, the prohibition on the reception of Holy Communion by the Faithful in the hand was expressly reiterated by Pope Paul VI,[3] who merely noted that applications for a derogation of the law would need to be made by an Episcopal Conference to the Holy See. To explain the value of this practice, as this paper seeks to do, is to explain the value of the Church’s own legislation.


33.      As Pope Benedict XVI has observed. ‘Kneeling does not come from any one culture—it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God.’[4] As he goes on to elaborate, kneeling is found in numerous passages of Scripture as a proper attitude both of supplicatory prayer, and of adoration in the presence of God. In kneeling, we follow the example of Our Lord Himself,[5] fulfil Philippians’ Hymn of Christ,[6] and conform ourselves to the heavenly liturgy glimpsed in the Book of Revelations.[7] The Holy Father concludes:
It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture—insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ Himself.[8]

44.      It remains to observe that the moment of one’s reception of the Body of Our Blessed Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is an appropriate moment to kneel, and doing so is a very longstanding tradition in the West.[9]  Blessed Pope John Paul II reminds us that the proper attitude in receiving Holy Communion is ‘the humility of the Centurion in the Gospel’:[10] this attitude is both manifested and nurtured by the recognised posture of humility, of kneeling. The requirement, in the current discipline of the Church, that a ‘gesture of reverence’ be made before Holy Communion is received,[11] is fulfilled in a most natural and unforced manner by receiving while kneeling.

On the Tongue.

55.      The reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, as opposed to in the hand, while not the exclusive practice of the Early Church, does go back to the earliest times. It is attested by St Ephrem the Syriac,[12] the ancient Liturgy of St James,[13] Pope St Leo the Great,[14] and Pope St Gregory the Great.[15] Our Lord seems to have placed bread directly in the mouth of Judas at the Last Supper,[16] and may have used the same method for the Consecrated Species. The spread of this method throughout the Church (with distinct variants for East and West) derived naturally from the great concern of the Fathers that no particle of the consecrated Host be lost. St Cyril of Jerusalem (invariably cited for his description of Communion in the hand)[17] cautions that fragments of the Host should be considered more precious than gold dust;[18] a similar concern is shown by Tertullian,[19] St Jerome,[20] Origen,[21] St Ephrem,[22] and others.[23] This concern is rooted in Scripture, in the command of Our Lord to the Disciples following the Feeding of the Multitude, a type of the Eucharist: ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, lest they be lost.’[24]

66.      This concern is reiterated, and linked to the value of reception on the tongue, by the Instruction Memoriale Domini (1969), which summarises a number of considerations in favour of the traditional manner of distributing Holy Communion:
In view of the state of the Church as a whole today, this manner of distributing Holy Communion must be observed, not only because it rests upon a tradition of many centuries but especially because it is a sign of the reverence of the faithful toward the Eucharist. The practice in no way detracts from the personal dignity of those who approach this great Sacrament and it is a part of the preparation needed for the most fruitful reception of the Lord’s body.[25]

This reverence is a sign of Holy Communion not in “common bread and drink”[26] but in the Body and Blood of the Lord. …

In addition, this manner of communicating, which is now to be considered as prescribed by custom, gives more effective assurance that Holy Communion will be distributed with the appropriate reverence, decorum, and dignity; that any danger of profaning the Eucharistic species, in which “the whole and entire Christ, God and man, is substantially contained and permanently present in a unique way,”[27] will be avoided; and finally that the diligent care which the Church has always commended for the very fragments of the consecrated bread will be maintained: “If you have allowed anything to be lost, consider this a lessening of your own members.”[28]

77.      The possibility that Holy Communion in the hand might lead to a ‘deplorable lack of respect towards the eucharistic species’ was confirmed by Bl. Pope John Paul II.[29] The danger of deliberate profanation of the Blessed Sacrament, also noted in Memoriale Domini, has also sadly become evident, in an age in which sacrilegious acts can be made public on the internet to the scandal of Catholics all over the world. This issue is raised again by the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), which again refers to the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament exclusively on the tongue as the effective remedy:
If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.[30]

88.      Bl. Pope John Paul II raised a related issue when he wrote ‘To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained’.[31] He links this to the consecration of the hands of the priest.[32] This recalls a famous passage of St Thomas Aquinas, cited in this regard in an official statement of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff:[33]
…out 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.[34]

99.      Insofar as we see this traditional method as having developed over time, this is not an argument against it but a testimony to the important considerations which consistently led to its adoption. As Pope Pius XII famously affirmed in Mediator Dei (1948), more ancient practices are not ipso facto to be preferred to practices which have evolved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit over many centuries.[35]


110.  The importance of an inner attitude of humility, stressed both by Bl. Pope John Paul II, and by the requirement for a ‘gesture of reverence’,[36] is not only a matter of decorum before the Real Presence of Our Lord, important as that is. Rather, the grace received by the communicant is dependent upon his or her disposition, and the cultivation of the correct disposition, that of humility and child-like receptivity, is facilitated by reception both kneeling and on the tongue. As Pope Paul VI emphasised: it is ‘part of the preparation needed for the most fruitful reception of the Lord’s body.’[37]

111.  This value of the traditional method was reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to distribute Holy Communion himself to kneeling communicants on the tongue. The official commentary on this decision cites both the concern about the loss of particles of the Consecrated Host, and a concern
to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.[38]
Further, the traditional method is called an ‘external sign’ to ‘promote understanding of this great sacramental mystery’.[39]

112.  In the specific context of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the exclusive practice of receiving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue goes hand in hand with the great reverence shown to the Blessed Sacrament in that Form by the celebrating priest. Two examples would be the priest’s double genuflection at the Consecration, and the holding together of thumb and forefinger, from the Consecration to the Purification of the Chalice. Reception of Communion in the hand would create a harmful dissonance with other elements of the liturgy. The matter is well expressed in the Instruction Il Padre, incomprensibile (1996), addressed to the Oriental Churches, on the importance of maintaining the manner of receiving Holy Communion traditional to those Churches:
Even if this excludes enhancing the value of other criteria, also legitimate, and implies renouncing some convenience, a change of the traditional usage risks incurring a non-organic intrusion with respect to the spiritual framework to which it refers.[40]

[1] FIUV Positio 1: The Service at the Altar of Men and Boys
[2] Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (2011) 28
[3] Instruction Memoriale Domini (1969): ‘the Supreme Pontiff judged that the long received manner of ministering Holy Communion to the faithful should not be changed’
[4] Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger) ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000) p185
[5] Luke 22.41 (during the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane).
[6] Philippians 2:10: ‘That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow’:
[7] Revelations 5:8
[8] Pope Benedict XVI op. cit. p194.
[9] In the West, the development of kneeling for Communion can be traced back at least to the 6th Century: see Athanasius Schneider ‘Dominus Est’ (Pine Beach NJ: Neman House Press, 2008) p27.
[10] Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistica (2003) 48: ‘cum demissione centurionis in Evangelio’
[11] General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002) 160
[12] St Ephrem the Syriac Sermones in Hebdomeda Sancta 4, 5: ‘Isaiah saw Me [sc. Christ], as you see Me now extending My right hand and carrying to your mouths the living Bread.’ The reference is to Isaiah’s vision of the live coal with which the angel touched his lips (Isaiah 6.6-7).
[13] Bozestwennaya Liturgia Swjatago Apostoloa Iakowa Brata Boziya I perwago bierarcha Ierusalima (Roma-Grottaferrata, 1970) p151: ‘The Lord will bless us, and make us worthy with the pure touchings of our fingers to take the live coal, and place it upon the mouths of the faithful, …’
[14] Pope St Leo the Great, Sermon 91,3
[15] Pope St Gregory the Great, Dialogues 3,c. 3
[16] John 13:26-27: ‘Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the morsel, Satan entered into him.’
[17] St Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catechesis 5, 21f
[18] Mystagogical Catechesis 5, 2
[19] Tertullian De Corona 3: ‘We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground.’
[20] St Jerome In Ps 147, 14: ‘…if anything should fall to the ground, there is a danger.’
[21] Origen In Exod. Hom. 13, 3: ‘…when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall.’
[22] St Ephrem Sermones in Hebdomada Sancta 4, 4: ‘…do not trample underfoot even the fragments. The smallest fragment of this Bread can sanctify millions of men…’
[23] Notably, from the Canons of the Coptic Church: ‘God forbid that any of the pearls or consecrated fragments should adhere to the fingers or fall the ground!’ Collationes canonum Copticae (Denzinger, Ritus Orientalium I, p95)
[24] John 6.12. Cf. Matthew 14.20 and 15.37; Mark 6.43 and 8.9; Luke 9.17
[25] [Footnote 6 in Memoriale Domini (MD)] Cf. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 98, 9: PL 37, 1264-1265.
[26] [Footnote 7 in MD] Cf. Justin, Apologia I, 66: PG 6, 427; cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1.4, c. 18. n. 5: PG 7,1028-1029.
[27] [Footnote 9 in MD] Cf. ibid. n. 9, p. 547.
[28] [Footnote 10 in MD] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses Mystagogicae, V. 21: PG 33, 1126.
[29] Bl. Pope John Paul II Letter Dominicae Caenae (1980) 11
[30] Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) 92, reiterating the Congregation of Divine Worship’s response to a dubium given in 1999, recorded in Notitiae 35 (1999) pp. 160-161
[31] Dominicae Caenae 11
[32] Ibid, the preceding paragraph: ‘But one must not forget the primary office of priests, who have been consecrated by their ordination to represent Christ the Priest: for this reason their hands, like their words and their will, have become the direct instruments of Christ.’
[33] Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff: ‘Communion received on the tongue while kneeling’ (2010)
[34] St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae, IIIa Q82 a3 c: ‘in reverentiam huius sacramenti, a nulla re contingitur nisi consecrata, unde et corporale et calix consecrantur, similiter et manus sacerdotis, ad tangendum hoc sacramentum. Unde nulli alii tangere licet, nisi in necessitate puta si caderet in terram, vel in aliquo alio necessitatis casu.’
[35] Pope Pius XII Encylical Letter Mediator Dei (1948) 61: ‘The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savour and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world.[ Matthew 28.20] They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.’ (Haec eadem iudicandi ratio tenenda est, cum de conatibus agitur, quibus nonnulli enituntur quoslibet antiquos ritus ac caerimonias in usum revocare. Utique vetustae aetatis Liturgia veneratione procul dubio digna est; verumtamen vetus usus, non idcirco dumtaxat quod antiquitatem sapit ac redolet, aptior ac melior existimandus est vel in semet ipso, vel ad consequentia tempora novasque rerum condiciones quod attinet. Recentiores etiam liturgici ritus reverentia observantiaque digni sunt, quoniam Spiritus Sancti afflatu, qui quovis tempore Ecclesiae adest ad consummationem usque saeculorum (cfr. Matth. 28, 20), orti sunt; suntque iidem pariter opes, quibus inclita Iesu Christi; Sponsa utitur ad hominum sanctitatem excitandam procurandamque.)
[36] See paragraph 4
[37] Memoriale Domini
[38] Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff: ‘Communion received on the tongue while kneeling’ (2010).
[39] Ibid.
[40] Instruction Il Padre, incomprensibile  (1996) 53



  1. ...and yet, and yet; after all those magnificent words from those in authority in the Church. the final conclusion cannot be drawn; Holy Communion in the hand must be suppressed. It is the nexus point liturgically of the attack on the Faith. The monstrous distortions of what the Blessed Eucharist is, the equivocations on what the Mass is and is not comes from nearly the highest levels in the Church. An example can be seen in documents produced under the auspices of various members of the Canadian hierarchy that equivocate, obfuscate the Sacrificial nature of the Mass. Contained within is the centrality that communion is received on the hand... I am personally convinced that until this abominable practice goes there will be no change in the Church.

  2. Francis2:46 PM

    Out of all of the modernist and relativist abominations that came into Christ's Catholic Church during and after the Second Vatican Council Communion in the hand, standing while receiving Communion and Lay Eucharistic "ministers" are definitely the worst in my opinion.

  3. "Amen" Francis. Again, I say "Amen".

    The recent abominable treatment of Fr. Guarizzo - I do hope I have spelt his name correctly fro memory - is an example of this equivocation and down-playing of the Real Presence.

  4. Lee Lovelock-Jemmott4:07 PM

    If I was a priest in a church, or a Bishop, or Archbishop, or higher, I would rather risk my elevation through the hierarchy than see anyone and I literally mean anyone receiving Our LORD in their 'hands'. This is one of many things that I would enforce strictly (kneeling as opposed to standing, no EMs as opposed to some, and no laity unless serving or having express permission allowed inside the sanctuary).Alongside this, I would provide special catechism as to why this is the case.

  5. Gratias6:16 PM

    It is wonderful to kneel at the rail to receive communion. It is a bit like receiving nourishment from Heaven. The problem is, that in the Novus Ordo there are many Eucharistic ministers, mostly women. The value of receiving on the tongue then is minimal. One can change lines to receive from the priest, but if that became generalized they would leave the priest holding the chalice. Best solution at present is to deeply bow while the person in front is receiving the host and then receive on the tongue while standing. Unfortunately kneeling is not allowed at present. With the personal example of the Holy Father perhaps the bishops might be shamed into allowing communion while kneeling, but it has not happened yet. So the solution is to attend the Latin Mass even if it involves a driving far away, as is the reality for so many. The Una Voce position papers are a very useful reference source.

    Heilige Vater, vielen Dank für Summorum Pontificum.

  6. Lynda7:52 PM

    One may not be refused the Eucharist because one kneels to receive - anywhere.

  7. Jacobi8:39 PM

    It is crucially important that the Church returns to the practise of receiving Communion by mouth.

    The “Relativist” Reformers, after Vatican II, used reception in the hand as their main tactic in attacking the concept of the Real Presence. They understood its symbolic effectiveness. The rest of us forgot!

    It is up to all bishops and priests, and laity, to do what they can to restore this ancient custom as the norm in our parishes.

  8. "Unfortunately kneeling is not allowed at present."

    You are misinformed. Of course it's allowed, Gratias. But most people don't do it because: 1.) They've lost the faith; 2.)Their faith is weak; 3.) They are afraid; 4.) They are misinformed.

    We may defend and applaud the Fr. Guarnizo's, but until the laity is also willing to take the risk of being shamed or persecuted for rendering our Eucharist Lord proper homage, we are nothing but windbags.

    Furthermore, the example by our Holy Father is presented as only an option. That is a problem. Did anyone notice that President Calderon refused to use the kneeler in front of him? He did only a little better than Queen Sofia by at least receiving on the tongue.

  9. The faithful should not take any risk of being "humiliated". Just go to the Traditional Mass.

  10. Please do not misunderstand me, NC. I don't mean that one should deliberately attend a N.O. to provoke humiliation. Yes, just go to the TLM. But if there is an occasion when ONE absolutely has to go to a N. O., there is the option of refraining from receiving, or if one chooses to receive, let it be kneeling and on the tongue.

    That is the rule I have set for MYSELF. It is my line in the sand and I wouldn't mention if I didn't live by it. I think all of us have to set some limits as to how far we can go along with the revolution. I hope I am not misunderstood as one advocating seeking humiliations. I am not a masochist. :-)

  11. I too was at the training conference learning to serve, I particularly enjoyed His Grace's after dinner speech in which he told us that the Bishops's conference in Kazakhstan had eliminiated Communion in the hand :)

  12. Francis, I'd have to disagree. As bad as communion in the hand is, theologically it is not an issue so long as it is treated with due reverence (which never happens in practice, especially in the rushed assembly line way Eucharists are handed out).

    What is an issue is the Priest facing the people during the Liturgy Of The Eucharist. It turns the Priest into a performer and as the Pope states in "The Spirit of the Liturgy", it turns the mass in on itself instead of towards God.

    If both issues were dealt with, the NO would be a lot more of traditional liturgy than it currently is.

  13. picard10:05 AM

    Francis, Barona:

    AMEN, AMEN!!

  14. Mgoog2:21 PM

    Thank you for sharing this information. Very helpful for one who has recently returned to receving Holy Communion on the tongue. What do you and your readers thnks of the eastern pratcive of intinction for either the EF or OF? And, what you make of it when the celebrant alone uses intinction for his own reception in the OF?

    with much appreciation,

  15. Mgoog: on the Eastern practice of intinction. This is another solution to the problem of fragments and so on. The priest uses a spoon to place the Sacred Species in the mouths of the faithful. Done correctly the spoon does not touch the communicant's tongue.

    This practice has great value in the context of the Eastern liturgical traditon. It is a witness to the parallel concern they have with the Real Presence, and the response to it which has grown out of their historical and cultural circumstances. They should stick to their traditions, and we to ours.

    When people in the West talk about intinction, they are more likely to mean what I have seen in England: the communicant picking up a host, carrying it in the fingers to a chalice, and dipping it in before consuming it. The whole affair is... beyond words. It is contrary to our liturgical law, and to claim the precedent of the Eastern tradition for it is an insult to that tradition.

  16. mgoog8:32 PM

    Joseph, thank you for the very clear response. I would assume then that a priest doing this for his own reception is also outside of our tradition??kipties veywa

  17. self intinction is forbidden...intinction in the manner of the Maronites (who also use unleavened Hosts)...if this was mandated for the Roman Rite, it would automatically eliminate hand communion. In addition to Kazakastan, the Archdiocese of Colombo has banned Communion in the hand and other dioceses as well. We can pray the next Pope will ban CITH...since I don't think our current Pope (and may he have many years) will do it.


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