The former Anglican Bishop of Richborough, Monsignor Edwin Barnes, has written this blogpost on receiving Communion either on the tongue or in the hand.
The tongue holier than the hand?
The Bishop in Wisconsin in the USA has apparently claimed ‘The practice of Communion in the hand grew out of a disobedience that can be traced back to Holland. Because of the widespread abuse of receiving in the hand, Pope Paul VI granted an indult for the practice in a 1969 letter from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship.’ He also asserts that ‘Communion on the tongue is more reverent’. Reverence is a cornerstone of Anglican worship, as it was once generally practised by Anglo-Catholics, and still is by a few. It may be though an uphill task, in view of Cardinal Sarah’s support for receiving on the tongue, but at least a case should be made for reverent receiving of Commuion in the hand .
The Dutch might have used reception in the hand as an act of disobedience. In the Church of England, the very reverse was true. Long before Dutch disobedience, many young confirmation candidates were taught that the correct way to receive was on the palm of the hand, one hand placed on the other, for we understood St Augustine had said that in this way we made “a throne for God”. Then we were taught to bow our heads to receive the Host from the palm of the hand. We were also taught to sign ourselves with the cross just before receiving the Host or the Precious Blood. It may be that it is the taking of the Host between finger and thumb that looks irreverent to the Bishop of Madison and other upholders of, as they would claim, ‘the tradition’. Well, there are many different traditional ways of receiving Communion – for instance it is administered on a spoon in the Eastern Churches, and that can probably claim at least as long a history as reception on the tongue.
What appears particularly irreverent to many former Anglicans is the way so many Catholics studiously avoid receiving from the Chalice, seemingly deliberately avoiding reception of the Precious Blood when it is offered to them. We are well aware of the assertion that ‘the Lord is the same in either kind’, but we still find it strange that if that is so He chose to initiate the Communion with both bread and wine. It has come as a great encoragement to us to be able to use again the words (taken by Cranmer originally from a Spanish Cardinal) ‘that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood’. What is more the words accompanying Communion are terribly brief, whereas in the Ordinariate when we say AMEN we say it at the end of a prayer with which the Sacrament is given to us – that the Body, the Blood, of Our Lord Jesus Christ might preserve us, body and soul, to everlasting life. Brevity, haste even, seems to be the prerequisite for some Catholics. I fancy too that our Anglo-Catholic forefathers would have told communicants that they should not attempt to receive on the tongue; it was rude to poke out your tongue, and the priest did not want to be slobbered over from so many open mouths.
In all this, though, what matters is the interior disposition of the Communicant. If he or she intends to be reverent, then how that reverence is expressed is a matter for them and the Lord, not for any onlooker. The non-conformist who receives Communion from the hands of his neighbour, seated, is not doing so from irreverence, but because that is how he believes he might get nearest to the way it was for the first disciples in the Upper Room. I seem to recall Our Lord telling us not to judge, least of all to judge another’s servant. And certainly the tongue is no holier than the hand.