As many of you good readers will know, Archbishop Ranjith, Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has recently expressed his opinion that the time has come to “review” two problematic but widespread (in some countries, all but universal) practices: reception of the Blessed Sacrament in a standing posture and reception of the Blessed Sacrament in the hand (rather than on the tongue).

It seems to me that, if only one of these modern “norms” (Communion standing or reception in the hand) were to be reversed at the present time, it would make sense for it to be the former.

It can be, as a matter of practicality, extremely difficult or awkward for a priest to administer the Host on the tongue of a taller standing communicant. It can be extremely ungainly and awkward for both the priest and the communicant, as it happens.  (Approaching more nearly Zacchaeus than Goliath in stature, this is unlikely to affect me very often…)

However, if kneeling to receive were to be re-mandated (and I should like to see that) it would be acceptable, I think, to continue to permit (but not to encourage) reception in the hand with certain strict conditions applied.

It is possible to receive the Host with reverence and proper care into one’s cupped right hand (“thy left hand forming a throne for thy right” as St John Chrysostom has it) and then to convey It to one’s mouth by bending one’s head and lifting It towards the tongue. The tongue can then convey It safely into one’s mouth, without the ugly necessity of picking the Host up with one’s fingers and popping It into the mouth. Many devout Anglicans have been doing this without incident for more than a century – as I have good cause to know.

However, that particular pitch has been queered a bit, precisely in one of the countries in which this form of reception has become the norm, by a letter of April 3, 1985, from the Congregation for Divine Worship (Archbishop Augustin Mayer) to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the USA, which says:

Communion in the hand should show, as much as communion on the tongue, due respect towards the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For this reason emphasis should be laid, as was done by the Fathers of the Church, upon the dignity of the gesture of the communicant. Thus, the newly baptized at the end of the fourth century were directed to stretch out both hands making “the left hand a throne for the right hand, which receives the King” (Fifth mystagogical catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem, n. 21: PG 33. col 1125, or Sources chretiennes, 126, p 171; Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 47: PG 63, col. 898. etc.).*

* In practice the opposite direction has to be given to the faithful: the left hand is to be placed upon the right hand, so that the sacred host can be conveyed to the mouth with the right hand.

With all due respect to Msgr Mayer, that asterisked note is hooey. SS Cyril and John C knew what they were about, and reception from cupped right hand to tongue seems to be implied by their injunction. The other problem, which it is difficult to avoid entirely, with even this form of reception into the hand is that of particles of the Host flaking off and adhering to the hand.  Whilst care must be taken about this, it is not difficult to check for and consume such particles. 

Naturally, however, there is even less chance of accidental mishap (or casual irreverence, or deliberate abuse, or…) with the Host being received ad linguam, and for this reason I think it is to be preferred.  But imagine the uproar and scandal of open disobedience that would be likely to follow if both these practices were immediately to be prohibited in favour of the knee-and-tongue norm.  Making the kneeling posture normative but allowing for reverent reception on the hand as described above as an option would at least be a gentle beginning to stemming the abuses that the current norms seem to be incapable of avoiding.

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