Why I Receive Communion on the Tongue

“Out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated.” —St. Thomas Aquinas

IMAGE: Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870-1936), “First Communion”
IMAGE: Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870-1936), “First Communion” (photo: Public Domain)

The first time someone urged me to receive Holy Communion on the tongue was in 2011 or 2012. I was an altar server, and the priest who offered Mass said that I couldn’t serve with him unless I received on the tongue. When I pointed out that Rome allows U.S. Catholics to receive on the hand, he said that was correct — but I still had to receive on the tongue.

As a germ-averse person, I found this disgusting. But I wanted to serve, so I received on the tongue and tried not to wince. Months later, when I became an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, I strived to avoid people’s mouths when giving them the Host.

Today, neither of these is a challenge. I have received Communion exclusively on the tongue for several years. And when we are not at our regular parish, my wife and I always get in the priest’s Communion line. (Our regular parish does not allow Extraordinary Ministers.)

The logic of only priests and deacons ministering Communion and only receiving on the tongue is clear. Priests act in persona Christi Capitis at Mass. Priests have a process of hand-washing that no layperson goes through while ministering Communion or receiving it in the hand. Receiving Communion in the hand increases the odds of the Body of Christ falling on the floor. And those who want to desecrate the Eucharist will find doing so nearly impossible when receiving is done on the tongue.

These reasons don’t seem to impact many American Catholics very much. I get it – that used to be me. But one anecdote helped me get over the OCD-style reaction to receiving on the tongue, and an insight recently reaffirmed that.


Testimony from a Muslim

The first anecdote is years old. A person I spoke with described a Muslim friend who said that if he believed the Eucharist was the Body of Christ, he would crawl on his belly to receive it. This Muslim – who did not believe in the Body of Christ in the Eucharist – said he would never want to disrespect God by touching with his hands.

This story stuck with me over the years, even as I struggled with the fact that human hands don’t have an inherent moral downside. However, I think this Muslim’s point was that receiving God inappropriately would be unthinkable. What kept this story in mind is that a non-believer understood the nature of receiving God so much better than I did (and, frankly, than I do even now).


A Practical Matter

The second story comes from Mass recently. My wife was in the Confession line during Mass, and I was holding our baby. Not being as talented as my wife, I was struggling to hold our daughter and pour baby formula into a feeding bottle. I ended up asking my wife for help.

As I held the bottle and our daughter, and she poured the formula, we were both concerned about formula getting on the floor. It suddenly hit me that most Catholics would rightly be concerned about pouring formula onto any floor – in a church or elsewhere. Any reasonable person would, of course, hustle to clean it up.

So why treat the Body and Blood of Christ with any less care?