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Take This and Eat

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Is there a “proper” way to take communion in the Catholic Church?

That's a topic that's been up for discussion this week when several “Extraordinary” lay Communion ministers at a Papal Mass denied people communion in the hand, and only offered it through distribution on the tongue.

While its clear that Pope Francis doesn't reject Communion in the hand, obviously there are some people at the Vatican who dislike the idea. Still, while it is becoming more common to see communion being offered on the tongue – as this was the tradition prior to Vatican II – its unlikely that local churches would take the step of trying to force parishioners to receive communion in this manner. Could you imagine one of your lay "Eucharistic ministers" at your parish refusing to provide communion in the hands of parishioners? Neither can I!

Some traditionalist Catholics see distribution of holy communion on the tongue as the only “proper” way to receive communion. According to them, there's “no evidence” that early Christians allowed communion to be given out by hand, and thus the practice should be taboo and forbidden. The obvious counter to that argument is, of course, when Holy Communion was established for the first time. Jesus said “Take this and eat” to his disciples, and handed them the bread and wine. He didn't place it on their tongue. In short, saying you have to receive holy communion on the tongue for it to be “proper” is as silly as protestant churches who distribute grape juice in place of “communion wine” because they believe its wrong for Christians to consume alcohol – despite the fact Jesus and his disciples did so.

What can be said about Holy Communion is that the practice has lost a lot of reverence since Vatican II. However, this is not just due to communion-in-the-hand, but also because of relax practices when distributing it. Now, “Extraordinary” ministers are used routinely at every mass, whereas traditionally only priests and deacons would distribute communion. Using lay people can “speed things up”, but it also takes away much of the awe and respect that a person gets when they are offered communion only from ordained persons. Furthermore, these relaxed standards mean that many Catholics have received holy communion when they are not in a state of grace to take it. I would argue there are far more problems when unrepentant pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage “Catholics” are welcomed to partake in holy communion, than when a faithful Catholic takes it by hand.

That being said, the Catholic Church certainly does need to be much more careful when distributing communion by hand. Many satanic rituals have been used by stealing a communion wafer after it is distributed by hand in a church, and it is an entirely valid point that Christians distributed communion in the mouth for centuries – although not always by placing it on the tongue. (To this day, many Orthodox and eastern rite Catholics distribute communion by dipping the bread into the wine and placing it into the communicant's mouth with a goblet).

In short, the Catholic Church doesn't need to mandate communion on the tongue. But it does need to revisit how its being distributed during Mass.