The Church prefers communion on the tongue

There seems to be much confusion about this in the Church today. This Una Voce article provides some historical context for the practice of receiving holy communion. Pope Paul VI makes it clear that, for both prudential and theological reasons, communion on the tongue is the preferred method of receiving the Eucharist; communion in the hand is merely permitted.  Here is the complete text of Memoriale Domini:

Memoriale Domini, the Instruction on the Manner of Administering Holy Communion

The Congregation for Divine Worship on May 29, 1969

When it celebrates the memorial of the Lord, by that rite the Church witnesses to its faith and adoration of Christ, who is present in the sacrifice and who is given as food to those who share in the Eucharistic table.

For this reason it is of great concern that the Eucharist be celebrated and shared in most worthily and fruitfully, by observing unchanged the tradition that has reached us step by step, the tradition whose riches have been poured into the practice and life of the Church. The documents of history demonstrate that the ways of celebrating and receiving the holy Eucharist have been diverse. Even in our time many and important ritual changes have been introduced into the celebration of the Eucharist in order to bring it into accord with the spiritual and psychological needs of men today. Because of circumstances, communion under both kinds, bread and wine, which was once common in the Latin rite but had fallen into disuse little by little, has again been made a part of the discipline governing the faithful’s mode of receiving the holy Sacrament. At the time of the Council of Trent a different situation had arisen and was in effect everywhere; the Council approved and defended it as suited to the conditions of that period. (1)

With the renewal of the modes of communicating, however, the sign of the Eucharistic meal and the complete fulfillment of Christ’s mandate have been effected more clearly and vividly. At the same time a full sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist, expressed through Sacramental communion, has recently stirred up in some places the desire to return to the practice by which the Eucharistic bread is placed in the hand of the faithful who communicates himself by putting it in his mouth.

In some communities and localities this rite has even been performed without obtaining the prior approval of the Apostolic See and occasionally without appropriate preparation for the people.

It is true that, according to ancient usage, it was once permitted for the faithful to take the sacred food in their hands and themselves to place it in their mouths and even, in the earliest period, to carry the holy Sacrament with them from the place of celebration, especially in order to receive it as viaticum if they should have to suffer for the profession of the faith.

Nevertheless the precepts of the Church and the writings of the Fathers give abundant witness to the great reverence and prudence shown to the holy Eucharist. For “no one . . . eats this flesh unless first he adores,” (2) and each recipient is warned: “. . . receive it and take care that none of it be lost to you” (3): “for it is the body of Christ.” (4)

In the meantime the care and ministry of the Body and Blood of the Lord was entrusted in a quite special way to sacred ministers or to persons assigned to this function: “After the president has completed the prayers and all the people have made the acclamation, those among us whom we call deacons distribute a part of the bread and wine and water, in which the thanksgiving has been made, to each one present and bring them to those who are absent.” (5)

The office of bringing the Eucharist to those who were absent was soon entrusted to sacred ministers alone, for the reason that greater care might be shown for the reverence due to the Body of Christ as well as for the needs of the people. In the following period, after the true meaning of the Eucharistic mystery, its effect, and the presence of Christ in it had been profoundly investigated, from a pressing sense of reverence toward this holy Sacrament and of the humility which its reception demands, the custom was introduced by which the minister himself would place the piece of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicants.

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. (6)

This reverence is a sign of communion not in “common bread and drink” (7) but in the Body and Blood of the Lord. By it “the people of God shares in the blessings of the paschal sacrifice, renews the new covenant once made by God with man in the Blood of Christ, and in faith and hope prefigures and anticipates the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of the Father.” (8)

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,” (9) 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.” (10)

On this account, since some few episcopal conferences and individual bishops had asked that the usage of placing the consecrated bread in the hand of the faithful be admitted in their territories, the Supreme Pontiff decreed that each bishop of the entire Latin Church should be asked his opinion concerning the appropriateness of introducing this rite. A change in a matter of such importance, which rests on a very ancient and venerable tradition, besides touching upon discipline can also  include dangers. These may be feared from a new manner of administering Holy Communion: they are a lessening of reverence toward the noble Sacrament of the altar, its profanation, or the adulteration of correct doctrine.

Three questions were therefore proposed to the bishops. Up to March 12 the following responses had been received:

1. Does it seem that the proposal should be accepted by which, besides the traditional mode, the rite of receiving Holy Communion in the hand would be permitted?
       Yes: 567
       No: 1,233
       Yes, with reservations: 315
       Invalid votes: 20       

2. Should experiments with this new rite first take place in small communities, with the assent of the local Ordinary?
       Yes: 751
       No: 1,215
       Invalid votes: 70       

3. Do you think that the faithful, after a well planned catechetical preparation, would accept this new rite willingly?
       Yes: 835
       No: 1,185
       Invalid votes: 128        

From the responses received it is thus clear that by far the greater number of bishops feel that the present discipline should not be changed at all, indeed that if it were changed, this would be offensive to the sensibilities and spiritual appreciation of these bishops and of most of the faithful.       

After he had considered the observations and the counsel of those whom “the Holy Spirit has placed as bishops to rule” (11) the Churches, in view of the seriousness of the matter and the importance of the arguments proposed, the Supreme Pontiff judged that the long received manner of ministering Holy Communion to the faithful should not be changed.

The Apostolic See therefore strongly urges bishops, priests, and people to observe zealously this law, valid and again confirmed, according to the judgment of the majority of the Catholic episcopate, in the form which the present rite of the sacred liturgy employs, and out of concern for the common good of the Church.

If the contrary usage, namely, of placing Holy Communion in the hand, has already developed in any place, in order to help the episcopal conference fulfill their pastoral office in today’s often difficult situation, the Apostolic See entrusts to the conferences the duty and function of judging particular circumstances, if any. They may make this judgment provided that any danger is avoided of insufficient reverence or false opinions of the Holy Eucharist arising in the minds of the faithful and that any other improprieties be carefully removed.

In these cases, moreover, in order to govern this usage properly, the episcopal conferences should undertake the appropriate deliberations after prudent study; the decision is to be made by a two-thirds majority by secret ballot.

These deliberations should then be proposed to the Holy See for the necessary confirmation, together with an accurate explanation of the reasons which moved the conferences to take this action. The Holy See will weigh the individual cases with care, remembering the bonds which exist between the several local Churches among themselves and with the entire Church, in order to promote the common good and edification and the increase of faith and piety which flow from mutual good example.

This Instruction, prepared at the special mandate of the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI, was duly approved by him, in virtue of apostolic authority, on May 28, 1969. Pope Paul also decreed that it be brought to the attention of the bishops through the presidents of the episcopal conferences.

Anything to the contrary notwithstanding.

Rome, May 29, 1969.

Benno Card. Gut

A. Bugnini,


       1 Cf. Council of Trent, session XXI, doctrine concerning communion under both kinds and communion of children: Denz. 1726-1717 (930); session XXII, decree on the petition for the concession of the cup: Denz. 1760.
      2 Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 98, 9: PL 37, 1264.
      3 Cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses Mystagogicae, V, 21: PG 33, 1126.
4 Hippolytus, Traditio Apostolica, n. 37; ed. B. Botte, 1963, p. 84.
      5 Justin, Apologia I, 65: PG 6, 427.
      6 Cf. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalm os, 98, 9: PL 37, 1264-1265.
      7 Cf. Justin, Apologia I, 66: PG 6, 427; cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1.4, c. 18. n. 5: PG 7,1028-1029.
      8 S. Congregation of Rites, instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, n. 3a: AAS 59 (1967) 541.
      9 Cf. ibid. n. 9, p. 547.
      10 Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses Mystagogicae, V. 21: PG 33, 1126.
      11 Cf. Acts 20: 28. and Cf. II Vatican Council, decree Christus Dominus, n. 38, 4: AAS 58 (1966) 693.

31 thoughts on “The Church prefers communion on the tongue

  1. Provoked by your post, I kept an eye on the communion line yesterday, just that line that my batch of pews would have entered. Precisely three people took it on the tongue. Averaging that around the whole church of approximately 300 attendees, I’d estimate only 12 took it in the prescribed manner.


  2. I have a basic question on communion. We speak of the bread, water and wine in Holy Communion. Is the use of water connected to Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman in the 4th chapter of the Gospel of John?


  3. Hello Bruce! I hope you and yours had a blessed Christmas. My understanding has always been that the use of water is connected to the water that flowed from the side of Christ when He was pierced by the lance of St. Longinus on the cross. I should probably look it up though.


  4. Hello Jeff,

    We are thinking of becoming Catholics through one of the Anglican use Ordinariates. I know and trust some of the men in the ordinariate. They certainly have good intentions. As you can imagine there’s a lot I don’t understand (since we haven’t been taught very well in our Anglican Parish). One question concerning this post. Is it ok to have the host dipped in the chalice and then placed in your mouth? I have seen this practice quite a bit. I can’t explain why, but it seems less than ideal to me.


  5. That’s terrific news, Bruce! I would love to attend an Ordinariate liturgy someday. I understand they are done very beautifully. I think what you describe is called “intinction”, and I feel certain that it is approved at least for the eastern rites. There’s nothing doctrinally wrong with it so far as I know, and if handled exclusively by clerics I have no problem with it. In our time, however, it’s important to emphasize that the sacred host is both the body and blood of Our Lord, so there’s no need for intinction to receive the precious blood. But the practice can be said to have symbolic value.


    • I think the practice seemed less than ideal to me because the individuals were not drinking of the cup and it seems like we should share the cup like the disciples did. I suspect some people who don’t want to drink the cup are squeamish about drinking out of a common cup which seems like a really bad reason.

      I’ve attended a WELS church and most of the congregation received from individual plastic cups with only a few using the chalice. Forget about the validity or lack thereof of their sacrament for a minute. The point is they believe they have the body and blood and yet they’re squeamishness about a common cup.


      • Ah, yes, I remember well the chalice vs. plastic cup wars, in both the WELS and the LCMS. That’s one reason I prefer the Latin Mass – communion in one kind is the rule. There’s nothing to fight over. :-) But if you’re going to communicate with the precious blood, it should definitely be with a chalice! The proponents of intinction say the practice is very ancient. I’ve seen it in Orthodox churches.


    • Jeff, As you can imagine, I have a lot of basic questions about Catholicism. Some are embarrassingly basic. I am speaking with an Anglican Ordinariate priest and have left questions with Catholic apologetic websites. I hate to use up your time (given that you have six children) with general apologetics questions, but if I have a hard time finding certain answers can I ask them here or by email? I trust you to give me accurate and honest answers.


      • Bruce, feel free to ask me questions in any form you like. I’m not any kind of authority but I’ll do the best I can with them. Sounds like we’ve traveled similar roads (mine was Lutheran –> Anglican –> Catholic) and wrestled with similar issues. I’d be delighted to speak with you on the phone sometime as well.


      • Thanks Jeff.

        This is basic but I asked this at another Catholic site and haven’t received an answer yet. In Catholicism, when we commit a mortal sin we are cut off and must be forgiven through the sacrament of confession and absolution. I assume that there is an official list or guidance so that we have some idea when we commit a mortal sin. Murder and adultery are obviously mortal sins. I assume there is a gray area or at least potential for confusion and failure to identify a mortal sin. And a priest told me that your personal background is taken into account as well. If you’re a new convert with a 40 year bad habit who commits the habitual sin vs. a devout cradle Catholic with no such history who commits the same sin then these different backgrounds are taken into account as well.

        Yet I would think that from God’s point of view, there is an objective truth as to whether or not something is a mortal sin. So my question is: is the priest’s authority binding in the determination of whether or not you must confess something? In other words, if he says that something you do is not a mortal sin then you’re safe since he has the authority to make that determination? I assume that this is part of the authority given to him by Jesus when the sacrament was instituted.

        The priest also told me that there is a part of the absolution that covers mortal sins that you aren’t aware you committed so maybe this makes the issue of whether or not the priest accurately identifies your sin as mortal a moot issue and as long as you go to confession frequently and do the prescribed penance.

        Thank you for being generous with your time. I will try not to take advantage of your generosity.


      • I’m also concerned about whether or not I received a valid confirmation. Does confirmation depend upon the confirming Bishop having valid Holy Orders?

        The Bishop who laid hands on me and confirmed me is not a Bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. I assume he was not allowed to be a Bishop as part of the conditions of the establishment of the Ordinariate i.e. he went over as a layperson.

        I don’t want to ask the clergy of the Ordinariate this question since the Bishop is still with the Ordinariate in an administrative role. It’s not that I don’t trust them, it’s just that they’re too close to the situation. I would rather ask someone with a more objective, unbiased perspective.


      • Didn’t the bishops of the Ordinariate receive at least conditional ordinations upon their reception into the Catholic Church? I’m pretty sure you will want to receive the sacrament of Confirmation as a Catholic, with sacred chrism consecrated in the Church, from a Catholic bishop whose orders are not doubtful. I was confirmed in the Anglican Province of Christ the King by Abp. Morse, but then also as a Catholic by Bishop Weigand of Sacramento.


      • As an Anglican, our Bishop was married (his wife is now deceased). I don’t know if that’s why he isn’t ordained in the Catholic Church. I just know that as far as I can tell he no longer officially carries the title of Bishop.

        One thing that seems to have rubbed a lot of remaining Anglicans the wrong way was that the ordinations performed were (so they say) absolute not conditional. So they say that the RCC is possibly committing sacrilege by repeating a sacrament. Obviously I don’t want to commit a sacrilege with respect to the sacrament of confirmation but I also don’t want an invalid confirmation.

        I am in the ACA and have been in the APA. You will find this interesting. An Anglican priest just told me that some of the Continuuing jurisdictions consider the other jurisdictions to be schismatic bodies. Specifically the ACC/UECNA/APKC considers the ACA/APA to be schismatic and lacking in legitimate jurisdiction. This shocked me – I had no idea this was the case. There cannot possibly be this much division and confusion in Christ’s Church.


      • I think the way it works is that Rome investigates the incoming cleric’s pedigree and concludes that his orders are valid, invalid, or indeterminate. If the conclusion is that the cleric’s orders are not valid, then the ordination will not be conditional. So, yes, it’s a matter of trusting both the sacramental theology of the Catholic Church and the determinations made by Church authority. Which is a pretty good test of a convert’s sincerity and attitude towards the Church.

        With respect to being confirmed in the Catholic Church, one really just has to trust the bishop’s discretion (or that of his delegates). It’s his call. You would not be committing a sacrilege.


    • Also, just to be clear, I am not considering joining the Catholic Church ONLY on the condition that it is through an Anglican Ordinariate. I am considering doing it through the Ordinariate for some practical reasons (a personal history of Anglicanism, existing relationships with the clergy of the ordinariate, I think it would seem to be a “smoother” transition for the children, etc.) I have no misunderstanding about the fact that I would be accepting the jurisdiction and authority of the One Church.


  6. Great questions, Bruce.

    The first thing to remember is that it is best to confess any sins you’re conscious of having committed, whether mortal or venial, even if you’re not sure about your culpability. That way if there’s any doubt, you’re covered. Most people tend to minimize or rationalize their own culpability anyway. If you enter the Church as an adult like I did, your first confession will most likely be a long one. Mine was almost half an hour (including the counsel I received).

    The second thing to understand is that – if you have made a good examination of conscience before confession – you are forgiven for any sins you have forgotten but would have confessed if remembered.

    For a sin to be mortal three things need to be present. 1) The sin needs to be objectively “grave matter”. The list of grave sins is essentially the Ten Commandments. 2) The sin must be committed with full knowledge of its sinfulness. 3) The sin must be committed with full, deliberate consent.

    Let’s say one has committed the sin of fornication. Fornication is objectively grave matter, violating the Sixth Commandment. It is possible, however, than one was not aware of its sinfulness at the time, and in that case the sin would perhaps be only venial (assuming that everyone has *some* knowledge of the divine law which “written on the heart”).

    Let’s say one has committed the sin of drunkenness. Drunkenness is objectively grave matter if the reason and will become seriously impaired. It is possible, however, that one became drunk by an act of trickery or coercion on the part of bad companions. Therefore the requirement of full, deliberate consent would not be present, and the sin would be venial at most.

    With respect to habitual sins – take any kind of longstanding addictive behavior such as drug abuse, or telling lies, or viewing pornography, etc. – it is possible that full and deliberate consent is not present. One may be consciously fighting the habit, praying against it, avoiding temptation, etc. but still committing the sin out of longstanding habit. The lack of full and deliberate consent lessens one’s culpability, and sometimes renders what would otherwise be mortal sins as venial sins. In some cases the deficiency of consent could, I suppose, be enough to entirely remove one’s culpability for a particular act.

    With respect to a priest’s authority to verify whether sins are mortal or venial, yes, that’s part of his job and the penitent should normally follow his counsel. However – this is painful to have to admit – today’s Catholic clergy have not always received a solid orthodox formation themselves. These days they get a lot of psycho-babble and sociology in seminary, but precious little when it comes to sacramental theology or advancing in the spiritual life. A lot depends on the quality of your diocese. That’s one reason we stick close to the FSSP and the Latin Mass. The FSSP priests are excellent, I mean **excellent**, when it comes to spiritual direction and confession. Their seminary formation is second to none. I expect the same is true of other traditionalist orders. I don’t know enough about the priests of the Ordinariate one way or the other. While you can receive a valid sacrament from any priest, when it comes to spiritual direction you should seek a priest who has been properly trained.

    Also, here’s an examination of conscience that should be helpful to you:

    Click to access exam_of_con_english.pdf

    I’m leaving to visit some relatives out of town, and will be without internet until tomorrow night. God bless and let’s stay in touch …


  7. “So my question is: is the priest’s authority binding in the determination of whether or not you must confess something? In other words, if he says that something you do is not a mortal sin then you’re safe since he has the authority to make that determination? I assume that this is part of the authority given to him by Jesus when the sacrament was instituted.”

    I should answer this directly: NO. At least not in absolute terms. He has the authority to bind and loose, but not to change the law of God. I’m sorry to say that there are many priests who will tell you that a sin is not a sin and you have no need to confess it. It happens all the time. You’re entering the Church at a time of crisis in the formation of clergy. So, it’s extremely important to form one’s conscience well – and to rely on priests who are also well-formed.


    • I hope you had a safe trip.

      One question about children. Their sins are forgiven at baptism, but when do they start confession? I would assume that children can commit mortal sin at a fairly young age. Somehow (without researching it!) I had assumed that after confirmation they were then responsible for confessing their sins. But this cannot be since the Eastern Rite confirms right after Baptism.


      • Bruce, I did have a safe and pleasant trip – thank you. Children traditionally make their first confession in preparation for their first communion when they are around seven years old. That’s generally considered the age when it becomes possible for a child to be culpable for mortal sin, the “age of reason”, although it can be earlier or later for some children. Confirmation usually takes place later in the Western tradition, anytime between the ages of seven and sixteen.


  8. What about the sacrament of marriage? My wife and I were married 13 years ago by a non-denominational minister (and we weren’t Christians in the most basic way or at least I wasn’t). Do we have a sacramental marriage? Do we need to be remarried?


    • Yes, there are a few other groups, all of them much smaller. The Society of St. John Cantius, the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, and the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (not exclusively traditionalist but staunchly orthodox) come to mind. And there are many great diocesan parishes that offer the TLM as well – St. John the Baptist in Front Royal and St. Boniface in Pittsburgh, for instance. Here’s a handy list of authorized TLMs in the United States. A diocesan priest who celebrates the TLM is more likely to be orthodox in doctrine and well-formed spiritually, but that isn’t always the case unfortunately, so be careful.


  9. Jeff,
    This might be a weird question but here goes. Does one need to confess sinful dreams? I’m thinking of situations where you have a dream in which you mortally sin but it isn’t a result of pursuing the sinful thought when you are awake. E.g. having an adulterous dream when you haven’t been thinking about adultery when you are awake and conscious. Or dreaming about stealing when you are not considering stealing when you are awake.
    I assume that since you aren’t giving full consent and don’t have full knowledge of the sinfulness, then a dream about committing a mortal sin is not a mortal sin. Particuarly when it is a sin that you don’t have a temptation towards when you are awake.
    This is not a weird scenario I’m making up. This sort of thing actually happens.


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