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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Law of the Church is Communion on the Tongue

I have often noticed that sweethearts feed one another. A young woman gives her date a taste of her dessert feeding him from her spoon. A young man playfully pops a candy into his girlfriend's mouth. A bride and groom (if they are sensible) lovingly feed each other a bite of the wedding cake. Feeding each other is a tender gesture that signifies the intimacy of the relationship. And it always makes me smile to see these little acts of affection. It also reminds me of a homily by a former pastor. Every Holy Thursday when we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist he described the two times in life when we are fed by others. The first when we are dependent, like babies and the elderly, and the second when we are in love. And isn't that how our relationship with Jesus Christ is? We are dependent on him for our very creation. And He wants to relate to us as a lover embracing His beloved. Communion on the tongue is the fullest image of Christ's relationship with us, the members of the Church.

Several years ago, I had the blessing of attending a day of reflection with Fr. Robert Lange. At the time he shared the picture below of his home in Fort Valley where the Eucharist was reserved. If we only truly believed that Jesus is present in Holy Communion wouldn't we be eager to be fed by him? I offer Father's beautiful article here and urge you, if you receive in the hand, to consider returning the ancient practice of being fed by our beloved Lord. I did.

Respect For Christ In The Eucharist – One Priest’s Perspective

[The picture above is of my home in Fort Valley, Virginia, and the light is coming from my chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. There is not light in the window and there is no sun out on the day of the picture.]

by Rev. Robert Lange

Americans have the option of receiving the Holy Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand. The Vatican granted us the option of receiving on the hand in 1977. This was accomplished by an indult, a lifting of the law, so we may receive either way, on the tongue or in the hand. The indult was granted because the American Bishops told the Vatican that their parishioners were clamoring for it. “We can feed ourselves” was one of the specious arguments put forward.

After Apostolic times, the Church gradually adopted Communion on the tongue as the universal practice. In the early fourth century the Arians, who denied the divinity of Christ, revived the practice of receiving Communion in the hand specifically to show a lesser respect for Christ, believing that He is not “equal to the Father.”

The universal Church law, which requires Holy Eucharist to be distributed to the faithful on their tongues, remains in force; it remains the law. However the indult has the effect of making the law inapplicable where in force.

Foreseeing the demand for the indult coming, the Sacred Office for Divine Worship sent a letter to the presidents of the bishops’ conferences to advise them how they may implement this option if granted. The letter spoke about reverence for the Holy Eucharist being the number one priority. With this in mind, the letter went into great detail trying to explain this crucial concern. The letter contained the following specifics.

Communion on the hand is an option; it is not the primary way of receiving. Catholics must be catechized to understand this important point. No one is to be forced to receive on the hand.
When receiving the Body of Christ on the hand, the faithful must be aware of the fact that each and every particle, no matter how small, is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Therefore no particle should ever be discarded or treated with less than total respect due to the Body of Christ.
The faithful must also be reminded that their hands must be clean to receive our Lord, Jesus Christ.

When ordained in 1986, I was a proponent of receiving Communion in the hand, but time has changed my thinking on this issue. Seeing so many abuses and forming a deeper respect for Jesus’ true Presence in the Holy Eucharist were the factors which forced me to rethink my position.

On March 28, 1965, when the catholic college I was attending opened their newly renovated chapel, we students were told how to receive the Holy Eucharist: standing and in the hand. There was no option given. May I add that this was fully twelve years before any American diocese received the indult, which allowed for that option.

Why did those priests, abbots and bishops disobey the authority of Rome? Communion in the hand became the norm for American Catholics in the 1960’s. In many cases the practice was not presented to us as optional, but as the way to receive.

In my twenty-four years as a priest, I have served in many parishes and witnessed many Eucharistic abuses caused by receiving in the hand. I have picked Jesus off the floor from under pews and picked Him out of hymnals. I have followed people back to their seats and asked if they would give me the host back (they bring it out of a clinched hand or out of their pockets) and have witnessed many other sacrilegious desecrations of the most Blessed Sacrament, far too many and varied to mention, some so shocking most people would simply not believe my words.

As I began to see these desecrations of the Holy Eucharist, I began to understand how very sickening, disheartening and avoidable all of this actually has been. Many religious education programs teach the children how to receive on the hand, with at most a cursory mention of the traditional way of receiving on the tongue. Why? The Church documents do not support such teaching. It was the same with many American dioceses in the 1960’s when the faithful were being coerced into receiving on the hand a decade before being granted the indult.

Father Benedict Groeschel, a familiar face to EWTN viewers and an accomplished author, announced on his “Sunday Night Live With Fr. Groeschel” program that he considered Communion in the hand to be an abomination. That is strong language!

Blessed Theresa of Calcutta was asked what was the worst thing that has happened to the Church in her lifetime. She replied without hesitation, “Communion in the hand.” Again powerful language!

Why would these two great figures of our time be so fervent in their opinions regarding this issue if it did not affect their whole being? Somehow I think they would agree that Communion in the hand is a true American tragedy.

Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI leads by example. Since becoming Pope, anyone receiving Holy Eucharist from him must receive on the tongue and kneeling. He is not requiring a change throughout the world, but is giving us a profound message by example.

Proper respect shown to the Holy Eucharist is primary. Please consider these thoughts before receiving Holy Communion this Sunday. Thank you.

[Further note on picture: "In May of this year Bishop Loverde gave me permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in my chapel –The chapel is on the second floor of my home. The Eucharist had been reserved in the chapel less than a week when this picture was taken from the front porch of a neighbor’s home.

The person taking the picture was enamored by the beauty of the valley and decided to take a picture for her collection. When she aimed the camera towards the valley and tried to focus for the picture, she says the light coming from my house was so bright she said it was difficult trying to look into camera to view the picture to be taken (It was a cloudy day and I did not have a light on in the room /chapel where the light is coming from.) She took the picture and the image – the Star of David- is what came out on her digital camera. She did not know what to make of it. Not being Catholic, she had no understanding of the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). My opinion is that Our Lord wanted to give us a beautiful reminder of His true presence in the Holy Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity! It is a reminder that he is with us always, that we are never alone, that he is the Son of God and the Son of Man. It is a vivid reminder that he truly suffered and died on the cross and that he is present in this world – until his Second Coming – in this most special manner - the Eucharist.

Just as the Star appeared over the stable in Bethlehem when the Christ Child was born, so the Star of David has appeared through the window of my Chapel on St. David’s Church Road, Fort Valley, Virginia, to remind us of His care, love, protection, and presence in our lives today and always.
Fr. Robert Lange, December 2007


  1. I read this on Spirit Daily Mary Ann. Powerful stuff. Especially the article about the resonses they received from individuals on this topic.

    If you can, locate a copy of "Dominus Est" (It is the Lord!) by Khazakistan(sp) Bishop Athanasius Schneider. It is so rare that Amazon has this little book listed at outrageous prices. However, there are some Catholic distributers out there who have it for $7-9.

    In this book Bp. Schneider gives excellent reasons (using the early Fathers and other fine Catholic sources) for going back to Communion on the tongue - while kneeling!

    BTW, regarding your email to the Church Militant, and the Jesuit theologian Fr. Michael Kelly's comments on the differing ways Christ appears to us in his Real Presence by saying, "However, it is the unambiguous teaching of the Church that this is only one form of the real presence of Christ."

    While technically speaking this is true - The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that Christ manifests His Real Presence to us "most especially in the Eucharistic Species" and "...Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique."

    The obvious intent is to downplay Christ's True Presence in the Holy Eucharis - and doing so belittles Eucharistic Adoration.

    Here are the quotes from the catechism:

    "Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us," is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church's prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name," in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But "he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species." (CCC 1373)


    The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present." (CCC 1374)

    I suppose Fr. Kelly has never seen these paragraphs (or, if he has, refuses to reference them).

    Catechist, Kevin Lents.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kevin, and the quotes from the catechism. Fr. Kelly obviously needs a lot of prayer for his efforts to denigrate the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. May God forgive him.

  3. PART 1 of 2:

    It's so sad when a good priest writes a well-intentioned article, but hurts his credibility by letting it be strewn with serious mistakes.

    We cannot believe that Fr. Lange, whom we've known since his ordination, would be intentionally trying to deceive anyone in the article he wrote, so we have to think that he just slipped up badly, making mistakes and failing to check the accuracy of some things that he wrote.

    There are so many errors in his article that it is going to take us an hour to list and refute them all, but we have to do it out of respect for the truth and to benefit all readers.

    1. There were good and valid arguments for Communion in the hand that were put forward by the U.S. bishops, but Fr. Lange mentioned none of them. It was unjust for him to mention only a "specious" argument that was offered by a few misguided laymen 40 years ago.

    2. Contrary to what Fr. Lange wrote, the Arians did not revive Communion in the hand in the 4th Century. Instead, it was a common way of receiving Jesus throughout much of the first Catholic millennium, according to orthodox Catholic apologists. There is abundant evidence of this in writings by early Fathers of the Church.

    3. Contrary to what Fr. Lange wrote, the Sacred Congregation [not "Office"] for Divine Worship, in writing (1969) to the presidents of the bishops’ conferences, did not tell them that "Communion on the hand is an option [and] is not the primary way of receiving." The Holy See did not "rank" the modes of reception as "primary" and "secondary," and none of the four popes since 1969 has ever criticized, or spoken of revoking, reception in the hand. Father has to shun the temptation to be "more Catholic than the pope."


  4. [PART 2 of 2, continued from above]

    4. Contrary to what Fr. Lange said, it is NOT true that illicit "Communion in the hand became the norm for American Catholics in the 1960’s." The impropriety occurred only in some dioceses prior to the granting of the indult. Father must shun the temptation to exagerrate.

    5. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., most assuredly did NOT ever say that he "considered Communion in the hand to be an abomination." This erroneous attribution is a GRAVE error by Fr. Lange. (He must have picked it up from a trusted, but untrustworthy, source -- or he watched Fr. Benedict's show and misheard something the host said.) I have watched ALL of Fr. B's shows, and I know that he has never said (and would never say) such a thing.

    6. Regarding what Bl. Teresa of Calcutta allegedly said: Fr. Lange did not quote the story accurately. Bl. Teresa was allegedly asked, "Mother, what do you think is the worst problem in the world today?" and she allegedly answered, "Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand." Now, this account came from a homily by a priest who was reporting a private (not public) comment that he claimed Bl. Teresa to have said to him. If she really said those words, we must remember that it would have been nothing more than a fallible opinion by a fellow Catholic. But anyone can see that there is plenty of reason to believe that either (a) the priest misheard/misremembered/misquoted her or that (b) she misunderstood the priest's question. I think that the latter is more likely, because surely Bl. Teresa would have considered OTHER things to be worse than Communion in the hand (for example, abortion and sacrilege [such as receiving on the tongue while in a state of mortal sin!]).

    We love Fr. Lange, and we worry about him. We wish that he had not made these mistakes.

    We (along with millions of other devout, orthodox Catholics) love to receive Communion in the hand, except when we receive by intinction, and we will continue to do so, as long as the indult remains in force.

    We NEVER criticize those who prefer to receive on the tongue, but we know that receiving in the hand is a very beautiful and reverent way of receiving Our Lord.

    All the complaints that one hears against receiving in the hand are unfounded except one: the potential for abuse of the Blessed Sacrament -- and that problem can be overcome through the use of vigilant ushers/servers.

    Those who criticize reception in the hand for any other reason (e.g., our admitted unworthiness to touch the Host, etc.) would have to say that, if Jesus were to appear to them in a private revelation, they would refuse to touch Him! They would also have to say that St. Joseph and countless other people sinned when they touched Jesus.

    Thanks for the opportunity to set the record straight and to disagree with you, Les Femmes.

  5. Thank you, Mary Ann, for the beautiful picture and article by Fr. Lange. That picture truly is worth more than a thousand words! Fr. Lange was the one who turned the old church at Our Lady of Angels parish into a 24/7/365 Adoration chapel, for which we the adorers are profoundly grateful to him. (Now we just need prayer that more people will come and adore there!)


  6. Anonymous has made a lot of statements questioning Fr. Lange's credibility. I'll only address one - that of Fr. Groeschel who did, in fact, criticize Communion in the hand vigorously in a radio address that anyone can listen to.

    Fr. Groeschel calls for the Mass to be said "with reverence and awe" as the Pope has called for. In this interview he decried the lack of reverence in the liturgy and called Communion in the hand "a disaster." For those who want to listen to his exact statement, go to and forward to about 8 minutes and 40 seconds. He says Communion in the hand has led to irreverence and a failed experiment. He gives Communion that way, but thinks it has increased irreverence among most people. He also says, "Start telling people to shut up in Church." He doesn't mince any words.

    As for "good reasons" it's hard to imagine good coming out of disobedience and Fr. Lange is absolutely right about the bishops clamoring for Communion in the hand after teaching and encouraging people to be disobedient in many many dioceses.

    Frankly, Anonymous, I do not think you have made a very good case or "set the record straight" at all. You've expressed your opinion, as Fr. Lange did. The disrespect in our churches and the loss of belief in the Real Presence among two thirds of supposedly faithful Catholics indicate Fr. Lange has the better argument. Communion in the hand has contributed exponentially to irreverence.

  7. Apparently Fr. Michael Kelly takes his definition of the Eucharist from Roger Mahony, not the Magisterium!

  8. Fr. Michael Kelly is preaching heresy. This is one of the major reasons why so many Catholics aren't sure that Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. Protestants say that God is everywhere, in the Bible, in people, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, etc. Now Catholics are saying this, and little by little they deny the Real Presence of our Blessed Lord: Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

    We need more Holy Hours with Benediction. We need processions to honor God's Real Presence among us (The Emanuel!). We need to teach and show our children that we are unworthy to receive Jesus' Body and Blood on our hands in Holy Communion, especially First Holy Communion. We need to make reparation for the many offenses against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We need to pray more for the Holy Spirit to enlighten our brethern and for them to seek the Truth in their faith.

    Deacon Joe

  9. I actually was taken to the shed for a beating by Catholics on this subject. One even told me that people who take Communion on the tongue are putting on a show of piety which he thing responds to by showing them how spiritually superior he is by continuing to take Communion in the hand.

    You take your life in your hands taking up this subject. LOL

  10. communion in the hand should never have happened, I have seen mothers giving holy communion to their toddlers and going up for a second, it has gotten worse where I live we have the lay people giving benediction communion service with no training and people are staying away from mass because of the abuse

  11. Thanks for your comment, Ina. I too saw a dad break his host and give a portion to a toddler in his arms -- at a family retreat. That family later left the Church for the "fellowship" of Protestantism. Sad. They were good friends. I'm curious. What diocese are you in?