Tradition and Historical reasons in favor of communion on the tongue

ImageWell informed Catholics ‘traditionalists’ and otherwise are aware of the distinction between Tradition and tradition. Apostolic Tradition is The Faith and comes from the apostles. Fine details of liturgical practice which have been in place for hundreds of years, so that often no one is sure when they started, are the tradition of a particular church. Receiving the sacrament on the tongue while kneeling is the traditional practice in the western church, it has been for centuries. Whether receiving communion in the mouth from the minister is Apostolic tradition could be debated.


The mid-fourth century quotation, which is used by everyone who wants to support communion in the hand,  comes from St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his mystagogical catechesis. Here it is,


‘So when you come forward, do not come with arm extended of fingers parted. Make your left hand a throne for your right, since your right hand is about to welcome a king. Cup your palm and receive in it Christ’s body, saying in response Amen. Then carefully bless your eyes with a touch of the holy body, and consume it, being careful to drop not a particle of it. For to lose any of it is clearly like losing part of your own body. Tell me, if anyone gave you some gold dust, would you not keep it with the greatest care, ensuring that you did not lose by dropping any part of it? So you should surly take still greater care not to drop a fragment of what is more valuable than gold and precious stones. After partaking of Christ’s body, go to receive the chalice of his blood…’


What we have here is a single reference (I’m no patristics expert but it seems to be the only one anyone references) by an Eastern Father in the mid fourth century being used to justify the introduction of a novel practice into the Western church in the late 20th century.


Some observations about this quotation;

          We have no idea how widespread this practice was.

          It is from an eastern Father (Jerusalem).

          It is from after the time of the apostles, by a couple of centuries.


So the conclusion we can draw from this quotation is that communion in the hand was practiced in the church of Jerusalem in the mid fourth century and that it was done with an extreme caution to ensure consumption all fragments. To use this reference as a reason to introduce communion in the hand into the practice of the late 20th century Roman church is pure archeologisim for the sake of archeologisim.


The manner of receiving communion in the Latin church is while kneeling and on the tongue this has been the practice for centuries if not apostolic it is definitely a little t tradition. If we look outside of the Latin church to other Apostolic Churches we find that the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine rite Catholics receive communion standing and in the mouth from a golden spoon, this is their tradition. The Byzantine churches have their own independently developed and legitimate traditions. The legitimate liturgical and sacramental practices of the various Apostolic churches should always and everywhere be maintained, including those of the Roman Church. In the Roman church one should receive on the tongue, in the Byzantine church one should receive from the spoon and in the Oriental churches if there is a distinctive traditional manner of receiving, including in the hand it should be maintained.  


Communion in the hand was not practiced in the west for centuries if ever at all. The protestant reformers introduced the practice in their churches, and this is how it became the practice of the Anglicans. In the 1960s communion in the hand was illegally introduced in Catholic churches in continental Europe by modernist clergy. Rather than discipline them Pope Paul VI reluctantly decided to grant indults allowing the practice, yes it’s allowed in many places, but it seems to me there is a recent historical reason not to do it.


To be continued yet again with practical and theological thoughts.


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1 Response to Tradition and Historical reasons in favor of communion on the tongue

  1. Pingback: Tradition and Historical reasons in favor of communion on the tongue – I Thirst for Your Love!

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