Hand vs. tongue for Communion

Question: My niece, who has fallen away from the Church, says that she can no longer go to Communion because she does not like Communion on the tongue. Her argument is that this mode of receiving is for the old, the sick and children.  

Name withheld, Ogden, Utah

Answer: Actually, Communion in the hand is the norm in the United States — and no priest in his right mind would insist otherwise. Your niece should be able to receive as she wishes. Priests and communion ministers are required to respect the communicant’s wishes.

Communion in the hand was the norm in Catholicism until the ninth century. It was discontinued due to excessive reverence of the Eucharist (that is a reverence that eventually caused people to avoid Communion altogether). The present practice of Communion in the hand dates from 1969, when Pope Paul VI allowed episcopal conferences to reintroduce it. Permission for this mode of Communion was granted for the United States in 1977.

In my opinion, there is nothing more intrinsically reverent about Communion on the tongue than in the hand. Either is acceptable depending on the spiritual attitude of the communicant. If she is well informed and educated and knows what she is doing, and is thoughtful about the reception of Communion, then there is no problem. Children, however, should be introduced to both modes of Communion, so that they get used to the value of reverence.

The practice and spirituality of reception in the hand was underlined by Cyril of Jerusalem when he wrote in his mystagogical sermons the following: “When you approach [the altar], do not go stretching out your open hand or having your fingers spread out, but make the left hand into a throne for the right hand which shall receive the King, and then cup your open hand for the Body of Christ, reciting the ‘Amen.’ But be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you as if you had lost one of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with that which is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no particles are lost?” 


Question: I read somewhere that some historians are presenting the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages in a more positive way. Do you have any information on this?

J.T., Philadelphia, Pa.

Answer: Rodney Stark, a professor at Baylor University in Texas, has a book titled, “God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.” Philip Jenkins has reviewed Stark’s book as follows: “Through his many books, Rodney Stark has made us rethink so much of what we had assumed about the history of Christianity and its relations with others faith, and now ‘God’s Battalions’ launches a frontal assault on the comfortable myth that scholars have popularized about the Crusades. The results are startling.”

Jeffrey B. Russell states: “At last, a convincing, balanced book on the Crusades. ... Stark demonstrates that the Crusades were neither unprovoked nor colonialist. Their primary motivation was, though sometimes abused, both defensive and spiritual.”

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.