During this Eucharistic Revival, the question has come up about how to receive Holy Communion, and with it, whether to receive on the hand or tongue. The tradition for centuries in the Church has been that the faithful could only receive Holy Communion on the tongue, and then it suddenly changed to also allow reception on the hand (as many may remember) in 1977. What do we make of this?
Briefly, here is the story. Shortly after Vatican II, some bishops asked the pope if it would be possible to allow reception of communion on the hand. The reasons for this request were many, but perhaps chief among them was that there is evidence of at least some ancient custom of receiving on the hand. Vatican II had brought back other ancient customs and prayers into the modern rite, and it seemed to many bishops that communion on the hand was a logical addition to the return to ancient customs. After these requests, the pope decided to consult all of his bishops to inform his decision on the matter. His decision is obviously in the positive, and for the United States, at least, reception on the hand is now an allowable practice.
Nevertheless, it must be noted that the Church usually has a precaution whenever mentioning reception on the hand. With reception on the hand, there is “danger of loss of reverence” for the Eucharist (Memoriale Domini of 1969). What does this mean for us? It means that, of course, you are allowed to receive on the hand just as much as you can receive on the tongue. It also means, however, that if any of us do receive on the hand, we best make sure that our reception is respectful and reverent of the Eucharist.
What does this mean for how we receive the Eucharist? It means that no matter how we receive, it should be in a manner that shows our belief in the Eucharist. Before I was a priest, I have frequently received both ways, and a game-changer for my faith in my day-to-day life was when I started paying attention to crumbs of the Eucharist that might be on my hands. Since the Eucharist is Jesus, and Jesus is God, that means every crumb, no matter how small, is a crumb of God. How does the Eucharist enter our mouths? Is it like a potato chip, or the God of the Universe? Does our carefulness with every possible crumb show to us and others that we really believe? Does our careful preparation of our souls, especially morally and with a recent Confession, show that we really mean our “Amen” when presented with the Body of Christ.
In short, when we are asking about whether to receive on the hand or the tongue, perhaps it is a better question to ask whether we are receiving the Eucharist with careful reverence. Each crumb, even the ones we cannot see, are really the precious savior. When we consume and swallow, that is really Jesus we are eating, and every crumb matters. How we handle Jesus at Mass shows a great deal about how we think of Jesus in our heart.