John Paul II and Mother Theresa on Communion in the Hand

Neil Xavier O’Donoghue



In light of the current debate on the reception of Communion in the hand, it is helpful to step back and assess the facts from a prudent distance. As with many aspects of current liturgical practice there are no absolute answers.

After the Second Vatican Council, the practice of receiving Communion in the hand was adopted and has become virtually universal throughout the Catholic Church (even if some people still receive Communion on the tongue).

The actual documents of the Council do not mention the possibility of returning to the original manner of receiving Communion in the hand or receiving Communion standing. However, this does not imply that this is an illegitimate return to ancient practice. Very simply, St. John XXIII (and Blessed Paul VI after him) understood that the Council would provide a theoretical basis for liturgical renewal and the details would be worked out after the Council had finished. Thus the liturgical renewal was clearly inspired by the Council and the renewed liturgy is in clear continuity with Vatican II, in much the same way as the Tridentine liturgy was not prepared at the Council of Trent itself, but was renewed afterwards.

The very idea of people regularly receiving Communion (and even receiving Communion as part of the liturgy to the Eucharist itself) were relatively new ideas at the time of the Council. The liturgical renewal of St. Pius X which promoted the frequent reception of Communion were still quite young. For centuries Catholics simply did not receive Communion on a regular basis. Already in the time of the Fathers of the Church, many Catholics had simply stopped receiving Communion at all due to a feeling of unworthiness.

Already Chrysostom, among the Greeks, complained:

“In vain do we stand before the altar; there is no one to partake.”

In Gaul, too, the Synod of Agde (506) found it necessary to insist on Communion three times a year, on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, as a minimum. And this demand was repeated time and time again till the very height of the Middle Ages, sometimes with the addition of Maundy Thursday. In the Carolingian reform the attempt was made to re-introduce Communion every Sunday, especially on the Sundays of Lent, but the result was at best temporary. From the eighth century onward, the actuality seems generally not to have gone beyond what the Lateran Council of 1215 established as a new minimum: Communion at Easter.[1]

From a historical point of view, Communion in the hand is the manner that Communion was given to the everybody (laity and ordained) in the early centuries of the Church.[2]

After the Council the practice of receiving Communion in the hand became common in certain parishes in Holland, Belgium, France and Germany. Pope Paul VI commissioned a study on the matter and in 1969 suggested that Bishops’ conferences could petition the Holy See for an indult allowing Communion in the hand in their region.[3] During the 1970’s the Bishops’ Conferences of the following English-speaking countries applied for and received the indult: South Africa, Canada, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Zambia, New Zealand, Australia, England and Wales, Papua and New Guinea, Ireland, Pakistan, the United States, Scotland, and Malaysia and Singapore. Similar numbers of other bishops’ conferences obtained indults in their own regions so that today it is virtually universal throughout the Church.

Cardinal Sarah’s recent intervention is problematic under a number of aspects, many of which have been explored in the original Pray Tell post and in the discussion in the comments section of that post. Here is not the place to repeat this discussion.

I find it problematic when one particular option is canonized and presented as the only way to do something. Current Catholic liturgy gives many choices precisely so that the liturgy can be celebrated in the manner that best reaches the members of the assembly.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal puts it in this way:

The pastoral effectiveness of a celebration will be greatly increased if the texts of the readings, the prayers, and the liturgical songs correspond as closely as possible to the needs, spiritual preparation, and culture of those taking part. This is achieved by appropriate use of the wide options described below.

The priest, therefore, in planning the celebration of Mass, should have in mind the common spiritual good of the people of God, rather than his own inclinations. He should, moreover, remember that the selection of different parts is to be made in agreement with those who have some role in the celebration, including the faithful, in regard to the parts that more directly pertain to each. [GIRM 352]

I would like to add two points of factual clarification about Cardinal Sarah’s intervention. The cardinal cites the example of St. John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta:

In this regard I would like to propose the example of two great saints of our time: St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta. Karol Wojtyła’s entire life was marked by a profound respect for the Holy Eucharist. (…) Despite being exhausted and without strength (…) he always knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. He was unable to kneel and stand up alone. He needed others to bend his knees and to get up. Until his last days, he wanted to offer us a great witness of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Why are we so proud and insensitive to the signs that God himself offers us for our spiritual growth and our intimate relationship with Him? Why do not we kneel down to receive Holy Communion after the example of the saints? Is it really so humiliating to bow down and remain kneeling before the Lord Jesus Christ? And yet, “He, though being in the form of God, […] humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2: 6-8).

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an exceptional religious who no one would dare regard as a traditionalist, fundamentalist or extremist, whose faith, holiness and total gift of self to God and the poor are known to all, had a respect and absolute worship of the divine Body of Jesus Christ. Certainly, she daily touched the “flesh” of Christ in the deteriorated and suffering bodies of the poorest of the poor. And yet, filled with wonder and respectful veneration, Mother Teresa refrained from touching the transubstantiated Body of Christ. Instead, she adored him and contemplated him silently, she remained at length on her knees and prostrated herself before Jesus in the Eucharist. Moreover, she received Holy Communion in her mouth, like a little child who has humbly allowed herself to be fed by her God.

I think it strange that if John Paul II had a problem with the manner of receiving Communion and if he really believed it to be a grave abuse of the Eucharist, he didn’t crack down on the practice. Indeed, when he reissued the third typical edition of the Roman Missal in 2002, he did nothing to remove this “abuse.”

In fact earlier in his papacy, in 1980, John Paul II dealt with the matter when he wrote Dominicae Cenae: Letter to all the Bishops of the Church on the Mystery and Worship  of the Eucharist. In number 11 he reflects on the subject of touching the Blessed Sacrament in the context of priestly spirituality, lay Eucharistic ministers and Communion in the hand. Unsurprisingly he emphasizes the importance of guarding against any abuses concerned with the reception of Communion in the hand (along with other possible abuses), but he also recognizes it as a valid option and that many of those who “receive the Lord Jesus in the hand, do so with profound reverence and devotion.”

From this I take it that John Paul II did not regard the reception of Communion in the hand as being allied to Satan.

Regarding Mother Theresa, the original website that published Cardinal Sarah’s introduction has a photograph of Mother Theresa receiving Communion on her tongue. However, there is also photographic evidence that shows Mother Theresa received Communion in the hand. She was photographed receiving Communion on her hand while attending Mass in the chapel of the orphanage she was ministering in in Calcutta in the late 1990’s. The photograph can be found in the beautifully illustrated portrait of Mother Theresa  by photojournalist Linda Schaefer.[4]

Hopefully these points can lead to a more mature reflection on the practice of receiving Communion in the hand and an acceptance that different manners of being Catholic and different liturgical spiritualities can and must coexist within the Church. It is obvious that any danger of disrespect towards the Blessed Sacrament must be avoided. However, the current practice of most who receive Communion in the hand ought not to be portrayed as Satanic but as being in continuity with the beautiful description of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who recommended to the newly baptized Christians in fourth century Jerusalem that they approach the altar “making a throne with your left hand for the right, as intending to receive the King, and having made a hollow in your hand, receive the body of Christ.”[5]

Neil Xavier O’Donoghue is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. He currently ministers in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Ireland, where he serves as vice rector at Redemptoris Mater Seminary. He has studied at Seton Hall University, the University of Notre Dame, and St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds a Doctorate in Theology from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.


[1] Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia). Francis A. Brunner, trans. (New York: Benziger, 1951), 2:361-362. For a general historical treatment of the subject see Joseph Nicholas Stadler, Frequent Holy Communion: A Historical Synopsis and a Commentary, Canon Law Studies 263 (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1947).

[2] For a general historical account of the manner of receiving Communion in the Roman Rite see Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, 2:374-391.

[3] For a detailed account of the adoption of the practice see Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948 – 1975. Matthew J. O’Connell, trans. (Collegeville, MI: Liturgical Press, 1990), 640-661.

[4] Linda Schaefer, Come and See: A Photojournalist’s Journey into the World of Mother Teresa (Stanford, FL: DC Press, 2003), 135. The photograph is reproduced with Linda Schaefer’s permission.

[5] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catechesis 5.21 in Maxwell E. Johnson, trans. and ed., Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Catecheses Ascribed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017), 135.







63 responses to “John Paul II and Mother Theresa on Communion in the Hand”

  1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
    Anthony Ruff, OSB

    The Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center notes that she said this:
    “This is like the permission of the Bishops given some years ago for receiving Holy Communion in the hand. It is allowed, but not an order, … as M.C.s, we have chosen to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. If questioned about [it], do not enter into discussion – ‘let every spirit praise the Lord’ – but let us pray that all be done for the greater glory of God and the good of the Church.”

    The Center also note that Mother Teresa never said, “Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand.”


  2. Raul Silva Avatar
    Raul Silva

    Thank you for your work and for this clarification. The truth will set us free!
    The love and humility of Jesus still scandalizes many people. Repent and believe in the Gospel!

  3. Peter Kwasniewski Avatar
    Peter Kwasniewski

    It’s amazing to me that articles like this never acknowledge the most basic point of all: that once a development has occurred in the liturgy and become universal, suddenly switching back to a purportedly “more ancient practice” has a totally different context and meaning than that original practice had. Is this really not evident to all? In the East, Christians always stood up for communion (although it’s been a very long time since a Byzantine layman has received otherwise than in the mouth). But in the West, for a millennium, laymen knelt and received on the tongue. When people were suddenly instructed/invited to walk up, stand, stick out their hands, and receive the wafer, it sent a message as thunderous as Luther’s or Calvin’s.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      Yes, all that. This is what the Church authorities – the pope and the world’s bishops – approved. I’m saddened at your ongoing campaign against them.

      1. Jim Michaels Avatar
        Jim Michaels

        Father, would you say that folks like Peter, people who did not have the experience of the pre-council church, have a romanticized view of the church. But only consider those things from the tradition to be “traditional”. I am always amazed that Peter will make a comment and challenge things, which of course is fine as we always need to be challenged for our own good, but when he is challenged will never respond, especially to you. Thank you for Pray Tell and all the work you and os many other do.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        FWIW, I’ve generally taken Peter K’s interventions here as a way to publish ideas adapted from what amounts to an ever-growing series of position papers: the intention is just about presentation of an alternative viewpoint, not conversation as such.

    2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      “But in the West, for a millennium, laymen knelt and received on the tongue. When people were suddenly instructed/invited to walk up, stand, stick out their hands, and receive the wafer, it sent a message as thunderous as Luther’s or Calvin’s.”

      Acknowledging that personal anecdote is not data, I remember the first time I received the Most Blessed Sacrament in the hand when I was in high school, it was nothing like a thunder such as Luther’s or Calvin’s.

      Now, at a 40-year remove, I can see that whatever posture becomes default can more readily become rote. This was true when we lined up and moved forward to kneel at the rail while the priests and servers quickly administered Holy Communion like rows on a corn cob, as it is today in places where the speed is clearly the summum bonum of administering Holy Communion in processional line. Intentionally gathered communities that have chosen a particular liturgical praxis seem to have some greater insulation against default roteness, but with the cost of increased risk of strife over differences in details.

      (Personal disclosure: While I normally receive the Most Blessed Sacrament in the hand while standing, there are occasions when I receive on the tongue; my ability to kneel without certain secure supports is greatly impaired by injuries and resulting scar tissue years ago – what I say is that those of you in physical shape to kneel easily should never take it for granted but savor the ability while you may.)

    3. Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue Avatar
      Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

      Peter, yes I agree with you. Liturgical renewal is not simply an archaeological recreation. It has to be more than that. Some radical changes in liturgical practice (including Communion in the hand) were introduced after Vatican II. But these were done in order to allow people to better live their faith. The details of this can (and indeed should) be argued in a million ways and details. Christianity is facing many serious challenges today and there must be serious debate in the Church about liturgical practice.

      But now we are in an analogous situation, I am 46 years old and since my First Communion have been receiving Communion in the hand. This new/”switched back” practice has now become a “universal” “development.” Today millions of practicing Catholics could not imagine returning to Communion on the Tongue while kneeling at the altar rail (even though this form of reception has not been abolished). I believe that we can we talk about the merits of one form of reception of the Eucharist over another (which is why I am hoping that the book Cardinal Sarah is a serious contribution to the debate). However, branding a now universally adopted liturgical practice whereby millions of Catholics receive Communion in a particular way as being “Satanic” is not the best way to encourage dialogue and common reflection.

      1. Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue Avatar
        Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

        Correction to my last post. The book I am hoping will be a serious contribution to the debate is the actual book for which Cardinal Sarah wrote his now famous preface: Federico Bortoli, La distribuzione della Comunione sulla mano: Profili storici, giuridici e pastorali (Siena: Edizioni Cantagalli, 2018) ISBN: 9788868795481 pp 352.

      2. Christopher Jacob's Avatar
        Christopher Jacob’s

        i feel really under pressure receiving Holy Communion in the hand as the priest simply refused me on tongue,now my conscience does not allow me to even attend mass. I am attending online mass and spiritually receiving The Holy Eucharist. Please guide me

    4. Emily Bodewig Avatar
      Emily Bodewig

      Dear Peter
      I just wanted to menton what would you do if Jesus actually appeared in front of you would you stand or kneel before him.
      I would kneel. God bless you

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        I think I see what you’re getting at, but this is not the most helpful way to look at the question.

        I believe in the Real Presence. But I’m aware that this is, in Catholic teaching, not the same presence as when Jesus walked this earth. The Church is clear that this is a sacramental presence. Thomas Aquinas, the “father of transubstantiation,” explained that we cannot see the Body of Christ with our eyes at Mass the way the apostles saw Jesus. Aquinas taught that we can only see the Body of Christ in our minds/hearts, not with our eyes.

        I suppose there is something good hidden in the over-emphasis on reverence to Jesus in Communion, but it is interesting that some who are anxious about greater reverence aren’t quite following Church teaching. That is problematic.

        I believe in reverence, and I try to be reverent when I receive on the hand. But when I teach Eucharist in the classroom, I try to explain the Church’s understanding that Holy Communion has many, many layers of meaning, and we are invited to open ourselves to all these layers. It is his real presence, it is nourishment, it is union with him, it is union with all who receive, with the entire church, with the angels and saints, and a sign of the final banquet when are all united to God in Christ. (This is a side point, but it is interesting how strongly the Church urges congregational singing during communion in the GIRM. This is not despite the Real Presence but because of it.)

        The Eucharist is a mystery beyond all our comprehension. Let’s support each other, love each other, and not use Eucharist as a cause for division, as we all gradually immerse ourselves in ever more of this mystery.


      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        I am not sure what I would do because I am not sure I’d be thinking that it was about doing something and I would instead trust God to take the lead in whatever way God chose for my good and then for me to respond accordingly.

        But I could of course be wrong about that surmise.

        * * *

        It appears one reason why this topic garners much commentary is because the way it’s typically framed makes it easy to treat as if it were a complete discussion. Much like how an evaluation or critique of the design of a new church is ordinarily almost entirely about the visual aesthetics (and how well they harmonize with our faith) – while neglecting the equally important aural and experiential aesthetics, because those other dimensions are not as easy to discuss.

        I don’t view reception of Holy Communion in the hand as a hill-to-die-on for the conciliar reform. Not even close. But Cardinal Sarah’s unfortunate rhetorical choices don’t warm me to his perspective, and I don’t think they were intended to warm them that didn’t already agree with him. As traditionalists often feel this way about rhetoric point about them or their practices. And my point here being not one of equivalence or mere empathy – but of an opportunity for solidarity (a grittier thing than mere empathy in my book) as fellow disciples and members of the same Most Sacred Body.

      3. Michael H. Marchal Avatar
        Michael H. Marchal

        I would give him a hug and expect one in return. We have known each other a long time.

      4. Pat Krause Avatar
        Pat Krause

        In response to Emily Bodwick, I agree with you and I would kneel as well. I think our body would do it naturally, without thought or planning. I was taught that Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. I was taught He is as fully present in the Eucharist as He will be to us in Heaven. I long to kneel and receive Him on the tongue as in my youth, but I am obedient to the Bishops as I know Jesus asks for our obedience. I also know that the Eucharist was first received in the hand in the earliest days of the Church, I am not sure when that first changed, but obviously it must be a small t tradition or it would never have changed in the first place.

      5. Christopher Jacobs Avatar
        Christopher Jacobs

        With all my might I would Bow before my saviour my Lord and my God.

  4. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    This irenic and well-sourced piece is a fine contribution. I think this should balance and dispel some of the misconceptions that Cardinal Sarah’s unfortunate treatment of the subject has brought into the public eye. Thank you, Neil, for helping us to see the example of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II in context.

  5. Charles Day Avatar
    Charles Day

    Weighing in on this I will say that at 67 years of age, I have done both. I liked both, and if I were at a church where they had a communion rail, I would use it. If at a church where distribution was in the hand I am more than happy with that also.

    I think everyone understands that reception in either form should be respectful of the real presence. The problems that I observe is when one’s personal opinion of how communion is to be received conflicts with the local practice. The difference between receiving on the tongue today – whether standing or kneeling – from when I was an altar server is that I had a paten under the chin of every person and if there was a slip – usually at least one per Mass – there was little to no chance of the host hitting the floor; it had been planned for ahead of time. That isn’t true in most churches in the US these days.

    It gets a little compounded when someone proceeds to communion with others receiving in the hand and drops to their knees and sticks out their tongue, and the priest has to actually squat to make a safe distribution. Sometimes he even has to help the person up. So, that person got their personal experience somewhat at the expense of the other communicant’s experience. Try to make it about the Eucharist and not so much you.

    Certainly if you observe communion in many parishes there are people receiving in the hand who do not appear to be aware of the importance but I have no clue as to what they are really thinking in their hearts and I choose not to judge. I will also say that as an altar server I observed many kneeling who also seemed detached from the experience; I was younger then and probably did judge. I do not think either is inherently more respectful than the other except for one’s personal belief.

  6. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    Peter wrote: that “switching back to a [purportedly] ‘more ancient practice’ has a [totally] different context and meaning than that original practice had.”

    I put “purportedly” and “totally” in brackets because I read them as polemical noise words, rather than as genuine contributions to the discussion. I can’t understand how anyone could go about establishing — rather than simply asserting — that the context and meaning of a restored ancient practice was totally different.

    But if the more reasonable claim is that the context and meaning are different — of course. How could it be otherwise? Who here has claimed that the context and meaning of communion in the hand today was identical or even largely identical to this practice the first two centuries of the Church’s life?

    A more productive question might: where and how are they different?

  7. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    Cardinal Sarah’s words bothered me for other reasons. He uses the imagery of the leader of the heavenly hosts, the great Archangel Michael battling Satan, to justify adopting a humiliated posture, becoming like an infant having food put in his mouth. I am sure the oppositions could be done to good effect, but it just looks like a mixed metaphor. If Satan laughs, I am sure he would laugh at this portrayal of St Michael’s fighting forces as helpless infants!

    I was taught that standing means something. Resurrection is to stand again in Greek, and Christianity is so we can stand with Christ. Before Communion, we say the words of a military commander expressing his humility, but he continues saying “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” That is the effect of Communion, that we stand again with Christ, under his authority and with authority to go and love and serve the Lord. That is a different kind of humility from what Cardinal Sarah proposes.

    1. Patrick Freese Avatar
      Patrick Freese

      Jim, standing does mean something, but kneeling has a long history in both the eastern and west churches, distinct from standing, as a symbol of humility and piety before God, especially in the Eucharist. The GIRM even mandates kneeling at least during Eucharistic Prayer, and asks that churches be built with kneelers if possible to facilitate this (though some newer churches conveniently disregard this rule). One reason for this is that encounter with the Eucharist is intended to be a moment of individual conversion to Christ in our mortal state, even if done in common as at mass or in public Adoration. Though standing as a sign of respect for people of authority has much historical and cultural precedent, even in the Church, God isn’t like any other person of authority, which is why this special decorum exists for Him. Lest we forget the words we say at mass before receiving, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” None of this is to say you don’t have a good point on literary standing with Christ at mass, but that kneeling as a sign of piety and humility is an indispensable part our Eucharistic worship, as we are mere mortals before an all powerful God.

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Actually the universal GIRM advocates kneeling for the Institution Narrative of the Eucharistic Prayer. The U.S. GIRM (approved by Rome) advocates kneeling after the Sanctus for the entire rest of the Eucharistic Prayer. In my experience, this common U.S. practice is not common in Europe. The U.S. GIRM also gives the posture for reception in the U.S. as standing.

        The universal church prohibited any kneeling whatsoever at Sunday Eucharist any Sunday of the year, and every day of Easter season, at the Council of Nicea in 325. This gradually fell into disuses in the West but is widely observed in the East to this day. Eastern churches generally don’t have kneelers and people don’t kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer or reception.


      2. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay

        Patrick, I understand that kneeling means something. I just had not heard anyone articulate what standing means. I felt it needed to be added to the discussion, especially since Cardinal Sarah had introduced a “military” meaning by talking about Michael at war with Satan. The moment of Communion is meant to be a moment of conversion to being one with Christ, to becoming the Body of Christ. We do not need to be obsessed with our weakness; it is better to live the Divine Life shared with us in the Eucharist, to stand with Christ who stands again for us.
        Please reread what I wrote. “Lord I am not worthy…” is a quote from Matthew 8:5-13. There it continues “for I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.” We take it out of context, particularly by changing “servant” to “soul,” but the humility meant by those words is not that of a helpless child, but of a centurion of great faith. Perhaps the irreverence everyone seems to see is because they don’t recognize how differently humility can appear?

      3. Patrick Freese Avatar
        Patrick Freese

        “Perhaps the irreverence everyone seems to see is because they don’t recognize how differently humility can appear?”

        Perhaps, without getting bogged down in semantics I’ll posit that the debate over kneeling and standing during the Liturgy of the Eucharist may boil down to different framing approaches to the Holy Sacrifice: standing being an expression of committed faith (as you point out), kneeling being an expression of humility and abandonment, though these aren’t mutually exclusive. I come from the U.S. where the latter practice is the norm as laid out in our edition of the GIRM (thank you Fr. Ruff for correcting me here), so I might suffer from a America-centric viewpoint on this. I know in much of Europe (namely France and Spain) individual seats w/o kneelers has long been the norm for whatever reason, but I won’t be the one to claim they’ve been doing it all wrong for centuries.

      4. Alex Sheffield Avatar
        Alex Sheffield

        While the editio typica GIRM only mandates kneeling for the consecration it does speak approvingly of the custom to kneel for the entire Eucharistic prayer:

        “Ubi mos est, populum ab acclamatione Sanctus expleta usque ad finem Precis eucharisticæ et ante Communionem quando sacerdos dicit Ecce Agnus Dei genuflexum manere, hic laudabiliter retinetur.” (GIRM 43)

  8. Rev. Scott McCarthy Avatar
    Rev. Scott McCarthy

    When Pope John Paul 11 celebrated an outdoor mass at Monterey (Laguna Seca), California in 1987, I was the first to receive communion from him (on the hand) and then I led him (with his MC, the now Archbishop Pietro Marini) down the long ramp to the place where he would give communion to about 100 people, many to whom he gave it in the hand. While I was standing next to him during all this time he did not appear to be in any way upset about giving communion to the people in their hands. It was a most joyful celebration for all present.

  9. Jose Domingo Avatar
    Jose Domingo

    Thank you for this important contribution regarding the reception of Holy communion. And for the interesting comments.

    I have been doing so much research regarding communion in the hand vs tounge, and there seems to be a better argument for the latter amongst so called ” conservative Catholics”.

    Recently I’ve been leaning more and more towards the old practice even though I’ve walys been taught to receive communion in the hand ( a practice I have done all my life#NCWAY).
    AND I’ve actually used that exact quote by mother terresa and john Paul II!!!!!

    I will share this article with a few of my fellow brothers

    Thank you


  10. John Kohanski Avatar
    John Kohanski

    “The universal church prohibited any kneeling whatsoever at Sunday Eucharist any Sunday of the year, and every day of Easter season, at the Council of Nicea in 325. This gradually fell into disuses in the West but is widely observed in the East to this day. Eastern churches generally don’t have kneelers and people don’t kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer or reception.”

    Sorry, but there is a wide diversity of practice on this in the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic. Many Eastern Catholics still kneel, moreso because they have had to ape their Roman brethren in order to be accepted as real Catholics, but most do not during the Paschal season. Many Orthodox will kneel on Sundays, especially at the epiclesis. Just because there are no kneelers doesn’t mean they won’t kneel.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      Thanks for this helpful information. I know very little about things Eastern and had the misimpression that it was widespread but not universal. I appreciate this correction.

  11. Norman Borelli Avatar
    Norman Borelli

    Anyone who wises to receive Communion on the tongue may do so. Anyone who wishes to receive Communion in the hand may do so. I frequently hear of those who choose to receive Communion on the tongue insist that those who choose to receive it in the hand not be allowed to do so, yet I have never encountered anyone who choose to receive Communion in the hand insist that people should not be allowed to receive it on the tongue.

    If people wish to receive Communion on the tongue they are allowed to. Why all this insistence and obsession that other people MUST do it their way?

  12. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    I have to confess this continuing discussion, while likely necessary in some quarters, is deeply tiring and a distraction from the real issues of liturgy and the Church’s mission. It belies a focus not on reverence, but a policing of what others do. We’ve always had that. Pharisees fussing about picking wheat in fields. Married persons wringing hands over whether a remarried person has annulment papers. Non-believers and fence-sitters look at it and cluck and who can blame them? Reverence is rooted in an interior orientation to God. Not something that’s done for show.

    1. John Kohanski Avatar
      John Kohanski

      And there is plenty of fussing, hand-wringing, and policing going on from thoroughly reformed post-Vatican II quarters too.

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        Putting aside the equivalence/false equivalence dimension of this, in my many years in the groves of progressive communities, I came to realize how much rubrical itchiness was just another form of rubricism (but harder to see because it was Well Intentioned – and I don’t mean that in a cynical way, as I do think much of it was sincerely well-intentioned, though sometimes, especially with Lone Ranger celebrants or liturgists, it was thinly masked (if masked at all) clericalism or its lay cognates). This Is How We Do Things Here wasn’t nearly as free from small rules as was imagined; rather, it could often be even more mired in them. And it was rarely rooted in a deep and broad consensus of the communities on whose behalf these practices were adopted – at least not nearly as much as was assumed. Which is why I tend to focus on identifying and questioning unspoken assumptions, and asking about evidence.

      2. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        If so, perhaps they are not as thoroughly reformed as they seem. I can only hope to remain an equal-opportunity critic in such cases.

  13. Alan Norman Avatar
    Alan Norman

    May I point out that St Cyril’s words, which I agree are beautiful, do not describe the current majority practice, but rather reception into the palm of the right hand, and by implication bowing the head to take the Sacrament directly from there into the mouth. This is a practice which I first learnt in the Church of England and have continued since becoming a Catholic as it seems to me eminently reverent.

    What I have not been able to continue however and very much miss is kneeling alongside others at the altar rail. This loss of the communal dimension simply doesn’t make sense to me.

  14. Christopher noel Avatar
    Christopher noel

    It’s a question of humility. Those who want to be saints and love God with all their heart will humble themselves enough to receive on the tongue and kneel when receiving

    1. Norman Borelli Avatar
      Norman Borelli

      I’m sorry but you are not in any position to know what is in the hearts of those who choose to receive Communion in the hand.

      1. Christopher Noel Avatar
        Christopher Noel

        Actions speak louder than words. One’s actions are evidence of the contents of one’s heart.

      2. Gabriella Grabetz Avatar
        Gabriella Grabetz

        Here, we are talking about the manner of receiving, only!

    2. Gabriella Grabetz Avatar
      Gabriella Grabetz

      Well said, Christopher!

  15. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
    Anthony Ruff, OSB

    This sure sounds like being proud of ones humility – and judging others who are not as humble.

    1. Christopher Noel Avatar
      Christopher Noel

      We know what humility looks like – it is a man who denies himself and his desires to suffer and die on a cross for us sinners who even lack the humility required to kneel and receive his sacred body on the tongue, but rather receive on the hand neglecting all the fragments of His Holy body that fall carelessly to the floor to be trodden under foot. As for judging others – I leave that to the Lord.

      1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        But you just judged everybody — in your statement.

      2. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        Response to C. N.
        You need to read Saint Thomas more carefully if you are equating a piece of the sacred host’s falling to the ground and being trodden underfoot with the Lord’s being stood upon. The relevant phrase to illustrate the differentiation between the sign (consecrated elements) and that which is signified (body, blood, soul and divinity of the risen Lord) is ‘nec status nec statura signati minuitur.’ (Lauda Sion)

  16. Sean Connolly Avatar
    Sean Connolly

    Beneath all of these comments, is a consensus: Jesus is Lord and is with His Church, nourishing Her with His own Body and Blood. We should take a moment to give thanks to the Holy Spirit in bringing us all to this Faith, and for kindling in each one of us here the burning desire that this Faith be expressed as clearly as possible in the Church’s public worship.

  17. Christopher Noel Avatar
    Christopher Noel

    Mother Teresa lamented the lack of profound respect and reverence for the Eucharist as evidenced by so many people receiving In the hand.

  18. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    The acceptance of hospitality is an important consideration. I prefer to receive on the tongue, but I have attended churches where almost no one does so. In these churches I receive in the hand. I do so because this is the custom of the “house” and its “residents”. Would one attend a dinner and loudly deride this meal which someone has laboriously prepared? No, one would eat the meal and reserve her judgment. Similarly Mass has been prepared in these churches with care and forethought. My response, if only a polite response, is to respond to the Mass in the same manner of those who frequent liturgies there often.

    1. thomas lewis Avatar
      thomas lewis

      IF you finish the quote St. Cyril also says to touch the Holy Body of Christ to their eyes before consuming it. Then the faithful should touch their lips still moist with the Precious Blood of Christ and touch the Blood to the eyes.

  19. Michael Foster Avatar
    Michael Foster

    This topic drives me crazy and I can’t personally work out what I should be doing. I know communion on the tongue was the common way I grew up with till the altar rails were dispensed with and people stood up and received communion in the hand.

    I followed suite and received communion in the hand which never lessened my love for Jesus in the sacrament. Lately I have been feeling guilty and thinking I am offending the Lord by my reception of the Eucharist in the hand purely based on all these videos and topics of Catholics saying it is basically evil that is behind it.

    I went back along time back to reception on the tongue and felt that this must be pleasing to the Lord however whilst watching ninety nine percent of my congregation receiving communion in the hand.
    I could not believe that all these people were committing some act that Satan was behind this, this did not make any sense to me at all and still doesn’t.

    Before I woke this morning out of nowhere I had a dream that lasted only seconds, I saw people lining up for communion when out of nowhere everyone knelt down and altar rail appeared.

    I took this to mean reception of communion for me the Lord is asking of me is the way I first received communion on the tongue .
    Though it is clear communion in the hand is not wrong because the Popes who act on behalf of Christ with the keys of St.Peter have permitted the faithful to act this way.

    My dilemma is this I personally prefer the reception of communion in the hand because nearly everyone does it this way.

    Reception on the tongue I personally feel more uncomfortable with this practice also because my congregation the people do not do this.

    My dream however makes me feel the Lord personally wants me to receive communion on the tongue even though this is not my will but his.

    I am pretty confused, however if I do receive communion on the tongue I have no guilt in receiving the host in this fashion but when I receive communion in the hand I feel that perhaps I am offending Christ.

    1. Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue Avatar
      Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

      Dear Michael

      I’m sorry to hear about your dilemas. I’m afraid the point of the original point was to correct a factual claim that (St.) Mother Theresa never received Communion on the hand.

      However in the case of an individual, I think that more or less everyone can agree that today the Church is leaving it up to that individual how to receive. Some pastors and scholars promote one form some another. But ultimately it is up to the communicant themselves. I would hope that most pastors of souls could agree that it is more important that individuals receive with devotion and in a prayerful manner than whether they receive on the tongue or the hand. Therefore I would encourage you to approach Holy Communion in as devoutly a manner as possible and to make the choice as to whether you receive on the hand or on the tongue or even kneeling (without falling into the pit of scrupulosity) and to know that the Lord understands the confusion that is natural to our human state. Then if you regularly worship on one particular place, perhaps consult a spiritual director to discern together how best to participate in the Mass.

      1. Michael Foster Avatar
        Michael Foster

        Thank you Father for your reply, sorry for the late reply but I I am just reading your comment now. Having looked up this topic again, I just saw my comments regarding it all.

        I ended up going back to communion in the hand as this for me felt the most natural way of receiving the host, the traditional way actually makes me feel uncomfortable and I do not like doing it as it feels forced.

        People talk about kneeling, we are all kneeling during the mass ,before receiving the Eucharist we are kneeling , so standing for the Eucharist can’t be sinful as moments earlier we were all kneeling prior to taking the Eucharist.

        I feel this topic is extremely harmful, people saying Catholics who receive communion in the hand are committing mortal sin, my wife just watched a video about this and now she has been wondering if we both have been committing mortal sin all our lives ?

        Is there revelation by Jesus or by Mary approved by the church that says communion in the hand is Satanic?

        It is a stupid question because I know there isn’t.

        I’m not talking about private dreams or private visions someone is being given by the
        Lord or by Mary.

        The keys to the kingdom of heaven are in the hands of Peter through the Pope.
        This is Catholic teaching as we all know.

        St.John Paul 11 giving communion in the hand before he passed away with the testimony of another person on this topic saying and testify to this fact as having received the Eucharist from this Pope in the hand.

        You can’t be a saint and be committing mortal sin with the Eucharist at the same time.
        Surely the fact that St.John Paul 11 gave communion in the hand and is revered in the church as a saintly man of God and the church declaring him as such , this must end this discussion as being mortal sin and satanic ?


    2. Gabriella Grabetz Avatar
      Gabriella Grabetz

      You listened to the Holy Spirit! Receiving on the tongue takes humility and that is good for us! Keep walking, you are on the right path!

  20. Barbara Hetzel Avatar

    Maybe Saint Mother Theresa is holding a pyx in her hand in the photo above.

  21. Joan Hourigan Avatar
    Joan Hourigan

    I am a devout Catholic and SICK AND TIRED of the people who are trying to act like receiving communion in the hand is somehow sacrilegious. First, Our Lord himself gave “communion” to the apostles by HANDING IT TO THEM, the Gospels don’t say “Jesus broke the bread and put it in their mouths”. Next, as said above, in the early church, it WAS given on the hand. The whole idea that only priests can touch the Eucharist smacks to me of elitism (like the Pharisees that the Lord so despised) and people who insist on receiving on the tongue as “virtue signalers” (“Look at me, at how holy I am, so much more than those hand takers”). I am concerned that the Catholic Church and some priests and members are reverting back to the attitude of the Middle Ages when the Bible and Mass could only be in Latin, knowing most people could not read or speak Latin – HORRORS that a lay person could actually read the Bible and think for themselves. One of the main contributing reasons for the Protestant Reformation was because the Catholic Church would not allow the Bible to be printed in English (or German etc…). By the way, Jesus may have known Latin but spoke Aramaic so should the Mass and Bible be in Aramaic? Also, it seems quite obvious that in the above photo Mother Theresa is going to take communion on the hand! People who insist on having communion on the tongue during this Covid 19 crisis are SELFISH. So no studies show that communion on the tongue is bad? There are no studies one way or another so how about following the medical axiom of “err on the side of caution”.

  22. Gonçalo Sena Avatar
    Gonçalo Sena

    A more complete quote from St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “Approaching therefore, do not come forward with the palms of the hands outstretched nor with the fingers apart, but making the left [hand] a throne for the right since this hand is about to receive the King. Making the palm hollow, receive the Body of Christ, adding ‘Amen’. Then. carefully sanctifying the eyes by touching them with the holy Body, partake of it, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it”.

    So we should receive the Holy Body of Christ in our hand, pick Him up with the other hand, and touch our eyes with His Body at the communion?… Really?…
    Or should we better understand this quote as figurative language? (If it is a really from St. Cyril…)

  23. Mike Binstock Avatar
    Mike Binstock

    Have your Read Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Ministry, St. JP2 Sections 8-12.

    9. “Eucharistic Communion – Communion is a gift of the Lord, given to the faithful through the minister appointed for this purpose. It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice, still less that they should hand them from one to another”

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood


      This paragraph is not saying what you think it is, and does not refer to Communion in the hand.

      Rather, it is talking about “self-service Communion,” where each communicant picks up their own piece of consecrated bread from the paten, ciborium or bread bowl, or helps themselves to a chalice left for them on the altar. That is what is forbidden, not receiving Communion in the hand..

      This paragraph is there to remind people that Communion needs to be administered to you. You can’t just take it. Jesus gave bread and wine to his disciples; he did not say “There it is. Help yourselves!”. This is absolutely in line with Jewish ideas of hospitality, where hosts serve their guests.

  24. Mary Shonebarger Avatar
    Mary Shonebarger

    I am crying as I read this article and the comments. I cry because I am so confused, and so hurt. I am 63 yrs old, and consider(ed) myself a good and faithful Catholic. Then 5 yrs ago, a newly ordained priest became our pastor. Not just newly ordained, but a 54 yr old, divorced, convert who presented himself as knowing everything. I bought into his spiel, and thus began seeing all that I was doing wrong, how doing certain things (daily Mass, daily confession, knowing the correct responses to questions he asked during his homilies, etc) were the things that made me a good Catholic. When I decided to move to a new parish, he raged at me in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was horrible. Then during the pandemic, my husband and I chose to not attend Mass, but watch every Sunday online. Unfortunately I found Taylor Marshall, Tim Gordon, the Church Militant, Fr. Altman and others on YouTube who were all more than happy to tell me how evil I am, how ignorant, and worthless., and too many more to mention….all because I am not a Trad! And God forbid I say I respect Pope Francis. Omg, they say he is the anti-Christ. They say instead of Mass, he leads satanic rituals. I have not been to Mass for over a year.. I don’t even know when I will return to Mass. I feel like damaged goods.

  25. Dana Nussberger Avatar
    Dana Nussberger

    The author above makes a few good points but I got the impression that he / she is just knocking down Rad Trad Straw men. Sure in principle there’s nothing wrong with him reverent reception on the hand. After all St Faustina Kowalska was told by the Lord that he favored this for her. However as someone who has served as a eucharistic minister I know full well the bigger range of difficulties caused by someone trying to steal the Eucharist or something like that with it on the hand. The truth is communion in the hand seems like a failed experiment 55 years in.

    1. Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue Avatar
      Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

      Thanks for the comment Dana. I am most definitely a “he”. I am not trying to knock down anyone (and I don’t identify Cardinal Sarah as a “Rad Trad Straw man”). Yes I am in favor of Communion in the Hand when done reverently (which I believe is eminently possible). But the point of the post is that while discussions in the Church are healthy and necessary, that when we make historical arguments, these arguments must actually be based in history and not in what we think history should be.

  26. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Re-reading this thread, it is quite apparent that there is a lack of historical knowledge in some quarters. The two points of dissent are (i) Communion in the hand or on the tongue, and (ii) Communion received standing or kneeling.

    With regard to (i), Cyril of Jerusalem is quite clear that Communion in the hand is both normative and needs to be done with reverence, as indeed almost everyone does. No real discussion necessary there.

    With regard to (ii), was it not Justin Martyr who talked about the three liturgical postures? You stand to pray or to show respect, you sit to listen, and you kneel for self-abasement or repentance. Standing was the universal posture for prayer (cf. Moses and numerous other Old Testament examples), and it was only during the Middle Ages that people started to be afraid of God, obsessing about their own uinworthiness, and tried to make themselves small by kneeling to pray — hence the Church’s prohibition, quoted by Anthony Ruff, on kneeling in church on Sundays (mini-Easters) and especially during the entire Easter season. The simple rationale for saying “You must not kneel in church” was that since kneeling was a sign of self-abasement it contradicted the entire meaning of the season when we celebrate the risen Christ.

    To those who say “If Jesus came into the room I would drop to my knees”, I say “No, you wouldn’t”. We instinctively stand out of respect when the President or the Queen enters the room, or when the priest enters at the beginning of Mass, or when we listen to the words of Jesus in the Gospel. Kneeling at Communion has nothing to do with the communal act of receiving that we are all doing together, but rather relates to personalistic adoration. Communion isn’t about “me and Jesus” but “we and Jesus” !

  27. susan Hopf Avatar
    susan Hopf

    I am 58 years old, and when I did my 1`st Communion in 1972, it was standing, but on the tongue.. I have heard a lot of negative things about Communion in the Hand.. I heard somewhere. that if you take the communion in your right hand and put it directly into your mouth. it is not as bad. and i did this during Covid when you were refused communion on the tongue.. Now,, the Priests I go to I think know that I am one of the few that receive on the tongue. I am a Bayside/Veronica Lueken believer.. very interesting stuff. and it was said ‘communion in the hand is a diabolical plan from the depths of Hell to desecrate the Body of Christ.”. also I had a real exorcism book once, the demon said ‘communion standing’ and ‘take the Host by hand”.. ..Garabandal was all about respect for Eucharist.

    1. Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue Avatar
      Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

      Dear Susan,

      I am very sorry that this area has become so confusing.

      If I may be forgiven for oversimplifying the matter, the Church requires reverence and devotion from those who receive Communion.

      BOTH Communion on the Hand and on the Tongue are approved in the majority of places (true some few places like Kazakhstan have not yet approved Communion on the Hand, but they are few and far between, also true, as a temporary precaution some places forbid the distribution on the Tongue during COVID, these restrictions have been lifted in many but not all places).

      If anyone claims that Communion on the Hand is forbidden in the US, UK, Canada or Ireland, they are wrong! Claims that reception on the Hand is demonic, can only make sense if St. John Paul II and St. Paul VI are demonic! If we follow this logic, then the Catholic Church does not really exist and is replaced by different opinions and contradictory personal revelations.

      By all means people can prefer one manner of reception over another. But I am proposing that if there is any discussion on the matter, then we need to base it on “real” facts and not “made -up facts”.

      For full disclosure, personally, I prefer Communion on the Hand. But again reverence is the important condition. Both are valid ways of receiving. What the Church requires us to foster is devotion, which is possible in either manner of receiving (just as it is possible to receive unworthily and with no devotion on either the tongue or the hand).

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