Spend enough time with Catholics from a broad enough background, and the issue of taking Holy Communion will pop up. Sometimes these discussions are very fierce. Broadly speaking, and I note that there is much more complexity and depth to what I write here, those who favour receiving our Lord on the tongue claim to do so in the name of reverence, and those who argue for receiving him in the hands do so in the name of freedom. There are lots of interesting commentaries on this issue, so I need not go into them.
Historically speaking, faithful Christians have received on the tongue and in the hands. When receiving on the hands it was, traditionally, in a manner distinct to how it is received nowadays, but customs change, so this is not a necessary sign of invalidity. When receiving on the tongue, it was pretty much the same as these days, but again, not a necessary indicator that such a style must be normative.
The Eucharist makes the Church. The unity and essence of the Church is in Christ, and her participation in Christ is made possible first by Baptism, and then is nourished and renewed by the Eucharist – hence St Paul writes to the Corinthians: “The bread which we break, is it not participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread.” Christ, who is the bread of life, becomes the basis for the Body of Christ, the Church.
Continually nourished by the bread of life, the Church exists for her mission, on which Pope Paul VI states: “the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” Evangelism is the proclamation of the good news. Were the Church to leave the good news (or gospel), she would leave her essence, and were the Church to keep silent the good news, then St Paul declares woe.
Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah to similar effect when he explains his own ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” This good news is universal in scope, it affects everyone in the world – but in Jesus’ typical style, he is first and foremost concerned with those in need. So are we. Right after declaring that the Eucharist makes the Church (CCC 1396), the very next paragraph of the Catechism opens “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”
What does poverty have to do with how we receive the Eucharist? A lot, actually. The poor are not a group alien to us, indeed, we are the poor: perhaps not in terms of bank accounts, but in terms of how we relate to God, we are poor. There is no way around it – God has given us everything we have, even our very existence is a free gift. When we receive the Eucharist, when we receive Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – we receive the greatest treasure the Church has, or according to St Thomas Aquinas, the only treasure the Church has.
|Cardinal Bergoglio handing out the Eucharist reminiscent |
of how one hands out food to people in need.
Therefore, when we receive the Eucharist we must receive it in such a way that recognizes our poverty. This does not actually shed much light on how to receive Holy Communion, or perhaps it seems to indicate that in the hands is the right way to receive, for when does one actually feed a poor person by putting the food in their mouth? No, usually food is passed to them whilst they are standing, and in their hands.
We should receive the Eucharist in such a way expresses our spirit of poverty and both ways are appropriate within the poverty motif, as well as permissible by Church practice. Jesus says something very important, however, when he talks about people coming to him: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Children are one of the neediest groups of all: they are not fully formed, they are not well educated, they lack means and the maturity. Even more than a spirit of poverty, of which Jesus already said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God,” we are told that also to the children does the kingdom belong to.
|Is not the Eucharist more|
nourishing than vitamin A?
It seems quite clear to me, when combining both lines of reasoning, how to partake of the Eucharist: I must receive this most Holy Sacrament as a child, as a poor child, as a child who cannot help themselves: on the floor and straight into the mouth. To do otherwise would be to make the appearance of having grown up and becoming self-sufficient – I can scarcely imagine a time in which a creature could say to God “cheers, mate, and thanks for all the fish.”
I suspect this issue is like vocation: one has a thousand reasons for why one pursues one course and not another, and hence can often lack any comprehension of why another would do differently. How to partake of Holy Communion is something the Church currently leaves up to individual preference – both ways are lawful, as they say, but perhaps not both ways are beneficial.
 For those interested, however, Danielle Bean commented in 2010 about the awkwardness involved in receiving on the tongue with Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (see http://www.ncregister.com/blog/danielle-bean/why-im-giving-up-communion-on-the-tongue), Paul Kokoski wrote an essay for the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, in which he discusses the claims of the Archbishop of Karaganda (Kazakhstan), Athanasius Schneider, (see http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8616) and I found the foray into history of I. Shawn McElhinney fascinating (which can be found here: http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/communion.html)
 Something being permitted is different to something being encouraged, I should note.