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Please don’t touch my tongue — comments?

July 4th, 2017, Promulgated by Hopefull

I think it is time to post on something relevant to the Year of the Eucharist, and to encourage comments on a subject for which almost every communicant seems to have an opinion, and nobody is saying anything. First, let’s say what this is not — it is not about changing any church policy.  It’s not about any particular church or priest. It’s more about awareness and care, and ultimately even more reverent reception of the Eucharist.

To recap current practice, and risk oversimplifying:

1) the Novus Ordo (OF) permits receiving the sacred host in the hand or on the tongue, and allows the celebrant to offer the Precious Blood to the congregation, or not.  Most (but not all) parishes long ago ripped out their altar rails, making kneeling or rising again from the floor of the church, unaided, difficult for some of us. Therefore, Novus Ordo communicants principally receive communion by standing in line.

2) the Latin Mass (EF), while not widely available in most dioceses, in my limited experience, only makes the sacred host available on the tongue, kneeling, at an altar rail or kneeler where available.

What I want to dialogue about here is tongue-touching. It’s bad enough from a priest, but from the lay Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in the Novus Ordo, positively yucky — IMO. It must be yucky to them too! (It was for me, when I was a “Eucharistic Minister” as the title was in those days.) Of course it does not change WHO we are receiving, nor the awesome gift of the Eucharist, but it is a distraction at a moment when we most want to be recollected, thankful, intimate with the Lord. (And even thinking “Please, don’t touch my tongue” is, itself, a distraction.) For the most part, I think tongue-touching is unnecessary, could be avoided with a bit more awareness.

Pope Benedict’s Preference:

During Pope Benedict’s last visit to the US he gave Communion on the tongue and only to recipients kneeling. See excerpt below and picture from the Vatican Website:  http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/details/ns_lit_doc_20091117_comunione_en.html

That fact alone makes receiving on the tongue worth considering, even for diehard “in the hand” communicants.

Three observations:

  1. When the smaller hosts began to be used, I wondered if it were a plot to force us all to receive in the hand. The incidence of tongue-touching increased, it seemed, with use of the smaller host, understandably so. I don’t really see any good reason for the smaller hosts, except perhaps for First Communicants?
  2. It appears to me that the OF moving Communion line introduced more risk of dropping the Eucharist, even when someone is receiving in the hand. And bowing, saying “Amen” before the host is received, then quickly getting out of the way for the next person is, in itself, a distraction. I actually think the priest walking down the line at the altar rail is quicker, without rushing the communicant, but I’m not sure there is less tongue-touching, as the priest may have a more obscured view, a greater distance from his eye to the communicant’s tongue, than in the communion line. (BTW — I was instructed in growing up with the Latin Mass NOT to rise until the person beside me had already received for two reasons: 1) to avoid stumbling, falling into the priest or onto the Eucharist, but 2) also to avoid distracting the person receiving. Sometimes, with kneelers, it isn’t possible to delay.)
  3. In the last few years, I’ve noticed (again, in my limited experience) that there are two ways of placing the host on the tongue. The most common way is that the priest’s index finger is below the tongue, and his thumb above. Virtually all the tongue touching experiences I’ve had were in this configuration, underneath and out of the priest’s view. But the other configuration is with the thumb (just the tip of the thumb) on the bottom and the index finger on top. Although I’ve had no tongue-touching in this configuration, perhaps it isn’t common enough for any valid statistics? I’ve also noticed this configuration allows the priest to press gently on the host if there seems to be a danger of its falling.

So what do you think? And does it vary by whether we are in flu season or not? Or if your health is already compromised? Do you ever choose from whom to receive Communion based on your past track record with a particular priest or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion? Is it a distraction at Communion waiting for a wet finger jolt? Why does this seem to be too sensitive to talk about?

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“Oh where have they laid my Lord?”

         On July 22, Feast of St. Mary Magdalene,         

the following clipping was added here:

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3 Responses to “Please don’t touch my tongue — comments?”

  1. avatar gaudium says:

    I had trouble avoiding touching the communicants’ tongues while distributing Holy Communion until I switched to the finger on top, thumb below method — just to see if it worked better. It works beautifully and flawlessly. Every priest, deacon, and EMHC should be trained to use this method.

  2. avatar christian says:

    Yes, I think the finger on top, thumb below method is an excellent method when giving Holy Communion on the tongue. During my many years of distributing Holy Communion as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, I encountered getting my finger(s) wet from someone’s tongue when distributing Holy Communion on the tongue, but thankfully it was quite rare.

    I cannot help but think in a good many of those cases, it had to do with the recipient moving their mouth and tongue forward (which also involves a bobbing movement of the head, or a diving movement of the head and upper torso) while I was in the process of placing the Eucharist on their tongue. It may have been due to a concern that I would miss their tongue, or it may have been out of zealousness for the Holy Eucharist.
    (I think there are those who may not be conscious that they are doing so). There is more chance of missing someone’s tongue when they are moving. Again, thankfully these instances are rare.

    In any case, it would be more advantageous for the recipient to prepare for receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, by opening their mouth and sticking out their tongue, and after doing so, remain in that same position without moving, until they have received the Eucharist.

    Sometimes the method and coordination of a priest or Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist may be to blame for a recipient’s tongue being touched. But sometimes a bobbing or diving recipient with their mouth and tongue moving during the placement of Eucharist on the tongue may be to blame.

    I can tell you that it’s a very unpleasant experience getting a finger or fingers wet from a recipient’s tongue. Not only does it feel gross, but you feel contaminated by oral bacteria and additionally feel that you will be passing that bacteria to others receiving Holy Communion after them.

    Another concern of mine is someone(s) receiving the Cup when they are sick with a cold or respiratory infection, or have a communicable disease that can be spread orally. There are those who are under the false impression that because it’s a Communion Cup, there is no danger of bacteria and viruses spreading. It’s not being considerate of others to take the Cup if you are sick with a cold or respiratory infection, or have a communicable disease that can be spread by sputum, oral secretions, or mucous membranes of the mouth.

    Perhaps during this Year of the Eucharist, we could all be more cognizant on how we distribute and how we receive Holy Communion, as well as how we prepare our hearts, souls, and bodies to receive Holy Communion.

  3. avatar raymondfrice says:

    I have seen extremes on this. In St Peter’s in Rome , I have heard that everyone receives on the tongue because many people receiving in the hand would take the Holy Eucharist home with them as a souvenir. I also have personally received from a Polish priest who put the cyboreum in front of me and said “Take and Eat” and told me to pick the HE out of the cup!!
    I prefer the present way with a appropriate placement of the servers’s fingers: except slow down the line so things can be done properly!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

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