The rise of the Swine Flu has started the inevitable debates about which is more sanitary – receiving communion on the hand or the tongue? I’m not a doctor, so I don’t really know the answer to that question – and I’ve heard convincing arguments for both practices. My own opinion is that you can’t avoid contact with other people, so you just have to accept that living involves a bit of risk.
I have always received on the tongue and I have taught my own children to do the same (the picture on the right is my daughter receiving her First Communion this past Saturday – isn’t it beautiful?). I accept the legitimacy of receiving in the hand – if the Church approves a practice, then it is fine by me. I also don’t think one is more “traditional” than the other. For example, Cyril of Jerusalem in the 4th century taught his catechumens to “make their hands a throne to receive the king.”
Yet my own personal preference is to receive on the tongue. I have two main reasons for doing so. The first is that it is a special sign of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. By treating this food differently than all other foods, I am reminding myself of the unique nature of the Bread of Life. It is not just another meal in which I feed myself, but instead it is the food which brings eternal life.
Another reason is that by receiving on the tongue I am acknowledging that my reception of the Eucharist is completely an act of God. When I receive on the tongue, all I do is open my mouth to receive the host – I am completely dependent upon the priest (or Eucharistic minister) to put the Eucharist in my mouth. Likewise, without God’s grace, I would not even be at Mass receiving His Son – I am completely dependent upon Him to be there.
I have heard some say that receiving in the hand is more “adult-like,” in that you actively participate in taking the host and consuming it. But I prefer to receive on the tongue for exactly the opposite reason: I am acknowledging that I am a child of God and I need to be fed by Him. When I receive communion, I need to be completely submissive and receptive, just like a little child.