AFQB: Jewish Tradition & Receiving on the Tongue

Occasionally I will post here some Q&A from the ASK FATHER Question Box, which I moderate. Here is an interesting question which I have handled in the past and have actually used as a support. But that’s not the end of the story…

Jewish Tradition & Receiving on the Tongue

AFQB – The ASK FATHER Question Box: Liturgy, Music & The Seven Sacraments: Jewish Tradition & Receiving on the Tongue
By Anonymous on Saturday, January 13, 2007 – 6:11 pm

I read somewhere that a Jewish tradition existed which required the host of a meal to feed his honored guests the first bite of food. Following this, it would actually be the norm for Jesus to have placed His Body on the tongues of the Apostles at the Last Supper. Is this true? Is it still a Jewish practice?

Many. many thanks!

By Fr. J.T. Zuhlsdorf (father_z) on Monday, January 15, 2007 – 9:53 am:

I have mentioned this myself in other answers, having heard the same thing. However, I did try once to confirm this and was unable to find anyone to back it up reliably. I even submitted a question about this to a couple "Ask the Rabbi" Question Boxes. They knew nothing of this. So… while this is asserted, it seems to be asserted without proof. We shall have to keep digging.

Here’s the deal. Some people want to shore up their arguments against Communion in the hand and for Communion on the tongue by citing an alleged ancient Jewish practice of a host placing a morsel of food directly into the mouth of a guest. I admit that I have actually cited that in my own answers to questions in the dim past. However, I cannot find any support for this claim.

Moreover, it does really matter one way or another if this was an ancient practice or not: over the centuries our understanding of the Eucharist has deepened so as to include the reverent and prudent practice of receiving directly on the tongue. This is not to say that even in the Apostolic Church people did not believe they were receiving the Lord when they participated in the Eucharistic meals. In any event, reception on the tongue is, to my mind, far more in keeping with our now deeper understanding of the Real Presence. We have had many centuries to contemplate the Eucharist, after all.

Therefore, I am giving you all some homework, much as I did in the matter of the claim that St. Teresa said that souls were falling into hell like snowflakes. See if you can find something concrete about this question.

Mind you… it is not enough of a confirmation of this alleged practice merely to state that Fr. Pio Übertrad, KIA1, of the SDEOW2, wrote it in his pamphlet entitled They Are All Wrong And I Know Better. What we need is sturdier stuff.

And so… I am tossing this out onto the floor for you all to research.

Don’t even think of posting comments not relevant to this topic or my entry. I will delete them.

Have fun!

1Know It All… a special, self-conferred degree, granting omniscence to certain types of people.

2Society for Doing Everything The Old Way

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Hmm, Society of Doing Everything the Old Way? I like that. Reminds me of the Society To Put Things Back the Way They Were in one of Cleveland Amory’s books. I’m president of the Toledo Chapter of that one.

  2. ellen says:

    Sorry, this is just a dim and distant memory (from school?), but I seem to recall it was something to do with an Arab custom, i.e. the nomadic desert tribes?

  3. Fr. Bartoloma says:

    With all of the sanitary regulations and strictness of Judaism I don’t think that it seems too likely. Although, I have heard that liturgical “Urban Ledgend” before.

    Hey Fr. Z, I’ll be in the Eternal City next month so maybe we’ll run into each other.

  4. Fr. Bartoloma: Let me know where you are staying. There may be room here at my place.

  5. Ignatius, OSB says:

    I think this is a weak argument if ever there was one. Indeed, it really reduces the reasons for recieving on the tongue to an out-dated social convention, not the awe and reverence due Our Lord. I find it hard to believe that anyone advocating communion in the hand will be convinced by such logic.

  6. dcs says:

    Ignatius, OSB writes:
    I find it hard to believe that anyone advocating communion in the hand will be convinced by such logic.

    One might reply that the social custom was a prefigurement of receiving Holy Communion! ;-)

    Usually it is offered in response to claims that the Apostles received Holy Communion in the hand. Of course, the Apostles were priests (and it is a private theory of mine that they were concelebrating with Our Lord, as priests do in the traditional Rite at their ordination ;-)), so it is not unseemly that they received in the hand. Still, it seems pretty clear that the laity received in the hand in the early Church (though the practice was different from today’s), so how the Apostles received isn’t really relevant.

    And a hardcore liberal isn’t going to be convinced anyway.

  7. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    If this were the case,that is the alleged ancient Jewish custom,then why did the early church practise communion in the hand? It sounds more like those people who claim the LastSupper was a Tridentine Mass.I forget the name of the book (it is published by Tan) but the author makes such claims eg.Christ wore priestly vestments EVEN THE MANIPLE. When I gave a retrat to seminarians a few years back I urged them to read Memoriale Domini,the legislation allowing communion in the hand.When I read it I was thunder struck and I urge everyone to read it because it shows how we got in this liturical mess.Memoriale Domini did NOT legislate communion in the hand.It DID NOT allow it.After giving a history of the practice it said three things would happen if it were reintroduced and the first thing was loss of belief in the eucharist.Then it gave a poll of the world’s bishops showing that there was no popular outcry for it.At the end it did allow places where it has been illegaly introduced (Holland) to petition Rome to allow it.It was meant to be the exception and now has become the norm (although legislatively communion on the tongue is the universal norm).Vae mihi!

  8. Ave Maria! says:

    I began to receive Holy Communion on the tongue not long after my reconversion some dozen years ago.

    I wish I could receive kneeling as well and very much enjoy the rare times when traveling that I encounter the communion rail.

    Ave Maria!

  9. Canticle of Deborah says:

    Looking at this from a slightly different angle, the Apostles were priests. IOW, it was acceptable for them to touch the Eucharist regardless.

  10. tired says:

    First, the fact that some of the fathers advocated communion in the hand would rather point to Jewish custom rather than exclude it. On matters like tithing and fasting the fathers often adopted different customs from the Jews and were quite explicit about it. Something along the lines of we do not do what the hypocrites do.

    Second, Fr. is quite right that it really matters very little whether the Jews did this or not; however, having taught liturgy for some time now, this type of argumentation, if it can be supported, is very useful in deprograming people and showing them that Jesus did not engage in liturgy wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It is quite amazing what one hears from even graduate students occasionally.

    So if you can find this please do.

  11. Ephraem says:

    I play golf with Fr Pius Ubertrad! He has an eight hndicap.

  12. Ephraem says:

    Seriously, though, the placing of the host on the uncovered hand of the layman was not the way Holy Communion was administered in The Early Church (pace Lady Bracknell). There are ancient friezes of the actual practice that show the hands covered by a linen, or even with a corner of the toga or tunic. Of all the liturgical practices that have destroyed the faith of the people this is the most pernicious.

  13. Victor says:

    This is by no means a valid argument, just an idea – but in Western Ukraine there exists a similar tradition.
    On Easter Morning, i.e. after the Vigil, the family gathers for breakfast. On the table there are the eggs, salt, ham and bread that have been blessed by the priest the day before. After thanksgiving, the father cuts the eggs into pieces and feeds every member of the family with a small piece of egg, giving it directly onto their tongue.
    Now I know this is a Christian, not a Jewish custom (more so, I know it only from the Greek Catholics), but in former Galicia with its high percentage of Jewish population, it doesn’t seem impossible to me that this custom was influenced by similar Jewish customs. Somebody out there with more authentic experience? (I saw it only once, when I spent 7 months in Lviv).

  14. Victor: Or it could be reminiscent of Holy Communion.

  15. Maureen says:

    Ethiopians do something like this. I read about it in an Ethiopian cookbook, then saw it done.

    As folks who’ve eaten Ethiopian food may know, the cuisine is yummy little morsels of meat and veggies served on a “plate” made of injera bread. You normally eat by tearing off some of the injera, picking up a chunk of food with it, and popping the whole thing into your mouth. But your mom or dad or sister or brother or friend may have an attack of affection, pick out a particularly nice morsel and pop it into _your_ mouth instead. (A certain amount of closeness is necessary.)

    As I say, I’ve seen this happen. One of the Ethiopian ladies at our local World A’Fair saw her teenage son going by while she was talking with friends. She called the son over, and popped food into his embarrassed mouth.

    Of course, occasionally my mom does that too, and she doesn’t have the excuse of being Ethiopian. But she doesn’t wrap up the little morsels first, and it’s usually a piece of some good dessert, not meat!

  16. terry nelson says:

    Father, I love these things and always want to win. I’ve searched the web, but cannot find anything substantial.
    However, could it be related to the mitzvah of a Jewish wedding? I believe the tradition of the Jewish couple breaking their fastin a private room may include the groom placing the first morsel of bread upon his wife’s tongue – not unlike our custom of the bride and groom feeding each other cake.
    I don’t know of course, but I like the mystical marriage implication.

  17. John says:

    In regard to the TAN book referenced above. The correspondent probably refers to Fr Meagher’s “How Christ Said the First Mass”. It’s on the shelf, so I looked up the references to reception of Holy Communion. In three places Fr Meagher describes the Passover ritual and what he describes is essentially the prescribed form for reception in the hand. There is no mention of Our Lord placing a Particle on anyone’s tongue. One of the passages (cf: pg 424), having just described the Consecration rite:

    “It was the Aphikoman in his hands, over which he pronounced these words. He breaks off a piece for each and lays the Particle in the left palm of each apostle, for that was the Passover rite. The apostles take It with right thumb and index finger and place It in the mouth. This was the way Communion was given in the early Church, and women covered the left plalm with a linen napkin.”

    He gives no citation for that bit about the women using a special linen cloth. I’d be interested to know where that came from; I’ve only seen that referred to once before and there was no citation given then either.



  18. Fr Ephraem says:

    I have a vague memory that it was only a local custom (perhaps Gothic?)for men to receive on the bare flesh. I recall translating an article from German into French on the question in Sept 1995. I don’t have any notes of that, though. I’ll go look but.

  19. Fr Ephraem says: on communion in the hand.

    Have found here a good summary. I haven’t checked the references, but that should be easily eough done.

  20. Simon-Peter says:

    The only Father I have seen proffered in support of communion in the hand is St. Cyprian, but that was as an integral part of catechesis. If memory serves, the original permission given by Paul VI came with a condition, to wit, there was no chance of irreverance. Now, laying aside the fact that communion in the hand might be considered ipso facto irreverant, haven’t we allowed ourselves to slip, to be dumbed down? The condition was “mere” irreverence, not sacrilege! I think the condition has been more than met for its abrogation.

    Why not in the hand? May I offer the following:

    In the hand is all about “us.” Grabbing, snatching, interposing ourselves…

    When do humans permit or require someone to feed them?

    When they are young children.
    When they are too sick.
    When they are too old and weak.

    It is a humble acceptance of our true condition before God whatever our temporal age, it is NOT a mere gesture. It is also adoration and I think natural to man to kneel before his God, it is something that hubris and presumption hate, and standing and in the hand has the ring of non serviam about it. Kneeling and being fed has the mark of trust about it, and, as it is the ONLY time we kneel AND allow someone else to feed us during our weekly lives, provides a real line of demarcation between the world and the Body of Christ, “see how they love one another.”

  21. Simon-Peter says:

    Hey, my anti-spam word was epiclesis! Neat.

    Well you all know that Cardinal \”Canon 915, whassat?\” Arinze and Archbishop Ranjith have given permission, in the name of the Pope, to Poland to receive in the hand. Quite frustrating. One hopes the Poles will do their duty and ignore this permission. It makes you wonder, you might think it was done deliberately…but no, how could that be?

    And they wonder why the pews are *still* emptying, and only 20-30% (1992, 94, 95, polls) of those still sitting actually subscribe to Catholic dogma viz the real presence (and 90% of *them* don\’t go to confession!)…the Most Holy Sacrament suffers death by a thousand desacralizing novelties. It makes you wonder if it was planned this way…but no, how could that be?

    I really wish our elders and betters would get a clue.


    Prot. 376/06/L


    Instante Excellentissimo Domino Iosepho Michalik, Archiepiscopo Premisliensi Latinorum, Praeside Conferentiae Episcoporum Poloniae, litteris die 6 martii 2006 datis, vigore facultatum huic Congregationi a Summo Pontifice BENEDICTO XVI tributarum, perlibenter concedimus ut in dioecesibus Poloniae usus admittatur consecratum Panem in fidelium manibus ponendi, ad normam Instructionis De modo sanctam Communionem ministrandi et adnexae Epistolae ad Praesides Conferentiarum Episcopalium (cf. AAS 61-1969, 541-547).

    Contrariis quibuslibet minime obstantibus.

    Ex aedibus Congregationis de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum, die 21 aprilis 2006.

    (+ Franciscus Card. Arinze)

    (+ Albertus Malcolm Ranjith)
    Archiepiscopus a Secretis

  22. Victor says:

    @ Father Zuhlsdorf: darn, I didn’t think of that. You’re probably right…
    @ Simon-Peter: I think it might be unfair to blame it on Cardinal Arinze. If the Pope granted this practise, probably the Polish bishops did ask for this favour in the first place. Quite frankly, while it is of course an important issue, I don’t regard it the most pressing one. The Polish bishops probably have other things to think about these days…

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