QUAERITUR: Did Jesus feed the Apostles on the tongue at the Last Supper?

From a reader:

Father, do you think Jesus fed His apostles on the tongue when he instituted the Eucharist?

I think it is very likely.

You may try to respond that He didn’t.  Gratis asseritur.

But, I’ll play along….

I respond saying, I hope He did give Himself to them, directly on the tongue, as they knelt, one by one.  And I hope it looked just like Tissot’s painting!  Or maybe like van Wassenhove’s version!

Better yet, I hope they even set up a communion rail, with cloths draped over it and used patens.   Yah, that’s right!  I hope the Last Supper looked just like a Traditional Latin Pontifical Mass of Ordination.  Yah!  I’ll bet they had bells too, and burses and maniples and, of course, birettas!  And when it was over, all the women got to do was scrape beeswax off the gold candlesticks.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you will by now be barking, flecks of saliva sullying your monitor, “You hate Vatican II!  You think the Last Supper was a ‘Tridentine Mass’!  Did they ring bells?  Did they have ‘fiddle-backs’? PAH!  Vatican II was the beginning of a new era of us being church together!  EVERYBODY SING NOW!

♫ Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven, light years away – ♪
Here in this place the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, and now is the day.
Gather us in …. ♫”


Okay, That’s enough.

We don’t know how the Last Supper unfolded.  However, it was common in ancient world all around the Mediterranean that people would recline to eat, and do so not so much facing each other as being angled out toward the open room, with the host of the meal in the chief place.

In any event, we are not biblical positivists.  We don’t have to, and should not, force Mass to be like a mid-1st century Jewish meal.  That would be an impossible task of inappropriate liturgical archaeology.  Holy Church’s understanding of what the Lord gave us in the Eucharist deepened over time brought us to a reverence that needed appropriate physical gestures of humility. Now that much of the reverence for the Eucharist has been undermined, over decades, people also don’t know why they should adopt positions of humility in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord. As the practice of standing and receiving in the hand spread, a vicious circle was created which further eroded reverence in congregations.

I hope people will on their own choose to receive Holy Communion only on the tongue.

We need more kneeling, more Holy Communions in the state of grace, received directly on the tongue, from the consecrated hands of priests.

So there.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. LadyMedievalist says:

    The church I attend for daily morning Mass has retained its communion rail and it has been such a boost to my faith life to receive on my tongue from the priest while kneeling at the altar; the beauty of receiving Jesus in such a way has inspired me to seek the sacrament of Confession more frequently so that I’m in a state of grace and may receive every morning that I attend Mass.

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    heehee! oh, that fresh little note that remained after, silence! too, too, funny. Oh my goodness.

  3. Panterina says:

    For what it’s worth: As a child in Italy, I used to receive on the tongue. Then, after moving to the USA, I “conformed” to the local norm and received in the hand. It wasn’t until Summorum Pontificum and the attendance to my first EF Mass, that I returned to receiving on the tongue. And now, thanks mostly to Father Z.’s blog posts, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  4. friarpark says:

    “I hope people will on their own choose to receive Holy Communion only on the tongue.”

    As I mentioned earlier this year, I decided to do this during Lent and have been doing so ever since. It just seems so right. That’s all I can say. So far one of my sons is doing this, I think he even does so in the school Mass where they make him hold hands during the Our Father and make him sing “Kumbya” type songs and only use part of the new translation. I pray he can be a light to his classmates. Brick by brick. I hope my other son decided to do this as well. He is known at the public High School as being Catholic and has a pretty level head about his faith. Not yet receiving on the tongue, but I think it’s more out of unfamiliarity than anything else. But I believe it will come. I like how they are real boys, bickering with each other and all, but yet when it comes to their faith they seem to be on track. I can’t wait to see how they manifest their faith in the future.

  5. wiFoodie says:

    Agreed. Once you go Traddie you never go back… Or “Forward”, for that matter.

  6. anilwang says:

    Well technically all the apostles were bishops, so even if we were biblical positivists the norms of the Last Supper would only specify how concelibrating bishops should receive the Eucharist, not how lay people should receive the Eucharist.

  7. capsela says:

    “from the consecrated hands of priests” Yes, that is the key bit, imo.

  8. woodardj says:

    This is not a silly issue. Traditionalist liturgist Fr. Stephen Sommerville of Toronto makes the point that the Passover was a Seder meal, a liturgy that seem to extend back to the 1st cent. B.C. In a seder meal, the father does in fact place little pieces of the broken unleaven bread in the mouths of the family, precisely as a sign of membership in the family. If we give communion to ourselves, we are declaring ourselves a family of one.

  9. John Scott says:

    While reading this post, I recalled a touching image that made me smile. Among Christians – and perhaps generally – in Ethiopia to this very day, a particularly esteemed guest at a family meal may be hand-fed by the host, who places choice bits in the guest’s mouth. I don’t have any reason to think this might have been the practice in 1st-Century Judea.
    But I wonder…

  10. Dr Guinness says:

    cf. the old Carthusian practice of reclining on the footpace to receive on the tongue in the manner of ancient Jewish custom of reclining at table…

  11. Trad Dad says:

    Communion on the tongue from consecrated hands was the norm in Australia – how can a norm be abrogated ? For myself it still is the norm , no way can Communion in the hand express even nearly the same awe and reverence . No way can Communion in the hand evoke the intimacy of the union with Our Lord that kneeling and receiving Him on the tongue brings.
    You asked , Father , for a little background information about people making comments ?
    TRAD DAD says it all . Born a traditional Australian , Baptised a Traditional Catholic . Nothing`s changed .
    Pax et bonum .
    From Our Lady`s Land of the Southern Cross .

  12. fvhale says:

    Obvious next question:
    Father, do you think Jesus gave His apostles to drink from the chalice when he instituted the Eucharist?

  13. Edprocoat says:

    Fr. Z this is an issue that has troubled me lately. I am 52 years old and clearly remember the change to in the hand communion. I remember being conflicted deeply about the news that one could now receive that way, and the way it became the norm. Last year I decided to go back to receiving the Sacrament on the tongue and have had several bad experiences. I still feel its more reverent, and what I should do. I was stuck in a line where the EMHC dropped our Lord on the floor and it shocked me and hurt me so bad I started to weep, she left it there and I stared at it asking God to forgive me and praying no one would step on it, for this reason I now avoid EMHC’s. She did pick it up and consume it after the line depleted. I was in Florida at the Basilica of Mary Queen of the Universe in Orlando when a priest at my turn to receive said ” head up, move closer, stick your tongue out further, come closer, head up “. I was shocked by this as I was approaching him correctly to receive, the shrine which is now been named a minor basilica was started to minister to those visiting the theme parks and there are tons of foreigners who attend and this same priest done this at least 6 more times to people in line, I watched him as I felt it was my fault as first and I even seen a young spanish looking girl walk away in tears of embarrassment. I have seen priests who almost throw the host into your mouth as if they think you are either going to bite their finger or give them a disease. I never felt right about receiving in the hand and will not do it again, perhaps only if stuck in an EMHC line again. I can understand the fear of a disease but I am not a shabby dressed vagrant in ill health. I have also noticed the tendency at some parishes, as I travel in my work, to have hand sanitizer on the altar. I think this should not be there and my first thought when seeing this was I hope this is holy hand sanitizer. A bad joke but that is what first came to mind. Sorry for the long reply, thank you for accepting me at your site.


  14. Bea says:

    Fr Z. Loved your “so there”

    Good point, anilwang: The apostles were bishops and priests and bishops can give themselves communion.

    So, so, many reasons for not receiving on the hand.
    Our poor Lord gets so man-handled (and “woman-handled”) and this shows so much disrespect for His Very Person. Who would approach an earthly king and place one’s hands on him. Can you see Queen Elizabeth being approached and touched by every one? It would not be tolerated.

    In respect and reverence He comes to us, through the consecrated hands of our priests, who alone has the Grace of State to touch The Sublime and Precious Body of Our Creator. We thus cannot fail to forget just Who is the Creator and who is the creature.

    It is a sign of human arrogance to believe we are His Equal and have a right to “man-handle” Him.

  15. MikeJ9919 says:

    I recently read the portion of the Holy Father’s second book on the Lord that focuses on the Last Supper. He makes the point that it was very early in the history of the Church (I believe within the first century) that the communal meal was separated from the Sacrifice. So while the Last Supper was certainly the first offering of the Holy Eucharist, the early Christian communities did not view it as the permanent model for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  16. Konrad says:

    It is not unlikely indeed that Jesus miht have fed his apostles in on the tongue. Even today in the orient it’s quite common that the host of a diner feeds his guests in the mouth to show his special appreciation.

  17. Legisperitus says:

    There is a book by Fr. James Meagher, called “How Christ Said the First Mass,” that shows how even many small details of the traditional Catholic Mass had their antecedents in the Temple and Passover liturgies.

  18. Taylor says:

    For what it’s worth, I believe Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich’s account describes them as receiving on the tongue.

  19. Darren says:

    I have to go back to that section of Ven, Mary of Agreda’s The Mystical City of God to see how she recorded this. I just cannot recall… …I am in the early church part of the narrative of her book (I am just past there part were Peter & John were arrested, and then the angel freed them – in the story part of the work).

    When I get home tonight I’ll check on it, unless someone else has a copy available.

  20. Mary Jane says:

    I have only ever received on the tongue…and I have never received from an EMHC. I would never receive in the hand. If I was told “put your hands out” I would keep my hands folded, shake my head, get out of line, and head back to my pew. Fortunately that has never happened.

  21. Vox Laudis says:

    @Kathleen10–I thought it funny, too, because it’s a FLAT sign, which means absolutely nothing unless it’s attached to a note…perhaps signifying that this song/liturgical interpretation fell flat and didn’t dare to get up?
    @anilwang–right you are! Although the priests at the two parishes where we normally would assist at Mass wouldn’t concelebrate if there were a second priest available–they’d probably go straight to Missa Solemnis if they could round up a subdeacon–servers wouldn’t be a problem, and if they couldn’t find a subdeacon a Missa Cantata at the drop of a hat wouldn’t be out of the question (I’m a schola director and could do all the chants myself if necessary). And these are diocesan priests, not order priests; may their tribe increase!

  22. FrJLP says:

    @woodardj: Would you by any chance have Fr. Sommerville’s book and be able to offer any citations he may give for the notion that the father would place particles of matzah or other food in the mouths of his family members? There is not too much written about the “rubrics” of a Seder prior to the Tosefta (post-Temple) and the Mishnah (c. 220 AD), which create the Hagaddah/Seder tradition as we know it. But, in neither of these documents nor in any of the scant references to Passover “procedure” during the Second Temple period do I find any reference to such a practice. Philo of Alexandria (d. 50 AD), for example, explains: “And each house is at that time invested with the character and dignity of a temple, the victim being sacrificed so as to make a suitable feast for the man who has provided it and of those who are collected to share in the feast, being all duly purified with holy ablutions. And those who share in the feast come together not as they do for other entertainments, to gratify their bellies with wine and meat, but to fulfill their hereditary custom with prayer and songs of praise” (Special Laws II:148). And Josephus (d. 100 AD) only mentions that groups of ten to twenty would share a passover lamb in encampments around the Temple (cf. Jewish War 6:9:3).

    I am just wondering if there is any historical, primary source reference for such a claim, especially in sources that originated prior to the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD. That it was a customary food ritual in Syria and Ethiopia in Antiquity is not enough to posit such a claim about Second Temple passover meals, let alone that of the Last Supper.

  23. lilye says:

    A plea for communion rails and kneelers – I have chosen to only receive on the tongue at the OF but I am 5’11” in my low heeled Sunday shoes and my priest is about 5′. I have to contort myself to receive properly. Think how much easier it would be if I was a foot below him rather than a foot above!

  24. cjcanniff says:

    Fr. Z,

    I switched to receiving Communion on the tongue just about two years ago because of your urging, and all I have to say is “thank you!” This alteration of outer disposition has effected an immeasurably beneficial change of interior disposition toward our Eucharistic Lord.

  25. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Taking up woodardj and FrJLP’s comments, Daniélou, in ch. 9 of Bible et Liturgie (1962), seems to accept the theory that the Eucharist was instituted, not during a Passover meal, but during a ‘Chaboura’ prior to Passover: what is the contemporary state of this discussion?

    And is it true that incense was probably a feature in any case?

  26. Sissy says:

    The Gospel of John, 19:14 says that Jesus was tried and judged by Pilate on the day of preparation. That would make Passover Friday night. I always thought that Jesus died as the priests were killing the lambs.

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  28. amsjj1002 says:

    Bishop Sample of Marquette also quotes this song in his homily (around 10.30) —
    I always wonder if they ever dared to use it again after that.

    Certainly it was a staple at my college chapel. (sigh)

  29. Justin_Kolodziej says:

    These discussions are wearisome and serve only to divide, not to unite.

    Let those who receive in the hand, as Sts. Cyril of Jerusalem and John of Damascus describe, receive in the hand; Let those who receive kneeling on the tongue, as countless Roman Catholics have through the centuries, receive kneeling on the tongue; Let those who receive half genuflecting from a silver spoon, as the various Byzantines do, receive half genuflecting from a silver spoon; only let everyone receive with all due reverence considering Who it is that we are receiving; and further, let no one say “I am superior because I receive in this manner which is clearly more reverent that that manner”; let us say rather “Lord have mercy on me the sinner” as we receive.

  30. Blaise says:

    Justin – you have a very good point about not claiming any superiority based on how you receive. I think, however, Fr Z’s point is partly that one method of receiving communion does more to promote exactly the attitude in whcih you are suggesting all should receive.

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