ASK FATHER: Communion, kneeling on the tongue

From a reader…


I regularly receive Holy Communion kneeling (on the floor) at my OF-only parish. My pastor has asked me a few times not to do that, though not forcefully – he’s never unkind about it or actually telling me to stop (rather just suggesting I don’t), but I know it bothers him. He’s concerned about me appearing “in opposition” to the bishops and the norms of receiving communion. There is so much confusion around this. Can you point me to something tangible that lays out norms for receiving communion? On the hand is an abuse that’s been normalized, on the tongue is ok, kneeling on the tongue is…? Just want clarity and document-support!

“kneeling on the tongue is…?”

… really uncomfortable.

Yes, kneeling on the tongue for receiving is a rare but effective penitential practice going wayyyy back.  I don’t know how far back, but wayyyy back.  There are secret manuscripts hidden away in secret places with directions on how to get that extreme tongue stretch.

Mastery of kneeling on the tongue for Communion sometimes goes tongue in cheek… ummm… cheek by jowl… with proper liturgical Beretta use.

There are any number of documents that cover how to receive.  In most places, the option to receive on the hand is, alas, a licit option in the Ordinary Form.  However, the document most pertinent to your situation is the CDW document, very much in force and issued in forma specifica, called Redemptionis Sacramentum.  RS secures the rights of Catholics to receive Holy Communion directly on the tongue, while kneeling (par. 90-92).  You must not be prohibited from receiving on the tongue while standing or kneeling.

In the Extraordinary Form, Communion is not to be given on the hand.

It is always a good idea to examine your conscience when it comes to doing something that is outside the norm where you are.  Are you looking for attention?  Are you simply trying to be reverent?   Are you trying to set an example?   What’s your motive? The moment of Communion isn’t about how great we look at doing it.  You don’t have to write back – I’m just putting it out there as a point of examination.

I don’t know your priest, of course.  Perhaps you have engaged him in an amicable conversation.

Lastly, you could go to a parish where you won’t be hassled for receiving like a normal, believing Catholic.

BTW… I think that people should kneel to receive and that they should receive directly on the tongue.   Moreover, we should get rid of Communion in the hand as soon as possible.

Lastly, commas can be important.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I think I read once, in a life of St Gerard Magella, that he would walk on his knees up the nave, (presumably bending down to the ground) dragging his tongue along the floor…perhaps he did it when he thought no one was watching…

  2. Fr. Reader says:

    Redemptionis Sacramentum! A well un-known document.

  3. Malta says:

    You have to be adroit to do it, but at OF masses I receive communion by doing a head stand; it takes great balance, but with practice you can do it, especially if you excelled in gymnastics at some point in your youth.

  4. WmHesch says:

    To play devil’s advocate, just because something is incompatible with the sensibilities of those who attend the EF does NOT make it per se “incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.” (UE 28)

    The manner of reception of Holy Communion is not prescribed in the 1962 books, and many dioceses in supplements implementing SP specifically state it remains an option.

    It’s incongruous to argue Communion in the hand is forbidden at the EF, while also saying the 3-hour fast is optional.

    [No! The length of the Eucharistic fast is determined by law. It is one hour before Communion, in both forms. However, Communion in the hand is determined by law as well: not in the traditional form (cf. Universae Ecclesiae). And, yes, we need a longer fast.]

  5. ServusChristi says:

    I think Michael Davies said it best when he says that when such things as communion on the tongue were enforced, the church was upholding doctrine, in this case the real presence and when all of a sudden communion on the hand was allowed almost everywhere that seemed like the doctrine was being undermined and was sending a message that the doctrine is no longer believed. Can say that because I see everyone, mostly confession-before-Christmas-&-Easter-only folk come up every week with little reverence.

    I for one, had pieces of the host break off 3 Sundays in a row and after seeing Bp Schneider’s interview on EWTN, that was it for me, this was a few months ago. I hope this gets removed ASAP, only I think our Dear Holy Father will not do it, maybe the next, it doesn’t even need to be a Gregory XVII or Pius XIII in my opinion.

  6. This is a very serious subject but I had to laugh when I read “kneeling on the tongue is…?”. My Cajun brain automatically tried to picture someone kneeling on their tongue. If I knelt on my tongue it would be awful painful not counting the gymnastics it would take to do it.

    Everyone that attends the Masses I attend in our parish kneels to receive Communion unless they have a knee problem or something like that. Very few receive in the hand that I have seen. Years ago our Pastor gave a scorching homily about the responsibility we bear when receiving Jesus and from then on the parishioners have taken that responsibility very seriously.

  7. KateriK says:

    Lo, the Oxford comma example…..
    “I dedicate this book to my parents, Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal Burke.” ?
    Without the comma: “I dedicate this book to my parents Cardinal Sarah….”

  8. un-ionized says:

    KateriK, the Oxford comma is missing, it would go after “Sarah.” As written, the sentence implies that the two Cardinals are his parents. That’s why we joke about this.

  9. William says:

    KateriK, there’s no Oxford comma in those examples.

    With the Oxford comma: I dedicate this book to my parents, Cardinal Sarah, and Cardinal Burke.

    (Clear there are three dedicatees: 1) parents, 2) Card. S, 3) Card. B.)

    Without the Oxford comma: I dedicate this book to my parents, Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal Burke.

    (Could be read as as above or saying Card. S and Card. B are your parents – lucky you!)

  10. MrsMacD says:

    I’m not a particularily good grammatician, but I do try and I got a jolly good laugh out of that, “kneeling on the tongue is…” Learning to speak and write properly is immportant but not as important as recieving Jesus on the tongue.

  11. Man-o-words says:

    It took me about half of the article to understand that Fr. Z was having fun with this porr questioner. I kept thinking “How is Father arguing with kneeling while receiving communion on the tongue. . . .

    Then it hit me like a mack truck and I REALLY enjoyed the response. I have a habit of inserting my foot in my mouth, so perhaps if I can get my knee in there I can strive for sainthood with the highest form of communion posture. Not sure how I will cram the Blessed Lord in there with due reverence and at the same time, but am also known for having a big mouth.

  12. APX says:

    The manner of reception of Holy Communion is not prescribed in the 1962 books, and many dioceses in supplements implementing SP specifically state it remains an option.
    This came up in 2009 during the h1n1 ordeal and the bishop mandated that only communion in the hand was permitted including at the Latin Mass. The priest refused. Basically, the priest takes the utmost care to prevent lost crumbs during th EF and to then given communion in the hand defeats everything the priest did.

  13. youngcatholicgirl says:

    It took me a moment to get “kneeling on the tongue”. Ha ha! It’s like “Let’s eat, Grandma”, vs. “Let’s eat Grandma”.

  14. Henry Edwards says:

    “The manner of reception of Holy Communion is not prescribed in the 1962 books, and many dioceses in supplements implementing SP specifically state it remains an option.”

    It may be argued that the EF requirement of communion on the tongue is mandated by tradition rather than legislation. If so, one errs who says it’s optional.

  15. MrsMacD says:

    If my husband tells me that it’s okay for my teenage son to read a certain book and I, in my heart, am certain that it would put him in the occasion of sin, I would have the moral obligation to object and stall and try to get around giving the boy that book, yes? Can a priest, as Father, refuse to give Communion in the hand, if he sees it would be an occasion of sin for his children for him to do otherwise?

  16. Fr. Kelly says:

    WmHesch, APX, and Henry Edwards:
    The manner of reception of Holy Communion is not prescribed in the 1962 books, and many dioceses in supplements implementing SP specifically state it remains an option.

    Actually, they do. The instruction is in the Rituale Romanum in Chapter 2, the section that speaks of the distribution of Holy Communion outside Mass. According to the instructions, the same procedure is used for distribution within Mass.

    In a footnote, it quotes an instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites from March 26, 1929 saying:
    Qui communicandi sunt dum Sacerdos eis porrigit Sacramentum, patenam ipsi subter suum mentum apponunt.
    Those who are to receive Communion, while the priest distributes the Sacrament, hold the paten under their chin.

    This rules out Communion in the hand and indicates that it is to be received on the tongue
    It also instructs the priest to distribute Communion beginning at the Epistle side, which indicates that they are stationary at the Rail while he goes to them, rather than the priest being stationary and they lining up to come to him.

  17. TonyO says:

    Commas Save Lives!: in “Let’s eat Grandma” the life-saving comma misplaced it’s Google Maps, got lost, and never showed up to do it’s critical job. Poor Grandma. “For want of a nail…” can now be morphed into the much shorter and simpler “for want of a comma”, and even smaller missing component.

    The document Redemptionis Sacramentum that Fr. Z mentions above was an Instruction put out by Cardinal Arinze and and the Congregation for Divine Worship. [NB: In forma specifica!]It confirms the position already expressed in 2002 that clarifies the nature of the rule (in the US) of receiving Communion while standing:

    Even where the Congregation has approved of legislation denoting standing as the posture for Holy Communion, in accordance with the adaptations permitted to the Conferences of Bishops by the Institution Generalis Missalis Romani n. 160, paragraph 2, it has done so with the stipulation that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds.

    The most wholesome thing for the questioner to do is to print off both documents for his priest, hand them to him, and explain his understanding that while communion standing or in the hand is permitted, by no means does the rule made by the US bishops displace the reality that Communion on the tongue, kneeling, is always an even more fitting AND SPECIFICALLY PERMITTED posture that should be promoted rather than denigrated. Hence, while there is the possibility that a parishioner who wishes to receive kneeling is doing so out of a desire to “show off” (or other unseemly motive), the priest should assume rather the motive to simply make use of the explicit norm and the immemorial custom to give “a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species.”

    Also recall that when a practice is an immemorial custom, specific law does not abrogate it unless it EXPLICITLY references the immemorial custom and suppresses it. In no way did the Vatican’s permission to bishops’ conferences to allow communion in the hand also give permission to displace the immemorial custom (see the “stipulation” above), and in no way did (or could) the US bishops’ conference mention the practice of receiving Communion kneeling so as to abrogate it. Hence the priest (and all priests) should recognize the US rule as being a permissive overlay on the pre-existing norm of receiving while kneeling on the tongue, and should NEVER feel awkward about giving to a communicant in that posture. :-) (Where did that pesky comma get to, now…)

  18. Fr. Kelly says:

    The trouble with receiving while kneeling on the tongue in the NO is that the communicant will find it hard to articulate the “Amen.” with his tongue pinned to the floor. ;-)

  19. TonyO says:

    with proper liturgical Beretta use

    Hah! LOL. Just caught that, after I went back to re-read Fr. Z’s answer.

    You’re sneaky, Fr. Z. Remind me not to get in a liturgical fight with you!

  20. MissaAdOrientem says:

    I am trying to foster the practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling by collecting and sharing useful material in my website The site is also trying to support celebration of Novus Ordo ad Orientem, in Latin, and with Gregorian chant. I hope some readers might find it helping.
    Sto cercando di incoraggiare la pratica di ricevere la santa Comunione sulla lingua e inginocchiandosi raccogliendo e condividendo materiale utile nel mio sito Il sito sta anche cercando di sostenere la celebrazione del Novus Ordo ad Orientem, in latino e con il canto gregoriano. Spero che alcuni lettori possano trovarlo utile.

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