The journey of the Eucharistic celebration dates back to Christ Himself. He handed the bread to His disciples so that they may eat it and continue the celebration in His memory. Years, decades and centuries have passed since then, yet the Eucharist is still very much with us and will remain with us until the very end. Since the Lord mandated us to eat His body and drink His blood, the Holy Church has taught over the years that Christ is truly present, as He says, in the Eucharist and He is to be received worthily at the Eucharistic celebration. The way and manner of reception of the Holy Communion, however, has generated a number of discussion over the years and its flame has risen anew in recent time as we get faced with the outbreak of one contagious disease or another. While it may be said that communion in the hand is the most ancient way of distributing Holy Communion, at least looking back to the very institution of the Eucharist itself in the upper room. The Matthian account holds that Jesus broke the bread and gave to the disciples. This outrightly looks like He gave it to them in the hand or Scripture scholars may explain it differently, but not that He gave them on the tongue. This is also the account of the other synoptic Gospels and it seems to be the practice in the time of the Apostles. However, sometime in the era of the Fathers of the Church, the practice was restricted in favour of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue, for two reasons: a) to avoid as much as possible the dropping of Eucharistic particles; b) to increase in the faithful the devotion of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Cf. Office of the Liturgical celebrations of the Supreme Pontif). Brief History St. Cyril of Jerusalem was recorded to have instructed newly baptised Christians in the 4th century Jerusalem that they approach the altar “making a throne with your left hand for the right, as intending to receive the king, and having made a hollow in your hand, to receive the body of Christ” (Catechesis mystagogica V, xxi-xxii, Migne Patrologia Graeca 33). This Catechesis indicates the practice of communion in the hand and it already shows the care with which the early Church attended the reception of the Holy Eucharist. It should be noted, however, that scholars have argued that this Catechesis is not the teaching of St. Cyril himself due to some other practices associated with the form of reception. St. Basil, in the same Century, strongly forbade communion in the hand saying the practice can only be permitted in times of persecution or with monks in the desert when the Priest or Deacon cannot be available. For him, only the ordained minister can touch the Eucharist, except given the two conditions (letter 93). In the 5th cent., Pope St. Leo the Great, was recorded to have said in his commentary on the Gospel of John chapter 6, “one receives in the mouth what one believes by faith”. Pope Gregory the Great, in the 6th cent., was noted to have also referred to communion on the tongue telling how Pope Agapito performed a miracle during the Mass, after having placed the Body of the Lord into someone’s mouth. In later years, St. Thomas Aquinas, 13th cent., refers to the practice of receiving Holy communion only on the tongue. He affirms that touching the Body of the Lord is proper only to the Ordained Priest. Therefore, among other reasons, he writes: “… out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated…. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency” (ST.,III, 82,3). From this position, development in the Eucharistic devotion becomes more noticeable as it holds till date. Communion on the tongue is seen to point out in every sense the reverence with which the Body of Christ should be received. The practice, no doubt, developed alongside increasing focus on the sanctity of Consecrated Host and unworthiness of the recipient. More so, communion on the tongue evokes a sense of “being fed” with heavenly food by the hand of the Priest. Following this sense of profound devotion, Saints and Popes have expressed unequivocal reverence for the Eucharist. In recent time, It is noted that Pope Paul VI favoured communion on the tongue; Pope John Paul II in his fragile health received communion in the mouth and gave it in similar manner; Mother Theresa of Calcutta always received communion in the mouth, often kneeling, and the same is the disposition of Pope Benedict XVI in distributing Communion. In fact, he is noted to have official announced that he gives communion only in the mouth and in a kneeling position in his Mass at the Vatican. So communion on the tongue has since remained the devotional practice for a long period of time within the Church. With certain matters of urgency arising from certain Dioceses, however, the Church saw the need to grant indult on reception of communion in the hand. But to ensure that the sacred sense is not lost, the Congregation for Divine Worship wrote to the Presidents of Bishop Conferences of concerned Dioceses on May 29, 1969, saying: as to way to carry out the new rite: “one possible model is the traditional usage which expresses the ministerial functions, by having the Priest or deacon place the host in the hand of the communicant….” With this the communicant remains always being fed by the hand of the Priest. It is, however, to be emphasised that no one except the Priest is allowed to receive communion directly by himself from the altar (Redemptionis Sacrsmentum (RS), 97; See also General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 182). Priests who have the attitude of asking the faithful to come receive directly by themselves from the altar abuse the Eucharist and fail in their responsibility to “feed the flock”. They, therefore, deprive the sheep of being fed by their shepherd. It is also to be noted that the permission to receive the Holy Eucharist in the hand is given only to Dioceses or Episcopal conferences that have received the indult (permission) to do so. In the 1969 Instruction, Memoriale Domini, the Church provides for the reception of communion in the hand in limited areas and under special circumstances. Then, in 1973, the instruction Immensae Caritatis granted wider permission at the request of other Episcopal conferences. These privileges, however, do not in any way cancel out the practice of communion on the tongue. In fact, it is to be stated that no one who presents himself or herself to receive Holy communion on the tongue should be denied the sacrament. Owing to some challenges that sometimes arise on the distribution of Holy Communion, The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament stipulates that “ each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue” (RS. 92), and that it is ilicit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful who are not impeded by law from receiving the Holy Eucharist (cf. RS. 91). Having said these, it is important to note that the true reverence for the Sacred Species should never lack in any way in the reception of the Holy Communion, either on the tongue or in the hand. To this St. Augustine teaches: “No one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it” ( Enarrationes in Psalmos 98,9). Contextual Considerations In the face of the Corona virus pandemic and in other situations where the risk of contagion or health hazard is foreseeable, the faithfuls are to be guided by the prudent counsel of the Local ordinary, in regions where the indult has been granted (The Archbishop Emeritus of Ibadan, Felix A. Job, once said that Nigeria has such indult given) and not allow themselves to be driven against prudent judgement either by themselves or by the conviction of others or to see the reception of communion in hand as sinful, evil or disrespectful in this sense. Even though this may not be a usual practice within the local Church, as it is not the norm but only permissible in the universal Church, a reasonable understanding for the sake of the prevailing circumstance is absolutely necessary. What is most important, therefore, we should note, is that: 1) Adequate preparation must be made for the reception of Holy Communion. 2) Communion must be received with utmost reverence and devotion. 3) Every care must be taken to ensure that no particle is allowed to drop to the ground. 4) Whether on the tongue or in hand, a total sense of unworthiness must be our disposition. These conditions are necessary so that we do not undermine the Sacredness of the Sacrament or loose touch with its significance. I am in total support of Communion on the tongue, but if situations arise that could make us consider otherwise, as both Saints Basil and Thomas Aquinas gave room for exception, I think adamancy may rupture the communion of the Church which the Eucharist also symbolise. The Eucharist is a Sacrament of Charity. If there is anything that may endanger the life of our brothers and sisters, as in the fear of contagion of a virus, then Charity should prevail over our personal devotion, so that we abide by the voice of the Shepherd of the Diocese we belong. The Example of Mother Theresa of Calcuta can also be helpful here. Despite that she has the attitude of reception of Communion on the tongue, as earlier noted, it is, however, on record that she also received in the hand when the occasion could not permit otherwise. Hence, we should not be quick to conclude that Communion in the hand represents a fall in the faith or an end to the culture of reverence for the Lord, given the above circumstances. Conclusion Distributing communion once, during the centenary year of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. It was practically impossible for anyone to kneel in such a crowded situation and in some situations communicants needed to stretched their hands to receive the Lord. Given that condition, insistence on receiving communion kneeling or on the tongue may be practically difficult. As such, I had to give as situation demands knowing that faith, reverence and devotion speaks louder in the heart than in the outward sign. One should not turn away from the Lord or refuse to receive Holy Communion because there was no place to kneel or no opportunity to receive on the tongue. The Lord who knows the heart of every man rewards accordingly. We remember His word: “I do not see as men see or judge as men judge” (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). The Lord probes the loins and reveals secrets of the heart. He who laid the example of obedience for us, also demands that we listen to the voice of the Shepherds He has placed in charge of us. We should make our hearts ready, have our hands cleaned and our mouths confess our believe in “Amen” as we approach the table where necessity demands that we receive in the hand. Let our hearts not be dismayed but trust in the merciful goodness of the Lord as we pray that He heals our land and restore us back to peace. May our light of faith forever shine and may the Holy Eucharist remain for us the food of immortality. Amen! Fr. Michael Odubela, OSJ ~DEEP WITHIN ~ Lætáre Sunday, 2020 Feel free to share if you find helpful.