There are many instances of Eucharistic typology in Scripture that can give us insight into the question of whether God favors receiving Communion in the hand or on the tongue. This question is profoundly connected with questions of modesty, chastity, and humility, giving us a new perspective on the connection between liturgical reform and the abuse crisis.
The Last Supper
The first thing to look at is Jesus’s own actions. Defenders of the practice of Communion in the hand cite Jesus’s words at the Last Supper, when, after blessing the bread, he says “take, eat” (Mt. 26:26; Mk. 14:22). The word he uses for “take” is λαμβανω or lambano, which does means not to “snatch” or “grab,” but rather to “accept” or “receive.” Luke’s description of the same event (Lk. 22:19) says, “And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them[.]” The word for “gave” used here is διδωμι or didomi, which means to give or bestow. It is true that the plain meaning of the words used in these passages does not definitively tell us whether Jesus did or did not place the bread into the apostle’s mouths or their hands. However, in John’s description of the Last Supper, there are additional details.
Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, and said to him: Who is it of whom he speaketh? He therefore, leaning on the breast of Jesus, saith to him: Lord, who is it? Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the morsel, Satan entered into him. And Jesus said to him: That which thou dost, do quickly.
Authors are divided about whether this scene describes a Eucharistic Communion; Augustine and Aquinas argue that it does not (cf. Summa III.81.2 ad 3). At minimum, the moment shows us something about ancient customs (more on that in a moment). The natural way to give someone a partially moistened piece of bread would be to place it directly in the receiver’s mouth, with the giver grasping the dry portion. It would be messy for the giver to place the dipped bread into the recipient’s hand. (For this reason, we see that a moistened host is never placed in a communicant’s hand in any Eastern tradition where intinction is practiced.)
Scholars have determined that ancient Jews commonly ate while reclined at table along one side, not on both sides facing each other. This seating arrangement allows for servants to attend to the table without reaching over or disturbing the reclined guests. Clearly, this is what is happening in John’s description. That is why John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” is “leaning back on Jesus’ breast,” relaxed and not uncomfortably contorted. Even today, in Eastern cultures, it is common for people to feed their friends and those they love directly in the mouth. Isn’t that what lovers and particularly parents in all cultures naturally do when they want to give their beloved or their child a taste of something? In the Farewell Discourse that immediately follows Judas’s departure from the Last Supper, Jesus even calls the disciples who remain his “little children” (Jn. 13:33).
Returning to the first Holy Communion of the apostles: Even if Jesus did place the host in their hands, it must be noted that the apostles were the first priests. They have every right to handle the host and self-communicate. The Last Supper was a private event. The “multitudes” (or the laity) were excluded. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes and feeding of the 5,000, though not involving consecrated bread, does provide us with a picture of how Communion might have worked with laity present.
He said to them: Bring them hither to me. And when he had commanded the multitudes to sit down upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. (Mt. 14:18-9)
In the Greek, Jesus commands the crowds to “recline” on the grass, ανακλινω or anaklino, not “sit down,” as is commonly translated. Anaklino appears eight times in the Bible. Each time it is used, it describes the feeding of the multitudes or the elect reclining at the heavenly banquet (Mt. 8: 11, Lk. 12:37, Lk. 13:29). The only other time it is used is to describe Mary wrapping Jesus and “laying” or “reclining” Him in the manger (Lk. 2:7). The Church Fathers have always interpreted the manger as a Eucharistic image, since a manger is something that holds food and from which animals are fed. The manger was likely constructed from wood like the Cross, and it is the crucified and glorified Christ whom we feed upon. The reclining posture and the description of the multiplication of the loaves exactly parallel the descriptions of the consecration of the bread at the Last Supper and the words of consecration at the Mass. Jesus takes the gifts, looks to Heaven, blesses, breaks, and gives to the disciples. Here, Matthew provides an additional detail. “The disciples gave to the multitudes,” foreshadowing that Christ’s in persona Christi priests are to distribute the Eucharistic species to the “multitudes” or laity who are present at the Eucharistic banquet or the Mass, when the bread is not simply blessed, but actually transubstantiated into His body. We don’t know if the multitudes received into the hand or not, but the description makes clear that disciples were the ones who distributed to the multitudes, not volunteers from the crowd distributing to each other.
Old Testament Types
It shouldn’t be surprising that there are several Old Testament examples of receiving Communion in the mouth from God himself or a heavenly designated representative. The best known may be Isaiah.
And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. (Isaiah 6:6–7)
When the angel takes the burning coal from the altar, it is the Word of God he is putting to Isaiah’s lips, which purifies him. Only God can purify sin, which is why the Eucharist burns when its purity is put in contact with our sin. We can connect this altar with the Lamb (Eucharist) by reference to John’s vision of Heaven, where the Lamb and the altar are associated (Rev. 6:9). Isaiah does not take the Eucharistic “live coal” into his hand and feed himself, it is “touched to his lips” for him. Note that even the seraphim dares not touch the “live coal” with his hand, but rather uses “tongs.”
Jeremiah tells the Lord he is concerned that he will not have the ability to serve Him properly as a prophet.
And the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth: and the Lord said to me: Behold I have given my words in thy mouth[.] (Jer. 1:9)
The word “Lord” here is Kurios in the Septuagint Greek translation; as we know, the early Christians hailed Christ as Kurios. Therefore, the Word Himself puts His own words into Jeremiah’s mouth. Any Catholic would recognize that what is being referred to here, typologically, is the enfleshed Word in the Eucharist. Christ does not place His words in Jeremiah’s hand and tell him to feed himself. Christ feeds him.
Something similar occurs with Ezekiel, who is also concerned about his ability to fulfill Yahweh’s wishes:
And he said to me: Son of man, eat all that thou shalt find: eat this book, and go speak to the children of Israel. And I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that book: And he said to me: Son of man, thy belly shall eat, and thy bowels shall be filled with this book, which I give thee. And I did eat it: and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ez. 3:1–3)
Again, we can see in this scene an allegory of the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, feeding his enfleshed self to a man by his own hand, directly into the mouth.
Finally, we have the example of the Apostle John in Revelation. Just like Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan, where Heaven opened and the Holy Spirit appeared, John is taken into “the Spirit, and behold there was a throne set in heaven” (Rev. 4:2):
And I heard a voice from heaven again speaking to me, and saying: Go, and take the book that is open, from the hand of the angel who standeth upon the sea, and upon the earth. And I went to the angel, saying unto him, that he should give me the book. And he said to me: Take the book, and eat it up: and it shall make thy belly bitter, but in thy mouth it shall be sweet as honey. (Rev. 10:8–9)
In these chapters of Revelation, there are so many fantastical things occurring with dizzying speed that it hard to be certain who the various angels are or whether they are simply different manifestations of God Himself. However, just as with Jeremiah and Ezekiel, John is given “the Word” enfleshed, in this case as a “little book.” Just like Ezekiel, the Eucharistic Word tastes “as sweet as honey” in his mouth. To underscore and emphasize that only the properly authorized can touch the Eucharistic Word, John takes the Eucharist into his own hand in this passage and places it into his own mouth. John is an apostle and therefore an in persona Christi priest, which is exactly why he can take the Eucharist into his own hands and self-communicate.
God’s Mother Was Not an EMHC
Outside Scripture, we have the example of the Fatima apparitions. It is not at all routine for seers at Marian apparitions to receive the Eucharist. Fatima is unique in this respect. The Holy Mother’s message was to warn the world about the coming horrors of the 20th century and the collapse of the Church if the world did not repent and the “errors of Russia” were not defeated. As part of this, knowing that a lack of belief in the Real Presence and the profanation of the Eucharist would become the norm, would it not make sense for Heaven to show us the proper way to reverently receive the Eucharist? It does, and so we see the “Angel of Peace” give the children Communion on their knees and on the tongue.
Even though the Holy Mother is the Theotokos, the Mediatrix of all Graces, and the Queen of Heaven, and even though she held and nurtured Jesus His entire earthly life, she does not administer the Eucharist herself. She is not an ordained minister of the altar, nor does she play at one like the “extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion” common at Novus Ordo Masses.
At Fatima, the Holy Mother says a lack of modesty in dress offends God very much and that “more souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” There is an old saying, lex orandi, lex credendi, which means that we believe the way we pray, but it is also true that who we are affects the way we pray. Sin desensitizes the more it becomes habitual. There has been a general lowering of standards in the modern age, and we have all become acclimated to it. The lack of respect for decency and modesty toward our own bodies means that immodesty toward the glorified Body of Christ doesn’t seem as scandalous, particularly since it has been so widely practiced for so long. Modesty may have disappeared from society, but the glorified body of Christ remains the same forever and always. Christ’s Eucharistic body deserves the same tenderness and reverence that it was once given universally.
The Diabolic Assault on Mystery
God, as the perfect embodiment of all virtues, is modest and humble. We certainly see that in Jesus’s submission to the will of the Father even until death. As Elijah learned, God is not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a whistling of a gentle air” (1 Kings 19:10–12). God is also usually found only behind a veil, such as in the Holy of Holies or behind the accidents of the priest or the Eucharist. In nature, He is almost always found only behind the veil of physical laws that guide and organize the activity of the universe. He also requires modesty as well as chastity from us, because we are to be perfected in His image. He particularly loves the virginal soul.
Christ is the Bridegroom of his Bride the Church whose nuptials were consummated with the Passion, which is re-presented in the Canon of each Mass. In the Novus Ordo, instead of respecting the delicacy and mystery of this nuptial Sacrifice, there is a pornographic demand to “take it all off,” to unveil everything so that all is seen. The prayers must all be audible and in the vernacular, the altar turned around so everything hidden is exposed. There is no mystery. No one dresses for the coming of the Bridegroom. No one thinks to offer the best of everything he has and to lovingly linger over every detail of the ceremony, the furnishings, the music, and to be on his best behavior. There is no romance. Instead, people demand that anyone and everyone be allowed to barge into the bridal chamber, where they grab at the sacred body with their hands.
The diabolic is characterized by aggressiveness, disunity, and rupturing. The most fully described diabolical possession in Scripture is of the demoniac at Gadara.
And as he went out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the monuments a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling in the tombs, and no man now could bind him, not even with chains. For having been often bound with fetters and chains, he had burst the chains, and broken the fetters in pieces, and no one could tame him. And he was always day and night in the monuments and in the mountains, crying and cutting himself with stones. (Mark 5: 2–5)
The diabolic is self-destructive, “cutting itself with stones,” similar to what Paul VI described in 1972 as the “auto-demolition” of the Church. The sanctuaries have been sacked; the liturgy has been shredded. When Jesus asked the unclean spirit its name, it said, “My name is Legion; for we are many” (Mark 5: 9). The curse of Babel has returned, with dozens of Eucharistic prayers now spoken in hundreds of vernacular languages. Worst of all, unshackled priests and bishops offer Mass any way they like and teach their own version of the Faith to meet the “needs of the times.” In Germany, the bishops do not consider it a sin to be in an active homosexual relationship or to be divorced and “remarried” and receive Communion. Just across the border in Poland, both are still mortal sins. Pope Francis has even lent support to the creation of an “inculturated” Amazonian rite of Mass that would be completely outside the Tradition that binds us into one militant, suffering, and triumphant Church.
The Pornographic Urge to Expose and Violate
Luke tells us that the demoniac at Gadara “wore no clothes” (Lk. 8:27). The love of nudity and sex without love also characterize the diabolical. Central to the pornographic impulse is not just the exposure of things that should be kept hidden, but the violation of innocence and purity. St. Paul repeatedly and emphatically condemns porneia, which is Greek for sexual immorality .
Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6: 9–10)
In the book of Revelation, Jesus lists those who will be excluded from the heavenly Jerusalem.
Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb: that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and unchaste, and murderers, and servers of idols, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie. (Rev. 22:14–15)
The long list consists of various types of sinners, with one exception, the first thing on the list: “dogs.” Does Jesus have a problem with pets? The same word “dog” is used in Deuteronomy listing the unclean things that cannot be brought into the temple in the earthly Jerusalem.
Thou shalt not offer the hire of a strumpet, nor the price of a dog, in the house of the Lord thy God, whatsoever it be that thou hast vowed: because both these are an abomination to the Lord thy God. (Deut. 23:18)
In other words, do not bring filthy things to the temple as offerings. The earnings of prostitutes and male cult prostitutes (dogs) are disgusting to God and are to be excluded.
We see Jesus make explicit that the first people to be excluded from the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem are sodomites. It is no surprise that the sexual abuse scandals relentlessly rocking and bankrupting the institutional Church are the result of porneia. If the consistent preoccupations of the preconciliar popes are justified, there has been a steady infiltration of not just freemasons and modernists, but also “dogs” who have preyed upon countless innocent child victims in the Church over the decades. These men, who are the embodiment of porneia, are also the men responsible for the predation that has occurred on the mystical and Eucharistic body of Christ. The ravenous legions of Hell have been loosed upon every aspect of Catholic life. The corruption and devastation caused by porneia can be seen on both a physical and a mystical body. This debauched Church is the porneia Church, and because the light of Christ is obscured, we live in a porneia society and a porneia world. Is it any surprise that society demands a porneia liturgy and the porneia priesthood gladly provides it?
The same men who have been responsible for the scandals against modesty are responsible for the liturgical world we now live in. There is no coincidence. They have been doing to the innocent Christ in the liturgy and in the tabernacle what they have been doing to our innocent children. No wonder they allow and encourage the inappropriate touching of our Lord’s body by all who present themselves in a Communion line.
 The word “porneia” is used by Jesus in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 in what is known as the “Exception Clause” allegedly allowing for divorce. For the Catholic perspective on the topic, please refer here and here.
Dr. Alšėnas is a biopharmaceutical industry analyst, executive, and consultant. He is a graduate of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Northwestern University.