How to Receive Holy Communion on the Tongue

I have noticed, over the past few years, an increase in the number of people who are electing to receive the Sacred Host on the tongue directly from a priest, deacon or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at Holy Mass instead of in the hand.

My archdiocese is located in the United States of America which presently has permission in the form of an indult for communicants to receive the Sacred Host in the hand. Most people reading this in the U.S. are aware that the majority of those approaching for Holy Communion in this country receive the Sacred Host in the hand. This indult is an exception to the universal law of the Latin Rite for communicants to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. It is your right, if you are able to receive, to do so according to the universal norm on the tongue.

Unfortunately, many of those who have now elected to receive on the tongue have never been instructed as to how to properly receive Holy Communion in this manner. In the past, people received while kneeling at the communion rail. Now, for the most part, those receiving on the tongue do so while standing before the minister. This presents some challenges to the minister, but they are simple to overcome if several simple guidelines are followed by both the minister and the communicant.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful if you choose to receive on the tongue.

  1. First, regardless of how you receive, approach the Sacrament with reverence and humility; in a state of grace and properly disposed. One should never be interiorly casual or ambivalent about receiving Our Lord. One’s interior disposition often manifests itself externally.  If you are aware of having committed a mortal sin you have not confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, don’t receive. Instead, make an Act of Spiritual Communion (see below).
  2. As with any reception of Holy Communion, after the priest or other minister has said, “The Body of Christ,” respond with “Amen.”
  3. Then, with head straight or tilted slightly back, open your mouth wide and extend your tongue – the tongue need not protrude far out of the mouth, but it should block the view of the lower lip. The minister will place the Sacred Host on your tongue. Two things are very important here – open wide and extend the tongue. I have noticed that many people only slightly open the mouth and others do not extend the tongue; others do both. It is difficult and sometimes impossible for the minister to safely place the host on the tongue under these circumstances.
  4. Wait until the Sacred Host is safely placed on the tongue and only then return your tongue and close your mouth. It is not proper to use your teeth to receive and it is never a good idea to bite the minister’s fingers. So wait until the Sacred Host is safely on your tongue before moving.
  5. Speaking of moving, it is also impossible for the minister to “hit” a moving target. This is where standing is at a disadvantage over kneeling at a rail. First, it is more difficult to remain motionless while standing. But secondly, I have noticed a tendency for the communicant to move their head towards the Sacred Host as if “to help” the minister to distribute.  This does not work. The minister needs a stationary target, so remain motionless, head straight or tilted slightly back, mouth wide open and tongue extended. For some people, it may help to close you eyes; for others, look above the minister and don’t watch the Sacred Host.
  6. On the part of the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister, it is a good idea to allow the communicant achieve this posture before attempting to place the Sacred Host on the tongue.

I mentioned above that if you are unable to receive Holy Communion (due to mortal sin, having not kept the communion fast, being non-Catholic, or some other reason) it is a good practice to make a Spiritual Communion. The following is a simple, yet profound Act of Spiritual Communion you can pray while kneeling in your pew:

An Act of Spiritual Communion

“My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”


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About the Author

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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18 Comments

  1. Deacon Mike:

    Thanks for some great information incorporating both the spiritual, and logistical aspects of receiving the Body of Christ. I know that Ministers of Holy Communion everywhere are grateful to see this information being communicated. Thanks, also for the updated guidance on how to make a Spiritual Communion—to me, this is so much more appropo than simply remaining in the pew in silence or coming up to the Minister for a “blessing”. . .

    It is interesting to see the continuing discussions on receiving Christ in both species, especially after the direction given in the Diocese of Phoenix; one wonders if other Bishops / Archbishops will offer direction to the Lay Faithful, now that the Indult is no longer in effect.

  2. Thank you for passing along some important reminders about the traditional reception of Holy Communion. Because it’s in our nature to become careless in the practice of things which we do frequently, it seems to me that a little “refresher” on the subject is necessary even for those who have always received Holy Communion on the tongue. I might add that it is advisable to hold one’s hand under one’s chin when receiving the Eucharist if an altar boy with a paten is not present.

  3. Thank you Deacon for a timely piece, which I plan to share with my 5th grade CCD class. You are 100% correct regarding point #1. Because my family attends Traditional Roman Latin Mass about 90% of the time, I always have to remind everyone – including myself – to reply “Amen” – when we receive HC at a Novus Ordo Mass. I also find it helpful to cross my hands, palms down, over my belt buckle lest some well meaning Ordinary / Extraordinary Minister of HC attempts to gently insert the Host into my hands (I was an EM of HC years ago so I understand how that may occasionally happen). Last year, a new pastor in my hometown Novus Ordo parish (where I received all the sacraments from as a child) moved the Tabernacle from a side altar back to its proper place in the center of the old but still magnificent High Altar… I told Father that was the best change that he’s made at the parish! Now if only he’d make a kneelers available for communicants :)

  4. Thanks for this post. I find that sometimes the priest, deacon or ministers move too quickly when distributing Holy Communion. This makes it especially difficult when you are receiving on the tongue. I’m always happy when a certain priest is distributing Holy Communion because he holds up the host, clearly says “the body of Christ” and waits for you to say “Amen” before putting the host on your tongue. Frequently, there is no pause and you find the priest putting the host in your mouth at the same time you’re trying to respond “Amen.” One time the minister jerked her hand and the host went on the floor. It was very upsetting. I really believe that a return to the altar rail and the use of a paten and altar server will remedy a lot of the problems with the improper reception of Holy Communion.

  5. Deacon Stuart,

    You’re welcome. The Act of Spiritual Communion is indeed a wonderful prayer to say.

    Deacon Mike

  6. Hi Mike,

    Glad you liked the article. There is a tendency for people who receive on the tongue to omit the “Amen”.

    Deacon Mike

  7. Hi Marilyn,

    >>Thanks for this post. I find that sometimes the priest, deacon or ministers move too quickly when distributing Holy Communion. This makes it especially difficult when you are receiving on the tongue. I’m always happy when a certain priest is distributing Holy Communion because he holds up the host, clearly says “the body of Christ” and waits for you to say “Amen” before putting the host on your tongue.<<

    A great reminder for EMHC’s, priests and deacons.

    Deacon Mike

  8. I am tall and receiving on the tongue while standing would present a challenge of reaching up for most ministers. I am also fearful that most Eucharistic Ministers have not received the necessary training to not be overwhelmed by someone attempting to receive on the tongue. Am I wrong?

  9. Thanks for this, I always feel slightly odd at sticking my tongue out at a priest, seriously though the times I get hit in the face by minister is unreal, or he just looks at me like I’m a crazy ,, hey ho its all good :)

  10. Hi Bill,

    You asked: >>I am also fearful that most Eucharistic Ministers have not received the necessary training to not be overwhelmed by someone attempting to receive on the tongue. Am I wrong?<<

    In my diocese, EMHC’s do receive training and practice in distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. I can’t speak for other places.

    Deacon Mike

  11. Peaz,

    My experience has been that the most usual cause for being “hit in the face” with the Sacred Host is the tendency of the communicant to move while receiving. Whether this is the result of the failure on by the communicant to remain motionless or that of the minister to distribute too quickly for the communicant to become still probably varies.

    Deacon Mike

  12. An issue I have in regards to receiving Holy Communion on the tongue is that some Eucharistic Ministers are hesitant to place it on my tongue. There was one instance where an EM had an odd look on her face and practically threw the Host into my mouth as if it avoid touching anything. Most of the time I am holding one of my two kids so I have to receive on the tongue. Even if I am not holding a child, I still feel that is the most reverent form of receiving Holy Communion.

    Would this be an issue I should address to my parish priest so that, maybe in future trainings, it can be brought up to those are want to partake in this ministry? Sometimes I feel awkward when receiving and that shouldn’t have to be the case. It should not be my main worry and focus while in line.

    Thank you for this article.

    ~Kerry

  13. Thank you so much for this article.May more of Catholics embrace receiving the body and blood of Christ on the tongue,bowing their heads or kneeling down before the Alpha and Omega.Oh, the sins committed against him in the Blessed Sacrament is too much to even bear!!!!!Lord God help us to understand your ways more.Amen!

  14. I am tongue-tied and cannot extend my tongue at all, not even to cover my lip, nor can I open my mouth very wide, which makes receiving in the traditional way difficult. On several occasion the Sacred Host has nearly dropped to the floor and I am now too worried to try again. I would love to receive the Precious Body in this way, but I have decided that I have no option other than to receive in my hand as it is the most reverent under the circumstances. I have tried and tried, however I am encouraging all the First Holy Communion children to receive on the tongue.

  15. I think one of the biggest problems with most Eucharistic Ministers of HC is that they are not comfortable doing it and are probably lacking the proper training. I’ve always received on the tongue and I have had all kinds of experiences and once in a two week period I had the Host fall of off my tongue to the floor. I was really nervous for a couple of weeks after that. I felt like in both cases that it happened because the EM wasn’t comfortable doing it. It seems like a lot of the time they are anxious to get their fingers quickly away from your mouth. I take HC to the sick, mostly elderly people, and because of their age they don’t get there mouths open very wide or their tongues out, but I always take the time to make sure the Host is securely on their tongue before I remove my fingers.

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