Q. I see people receiving Holy Communion at Mass in several different ways (on the tongue, in the hand, kneeling). Does the Church have a preferred method?
A. The simple answer to this question may be considered alarming and therefore requires a bit of historical context. Essentially, yes, the Church does have a preference and it is that the faithful would receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling. What must be immediately clarified is that in those countries where reception in the hands has become the norm, such practice was established according to Church law (in other words, it is okay to do so).
Immediately following the Second Vatican Council, some European countries, without the necessary permission, abandoned altogether the use of communion rails and instructed the faithful to receive the Blessed Sacrament in their hands while standing. In response to this severe departure from the universality of the Church, Pope Paul VI surveyed the world’s bishops about allowing communion in the hands and, by a vote of 1,233 opposed to 597 in favor, “…the Holy Father decided not to change the existing way of administering holy communion to the faithful” (cf. Memoriale Domini). However, a provision was made through which bishop’s conferences could request an indult – a dispensation allowing a deviation from church law, in this case that Holy Communion be placed in the hand – if it was deemed that there was a grave reason for doing so. As a result, some countries such as Canada (in 1969) formally petitioned the Holy See that such practice be established.
Nevertheless, it was not envisioned that this would become a widespread practice (not to mention the removal of communion rails and reception while standing) and in many instances, it became the norm prior to adequately demonstrating the need. The Church has subsequently tried to re-instill a sense of unity surrounding such issues. Many regarded the policy implemented by Pope Benedict XVI, that all who received Holy Communion from him would do so on the tongue while kneeling, as a signal of the need to remember and protect this longstanding custom. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has continued the practice. Therefore, in current contexts, what matters most of all is that Holy Communion is received with the utmost reverence for Jesus truly present in the sacrament. Particularly for those who receive in their hand, great care must be taken so that no fragment of the Host be accidentally left or dropped.