Communion on the Tongue and Pope St Leo the Great

Today is the feast of Pope Saint Leo the Great (r. 440-461) who is one of the greatest Popes that the Catholic Church has ever enjoyed. He preserved stability during the collapse of the Roman Empire. He is perhaps most famous for his meeting with Attila the Hun.

He less well known for something very important to liturgical studies. He is one of the most ancient witnesses to the practice of Communion on the tongue. Notably, Saint Leo the Great read the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel as referring to the Eucharist (as all the Church Fathers did). In a preserved sermon on John 6 (Sermon 9), Saint Leo says:

Hoc enim ore sumitur quod fide creditur” (Serm. 91.3).

This is translated strictly as: “This indeed is received by means of the mouth which we believe by means of faith. “Ore” is here in the ablative and in the context it denotes instrumentation. So then, the mouth is the means by which the Holy Eucharist is received.

Another papal witness to Communion on the tongue is Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Pope Saint Gregory recounts the following story about a Christian man who was “an invalid who could neither speak nor stand up.” They brought this man to Pope Agapitus:

Agapitus turned immediately to prayer and so began the celebration of Mass, offering the Holy Sacrifice to Almighty God. As he left the altar after the Mass, he took the lame man by the hand and, in the presence of a large crowed of onlookers raised him from the ground till he stood erect. When he placed the Lord’s body in his mouth, the tongue which had so long been speechless was loosed. All those present were struck with wonder and wept for joy Fear and reverence filled their minds, for they saw what marvelous deed Agapitus had been able to accomplish by the power of God through the intercession of Saint Peter.

– Saint Gregory the Great, Dialogue III, 3.

According to my calculations, this miracle happened in AD 536 while Pope Agapitus was in Constantinople visiting Emperor Justinian.

Incidentally, Pope Agapitus also at this times declared that the Holy Orders of Arians were invalid. This Roman Pontiff is a canonized saint recognized by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

If you are interested in what other Church Fathers taught about Communion on the tongue, please see:

Did the Church Fathers Practice Communion in the Hand (Not Exactly)

…and if you want to learn how to properly receive Communion on the tongue, please see:

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