The Vetican has approved the request of American Roman Catholic bishops to permit church members in this country to receive holy communion in their hand rather than in the traditional manner, on the tongue.

The new practice, which was approved by more than two-thirds of the bishops in this country, will be optional.

Church members also will have the option to continue to receive the communion wafer on the tongue in churches where communion in the hand is practiced. However, in dioceses where the bishop delcines to approve communion in the hand, only the traditional method of distribution may be used.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops is preparing educational materials to be used in dioceses to instruct the faithful in the new practice.

The conference has set Nov. 20 as the tentative target date for insitution of the new procedure.

Communion in the hand is widely practiced in this country, even without official sanction of the Church. Failure of large numbers of Catholics to confine themselves to the traditional method of communion distribution was one of the reasons cited by bishops last spring for formally changing the procedures.

The Catholic Church in about 60 countries, including most of western Europe, Canada and Mexico, has authorized communion in the hand, which was practiced universally in the first nine centuries of the church's existence.

The question is a matter of Church discipline rather than doctrine.