LITURGY CORNER #3
The Reception of Holy Communion
To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful
should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily
demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect
solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our
guest. (CCC: #1387)
The reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus is one of the high points of the Mass, indeed, our whole life. This paragraph of the Catechism reminds us that this is no small thing, and that it is appropriate for us to not only prepare for it by fasting (for the one hour before we receive Holy Communion) but that we also have the appropriate bodily ‘demeanor’ in terms of gestures and clothing. In terms of gestures, there is some perfectly acceptable variety both in how we receive the Lord Jesus and in what gesture or act of respect we make before hand.
There has been, in different times and places, an attempt to impose a uniformity on the Liturgy at points where the Liturgy itself allows for diversity. For example, stating that everyone should receive ‘on the tongue’ instead of ‘in the hand’ would be an example of imposing on the Liturgy a rule that the Liturgy itself does not contain. Any approved way of receiving Holy Communion is appropriate. However, there are certain recommended ways of doing this that are good to bear in mind, and there are also, in fact, some rules that do not admit of exceptions. For example, in terms of recommended ways to receive in the hand, cupping one hand in the other, receiving the Host., obviously in the ‘top’ hand, and then lifting the Host to your mouth with the other hand (the hand that had been the ‘bottom’ hand) is the recommended way. Grabbing or snatching the Host from the Eucharistic minister is not an appropriate way to receive—and in fact has resulted in the Host being broken at that point. Obviously, if you only have one hand available (the other holding a small child, etc.) then receiving the Host on that hand and then raising the Host to your mouth with it is perfectly acceptable. Cupping one hand inside the other also makes it easier for the Eucharistic Minister, in terms of facilitating his or her communicating the Host to you (instead of, for example, having both hands open side by side—leaving them guessing in terms of which hand you want to receive in—obviously a minor point, but since many of our Eucharistic ministers are consciously focused on praying for the communicants as they receive Communion, to make the communication of the Host as simple as possible is an advantage, especially to the recipient!)
One option that is specifically forbidden during the reception of Holy Communion concerns the Cup. Under no circumstances is the communicant to take the Host from the Eucharistic Minister and then dip it into the chalice his or herself. This manner of receiving (known as self-intinction) is expressly forbidden by the Liturgical documents.
Another place where there is acceptable variety concerns the gesture or action of respect made immediately before the reception of Holy Communion. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal—the basic instruction on the celebration of the Mass, states: “The communicants approach, make a suitable reverence, and stand in front of the celebrant (or Eucharistic minister).” (GIRM #244, c). But it does not specify what the suitable reverence is. Here an action that the individual feels appropriate is done and because there is a very personal aspect to the reception of Holy Communion, there is no need to impose an artificial uniformity on the particular gesture. Some folks bow slightly before receiving Holy Communion, some make the Sign of the Cross, some genuflect, etc. The Instruction simply points out that it is appropriate to make a gesture of respect, without being any more specific. We make a concrete act of respect, acknowledging that we are about to receive our Lord and Savior. May we always prepare our hearts well to receive Him!