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How to receive Holy Communion

Instructions on receiving Holy Communion with proper reverence at Saint Paul Catholic Church, Pensacola, Florida.

Draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord, and drink His Holy Blood for you out poured.

This is a sacred choreography --a sacred moment, a reverent dance, an intimate moment shared with God, the communicant, and the Priest.

Make a sign of reverence
The communicant approaches the Priest, Deacon, or Minister (hereinafter priest) with hands extended. The Priest then lifts the Eucharist and shows it to the communicant and says “The Body of Christ”. The communicant bows and says “Amen”. If one receives on the tongue, the communicant approaches the Priest who lifts the Eucharist and shows it to the communicant and says “The Body of Christ”, the communicant reverently bows, and says “Amen”, opens their mouth and extends their tongue (Hold Still!). 

Your sign of reverence (slight bow) is always when directly in front of the Priest. When bowing, do not get too close to the Priest or you will bump into his hand or the ciborium (or chalice) when lifting your head. 

Please do not move:
After bowing your head as a sign of reverence, whether you receive on the tongue or the hand -- DO NOT MOVE -- until the Priest has placed the Host on your tongue or hand and removed his hand. 

If one receives on the hand,
Unless arthritis hinders one, hold your top hand flat. And do not move, until the Priest, Deacon, or Minister has placed the Eucharist on your hand and removed his. Do not move your hand, arms, fingers, etc.

If one receives on the tongue,
Open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and hold still (see detailed instruction below). Please do not move your neck, head, tongue, mouth or body. Hold still, and do not move until the Priest has placed the Eucharist on your tongue and removed his hand otherwise you may get the Eucharist on the nose, on the teeth, or who knows where. Please do not lick the Priest’s hand - just hold still and all will be well!

Make sure you hold your hands up high so the Priest can reach your hands. Parents, please instruct your children accordingly.

Consuming  The Body of Christ
Once you have received the Eucharist (after the Priest has moved his hand) consume the Eucharist immediately and directly in front of the Priest and then reverently move on --do not step aside and bless yourself, genuflect, etc. 

Receiving the Blood of Christ
When preparing to receive from the cup, make the same sign of reverence you made when you received the Body of Christ, and do not gulp - sip - as many are behind you wanting to receive.

The posture
The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated Eucharist or the sacred chalice by themselves. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the United States is standing. We will not deny Holy Communion to people who choose to kneel.

Tongue or hand
There is nothing intrinsically more reverent about reception on the tongue or less reverent about receiving in the hand. Reverence or irreverence are generally determined by other factors: the spiritual attitude of the recipient, the demeanor of the one giving communion, the adequacy of Eucharistic understanding, and the manner in which the Eucharistic elements are treated both within and outside Mass.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century offered a beautiful and powerful catechesis on the mode of receiving communion in the hand that is still applicable today: "When you approach, do not go stretching out your open hands or having your fingers spread out, but make the left hand into a throne for the right which shall receive the King, and then cup your open hand and the Body of Christ, reciting the 'Amen.' Then sanctify with all care your eyes by touching the Sacred Body, and receive it. But be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with that which is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no particles are lost?"

If you choose to receive on the tongue, great!  The contemporary church offers little instruction in this area so here is some advice.  You should practice in a mirror.  It’s really very simple – while your mouth is closed, make sure your tongue is touching the inside of your lower lip. Then, maintaining this tongue position, open your mouth as wide as you can by lowering your lower jaw. Your mouth and tongue are then in the correct position for the priest, deacon or Extraordinary Minister to place the Host on your tongue.

Not all bishops' conferences have requested permission to allow people to receive communion in the hand, and the traveling Catholic should be ready to adapt to local customs with respect to posture and mode of receiving Communion.

The Church's official Regulations:
From the General Instruction of the Roman Missal
#160. The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession.

The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel.

When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.

#161. If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ). The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes it entirely.

These norms are for the United States. The original text from Rome does not specify a bow but merely refers to an act of reverence to be established by the bishops' conference.  Some conferences have included the option of making either a genuflection or a bow.   The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has decided upon a bow.

In our country we are pragmatists and tend to be utilitarian.  We tend to think that a small intimate group of faithful can easily make the gesture of reverence just before receiving the Eucharist directly in front of the priest. But if this gesture, although lasting no more than  two or three seconds, were to be repeated hundreds of times in a large parish, we tend to think the rite of Communion would be unduly prolonged. This practical, utilitarian reasoning probably motivated many parishes to recommend performing the gesture of reverence while the person in front of you is receiving Communion. I could not disagree with this line of reasoning more than I do.

1) When people step forward and hold out their hands first, they are able to gauge their distance from the priest/deacon/minister (most of the time). So when they bow they are not too close or too far.
2) What is most proper is the presentation of the Body of Christ then the person bows.
3) This also sets up a good rhythm for the priests/deacons/ministers. Some priests/deacons/ministers get into the habit of sort of flopping the Sacred Body of our Lord into people's hands without a presentation of His Body, and then uttering those sacred words --the Body of Christ as if they were giving out hot dogs.

This is a sacred choreography --this is a sacred moment, a reverent dance, an intimate moment shared with God, the communicant, and the Priest. It is no sacred intimate dance if the person bows while they are about 4 or 5 feet away and the priest has not yet presented the Body of Christ or the Blood of Christ directly to that person, and it also becomes a bit awkward because often that "dance is out of step and out of rhythm."

Finally, this issue also offers an opportunity to remember and teach the norm that the Eucharist must be consumed immediately in front of  the Priest, Deacon, or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

Would I receive Holy Communion differently if Christ himself was distributing Holy Communion?  Why?

Kneeling is permitted but is not the norm in the United States of America.

Are you reverent in line, do you make a bow of reverence, do you extend your hands and hold them properly as Saint Cyril instructed?  Do you hold still and patiently wait for the priest to place the Sacred Body of our Lord in your hands or on your tongue.  Hold still please.

Do you know how to properly receive communion on the tongue?  This can be very reverent if done properly.  If not done properly receiving on the tongue is anything but reverent.  Please read the instructions here on this page.

Are you aware of the sacred moment you share with Lord every time you receive communion. or has it become routine?  If you are focused on the sacred "dance' of being in the line, offering your sign of reverence, and presenting yourself to the priest for an encounter with God, perhaps the reception of Most Holy Communion will not. be so routine for you.