Most of us consider the reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus as a personal and private encounter with the Lord, which is part of the truth. However, this ritual occurs within the context of liturgy and in that aspect, the other half of the truth is revealed and gives significance to how we name this ritual: communion. Yes, it is a communion with Christ in the elements of the Blessed Sacrament but it is also done in communion with others and in communion with the greater Body of Christ, the Church. The full reality of what communion really is should govern how we receive communion.
Norms for the reception of communion are set and promulgated by the local ordinary, the diocesan bishop. Each diocese, therefore, has guidelines on how one is to receive, even though multiple ways of receiving may be acceptable. The norm for this diocese is to receive communion while standing. Communicants are free to choose whether they receive in the hand or on the tongue. Some people try to receive communion in the hand and then approach the minister of the cup to dip their host in the consecrated wine. This practice is called, intinction, and is only permitted when done by an ordained, ordinary minister.
The same guidelines for liturgy apply to communion with regard to unity of posture. One approaches the sacrament in procession, mindful of participating in the communion hymn. Immediately before reception of the host or chalice, the communicant is to bow his/her head upon the words, Body of Christ or Blood of Christ and respond, “Amen,” as a sign of belief and concordance. For reception in the hand, one receives with the non-dominant hand, laid flat, so that the dominant hand can bring the host to the mouth. For reception on the tongue, one should hold his/her head still and extend the tongue. Those receiving communion should not be chewing gum or eating candy and are asked to fast at least one hour before receiving so that one might develop a “holy” appetite.
Rectifying Bad Habits:
- When receiving in the hand, do not create a ski slope (hands lifted up at a dangerous angle) or a safety deposit box (creating a container with folded hands, leaving only a small slit between them in which the minister is meant to “deposit” the host).
- Do not grab the host from the minister or curl the fingers to catch the host as it is laid on the hands; consecrated hosts are intended for reception. Allow the minister to gently place it on the hand, which helps maintain a sterile environment, since the minister will be touching every host given out. Hands need to remain flat and still while receiving.
- When receiving the host on the tongue, communicants should not try to grab the host with their teeth. I call this maneuver the “snapping turtle.” One should allow the minister to gently place the host on an extended tongue without moving tongue, teeth or head, maintaining a sterile environment.
Celebrating Good Habits:
- DO come forward to receive communion with joy. It is the Lord one is receiving. No need for dour or serious facial expressions.
- DO everything you can to be able to receive communion in good faith. After the normal preparation process to be able to receive communion in the Catholic Church, sometimes marriage or reconciliation issues occur that prevent one from receiving communion. Let Church ministers help you remove these obstacles reconciliation, annulments, etc.) so that you are free to receive again. Mass is meant to be a meal and communion is a time for eating and drinking the Blessed Sacrament, not for the alternative “blessing,” intended only for those in a Eucharistic preparation process. Non-Catholics who regularly attend Mass are asked to continually discern the question of reception into the Catholic Church.