“Can You Be Refused Holy Communion if You Kneel?”

Q:  In my parish, people normally receive Holy Communion standing, but there have been some people who knelt down before the priest when their turn came to receive. On one occasion I noticed that the priest stopped and spoke to one of these people before giving her Communion, but I was too far away and couldn't hear what he said. Later, a notice appeared in the parish bulletin, telling everyone that standing is the only acceptable way to receive Communion in our church, and that if anyone kneels down instead, the priest will not give that person Communion. Does a priest have the right to refuse Holy Communion to people who kneel? Isn't that a violation of people's right to receive a sacrament? -Martin

A: We saw in the May 24 column that Catholics have a right to receive the sacraments if they opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them (c. 843.1). In the June 21 column, however, we could see that it is possible to place some requirements on Catholics before they are permitted to receive the sacraments, since parents may be required to attend baptism classes before their infant is baptized in the Catholic Church. But may a priest lawfully require a Catholic to stand in order to receive Holy Communion?

First of all, it is important to note that liturgical laws-i.e., laws pertaining to the celebration of Mass and other liturgical actions-are for the most part not even addressed by the Code of Canon Law (c. 2). Church laws governing ceremonial, ritual aspects of Catholic sacramental life are therefore usually found in official documents other than the code itself. 

The issue of kneeling to receive Holy Communion is a good example of this. The code provides instruction as to who is permitted to receive Holy Communion, and when one may do so (cc. 912-923), but the actual manner in which communicants are to receive the sacrament is not even mentioned. Instead, the Church's official answer to this question is contained in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which contains all the norms pertinent to the celebration of Mass, including the distribution of Holy Communion. The most recent edition of the GIRM, with some permitted local adaptations, was approved for use here in the United States in 2003 by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with the authority of Pope John Paul II. Its contents constitute the Church's approved, official liturgical norms, which are not open to interpretation or variation.

Within Chapter IV of the GIRM, "The Different Forms of Celebrating Mass," is a subsection entitled "Mass With a Congregation," which contains detailed instructions on the distribution of Holy Communion to the faithful. This subsection notes, "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. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm" (GIRM 160).

This statement in itself should be clear enough, and has sufficient legal weight, to refute directly any notion that a Catholic may be refused Holy Communion if he wishes to receive kneeling.  Nevertheless, the Vatican subsequently reiterated this in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (On Certain Matters to be Observed or to be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist). It was published in 2004 by the same Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with the approval of Pope John Paul II. Like all Instructions, this document is not actually a law in itself; but it does reaffirm in an official way the Church's current teaching on this very question, when it states, "…[I]t is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ's faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing" (91). This is, of course, a consistent restatement of the provisions found in the GIRM.

At the same time, however, it is important to keep in mind that in situations which are out of the ordinary, prudence may dictate that it is better for a communicant not to kneel, regardless of personal preference. Persons who are elderly or infirm, for example, may have physical difficulty in kneeling and then promptly standing up again. If the distribution of Holy Communion is thereby significantly interrupted or delayed, or if a kneeling communicant cannot seem to stand back up without stumbling into the person behind him, it may be entirely reasonable for a priest to object. Similarly, in a tiny chapel or excessive crowds, there may simply be inadequate space for communicants to kneel without causing disruption or distraction to other worshippers. A priest might discourage people from kneeling in such cases, but it is necessary to realize that the primary concern here is to maintain an orderly, commotion-free distribution of the sacrament, and not necessarily to forbid per se the reception of Holy Communion on one's knees. In other words, this right is not absolute!

But the norm is intended to apply to the average situation, not to extraordinary ones. There is no legal justification for denying the Eucharist to a communicant simply because he kneels-even if standing is the norm for receiving the sacrament in the United States. Doing so would go against the provisions of the GIRM, and as a result it would also constitute a violation of the person's right to receive the sacrament under the aforementioned canon 843.1.

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  • Guest

    thank you for the explanation.

     In this time of abuse, it its always good to have where and why certain practices come from. Cathechesis is always valuable.

    I do want to add that from the way the background to this question was presented it appears that there is some history to what was going on and the person asking the question did (does )not have the whole picture just what he saw from a distance at one time without hearing what was said. It may be that the priest found the opportunity to squelch something that was being perceived as getting "out of hand" and something needed to be done. It appears the priest was making an effort to eliminate some confusion.  I wasnt there, its just my opinion on what was printed above. 

  • Guest

    It is disruptive when someone clumsily kneels to take communion. It's disruptive when a baby cries during the homily or the priest laughs when an unexpected noise occurs. It's disruptive when the man in front of me has a jacket with his team's blazing logo. Why is it that the more "orthodox" disruptions are more disruptive than others?

    There are multiple lines to Communion.

    Solution: provide a kneeler in one of the side lines, put an alter server there with a paten (who at this time is doing nothing) I'm sure there would be one Extraordinary Minister who would be happy to earn the title by actually doing the extraordinary work of Communion on the tongue.

    Result: Everyone goes home after Mass in Christ's Peace, as the deacon commands.

  • Guest

    What exactly are the reasons for standing to receive Holy Communion?

    For more than 1000 years everybody knelt to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion? Why in the last 40 years is it a disruption?  

    God bless you.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    One old pastor of mine, a venerable man probably now gone on to Home, with the first name of Mariano and the so-appropriate surname of Vita (a priest named “Life of Mary”) would take Communion to any in the first row of pews, kneeling for Communion, and who raised their hands.

    In my current parish, ushers help point out those who even just cannot easily make it walking and standing, and every minister, priest or extraordinary, is likely to come out into the pews, even to the back row, to serve them. Most kneel in their pew, waiting. Most seem grateful nearly to tears. Our pastor, a younger Polish immigrant, will take the opportunity to touch children along his way among the pews. Babies get handed down to the aisle for his smiling blessings. He makes Communion a rather full meeting with Christ. And, is there not something most profoundly touching about a shepherd looking to his littlest lambs?

    When I walk up for Communion, I cannot take it in the hand. One of my hands is on my walking stick, that I can walk and stand and not fall. I receive on the tongue.

    As an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, I preferred on-the-tongue. I knew then where the Body of Christ was – in the mouth and not carried around like some talisman or toy. But, I did tailor my presentation invocation only to address the persons I knew. I would tell them, with a smile but solemn cant: “So-and-so, receive the Body of Christ”. I like to think that their “Amen” in response was a more sincere one, more fully understanding the great grace of the moment. And, no pastor ever hinted to me that I was using wrong form.

    I agree with goral – there is no problem with a kneel-down pad, perhaps on a kneeler stand to help get down and up, in one line for Communion. How this would inconvenience any pastor would be beyond my ken.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    Toward our holy and prosperous New Year in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    I could be completely wrong on this since I do not pay much attention to who is kneeling and who is not. But, as I understand this issue —

    1. Some (many?) people get the impression that the people who kneel to receive Holy Communion are trying to look holier than everyone who does not kneel. That perception (rightly or wrongly) makes some (many?) of those who do not kneel feel awkward and keeps some (many?) people who desire to be holy, yet humble, from kneeling. Odd how a posture of humility is seen as a show of pride.
    2. There are also some (many?) people who are scandalized by the graphic demonstration of reverence for the Real Presence of Jesus that kneeling to receive Holy Communion displays. It makes some (many?) of those who do not believe in the Real Presence feel awkward and keeps some (many?) from being affirmed in their okayness as they want to comfortably walk up and get their fire insurance – their vitamin pill Jesus – and say "hi" to their friends on their way back to their pew.
    3. There are some (many?) who do feel that by kneeling they are being holier than everyone who does not kneel. 

    All of these situations (as well as many other situations which a lack of definitive guidance sets the conditions for) reveal a pastoral need to educate all the faithful on the details explained in the article above.

    We are in the most intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that we can be in this side of heaven when we have received the Eucharist; it is the most sensitive time and place I can imagine to sow confusion and division.

  • Guest

    Here is a video of Bishop Tod Brown of Orange California refusing Communion to a person kneeling.  But in his diocese most of the Catholic politicians are Democrats, all are wildly pro abortion and not one of them has been refused Communion or publicly chastised by him for running as Catholics (this is important on Hispanic districts).  He is a 1st class Mahonyish phony.



    The rot, my friends, is in the Episcopate.



  • Guest

    It seems to be a question of obedience.  If the norm says to stand, why not stand?  As someone who is much offended by abuses to the liturgy by those who disregard the GIRM and norms in areas such as music, proper sacred vessels, etc. I realized it was hypocritical of me to demand adherence to the norms on the things that suited my taste while I myself refused to follow them on others (i.e. kneeling to receive communion instead of standing).  Hence, out of obedience to the rubrics laid out in the GIRM, I now stand to receive remembering that these norms were approved by the Holy Father and I don't presume to be holier than he.

  • Guest


    in response to one of your solutions above, I would suggest that the average person who prefers to kneel to receive communion also prefers to receive Holy Communion from the priest, rather than from the unfortunately ordinary even though supposedly extraordinary Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

  • Guest

    I don't kneel to receive because I can't gracefully kneel and quickly rise again (age has taken its toll on my balance even though I'm still south of 60).  However, last summer I went to a celebration of the EF and was able to kneel because of the way that communion was distributed.  There was no altar rail, but each communicant knelt on the bottom step below the altar.  Communicants approached this step in groups, the bishop went back and forth along the group of communicants giving the Blessed Sacrament to each group.  Now the church was packed, standing room only, but I didn't see distribution of communion taking much longer than it would ordinarily.  I personally think that a few extra minutes with distribution would only add to the seriousness of reception.  It might well discourage people who receive and leave from treating reception the way they would treat getting their hamburger at the McDonalds drive through window.  I also suspect that back in the day when kneeling was the norm that churches were fuller and yet people still lived with the slow lines.  Most parishoners are giving God little enough time on Sunday, how much harm would it do if they had to give up a few more minutes?

     I also suspect that kneeling may well be on its way back, just as communion on the tongue may well be on its way back.  Some Catholics might prefer the Protestant approach of passing little trays of bread and grape juice, but at the end of the day we are Catholic, we believe that is really Jesus, and it might not be a bad idea if we reinforced the idea.  I don't kneel now, but I would embrace the opportunity if it were offered.

  • Guest

    A priest told me the time it takes to distribute Holy Communion is not the issue; rather it is matter of laity wanting to be involved. His view of it was this (there are exceptions, of course!): 

    • the biggest problem with receiving in the hand has been a general loss of reverence and belief in the Real Presence
    • the biggest problem with coming up in the communion line and kneeling is that the person behind you sometimes gets kicked
    • the biggest problem with standing and receving on the tongue is that, since we no longer have altar boys holding a paten under each chin, the variety of heights, and how far people put out their tongues, and so forth, makes it a very real risk of dropping a consecrated host

    Kneeling at an altar rail and receiving on the tongue reduced all these problems. 

    Made sense to me.

  • Mdunbar2494

    The right is absolute…