For the vast majority of us Roman Catholics the last time that we were actually taught or instructed on how to receive Holy Communion was when we were eight-years-old in second grade. Sometimes you’ve developed bad habits, sometimes we’ve lost the intentionality of what we’re doing, and it’s good to be reminded.
So, some basic things to think about in the beginning. First, we need to realize what is really taking place here. We are receiving into our very beings the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is mind-boggling. So, the number one priority has to be reverence. We are seeking to enter into communionthe union of two, the union of God with our very selves—unbelievably profound. For this to happen, first and foremost, there has to be preparation even before we receive Communion.
We need to prepare ourselves. We as Catholics do this first and foremost by making sure that we’re in the state of grace, that we have received sacramental Confession, particularly from the state of mortal sin. We also prepare ourselves by fasting at least one hour prior to our reception
of Holy Communion. Then we also do this by making sure that we’re in the proper state, and in the sense of I’ve been praying, I’ve been at Mass, I’ve been attentive. I’m welcoming the God of gods, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords into my very being and I am beginning to prepare my soul for that. So, number one is preparation.
When we talk about all these logistics and how this works, there’s this phrase in the Church—lex orandi, lex credendi, how we pray shows what we believe and what we believe forms how we pray. The two of them—prayer and belief—are intimately wedded. So, all of these gestures actually proclaimed beautifully what we believe. Even the fact that we go up to Communion, what does that mean? It means we’re getting up and we’re not getting in a line. You don’t go up and get in a line. You go up to the Lord, you process, you go up, you are called, you are literally moving. You’re going from one place to another to meet and encounter the Lord. As you do so, as you are on your way up to the altar, I always encourage people to keep their eyes focused on the Lord. It’s easy to get distracted by the people around you or about things that are happening. Keep your eyes focused on the Lord, or sometimes keep your eyes down and be recollected yourself, as you prepare for the encounter. As you prepare to receive our Lord, you’re then asked to do three things.
- First you’re called to bow.
- Second, you’re called to say “Amen” to the Body of Christ.
- Then we receive.
So, first we bow physically as a sign of reverence to Jesus who is literally right there—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We should actually get on the ground, lay full prostate on the ground, but some of you would never be able to get back up. So we bow, the priest or the deacon is going to say “The Body of Christ,” and we say “Amen,” it is true, I believe. So, we bow because it’s Jesus, we say “Amen” to the to the declaration that “This is the Body of Christ.” It’s really cool, actually, as a priest when I say “The Body of Christ,” “The Body of Christ,” “The Body of Christ.” I am reaffirming every single time that this is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. So, first we bow. Second, we say “Amen,” and then we receive.
Now the traditional, ancient practice is the reception of Communion on the tongue. When one receives on the tongue the individual should stand close to the minister who is distributing the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. And here’s the tips that I always like to give. Number one, you need to open your mouth. So, bow, say “Amen,” and then you need to open your mouth wide and open and place your tongue out. It shouldn’t be like a quarter slot. We’re opening ourselves, we’re making ourselves vulnerable. Don’t be embarrassed about sticking out your tongue. The King of Kings and Lord Lords is going to be placed on your tongue. Please keep your head still. In fact, a key is actually if you close your eyes, say “Amen,” and keep your eyes closed. Sometimes if you keep your eyes open, there’s this desire to move forward. And that’s oftentimes where the priest or the deacon or the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion will accidentally touch your tongue. Just say “Amen,” place out your tongue, and then the priesthood or deacon will place the host on your tongue while you keep your head still.
Please make sure you also don’t have your teeth on your tongue. That’s hard as well and just can get confusing. So, very simply I’m going to bow, say “Amen,” stick out my tongue, and I’m going to receive. After I receive I’m going to close my mouth and I’m going to reverently make my way back to my pew where I’m going to kneel or sit as I give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the gift that we have in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
An option is given to receive Communion on the hand. Actually St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century is quoted as saying “Receive Communion by making a throne, one hand under the other, and receive our great King.” Now, when you receive Communion in the hand, there are many things to remember. One, you are not receiving some thing. Some thing is not being placed on your hand. Someone is being placed there and that Someone is God himself. So, this being the case, when one comes to Mass they need to make sure that their hands are clean. They need to make sure that they have washed their hands. Sometimes people have writing on their hands or they have dirt on their hands or whatever. In all of those situations that individual should receive Communion on the tongue. Both hands need to be free to receive Communion on the hand, which means if you’re carrying a baby, or if you have a cane or have a walker or you’re escorting someone else up, you need to receive Communion on the tongue.
Communion on the hand always requires the use of two free hands. When you receive Communion, it’s going to be the same, I’m going to bow, say “Amen,” and I’m then going to make a throne with my hands. My hands are up and my hands are close or next to the ciborium or to the paten that the priest or the deacon or extraordinary minister Holy Communion is holding. I make a throne with my hands, my dominant hand is normally the hand that is underneath and I then take the host and I’m going to then receive the host immediately. I don’t receive the host and then start walking away and receive in my pew, or take the host and walk away. I receive the host immediately. As the priest, it is my responsibility to guard the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes when people start walking away with Jesus, I have to chase them. I can’t allow someone to take Jesus. Jesus has ended up in times in hymnals or in pews or in books or, even worse, desecration of the Blessed Sacrament. It is an excommunicable sin actually.
We can’t be having that. So, when you receive in the hand, you have to receive immediately. The priest or the deacon or the extraordinary minister Holy Communion should see you doing so. It’s also then important to check out your hand for particles. Are there crumbs on your hand? And then to receive those as well. It’s very clear that every fragment of the host is Jesus himself.
When you make your way back to the pew, whether you’re receiving the Communion on the tongue or in the hand you are going to kneel and pray in silent contemplation. Pray in thanksgiving. Pray in petition, pray in contrition. Most importantly, just to be in union, communion with the Lord.
And, of course, as you know, we don’t leave Mass early. You would never receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and walk out the door. Always remember to look who is the first person to leave the Last Supper. Oh yeah, his name was Judas. You can check out in the Bible, but it was Judas who left the Last Supper first. Don’t be the first to leave Mass.
So remember, when we receive Communion, it’s who we are receiving, which is Jesus. And thus, everything we do has to be focused on reverence. We are going up to the altar of the Lord to encounter the Lord, to receive the Lord, to become one with the Lord. And thus we bow, we proclaim “Amen,” I believe, it is true to the words “The Body of Christ.” We then open our mouth really wide with our tongue over our bottom lip, holding our head still. Or, we bow, we say “Amen” and we place our hands up, as St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, as a throne for our Lord and we receive our Lord reverently in place, not carrying our Lord off. And then we go return to our pew, where we then say prayers of thanksgiving and adoration and contrition to our God who is among us, our God Emmanuel. May this help you to make a good Communion and honor our Lord, and to become one with him here on earth so we can become one with him one day in heaven.