Sign of Reverence

Dear Grace,
Every Sunday at Mass, I see people going up to receive Communion and I notice that many of them simply step up to the minister and put out their hand or open their mouth so casually. Aren’t we required to show some kind of reverence when we receive Communion?

Yes, indeed, we are to show reverence. After all, it is not a piece of bread we are receiving! Are we not aware that it is the Body of the Lord? I can well understand your concern. Although they may not realize it, when Catholics receive Communion in a casual way without showing reverence and honor to God, it can have a profound impact on many, including themselves. Let us begin by looking at what the Church has to say on this issue.

The adaptations to the 2000 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (approved for the dioceses of the United States) state the following:

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. (GIRM, no. 160)

Thus, we see that we are to bow our heads when we receive Holy Communion. When the Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist holds up the Sacred Host and pronounces “The Body of Christ,” we bow our heads and say “Amen” and then receive Him. The same is to be done when we receive His Precious Blood. This bow of the head is not optional. It is required. And there is a reason why we bow our head. The minister is holding the Lord in front of us. And not only are we to bow our head — we must also be mindful of how we receive Him.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote the following beautiful words:

When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive Him, taking care that nothing is lost.

We notice he says to take care that nothing is lost. This is because every single particle of the Sacred Host is the Body of Jesus Christ. We often forget that. But being aware of it, we must not allow even a crumb to fall from our hand or tongue.

In addition, the manner in which we walk up for Communion is also very important. The priest says, “Happy are they who are called to His supper.” And what makes us happy? We are happy because we recognize what a privilege and honor it is to approach Him! We walk together in the Communion Procession as members of the Body of Christ. He is the Head of the Body.

The members of the community move forward to share in the sacred meal, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which is the sign and the source of their unity. In fact, each time we move forward together to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, we join the countless ranks of all the baptized who have gone before us, our loved ones, the canonized and uncanonized saints down through the ages, who at their time in history formed a part of this mighty stream of believers. (2002, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Mass and Communion can sometimes become nothing but a ritual — something we must do on Sunday. How often do we hear people say, “I’m glad I got that done”? We need to remember that our actions have a way of influencing others. People are watching what we do, especially children. What is it that we are showing them?

When we bow our heads before receiving Communion, it is a way of saying, “I believe! I believe that this is Jesus!” And we also say in that bow, “Thank you, my God, for dying for me — for dying so that I could live!” And it also says, “I love you, Lord.”

© Copyright 2005 Grace D. MacKinnon

For permission to reprint this article, or to have Grace speak at your event, contact Grace MacKinnon at

Grace MacKinnon holds an MA in theology and is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace's column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via email at: You may also visit her online at

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