Proper reverence for holy Communion

By | November 9, 2011

Recently, there has been some discussion in the press about the way Catholics receive holy Communion. It’s helpful to think about our practices to ensure that we are not taking this great gift for granted.

Following the Second Vatican Council, various instructions about the liturgy were issued and several concerned holy Communion. Some granted special permissions which could be used by the bishops of each country. As these permissions were extended, norms were issued to govern the practices.

Most of the early modifications have been incorporated into either the “General Instruction” (GIRM) or the “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States,” confirmed by the Holy See in 2002 and found in the U.S. editions of the new Roman Missal.

In 1965, the first rite for receiving Communion under both species was issued, followed by the instruction, Sacramentali Communione in 1970, which extended the occasions when this was permitted. Since 1973, we have been able to receive Communion under both forms in the United States — beginning with special occasions, and then extending this to weekdays and Sundays. Since 1971, lay people in the United States have been permitted to serve as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and to take Communion to the sick. And since 1977 in the U.S., we have been permitted to receive holy Communion in the hand.

The General Instruction and Norms remind us that:

1. The choice to receive holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue belongs to the communicant — not to the minister.

2. When receiving in the hand “the communicant should be guided by the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem: when you approach, take care not to do so with your hands 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” (Norm #41).

3. Just as Jesus gave his body and blood to the apostles, it has been traditional for the minister to present or offer the Eucharist. We don’t take Communion, but we receive it, as a gift.

4. If Communion is distributed by intinction (the priest or minister dips the consecrated host in the Precious Blood), it is always placed on the tongue and not in the hand.

5. In receiving holy Communion, our posture is determined by the conference of bishops. Our bishops have determined that we receive standing and bow our heads before the sacrament as a sign of reverence (GIRM 160) unless an individual wishes to receive kneeling.

6. The sign of reverence (bowing the head) is made to each of the species, the consecrated host and the precious blood.

Christ has chosen to give himself to us in holy Communion. Our attitude, our posture and our attention should always express how deeply we value and appreciate this great gift we have been given.

Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.

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