In every validly celebrated Catholic Mass, as well as those Eastern Rite Churches that have valid sacraments, the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine and they are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that they are really changed and Jesus Christ is really present on our altars. We owe the highest worship and reverence to God, so we owe the highest worship and reverence to the Holy Eucharist, because God is really present there. Let’s look at how the Church asks us to pay reverence to God when we go up to receive Holy Communion.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which is the Church document that describes how Mass is supposed to be celebrated, says this, “The Priest prepared himself by a prayer, said quietly, so that he may fruitfully receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The faithful do the same, praying silently” (GIRM, 84). All the people, not only the priest, are to prepare themselves to receive by first praying. Every time we receive we are given grace, but that grace may be more or less effective, more or less fruitful, depending on how we receive it. There are two options for the priests prayer, here is the one I normally use, “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgement and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.” As you’re coming up to receive, you may make an Act of Contrition, ask for a particular grace, or ask for growth in faith, hope, and charity.
When we go up to actually receive Communion, we have options on how to receive. First, we can choose to receive either kneeling or standing. The document Redemptionis Sacramentum (RS), which was put out in 2004 by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, says, “’The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the Conference of Bishops will have determined’… ‘However, if they receive Communion standing, it is recommended that they give due reverence before the reception of the Sacrament” (RS, 90). You have the right to choose to receive kneeling or standing. If you stand, however, you should genuflect or bow before receiving to show reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. After all, you’re not in line for fast food but to receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I’ve notice more people receiving Communion kneeling lately, and I want to make it easier for them, so we’re going to start putting kneelers out at the front Communion station.
Your second choice is to receive on the tongue or in the hand, “Although each of the faithful has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognition of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her” (RS, 92). Basically, receiving on the tongue is the ordinary way, but the bishops can ask the Pope for permission to give Communion in the hand as well. You therefore have the right to receive either way. If you receive on the tongue, extend your tongue and open your mouth wide enough to receive the Host, but not so wide that we can check your tonsils. If you receive in the hand, follow the advice of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “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” (Cat. Myst. V, 21-22).
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.