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How to receive Holy Communion

The Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be consumed at once

By on Wednesday, 10 October 2012


Something unexpected happened to me the other day. A minister of another Church rang me up and said that he had been given a Sacred Host by a member of his congregation, with the request that the said minister should pass it to a Catholic priest.

Naturally, I said I would call round and collect the Sacred Host that very afternoon. I did so, recovered the Host, placed it in a pyx and heard the story.

A young lady had been at a Catholic Mass and had gone up to Holy Communion, even though she was not a Catholic – she had gone up because she had been urged to go up by the people sitting around her. Once at the altar the priest had placed the Sacred Host in her hands. She, not being in communion with the Catholic Church, did not want to receive the Host, so carried it away with her, and then entrusted it to the minister of her own church, who then called me.

Once I was at home, I disposed of the Host in the way that is prescribed by law.

This incident raises all sorts of questions.

First of all, such things can only happen when communion is given in the hand and the person receiving does not consume the Host at once. The Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be consumed at once, in sight of the altar; no one should carry it away, even if for only a few feet. How, though, can we stop them doing so? The only answer is that all, priest and congregation, must be vigilant and ensure that anyone attempting to carry away the Host is stopped. I realise that this may be difficult. I have heard stories of priests who have challenged people who were taking the Host away, and who have been abused for doing so.

Another thing we could do is emphasise to all that there is a correct way to receive Holy Communion.

Then of course there is the question of what to do when people present themselves for Holy Communion who seem unfamiliar with Catholic ritual. They ought not to be given Communion, but it can be hard to make this clear to them in the midst of the Communion procession.

While on this subject, I think most priests will have had, at one time or another, a request to receive Holy Communion from someone who is not a member of the Catholic Church. Refusal, no matter how carefully explained, tends to cause great resentment. I imagine most priests dread such approaches from our separated brethren. I certainly do.

  • Charles Martel

    Easy solution to the sacrilege problem; let’s return without any compromise whatsoever to the sound and immemorial custom of communion on the tongue (and kneeling, to boot). Communion in the hand started life in the 1970s as a protestant-inspired abuse (which was then legalised by the Pope in a disastrous capitulation) and has only served to damage Catholics’ faith in the Real Presence.

  • JabbaPapa

    Communion in the hand started life in the 1970s

    Wrong — this argument has in fact been going on and on for centuries.

  • teigitur

    I never receive in the hand. Its a dreadful practice, as is a “Q”, and receiving standing. I wish all churches were like Brompton Oratory where one receives kneeling and on the tongue, as its meant to be.

  • AMSwan

     The argument may have been going on for longer than the last 42 years, but the fact that there are such abuses only strengthens the argument in favour of people receiving communion kneeling on the tongue.

  • Chatto

    I think a good place to start would be teaching Catholics that they don’t have to receive communion at every single Mass they go to, and how to make a spiritual communion. Once Catholics themselves understand these two principles (whilst still striving to be in a fit state to receive communion once a week), more of us will stay in our pews at communion. This will relieve the pressure felt by the woman in Father’s anecdote to ‘go up to the front with everyone else’ – staying put won’t make you the odd one out.

    I’ve seen this happen recently to a poor teenaged girl visiting her uncle in our parish. Fortunately, Father spotted her confusion at what to do next and retrieved the Sacred Host, much to her embarrassment. If praying in your pew was a practice taken up by more Catholics, she, Father, and Our Lord, wouldn’t have had to go through that.

  • firstparepidemos

    Being someone who attends a Ukranian Catholic parish, receiving on the tongue is the norm for us (as we all receive by intinction). When I attend a Roman Rite parish I always take from the chalice because it is a far more ancient practice than receiving the Host alone. However, kneeling is not in our Eastern Rite tradition and I wish our fellow Roman Catholics would stop inferring that kneeling is more respectful than standing when receiving Communion.

  • firstparepidemos

    Teigitur,  Perhaps you are unaware that by saying receiving Communion standing is a “dreadful practice”, you are insulting not only those who are Eastern Rite Catholics but also our Orthodox brothers and sisters. Please think before making such dreadful generalisations.

  • nytor

    “Refusal, no matter how carefully explained, tends to cause great resentment.”

    Nonetheless, refusal it must be.

  • nytor

    It is meant to be in the universal Church – but alas, the man they made archbishop of Westminster for reasons unknown to me has persuaded Rome to make communion standing and in the hand the “liturgical norm” in England and Wales on the grounds that “standing is a sign of respect in our Western culture”.

  • Firenza

    I don’t know what happens in other parishes, but  in my parish,to a man and woman everyone goes up for communion, often talking as they wait to receive the Blessed Sacrament – then, back to the benches for another short conversation before the recessional ‘song’ and a continuation of conversations which have gone on throughout Mass.  It appears anyone who goes up for Holy Communion  is given it.  There is no teaching in our parish about how to receive, when to receive and if to receive Holy Communion.  There is little sense of the sacred and an awareness of the Real Presence.  We have been steadily losing our parishioners, not by death and old age, but by despair , waiting for  the PP to get a grip on the busybodies who run the parish with ruthless inefficiency, but hold all the reins of power such as they are.  
    I hope there’s a prayer group somewhere in England praying for recalcitrant parishes who don’t seem to know any better.  Please pray for us   

  • Breff

    Communion in the hand was established by radicals in the 1970s as, in my opinion, a way of downplaying Catholic teaching on the Real Presence. I believe they also saw it as shifting us closer to the CofE. The position of these radicals was that the Reformer’s teaching on the eucharist was probably right and Catholics would simply have to drift into line over time. Communion in the hand was small first step. What Father describes here is a typical outcome. The disturbing thing is that there is no move anywhere to end this abuse. In some parishes children are taught only to receive in the hand and traditional reception to the mouth is not mentioned.

  • Craig

    Oh well-This is Christ. Just say no. May Sts Pio and Vianney guide and protect you!

  • teigitur

    I was referring to the Latin Rite,in which I consider it just that. I am sorry if I have offended anyone in another rite, of which we in the west have limited exposure.

  • Kwtraditionalcatholic

    Communion in the hand became prominent in 1960′s Holland and spread through the Rhineland nations to become the standard in most dioceses in the world today.  Of note, the Dutch bishops of the time published their own catechism which was subsequently ordered off the shelves by the Vatican for breaches of orthodoxy.

    When Martin Luther went off to do his own thing, in effort to symbolize non-Transubstantiation he designed the reception of “communion” as in the hand while standing.

    Although C-I-T-H is the standard it is still merely an indult that the pope could revoke at any time.  Any pastor can ban its practice if he fears there is risk of desecration.

    The universal norm for the reception of Holy Communion in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church is directly on the tongue while kneeling.  It’s the only option at an Extraordinary Form Mass.  

    How C-I-T-H entered USA is an intriguing story.  The main man behind it, Cardinal Bernardin was a cleric of dubious orthodoxy.  His ‘seamless garment’ theory is said to have damaged the pro-life movement; the Chicago Gay Men’s Choir sang at his funeral.

    By their fruits you shall know them.  All of Pope Paul VI’s fears have come to pass.

  • Curt

    Our Church seems to be different. Everyone can get in line, however if you are not in a state to receive communion you simply cross your arms over your chest and the priest will say a blessing to you. This way young kids and non Catholics can still be blessed without feeling pressured by the congregation to take the hose.

  • Bob Hayes

    End the practice of receiving communion in the hand and job done.

  • Jongjabon

    Communion in the hands is a sacrilege practice. protestant had been practicing it long long before and was just introduced in the Catholic church as part of the reform brought by Vatican 2. This practice should not be tolerated and be stopped. Only the ordained ones have the right to touch the holy body of Christ.

  • Jongjabon

    You’re right but by the protestants not in the Catholic church.

  • Bob Hayes

    Sorry to hear of the deeply worrying situation in your parish. Catechisis needs to be a continuous process (not just for children and converts) in each and every parish, otherwise there is the danger of a ‘Habitual Catholicism’ that lacks any depth of Faith taking hold. I will pray for your parish.

  • Bert

    I always thought that it was NOT permissible to receive the Eucharist in your hand.  I thought that I had read in a Vatican document (sorry, I can’t be any more specific than that) that the only day-to-day permissible way to receive is on the tongue.  I believe – but could be wrong – that permission to receive in the hand was given in some very specific circumstances.  Did I get that wrong?  Where is the permission granted to receive in the hand?

  • 123q456

    Just like birmingham oratory and at low mass you are told by the priest communion in the hand will not be given

  • Herman U. Ticke

    On June 12, 2012, Bishop Müller was appointed
    a member of the 
    Congregation for Catholic Education for a
    five-year renewable term and a member of the 
    Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity 

    Bishop  Gerhard Müller denies in his book  
    Die  Messe: Quelle christlichen Lebens 
    [The Mass: Source of Christian Life] 
    the real  transformation of bread and wine into the 
    Body and Blood of Christ. 
    Bread and wine remain, according to him, what they are; 
    however, they become tools for integrating the faithful into the living
     community with the Father and the Son. 

    This resembles the Calvinistic teaching, according to
    which bread and wine do not 
    transform, but become tools of grace. 
    Contrary to Catholic doctrine, according 
    to which the transformation of the gifts 
    occurs with the pronunciation of the 
    words of institution, “This is my Body… 
    This is the chalice of my Blood”, Bishop  Müller
    asserts that the question of the moment of 
    transformation “doesn’t make sense”. 

  • M Carroll

    Fr. Alexander,

    I am quite happy to put my name to this because I can verify that this genuinely happened.

    During Mass
    at a Catholic church in Grimsby communion was distributed. A non-Catholic got through the net and received communion.
    My friend (note) who was a non-Catholic, but married to a Catholic, had gone up
    for a blessing. He noticed a non-Catholic receiving communion and despite being
    on the verge of joining another denomination he went up to this person and said
    that they were not allowed to receive. He handed the Blessed Sacrament back to
    the Eucharistic minister.

    Now bare in mind that this Catholic Church had just
    been correctly aided by a non- Catholic, insult was later added to injury. When
    my friends discussed this with the Eucharistic minister they said that
    during a Eucharistic Ministers training day for the Nottingham Diocese that
    they were told that if they noticed that the Blessed Sacrement was being taken
    away, or being received by a non-Catholic, then they were “not to get involved”. 

  • Hermit

    With regard to Holy Communion I would like to point out that the priest should say: The Body of Christ and those receiving Holy Communion should answer: Amen. Both ‘The Body of Christ’ and ‘Amen’ must be said in an audible way, something not always done.

  • Jack Hughes

    I have not received Jesus in the hand for over 3 years and that time was only becasue it was poscribed due to swine flu in the area  and I thought it better not to kick up a fuss.

    If our Eastern Rite Bretheran wish to recieve standing then I have no problem with them adhering to the norms of their particular Rite, however I prefer to recieve kneeling as a reminder of how helpless I am to help myself and of my  dependance on God.

  • greenmoon

    Surely a person’s disposition while receiving the Eucharist is more important than whether they are standing or kneeling or receive it in their hand or on their tongue.

  • Simon Platt

    Yes, greenmoon. But one’s demeanour should – and usually does – reflect his disposition.  And that disposition is more important than demeanour does not mean that demeanour is unimportant.

    All this ought to be obvious; it ought not to need saying.

  • Rizzo the Bear

    Hear, hear! And hear, hear some more!

    Holy Communion on the tongue is a far, far better, practical, reverent and less stressful method. By this, you are not distracted with the thought of anyone walking away from the altar with Our Divine Lord in one’s hand not being consumed or – horrors – being open to abuse.

    It hurts me to the core to see so many receive Our Divine Lord in the hand then walk away as if they’ve been handed a toffee rather than Our Creator!

    I’m reminded of our utter, child-like dependence on God when we receive Him on the tongue. We should all bear that in mind when we approach the altar.

    Just as when adult birds come back to their nest, their young chick’s beaks are opened wide ready to receive sustenance.

    Why aren’t we given a frequent heads-up at Holy Mass about receiving Holy Communion and WHO it is we are receiving and how we should approach the moment?

    If people are offended when they are confronted about the matter of taking communion when they shouldn’t have, then they haven’t fully understood the enormity and centrality to our Roman Catholic faith of receiving Our Divine Lord. Many men, women and children died defending and maintaining that truth.

    Food for thought. The Real Presence is not a trivial matter. He is serious.

  • TheInformer

    Yeah, I have no problem confronting people about this abuse, but too often from the slipshod way Mass is said, or from the indifferent attitudes of other people in the way they dress(you going to the beach bruddah?) or constantly arrive late as if nothing important is going on……..I get the impression that this too is a quaint but over-reacted response.  God luvs us all no matter what…….eh?

  • scary goat

     We have this practice of blessings in our parish too.

  • Bob Hayes

    Whenever there is an especially large congregation at Mass (e.g. Christmas or when a baptism takes place) our parish priest makes a point of inviting ‘non-Catholics and Catholics who are not disposed to receive communion’ to come forward for a blessing. 

  • Rich

    The archbishop appears to be out of touch with western culture!

  • Chatto

    Is there a parody movie trailer in here somewhere, do you think? “Revenge of the C-I-T-H” perhaps? Unseen forces, dark sides, division…it’s got it all!

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh dear not this rubbish again …

    Bishop  Gerhard Müller denies in his book … BLA BLA BLA

    No, he doesn’t.

    He makes some theological discussion of some secondary meanings of the Eucharistic Communion, and the Real Presence.

  • JabbaPapa

    Wrong, the arguments about it have been ongoing since the Middle Ages.

  • Robert

    Why these attacks on Müller by the unread and foolish? It is I suppose a less covert attack on the Pope who appointed him.
    By a Tablet reader or SSPX, is the question.

  • Robert

    The General Instruction of the Roman Missal now says”In the Dioceses of England and Wales Holy Communion is to be received standing, though individual members of the faithful may choose to receive Communion while kneeling. However, when they communicate standing, it is recommended that the faithful bow in reverence before receiving the sacrament.”
    In very few parishes is any provision made to enable people to kneel and the norm in the universal Church is to receive on the tongue – in most Eastern Rites by use of the spoon, in the West by being placed directly on the tongue- why not?
    Is the bishops want somehow to undermine the Catholic faith?

  • Parasum

     Do you have access to a good English translation of what he said ?

  • Jack L K

    I know the arguments for receiving on the tongue and heartily agree and firmly resolve to do so. Only… it’s just that I’m so used to receiving in the hand! I can see what’s going on in my hand. Not so my tongue. I don’t know if there’s going to be finger-taste bud contact. I can’t judge. Priests are perhaps a better aim. Average Joe–not so! In fact, I’ve gone up to a Eucharistic minister with all the firmest resolve to receive on the tongue. Then I see it’s Virgie Quakes-in-boots and I don’t wanna scare her, being the only one in line who’s not pulling a Oliver Twist. She probably thinks I’m unfamiliar with Catholic ritual, and will tell Fr. Phil afterward to watch out for the nervy one.

    Anyway, I’m only saying that I’m uncomfortable receiving on the tongue, and that discomfort distracts me. So long as my attention and me allegiance and my heart and soul is with Christ (this is going to attract comment if nothing else) I don’t think He minds a quick sit-down in my palm beforehand.

  • Matthew Roth

    I argue that this is an abuse to be avoided; it adds to the rite which says that only those who are to be receiving Communion come forward, and it adds a prayer not found in the Mass, to be said by the priest, to this part of the Mass. 

    There’s a caveat to the first part. I have no problem with a small child coming forward, when they are clearly below the age of 1st Communion in the Latin Church-and not get blessed-since Rome has not caught up to frequent reception of the Eucharist by both parents, at the same Mass, in a culture where parents feel leaving a small child alone is unsafe. But the key is that no blessing should be given. An adult is going to get a blessing, and there’s no reason he or she can’t stay in the pew…and they could accidentally be given a Host…

  • Matthew Roth

    ++ Muller is awesome, and I wish people would stop attacking him. I mean, they should go read his other books where he defends transubstantiation. 

  • Gildaswiseman

    When I kneel at the altar rails and wait for the priest to dispense the Blessed Sacrament I find it easier to intensify my recollection and preparation  for the reception of this wonderful Sacrament,without distraction. It appears to me that kneeling emphasises the solemnity of this heavenly gift and our adoration of the King of Kings.
     Receiving on the tongue emphasises the supra-natural. The Priests hands are consecrated the laities are not, and though it can be argued that our tongues are not consecrated either, the administration on the tongue of the Sacred Species reminds us that he is representing the person of Christ himself, who feeds us Bread from Heaven.The experience,I believe, further separates the concept of the sacred from the profane.
    Another very disturbing factor of the reception of Holy Communion in the hand is the disregard for the particles that are left. Every single tiny particle is the Sacred Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Blessed Lord. What happens to these Sacred particles? Do they fall onto the floor to be trampled under foot by the faithful? When we receive Holy Communion on our knees at the altar rails the particles fall onto a plate held by the server. These many particles are placed in the chalice at the ablutions.
     In fact, in the Traditional Mass everything is treated in a most solemn, sacred and enriched manner.It is without doubt ‘the most beautiful thing this side of heaven’.

  • greenmoon

    Doesn’t your argument only work if everyone agrees that kneeling and taking the host on the tongue is the “correct” way to receive the Eucharist and that standing is less reverential. That clearly isn’t the case. Weren’t diocese in England and Wales given permission from the Vatican to allow the Eucharist to be given by hand. Is the Vatican  wrong?

  • Nesbyth

    But give them a Blessing! That might help to soften the refusal.

  • R. Abramovic

    I hate to say it but Communion seems to have become such a casual affair in so many places it wont be long before we all just receive it in the post. Who needs a priest when you extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist? Why bother even going to Church really, it’s all a load of mumbo-jumbo anyway, isn’t it? Let’s all just buy a copy of the God Delusion, crawl into a hole and die.

    OR we could start standing up for our faith, a faith that does not at times even appear to be particularly strong even within the walls of our own churches.

  • nytor

    I agree completely, and never receive communion in the hand – although my main mass is now the Sunday morning Solemn High Extraordinary Form at the Birmingham Oratory so I couldn’t if I wanted to! Deo gratias!

  • nytor

    That’s Archbishop Nichols for you.

  • nytor

    They were given permission in a very roundabout manner. It was originally permitted under indult for some nuns for a specific reason, as I understand it, but became a widespread abuse and rather than stamp it out the Vatican legalised it. Same as with altar girls, who couldn’t be stamped out (let them try it near me and they’ll learn how to stamp it out!) and so they were legalised under certain conditions.

  • Ignatius

    In my own church most people receive communion standing and in the hand and do so with as much reverence as anyone could desire, knowing that it is Christ they receive in his real presence. Very very occasionally there may be a problem with someone walking away without consuming the host, but that hardly detracts from the respect and reverence shown by the majority. Unity and communion need not mean uniformity in everything.
    The late pope John Paul II said that it is a cause of great joy that there are circumstances in which non-Catholics may properly receive sacraments in the Catholic Church. Maybe we could be more generous in offering them and then we need not dread requests from “our separated brethren” – we might even call them instead fellow-Christians.

  • nytor

    I can’t bear Muller because of his unwillingness to engage in dialogue with the SSPX. If he holds dubious views on other matters – and I’m not saying he does – then it wouldn’t overly surprise me.