Receive Communion with reverence

Friday, September 29, 2017 - Updated: 3:22 pm

QUESTION: I notice that people come up to holy Communion and make various gestures (e.g. standing, genuflecting, kneeling, sign of the cross, etc.). What are we supposed to do?

QUESTION: I wonder if priests have a preference for how people receive holy Communion (in the hand or on the tongue).


ANSWER: Two of the foundational principles as to how people receive Communion are that they do so with reverence and foster a sense of unity within the praying assembly.

The “official” directive of the church in the United States includes offering each communicant the choice of receiving Communion in their hand or on the tongue. The church, while affirming both of these options, is particularly concerned that the Eucharist be distributed and received with reverence (see “Forward” to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal). This means that distribution is to take place reverently (e.g. not rushed or with distraction). It also means that each person receiving observe the proper manner for each option. For example, “in the hand,” not grabbed, and “on the tongue,” not bitten by one’s teeth.

Priests, therefore, have the duty to clearly explain these options, offer appropriate instruction and provide the choice to the communicants. It is not correct for the priest to dictate one choice over another. But experience has provided those who regularly distribute Communion with some thoughts.

For those who distribute the Eucharist, respect must involve taking precautions that the host not fall to the floor. This seems to be more difficult when distributing on the tongue as some do not stand close enough to the one distributing or are unsteady or try to stoop down because they are taller. There is also the concern that when people do not open their mouths sufficiently saliva is deposited on the fingers of those distributing. All this can distract from the reverence we are seeking to maintain.

Respect for the Eucharist also entails ensuring that the Eucharist is protected from abuse. This specifically involves those who do not immediately place the consecrated host in their mouths. Care from those distributing Communion must be exercised to ensure that the consecrated host is consumed by the one receiving it.

The care of the Eucharist is not limited to those who distribute it. For example, if a Catholic has invited non-Catholics to Mass with them, it is the Catholic’s responsibility to explain the directives regarding holy Communion. It is far more difficult for the person distributing to distinguish those who appear confused from those who are not Catholic.

Regarding the gestures before receiving Communion, the bishops of this country have directed that the Eucharist be received standing by those who have made a slight bow of the head before doing so. There is no directive for making the sign of the cross before or after receiving. The genuflection (or kneeling), as seen on some televised Masses, is not what the American bishops envisioned in their directive. The unity of those who worship together is important, and the common gestures we make demonstrate one aspect of that unity. It is always important to keep the focus on the worship of God and not seek draw attention to oneself.


Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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