In the last installment we considered preparation for Holy Communion both as the necessary catechesis before First Communion and as immediately preparing ourselves to receive Holy Communion at each opportunity. In this part, we will look at “how” to best receive Holy Communion according to what the Church presently allows.
Prior to explaining the “methods” for receiving, so to speak, and while acknowledging that the next installment will focus heavily on one’s interior disposition for receiving, a word pertaining to our interior life that is to be exercised in “how” we receive communion is the word “humility.” Minding that Jesus says entrance into the kingdom is only possible with “childlike” faith (see Matthew 18:3), receiving Holy Communion in the most fruitful manner calls us to a childlike disposition – wherein we humble ourselves such that our way of receptivity is like a child who is being fed by his/her parent. Holy Communion is a gift that we have no claim to receive; it is fully of God’s generous love that we can even consider receiving. Therefore, no matter which outward method one uses to receive Holy Communion, humble receptivity rooted in humble acknowledgement of God and His gift of Himself to us is to be the foundation.
When it comes to the outward way or manner for receiving, the normative (or primary) way that people are asked to go about receiving is by way of directly receiving the Eucharist into one’s mouth from the hand of the minister. This practice has been the norm for most of the life of the Church for several practical reasons, including the fact that such a method reduces risk of the sacred host being profaned (minding that for many centuries in concern for reverence, it was only priests who would touch the Eucharist with their hands), along with how such reception in the mouth helps to guard against even the smallest particle being lost (which is why the “paten,” or plate with the handle held by the server would be held under the chin of the recipient). Spiritually speaking, to receive the Eucharist directly into the mouth from the hand of another requires “childlike” faith – trustingly allowing another (who represents Jesus Christ) to feed us as children of God.
In addition to this method of receiving directly in the mouth the alternative of receiving directly in one’s hands has been permitted since the late 1960s. This practice was sought by some Church leaders in the 1960s with the hope that people would be able to more effectively receive in a more natural way. Those who have promoted communion in the hand appeal to St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s words on “making a throne for the king” and how we are to gaze upon our Lord as you draw Him to your mouth as another way to invite a humble and faith-filled disposition to receiving. However, it must be made clear that this option remains secondary (and was only granted by special permission – and is therefore not the norm). Know that to receive in the hand places a great responsibility on the recipient to guard against any of the sacred host being lost or desecrated.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that our posture for receiving can vary. While the norm for Catholics in the United States in the “Ordinary Form” of Mass (as established by the bishops) is to receive while standing, no one is to be denied the option to kneel if they themselves choose to do so. In the “Extraordinary Form”/Latin Mass, it is clearly prescribed that all are to kneel to receive.
While more detail would be warranted on these matters, it is most important to stress and repeat: it is humble and childlike faith that is to be practiced in receiving Holy Communion – and thus emphasized when talking about “how” one rightly receives.