I see people receiving communion in many different manners (genuflecting, kneeling, on the tongue, or in their hands.) Is there any right or wrong way to
I greatly appreciate the question as a wonderful teaching opportunity on a broader level than the “action” for receiving. For, there truly is a right way to
receive Holy Communion – which may be in one of multiple external appearances or actions. I will explain…
I refer to a singular “right way” to receive in order to emphasize the necessity of a “proper disposition” for the reception of Holy Communion. Such a proper
disposition begins with having faith in Jesus Christ and in His Church. Only those who are baptized and profess the Catholic faith are admitted to receive Holy
Communion – as the Eucharist unifies us with the Trinity and with all who profess the one true faith (this union of God and believers is why we call it “communion”). However, when one who is baptized and professes the Catholic faith is in a “state of mortal sin,” they first need to be reconciled with God and the Church (which usually means making a good sacramental confession; however, if a person’s situation fits the description canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law, additional steps may be required to be reconciled. [Canon 915 states: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”] Lastly, and most certainly not least, it is duly noted that a proper disposition to receive is founded upon faith, reverence, and humility.
Having given these words on right disposition, we can now talk more directly about the outward manner of the act of receiving Holy Communion. In truth, this area is one of great confusion – not to mention one with its own problems. The confusion is rooted in choices and actions that have taken place over the last 40-50 years that have led many sincere believers away from humility and reverence to an extremely permissive and nonchalant approach to Holy Communion in many places. Prior to 1965, all who presented themselves for Holy Communion would typically kneel at the rail in front of the altar and would exclusively receive the Eucharist directly into their mouth from the hand of the priest. While use of the rail is rare today, this practice truly was never abolished. (Vatican II did not change anything here – in fact, they never even spoke of it “how” to receive Holy Communion, which should tell us that no changes were desired or warranted.) However, that communion rails have disappeared from most churches (or were never built into newer buildings) would lead one to believe that such is no longer fitting or necessary. So what happened? Truth is that in the late 1960s, bishops in Europe, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, petitioned Rome for permission to distribute Holy Communion to people while they stood and by placing it upon their hands, arguing that kneeling made the act seem penitential, and that receiving on the tongue was degrading and lacking in decorum. Rome did give temporary permission for experimentation with the condition that the people be catechized about reverent and humble reception. However, no follow up was ever made and the practice spread like wildfire. Sadly, today many sincere people approach Holy Communion without any awareness of the sanctity of the moment (and of no fault of their own, since these matters have neither been taught nor reinforced in their lives). Please know that to this day, however, the preferred method in Church documentation has remained the receiving of Holy Communion directly in the mouth.
The history being as it is, here is what you need to know: In Ordinary Form Masses, we are instructed to receive Holy Communion standing, bowing our head in reverence as we approach the minister, and then presenting ourselves (either for communion on the tongue or in the hand). That some genuflect first or kneel to
receive cannot be discouraged, however, even though the “norm” as given by the US Bishops is that we stand. Meanwhile, in the 1962 Latin Mass, Holy Communion is to be received while kneeling and only by way of directly receiving the host into our mouth. These are the proper ways to externally approach to receive. However, once more, the proper way to receive is to be a baptized Catholic in a state of grace (not in a state of sin) and to do so with faith, reverence and humility.