Church guidelines for the reception of holy Communion

Who can receive Communion during Mass?
In order to preserve the dignity of the Eucharist, the church has established certain guidelines and norms governing the reception of holy Communion. In 1996, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published the “Guidelines for the Reception of Communion,” which addresses reception of Communion for Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and for non-Christians. These norms are usually printed in all missalettes but are also printed here for your convenience.

What is the proper way to receive the Eucharist?
The norm established for the dioceses of the U.S. is that Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member wishes to receive Communion while kneeling (GIRM 160). When receiving holy Communion, the person approaches the minister and bows his or her head before the sacrament as a gesture of reverence. While the sign of reverence used to be a genuflection, for the sake of unity, the U.S. bishops asked that the faithful bow their head instead.
When the Communion minister says, “The Body of Christ” or “The Blood of Christ,” we respond “Amen” as a sign of our belief in the true presence – the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. By our “Amen,” we are saying, “I believe.”

The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. If receiving it on the hand, it is customary to place your left hand on top of your right hand, thus creating a throne for the Eucharist. After the host is placed in your left hand, you take it with your right hand and place it in your mouth to consume the host. If you are receiving on your tongue, it is important to stick your tongue out far enough for the minister to place the host on your tongue.
When receiving the Blood of Christ, after bowing and receiving the chalice in your hands, communicants drink the Blood of Christ and carefully return the chalice to the minister.

What do I do if I am not receiving Communion?

If you are not prepared to receive Communion or if someone with you is not Catholic, they can still approach the priest or deacon and receive a blessing. It is customary to cross your arms across your chest as a sign of your desire for a blessing.

What do I do when I return to my pew after receiving Communion?

Upon receiving the Eucharist, it is appropriate to return to your pew and spend some quiet time in prayer. Some people might prefer to silently pray a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving or recite a traditional one from memory, while others might prefer to sit in silent communion with Jesus, whom they have just received. Another option is to participate in the singing of the hymn, if one is being sung.

Why is there a period of communal silence following the distribution of Communion?

There should be a period of communal silence after Communion in order for the priest, servers and the entire congregation to pray in silence for the gift they have just received. It is an opportunity for everyone to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:11).

Is it OK to leave Mass immediately after receiving Communion?

Even though Mass ends shortly after receiving Communion, it is important to stay for the end of Mass, which includes a closing prayer, announcements (if any), and a final blessing. Having heard and reflected on the Scriptures and received Jesus in the Eucharist, the congregation is blessed and sent to go out into the world and announce the Gospel through the way they live.
    Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at thedrick@nds.edu.

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