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Jason Brantley wrote:

Dear Mike,

I have a question:

  • Is there a difference between receiving Communion on the tongue or in the hand?
  • If so, what?
  • Are there instances when one way is required over another?

In Him,

Jason Brantley

  { Does it matter how we receive Communion and are there instances when one way is required? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Jason —

Thanks for the question.

The Church allows parishioners to receive both ways, on the tongue or in the hand.

On this issue, the problem is not so much what is allowed, but what is not taught at local parishes at the CCD level.

The Church allows three ways for the faithful to receive Holy Communion, not two.

  • On the tongue while knelling
  • On the tongue while standing
  • In the hand, while standing

and there are no instances when one way is required over another!

If one receives Communion knelling, no other sign of reverence is needed before receiving Our Blessed Lord because kneeling, itself, is an act of adoration.

If one receives while standing, whether on the tongue or in the hand, the post conciliar documents of Vatican II say that a sign of reverence is required.

Types of signs of reverence include:

  • making the sign of the cross
  • bowing, or
  • a similar sign of reverence

just before receiving Holy Communion.

This is omitted by many Catholics, but shouldn't be. Pastors at local parishes should talk about this from the pulpit from time to time. Otherwise, the reverence due to God in this paramount of Sacraments, Jesus Himself, will weaken over time.

Another problem, I believe, is the heads of Religious Education at many local parishes instruct the students to receive Holy Communion only one way: In the hand, while standing.

This is not right and omits much of what else the Church allows. I believe they are never taught about the other two ways to receive. This is an important sin of omission if this is the local practice at your parish.

Whether seven years old or seven hundred years old, the Church has always protected the rights of the lay faithful to receive on the tongue while knelling for Holy Communion.

For a reference to backup what I am saying you may want to read Inaestimabile Donum — Instruction concerning worship of the Eucharistic Mystery - 1980 by Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship Note: number 11. in this document.

11. The Church has always required from the faithful respect and reverence for the Eucharist at the moment of receiving it.

With regard to the manner of going to Communion, the faithful can receive it either kneeling or standing, in accordance with the norms laid down by the episcopal conference: "When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration. When they receive Communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Sacrament. This should be done at the right time and place, so that the order of people going to and from Communion is not disrupted."

The Amen said by the faithful when receiving Communion is an act of personal faith in the presence of Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

1387 To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.

I also thought portions of an article written by Karl Keating were interesting:

Is Genuflecting at Communion Disruptive?

The method of reception is entirely up to the individual communicant. "The priest or minister of Communion does not make the decision as to the manner of reception of Communion," says the Appendix to the General Instruction [of the Roman Missal] for the Dioceses of the United States. It is improper for a priest or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist to insist that communicants receive in the hand— options are just that, optional.

That said, the discussion about the methods of receiving Communion, while interesting, is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is whether genuflection is proper. Whether one receives on the tongue or in the hand has nothing to do with whether one should or should not genuflect when in the Communion line. The rubrics for reception are not limited to the tongue-versus-hand question.

The Ceremonial of Bishops notes that "a genuflection, made by bending only the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration and is therefore reserved for the Blessed Sacrament, whether exposed or reserved in the tabernacle" (69). According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, during Mass the priest is to genuflect at certain times: "after the showing of the Eucharistic bread, after the showing of the chalice, and before Communion" (233). Immediately after his genuflection at Communion time, the priest self-communicates.

If a genuflection is proper for the priest as he receives Communion, on what grounds could it be improper for lay people, given that nothing in the rubrics suggests that genuflection is a posture reserved for the clergy? Hold that thought a moment as we consider what the Church has taught about what lay people are to do as they receive Communion. In Inaestimabile Donum, the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship noted that, "when the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling itself is a sign of adoration." But a sign of reverence should be made when the people receive Communion standing, which is the most common way in American parishes. "When they receive Communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Sacrament. This should be done at the right time and place, so that the order of people going to and from Communion is not disrupted" (11).

To summarize: If you receive Communion standing, you should make a sign of reverence just before you receive. What should that sign be? Inaestimabile Donum doesn't specify, but one could argue that the priest and people should make the same sign, to show unity among themselves. What sign does the priest make? He genuflects. This suggests that genuflection, then, is the most proper sign for the people to make. But it is not the only sign they may give. They may give some other sign of reverence, such as a deep how or even the sign of the cross. What is required is some sign of reverence, and the choice is up to the communicant.

Hope this helps,

Mike Humphrey

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