Frequently asked questions about the reception of Holy Communion.
Should one receive Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand?
The faithful have a choice in this matter. It has long been the custom to receive on the tongue, and there is no reason why this custom should now be abandoned. But it is also correct to receive Holy Communion in the hand, following these guidelines laid down by St Cyril of Jerusalem: “Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hallowed thy palm, receive the body of Christ, saying after it, ‘Amen.’ Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the holy body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if anyone gave thee gold dust, wouldst thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss?” (Catechetical Lectures 23:22). These words date from about 390 AD.
What else should I bear in mind about the way I receive Holy Communion?
Given that the Sacred Host is the Body of Christ, and is to be treated with the utmost respect and reverence, one should receive Holy Communion in a fitting manner; in order to recollect the mind it is usual to make an act of reverence before the Host prior to receiving. This act of reverence could be a genuflection, or a bow. One should also receive the Host facing the altar: this means one should, if receiving in the hand, consume the Host at once, not turning your back on the altar before you do so.
What about one’s spiritual disposition before receiving Holy Communion?
Good question! The physical dispositions are meant to convey and help sustain an inner and spiritual disposition. We should receive Holy Communion in a state of devout recollection, our minds on Jesus the Saviour and Him alone, setting aside all earthly distractions. Then, returning to our place in church, we should thank the Lord for the great gift he has given us, namely the sacrament of Communion with himself.
Does one have to go to confession before receiving Holy Communion?
Going to confession before Holy Communion is a laudable and useful practice, and that is why all Catholic churches provide the opportunity for confession. Sacramental confession prepares the soul for the reception of the Saviour, enabling the soul to profit the more from the graces offered in Holy Communion. However, for most people, going to confession before Holy Communion, though to be encouraged, is not necessary. It is necessary, however, for those who may be conscious of grave sin. They ought to go to confession. If in doubt, people should realise that going to confession is always beneficial and cannot do them any harm!
Are there any prayers that one can recommend that help one to prepare for Holy Communion, and give thanks afterwards?
Yes, there most certainly are. While praying in your own words is always good, there are also some words hallowed by tradition that people have found useful throughout the ages. One such is the Anima Christi, or Soul of My Saviour. The words are in every hymn book, and very familiar.
Soul of my Saviour sanctify my breast,
Body of Christ, be thou my saving guest,
Blood of my Saviour, bathe me in thy tide,
wash me with waters gushing from thy side.
Strength and protection may thy passion be,
O blessèd Jesus, hear and answer me;
deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me,
so shall I never, never part from thee.
Guard and defend me from the foe malign,
in death’s dread moments make me only thine;
call me and bid me come to thee on high
where I may praise thee with thy saints for ay.
There is also this short prayer, usually called the Prayer before a Crucifix:
Behold, O good and sweetest Jesus,
I cast myself upon my knees in Thy sight,
and with the most fervent desire of my soul
I pray and beseech Thee
to impress upon my heart
lively sentiments of faith,
hope and charity,
with true repentance for my sins
and a most firm desire of amendment.
Whilst with deep affection and grief of soul
I consider within myself
and mentally contemplate
Thy five most precious wounds,
having before mine eyes that which David,
the prophet, long ago spoke concerning Thee,
“They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones.
There are others too which are far too long to reproduce here. You might like to look at the Prayer of St Ambrose before Mass (you can find it here: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=127) or the Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas before Mass (to be found here: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=2030) and the prayer of St Thomas Aquinas after Mass, to be found here: http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayer_after_mass.htm
Are there any other practical points we should be aware of?
Yes. People who are not Catholics, but who are Christian, are welcome to come and receive a blessing at Holy Communion time. To signal to the priest or deacon that this is what they wish, they should cross their arms in front of them.
It is worthwhile remembering that crossing your arms in front of you is the signal that you wish to receive a blessing. If you are receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, your hands should be joined in front of you, not crossed, which may lead to confusion.
What are the rules about non-Catholics and Holy Communion?
These have been laid down for us by the Bishops of England and Wales in the document “One Bread, One Body” which is available as a pdf document online. See here, and follow the link, for example: http://www.catholiceastanglia.org/main/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=32
Members of Orthodox Churches, who are not in communion with Rome, may receive Holy Communion in Catholic churches if they are properly disposed, and if they spontaneously ask for it. However, members of other ecclesial bodies may not be admitted to Holy Communion, except in a few very restricted cases. The reasons for this are complex and theologically grounded in the meaning of the sacrament. Given that Holy Communion is the sacrament that makes us one with God and with each other, it contradicts the meaning of the sacrament for it to be shared with those with whom we do not yet share the fullness of faith. But it is best to read the document in its entirety rather than to attempt to sum it up in a few sentences.
What happens if someone comes to Church, goes up to receive communion, and instead of consuming the sacrament, attempts to walk away with it?
To attempt to walk away with the sacrament, for whatever reason, is wrong and constitutes an act of desecration. Given that the Eucharist is so holy, it is the duty of all of us to stop anyone doing this. If any member of the congregation sees this happening, they should stop the person leaving, and ask them why they have not consumed the Host. It may well be the person is a non-Christian who does not understand what the Host is. In which case this should be gently and kindly explained to them.
These cases are thankfully rare. Sometimes it may seem that a person has walked away with the Host when this is not the case. Whichever way, everyone who comes up to communion is to consume the Host without undue delay. No one must ever be allowed to abuse the Sacred Host in any way whatever.
Any other questions?
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