A Pastoral Guide to Receiving Communion

The Baltimore Catechism reliably provides a catechesis on the Holy Eucharist: “The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament which contains the body and blood, soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.” Furthermore, “Jesus Christ is present whole and entire in the smallest portion of the Holy Eucharist under the form of either bread or wine; for His body in the Eucharist is in a glorified state, and as it partakes of the character of a spiritual substance, it requires no definite size or shape.”

The Catechism also instructs us to be respectful as we approach and return from the altar. We should be neat and clean. And the General Instruction advises: “When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister” (GIRM 160).

In the same spirit of reverence, here is an expanded catechesis on how to receive Holy Communion in our day and—equally important—how not to receive Communion.

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How to properly receive Holy Communion
There are two approved ways of receiving Holy Communion. The traditional and preferred method is the reception of the Host on the tongue: Step forward and kneel at the Communion rail or station (if you stand, make a sign of reverence—such as a bow or genuflection or Sign of the Cross—before receiving the Host and take care not to disrupt the Communion line). The priest holds up the Host and says, “The Body of Christ.” Respond, “Amen.” Tilt your head back slightly, extending your tongue and holding still. The priest will place the Host on your tongue after your “Amen” response.

Since Vatican II, the second method to receive Communion is reverently on the hand: Step forward and kneel at the Communion rail (if you stand, make a sign of reverence—such as a bow or genuflection or Sign of the Cross—before receiving the Host).  The priest holds up the Host and says, “The Body of Christ.” Respond, “Amen.” Extend your left hand upwards with your right hand cupped underneath the left (if you’re right-handed). Holding still, receive the Host. Reverently take and consume the Host in the presence of the priest (before turning around for your retreat to the pew).

Many years ago, teaching sisters trained Catholic school children to properly and reverently receive Holy Communion. Those days are long gone. Consequently, certain bad practices have crept into most of our churches. Here are several examples worthy of correction.

How NOT to receive Holy Communion

1) The Great White Shark Communicant: Instead of receiving on the tongue, the Great White Shark lunges for the Host from the fingers of the priest with his mouth. Sensing the danger of the attack in a nanosecond, the priest instinctually recoils to avoid loss of limb.

2) The Snapping Turtle Communicant: This communicant doesn’t lunge but snaps at the Host. Most priests no longer have fingertips because of Snapping Turtle communicants.

3) The Aircraft Carrier Communicant: It is difficult to land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier bobbing in rough waters. It is difficult to place the Host on the tongue because the communicant is watching every detail of the delivery and adjusting to every move of the hand delivering the incoming Host. (Slightly avert your eyes, gently extend your tongue, and let the priest do his job.)

4) The Parched Tongue Communicant: This communicant fails to moisten his parched tongue so that the Host cannot be safely received, often resulting in the Host dropping to the floor. (Moisten thy tongue.)

5) The Black Hole Communicant: This communicant opens his mouth without extending his tongue expecting the priest to flick the Host into the abyss. (Extend thy tongue.)

6) The Slot Machine Communicant: He narrowly opens his mouth making it almost impossible for a nearsighted priest to make a perfect delivery.

7) The Stamp-Licking Communicant: He extends the tongue at the last split-second thereby licking the fingers of the priest in an unsanitary collision.

8) The Elevator Communicant: He abruptly lifts his hand when receiving the Host causing an irreverent impact with the priest’s descending hand.

9) The Swing Low Sweet Chariot Communicant: This communicant does not raise his hands to receive Communion but lowers them—sometimes as low as his knees, expecting the priest to bend and stretch.

10) The Baby-On-Board Communicant: Baby in arms, this communicant extends his only free hand and irreverently pops the Host into his mouth. (When holding a baby, receive on the tongue.)

11) The Over-Confident NFL Wide Receiver Communicant: Anticipating the reception of the Host, this communicant fails to eyeball the Host to the safety of his hands and ends by fumbling the Host as he abruptly turns away.

12) The Sloppy Sweater Communicant: This young communicant extends her hands with the sleeves of her sweater covering most of her hands. (So expect the priest to deliver the Host to the mouth.)

13) The Body-Snatcher Communicant: This communicant holds his hands like a Venus flytrap, awaiting the flyby Host. When the Host is within striking distance, the trap is sprung, capturing the Host—and clutching the fingers of the priest.

14) The Pill-Popper Communicant: After receiving Communion, this communicant irreverently pops the Host into his mouth like an aspirin.

15) The Souvenir-Hunter Communicant: This person is usually not Catholic but is curious to “experience” Catholic Communion. After clumsily receiving the Host, he tries to hide the Possession and return to the pew to examine the Specimen. Sometimes the communicant is Catholic. He wants to save Something for posterity upon receiving Communion from the hands of a senior cleric such as the pope. Don’t do that. The celebrant will tackle you.

Humor aside, a devout Catholic should strive to receive the Lord Jesus not only with a heart worthy of him (i.e., without the stain of mortal sin) but with the reverence that is due to his Majesty.

(Photo credit: Alexey Gotovsky/CNA)


  • Fr. Jerry J. Pokorsky

    Fr. Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Fr. Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal.

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