Last Sunday in training Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, I emphasized their authority to guard the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. We addressed problems of those who wish to receive Holy Communion. I was urged to write a pastor’s letter, so, I share this from the United States Catholic Bishops.
“The Church understands the Communion Procession…as a sign of the pilgrim Church, the body of those who believe in Christ, on their way to the Heavenly Jerusalem. All our lives we who believe in Christ are moving in time toward that moment when we will be taken by death from this world and enter into the joy of the Lord in the eternal Kingdom he has prepared for us…For some, however, the experience of the Communion Procession is far more prosaic, analogous perhaps to standing in line in the supermarket…The Communion Procession is an action of the Body of Christ. At Christ’s invitation, extended by the priest acting in Christ’s person: “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” the members of the community move forward to share in the sacred meal, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which is the sign and the source of their unity. In fact, each time we move forward together to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, we join the countless ranks of all the baptized who have gone before us…Our procession should move with dignity; our bearing should be that of those who know they have been redeemed by Christ and are coming to receive their God.”
The Communion Hymn.., “is the corporate thanksgiving prayer of the members of Christ’s Body, united with one another. Over and over again the prayers of the liturgy and the norms of the General Instruction emphasize this fundamental concept of the unity of the baptized, stressing that when we come together to participate in the Eucharistic celebration we come, not as individuals, but as united members of Christ’s Body…It is difficult for some of us to embrace this emphasis on Mass as the action of a community rather than an individual act of my own faith and piety, but it is important that we make every effort to do so. Christ himself at the Last Supper pleaded with his Father: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are…as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…” (John 17:11, 21)
The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling. 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. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood. [My words; if you receive by mouth you extend your tongue so the priest may place the host on the tongue without having to avoid your teeth] …If one is right handed, the left hand should rest upon the right. The host will then be laid in the palm of the left hand and then taken by the right hand to the mouth. If one is left-handed this is reversed. It is not appropriate to reach out with the fingers and take the host…”
The person distributing Communion says, “The Body of Christ.” This formula should not be altered…The communicant should audibly respond, “Amen,” indicating his or her belief that this small wafer of bread, the wine in this chalice are in reality the Body and Blood of Christ the Lord. When one receives from the chalice, the same proclamation is made…it is never permissible for a person to dip the host…into the chalice. These norms may require adjustment on the part of those used to other practices, however the significance of unity in posture and gesture as a symbol of our unity in the one body of Christ should be the governing factor in our actions.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1396: In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17)
I hope this clarifies the proper posture, response and gestures in receiving Communion. Regarding eye contact; my practice is to look at Jesus in the host as many do not desire eye to eye contact in the intimacy of receiving Christ, especially by mouth. The focus is not on your relationship with the priest or the Extraordinary Minister. You should be focused on stating your belief: “Amen (I believe this is Jesus, my God)”. The Eucharist creates our unity and so, we should try to be unified in how we approach and receive the Eucharist.
Your servant in Christ, Father Paul