Receiving Holy Communion Properly
In the Catholic Church there are various options for receiving Holy Communion: on the tongue or in the hand, kneeling or standing. However we choose, let us receive our Lord properly and reverently.
Standing or Kneeling
The U.S. bishops have established that standing is the ordinary posture for receiving Holy Communion, yet nobody should be discouraged from receiving Communion on their knees if the person so wishes. If you do kneel for Communion, perhaps kneel a bit to the side so that you don’t interfere with the person behind you as you rise.
If you choose to receive standing, make an act of reverence while the person in front of you is receiving the Host. This act of reverence may be a genuflection or a profound bow. After the person in front of your has received and turns to return to his pew, step forward. The priest will hold up the Host and say, “The Body of Christ.” We respond: “Amen,” an Aramaic word affirming our belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Host and affirming our covenant commitment to live according to all that Christ teaches through his Church.
Kneeling is an act of reverence; no other bowing of the head is necessary. Some churches—like St. Mary of the Angels—also use the Communion rail for Holy Communion. This makes it easier for those who wish to receive on their knees.
Receiving on the Tongue
One is always free to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, because it is the ordinary and universal way to receive our Lord. The Holy See has granted bishops of some countries (the United States, Canada) special permission (an indult) to allow Communion in the hand. Yet a bishop could still decide for his diocese to follow the universal custom of only receiving Communion on the tongue instead.
To receive our Lord properly on the tongue—after saying “AMEN”—keep your hands together, open your mouth, and stick your tongue out at least a bit so that it covers your bottom teeth. Don’t clench your teeth. When the priest places the Host on your tongue, close your mouth slowly, not like a snapping turtle that catches the priest’s fingers.
Receiving in the Hand
If you are receiving Holy Communion in the hand, the first requirement is that both hands are clean and free. If you are carrying a child in your arms or are holding his hand, then receive our Lord on the tongue.
After you say “AMEN,” put both hands out, left hand over right (if you are left-handed, it is the other way around). The priest will put the Host in the palm of your hand, then step aside and use the other hand to take the Host from the palm and place it in your mouth. Then return back to the pew and spend some time in thanksgiving.
Here are some don’ts: Don’t bless yourself with the Host, because receiving our Lord is the greatest blessing we can receive. You may make the Sign of the Cross with your hand after you have placed our Lord in your mouth. Don’t take the Host from the priest’s hand. Don’t walk away with the Host in your hand or consume our Lord “on the run.” You may step aside so that the next person can receive, but stay in front of the priest. If someone cannot walk up to receive, ask the usher or the priest and the priest will bring Holy Communion to that person.
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we consider how to benefit from receiving the Sacrament of God’s Love for us—Eucharist—look at how to prepare ourselves to receive Him well.
Fostering the Right Motive
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, a wrong motive can turn a good act—such as receiving Holy Communion—into something evil. For example, if a politician goes to church and receives Holy Communion to get people to think that he is a good and upright man, then he would be receiving our Lord for the wrong reason—it would be gravely offensive to “use” Jesus Christ in this way.
Instead we should prepare our hearts to receive Jesus in the Eucharist with a wholesome motive, with faith in the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist and with desires to please Him. You may wish to use the spiritual communion that St. Josemaría taught: “I wish, Lord, to receive You with the purity, humility and devotion with which Your most holy Mother received You, with the spirit and fervor of the saints.”
Attention and devotion during Holy Mass also helps. Pray the Mass! Some use a hand missal or the missalette to follow along more closely. Also important is to have a forgiving heart, as our Lord says:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift… lest your accuser hand you over to the judge… and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:23-26).
This is why we ask to extend a sign of peace right before Holy Communion. If we are not disposed to do that with anyone—present at church or not—then it would be better to wait until we are ready to receive our Lord.
What should I do if I cannot receive?
None of us are worthy to receive this great gift that Jesus makes of himself in the Eucharist. Jesus did say to his apostles, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26), even though all but one would abandon him. We don’t receive Holy Communion because we are worthy, but to fulfill our Lord’s request.
Yet if we lack the conditions to benefit from Holy Communion—due to not having a chance to go to Confession before hand, for example—then the U.S. Catholic bishops recommend: “FOR THOSE NOT RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION: [You] are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.”
Take advantage of the time when others do receive to pray and to deepen your love for Jesus Christ. Make a spiritual communion, manifest your faith in God, and pray for peace and unity among Christians and in the whole human family. In this way you will benefit from your presence at Holy Mass and benefit the rest of us as well.
If one is non-Catholic Christian (a Protestant or Orthodox Christian), then one does not fully believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and thus s/he is not ready to express that Communion of Faith by receiving Holy Communion. That is why the United States Catholic bishops say:
“FOR OUR FELLOW CHRISTIANS: We welcome [you] to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21). Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion…”
Eucharistic Communion means communion with Christ and his Body, the Church. If you are baptized and think you are ready to profess belief in all that the Catholic Church professes, then contact your local parish priest to make a profession of faith and be received into full communion with the Church. Then you can receive Holy Communion too!
Fr. John R. Waiss
Last week we presented what Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church said about receiving Holy Communion. Now let’s unpack the Summary that the Compendium gave us.
To receive Holy Communion, one first needs to “be fully incorporated into the Catholic Church.” That makes perfect sense, since “he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). Being one in spirit means that we believe everything that Jesus Christ teaches us through his Body, the Church. To deny just one of Christ’s moral or doctrinal teachings means that we trust ourselves more than we trust Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we fully understand why these teachings are true, but that we accept them as being revealed to us in Christ through his Body, the Church.
This means that, to receive Holy Communion, we ought to believe in the real presence of the whole Jesus—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharist. It also means that we believe and are living out in our lives all the other teachings, including our obligation to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day and that we respect the sacredness of human sexuality as reserved for marriage that is blessed by the Church and open to life.
When we are baptized we not only acknowledge our faith in Christ and in the Church’s teachings we also become part of God’s family, the Church. We thus become a child of God, Christ’s brother or sister, and temple of the Holy Spirit—becoming one spirit with Christ. With the Church we too need to be committed to the poor, as Pope Francis reminds us: “When we take and eat that Bread, we are associated into the life of Jesus, we enter into communion with Him, we commit to achieve communion among ourselves, to transform our life into a gift, especially to the poorest” (Angelus, June 7, 2015; also see CCC 1397).
Receiving Christ Worthily
As the Compendium continues: “To receive Holy Communion one must… be in the state of grace, that is, not conscious of being in mortal sin. Anyone who is conscious of having committed a grave sin must first receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before going to Communion.” Living in grace means living in union with Jesus Christ; a grave or mortal sin “kills” that relationship. This could be marital infidelity or just missing Holy Mass on Sundays or on Holy Days of obligation without due cause. Were that true for us, then one needs to receive sacramental absolution before going to Holy Communion. As we heard from St. Paul: “Whoever… eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord,” which would be an even more grievous sin, something like Judas’ betrayal.
The state of grace is the state of spiritual cleanliness, of being clothed with the Holy Spirit. Our physical state should reflect the interior beauty and cleanliness, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (CCC 1387).
We also must make a small sacrifice to unite ourselves to our Lord’s Sacrifice, which means to fast for at least one hour before receiving Communion: “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church” (CCC 1387). If it has been less than an hour since we last ate—even if just 55 minutes—then we make a spiritual communion and don’t go up to receive our Lord. This shows that we don’t take Holy Communion for granted.
Fr. John R. Waiss
As the Readings at Mass have turn toward the Eucharist, let’s turn our attention to a very important question:
Who Should Receive Holy Communion?
The more one learns about the Sacrament of Love, the Holy Eucharist, the
more one wants to receive Holy Communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Holy Communion increases one’s union with Jesus, forgives venial sins, preserves one from grave sins, and reinforces the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church (cf. CCC 1416).
Who wouldn’t want to increase her/his union with Christ and with the Church and other benefits of receiving Holy Communion? When should I NOT receive Holy Communion? What are the proper dispositions for obtaining these benefits?
What does Jesus say?
Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper when he took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26 and parallel). This doesn’t say anything explicit about who should not receive Holy Communion. Yet earlier he did give us the parable of the Great Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14). In this parable, the great King—God—notices a man without the proper wedding garment; the man was not prepared—spiritually or physically—for the greatness of the celebration. The unprepared man was cast into the outer darkness, where men weep and gnash their teeth—i.e., Hell! This teaches us that only those who are prepared to benefit from receiving Holy Communion should do so.
Even during the Last Supper, as Jesus handed Judas a morsel from the Eucharistic table and “Satan entered into” him (John 13:27). Judas then immediately left that little ‘church,’ “and it was night” (John 13:30). Our Lord also said of his betrayer: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21). If we were to betray Jesus by receiving him unworthily in Holy Communion like Judas did, would He say this of us?
This is why, after describing the Last Supper, St. Paul warns us: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment [damnation] upon himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27,29).
What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say?
The Catechism quotes the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which teaches us to pray:
“O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas’ kiss. But like the good thief I cry, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (in CCC 1386).
This reminds us how every Mass links us to the Last Supper and Christ’s passion and death on the Cross. We should try to imitate the good thief who acknowledged that he merited death for his “mortal” sins (Luke 23:41) and then be able to receive from Jesus Christ absolution with the promise of Paradise.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church then explains the necessary proper dispositions to benefit from receiving Holy Communion:
“To receive Holy Communion one must be fully incorporated into the Catholic Church and be in the state of grace, that is, not conscious of being in mortal sin. Anyone who is conscious of having committed a grave sin must first receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before going to Communion. Also important for those receiving Holy Communion are a spirit of recollection and prayer, observance of the
fast prescribed by the Church, and an appropriate disposition of the body
(gestures and dress) as a sign of respect for Christ” (CCCC 291).
Next week we will unpack this point of the Compendium a bit more.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Many ask about why the parish is called “St. Mary of the Angels” and not “Queen of the Angels” or “Our Lady of the Angels”?
The name “St. Mary of the Angels” goes back to a little chapel on the outskirts of Assisi called Santa Maria degli Angeli—St. Mary of the Angels— rebuilt by St. Francis. According to local accounts, the church dates back to 364 when Pope Liberius erected this chapel for the Hermits of Josephat. In 516 the Benedictines took possession of the chapel but by the time of St. Francis it was in severe disrepair.
Before founding the Franciscan Order, St. Francis had a vision while praying in the chapel of San Damiano in Assisi. In the vision, the image of the crucified Christ came alive and said: “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” His initial thought was that Jesus was referring to the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli. So, to his father’s chagrin, he sold his horse and some other items and restored the church—our St. Mary of the Angels was also in disrepair and closed, only to be entrusted to priests of Opus Dei in 1991 and then restored with the help of many… there seems to be an interesting pattern here.
It was in the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels that St. Francis discerned his vocation and began the Franciscan order. The Benedictines entrusted the chapel to St. Francis to build the mother house of his new foundation. This was where St. Francis received the first vocations to the Friars Minor and St. Clare to found the Poor Clares. And in St. Mary of the Angels is also where St. Francis died in 1226.
St. Francis had another vision in 1216. After experiencing a strong carnal temptation one night, St. Francis jumped into a thorny bush outside his cell. As he landed in the bush it sprouted beautiful roses without thorns. Two angels then took him to the little chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary enveloped in light and sitting on thrones and surrounded by numerous angels (this vision is portrayed behind the high altar of our church). Jesus then asked St. Francis what reward he wanted for his heroic act, to which he answered: “An indulgence for anyone who enters into this chapel, repents and confesses his sins.” As Pope Benedict XVI described:
“Today we are contemplating St Francis of Assisi’s ardent love for the salvation of souls, which every priest must always foster. In fact today is the feast of the ‘Pardon of Assisi,’ which St Francis obtained from Pope Honorius III in the year 1216, after having a vision while he was praying in the little church of the Portiuncula. Jesus appeared to him in his glory, with the Virgin Mary on his right and surrounded by many Angels. They asked him to express a wish and Francis implored a ‘full and generous pardon’ for all those who would visit that church who ‘repented and confessed their sins.’ Having received papal approval, the Saint did not wait for any written document but hastened to Assisi and when he reached the Portiuncula announced the good news: ‘Friends, the Lord wants to have us all in Heaven!’ Since then, from noon on 1 August to midnight on the second, it has been possible to obtain, on the usual conditions, a Plenary Indulgence, also for the dead, on visiting a parish church or a Franciscan one” (Angelus Message, August 2, 2009)
Our church has a wonderful name and link to mercy. Let’s prepare for the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, beginning December 8, encouraging many souls to take advantage of this full and generous pardon in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we offer so abundantly here at St. Mary of the Angels.
Fr. John R. Waiss