Churches will be crowded soon with more people heading to Mass who don’t regularly attend. We’ll all be seeing some unfamiliar faces in the pews. And I know I’ll be seeing people in the Communion line I’ve never seen before; some will be casual Christmas-and-Easter Catholics, some will be visitors from out of town. And inevitably, I know I’ll be seeing people receive the sacrament in some creative ways.
(In my parish, we stopped distributing the Precious Blood a couple years ago, during one of our big flu outbreaks, and the practice was never restored.)
People will debate this until the Second Coming, but the fact remains: reverent reception of the Body of Christ goes far beyond kneeling vs. standing or tongue vs. hand. I’ve seen people receive reverently and irreverently in every way imaginable. Attitude is everything. Catechesis matters. So does local custom.
But whatever you do, don’t do this:
- Don’t hold out your your hand if you don’t want to receive in the hand. This happened to me recently. The guy in the communion line nearly fell over trying to bend down and get the host with his mouth before it landed on his hand. I had to stop him. “What do you want to do?,” I asked. He sheepishly grinned and held out his hand. “Sorry,” he whispered.
- If you receive in the hand, no gloves.
- If you receive on the tongue, no biting. Please.
- No mints or lozenges during Mass. I’ve given communion to people on the tongue and couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be colorful stains left by cough drops.
- Remember: you are receiving communion, not taking it. Don’t reach up and grab the host. (A priest I know refers to these communicants as “The Body Snatchers.”)
- While in line, reflect on what you are doing and why—and whom you are about to receive.
- Make yourself open to awe. Let’s face it: this is awesome.
- Consume the Body of Christ then and there. Don’t grab and go. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve had to stop because they walked away with the host before consuming it.
- Allow yourself to be changed—and to grow in grace. A familiar hymn says “we become what we receive.” Think about that. (Again: this is awesome.)
- Never forget: People died so we could do this. Others around the world are dying for doing it. Still more yearn to be able to do it and, for any number of reasons, can’t. This can’t be overstated: what we receive is a miracle and a gift. We should never take it casually, ever. Eucharist, after all, means “thanksgiving.” So give thanks—and give glory to The One who has made this humbling gift of grace possible.
Finally: No matter how you receive, receive what has been given with wonder and love and joy. At the moment we receive communion, we welcome Christ into our world—just as Mary, the shepherds and the wise men did. The same feelings that warmed that stable in Bethlehem all those centuries ago should illuminate our hearts every time we welcome Christ here and now.
Every Mass is Calvary. But every reception of the Eucharist is, in a sense, Bethlehem: the “house of bread,” the place where God enters into our lives, our history, our hearts, our bodies. We should cherish that when we step forward to receive Communion. As God first visited the world and dwelled among us as a baby, so he comes to us now, in a fragile and humble piece of bread.
Behold the Lamb of God!
O come, let us adore!
Photo: Creative Commons