Exterior Disposition to Receive the Eucharist

by Father Michael Clawson on July 02, 2023

This week's article is the follow-up to last week’s article on interior disposition to receive the Eucharist, and this week’s will focus on our exterior disposition (our physical reception) of the Eucharist. Talking about how someone should or shouldn’t receive Holy Communion can be a touchy subject at times, but like in all areas of life, talking about difficult things is necessary and healthy. Part of my role in the parish is to help spiritually guide parishioners, especially in the liturgy. I hope this article will help people discern how God calls them to receive the Eucharist as reverently as possible and with proper devotion. The Catholic Church gives us great clarity about the correct ways to receive the Eucharist and how we should prepare ourselves. Pope Paul VI said every Catholic in good standing has a Right (in the legal sense) to receive Holy Communion either standing or kneeling and either on the tongue or in the hand. Both emphasize different things; receiving communion on the tongue emphasizes our childlike dependence on God while receiving the Eucharist in the hand focuses on our Christian dignity as a member of the mystical body of Christ and should increase our faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.

I’m sure people have noticed I have occasionally stopped distributing communion and followed someone up one of the aisles. This is because several people had walked away while still holding the Eucharist and did not consume the Eucharist immediately when they received it. Whatever the reason for doing this, it is problematic and concerning. 

Again this can be a sensitive topic because of how intimate this moment is with our Lord, and I don’t mean to condemn anyone, but I think clarity on this is essential. The Church herself says: “The most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand. The history of the liturgy, however, makes clear that rather early on a process took place to change this practice. From the time of the Fathers of the Church, a tendency was born and consolidated whereby distribution of Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is two-fold: a) first, to avoid, as much as possible, the dropping of Eucharistic particles; b) second, to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” The Church, when it speaks, always lists things in order of preference, with the ideal and most desirable option being first and subsequent options being inferior to the first. When it speaks about how the faithful should receive Holy Communion, the Church continues to list the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue first and, therefore, most desirable, with receiving Holy Communion in the hand as the second option. 

Pope Paul VI, who was the Pope who permitted people to receive the Eucharist in the hand, also recognized these potential dangers and gave several reasons why people should continue receiving Holy Communion on the tongue. Most importantly, it expresses the reverence that we must all show towards the Eucharist as the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ truly present before us. It also conveys that the host is no longer ordinary bread, which we would feed ourselves with, but is supernatural bread fed to us by the Lord. Another reason Paul VI gave is that it shows the humility we must have when given such a great gift. None of us deserve the Eucharist's gift and must manifest a necessary sense of humility. The last two reasons Pope Paul VI gave were that by only distributing Holy Communion on the tongue, it was less likely that someone would be able to steal the Eucharist or that any profanation would be committed against it. All of these together help to reinforce the belief in the Eucharist. It was also the opinion of the Vatican and the Holy Father that receiving Holy Communion in the hand could lead to the deterioration of this belief, and there is no question that this worry has become a reality since, sadly, 70% of Catholics do not believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ truly present in the host. 

If someone should choose to receive Holy Communion in the hand, the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, the document of guidelines about how the Mass is to be celebrated, says with extreme clarity in paragraph 161: “As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes the whole of it.” Priests, Deacons, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are not supposed to give the Eucharist to the next person in line until they see the person who just received the Eucharist consume it in its entirety. 

In the same vein, the document Redemptionis Sacramentum says this: “[92.] at his choice, [178] if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.” 

To sum this up into two points, 1) I hope this encourages you to consider why you receive the Eucharist either in the hand or on the tongue and reflect on how you can receive Him as reverently as possible. 2) If you choose to receive the Eucharist in the hand, please remember you must consume Him immediately. Do not step to the side or start walking away until you consume the Eucharist. I know this may sound harsh or come off as aggressive, but that’s not my intention, and I simply wish to be transparent in what I say and speak with clarity. The Eucharist is the heart of the Church and must be at the center of our lives. I hope that this article will help to deepen, interiorly and exteriorly, our love and devotion for the Eucharist. 

Fr. Clawson


 1 https://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/details/ns_lit_doc_20091117_comunione_en.html

 2 https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/general-instruction-of-the-roman-missal/girm-chapter-4

 3 Redemptionis Sacramentum, Congregation of Divine Worship, paragraph 92, 3/25/2004.



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