Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mass Chat: The Norms for Holy Communion in the United States.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do...

I do wish that my parish used the Communion rail and had clergy distributing the sacrament, but we process forward in lines, receive Holy Communion standing and in the hand.  Certainly people may receive on the tongue, but the practice at my parish is in the hand.  First Communicants are formed this way, and that is the custom.  I accept that and I am fine with that.  If I received from the priest I'd receive on the tongue, but since we have lay ministers handling the Blessed Sacrament, my experience is they tend to fumble when someone sticks out his tongue, and so receiving in the hand is less complicated. 

When Communion in the hand was first permitted, I was thrilled to actually touch with my hands the Sacred Species... I mentioned before how, at every Communion I continue to remind myself of what the Apostle writes in 1 John 1:1 ... "which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and our hands have handled, the Word of life..."  Though I suppose I would prefer to receive kneeling and on the tongue, I do not wish to 'singularize' myself, and disrupt the flow, as it were.  Like I said, I'm just fine with receiving in the hand.  After consuming the host, I check my hands for particles, "cherishing even the dust" [Ps. 101: 15] - although I never find any.  I remain quite awhile in thanksgiving after Mass, grateful to be able to receive Holy Communion at all - and grateful for the grace to attend Mass.  I do not communicate every day, so when I do, I am grateful and try to prolong my prayer - even amidst the noise and chatter after Mass.  It becomes a wall of white noise and is not a hindrance in the least.  When I'm interrupted by someone, I am happy to speak to them and then go back to my thanksgiving.

Once again, I know I'm out of step with many Catholic bloggers who see Communion in the hand as an abuse.  I love their devotion and would be happy if kneeling and reception on the tongue was the norm - but reception in the hand is permitted, and there is nothing wrong with that.  For the sake of those who do follow the established norms, I hope they will know they are certainly not committing a sin or sacrilege, or receiving unworthily in the hand while standing.  The prayer before Communion, "O Lord, I am not worthy..." makes it clear none of us are worthy, nevertheless one is free to receive in the hand or on the tongue.  

To help convince you of this, I refer you to Deacon Kandra who posted on the updated Norms from the GIRM. I'll note the essential part here, and if you are interested, you can finish reading at his blog. 
What does the Missal say about the posture of the faithful when receiving Holy Communion? What about Communion in the hand?

Both of these questions are covered in no. 160 of the GIRM. It states clearly there that the “norm” established for the United States for reception of Holy Communion is standing. In the 2003 GIRM, it stated that no one should be refused Communion if they kneel, but that afterward they should be properly catechized. In the current edition, the exhortation to catechesis is removed and the exception to the norm of standing is left to the discretion of the faithful: “unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling.” [emphasis mine] The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, no. 91, is then cited.

With regard to receiving Communion in the hand, there is a significant development from the 1985 GIRM to the 2003/2011 edition. Whereas in 1985, Communion in the hand was granted by virtue of an indult received in 1977, in the Roman Missal, Third Edition, Communion in the hand is now ordinary liturgical law for the United States, [emphasis mine] though every communicant retains the equal right of receiving on the tongue. - Deacon's Bench

Personal piety not withstanding, when in doubt, check with your parish priest, the chancery and or the Bishops' Conference of your country for the norms and standards.

As for me, I am just fine with receiving Communion in the hand.

Mass Chat Bonus:

I almost forgot.  After Communion an older lady came by to talk - she had been injured and not doing to well and so she wanted to let me know she was doing better.  I try not to ask questions of people, but I couldn't help ask if she was able to get around okay and she told me, "My room-mate helps me."

I froze.  "Room-mate!"  I thought.... "Gay - she must be gay!"



  1. I know who you can call at the chancery who would assure you that everyone should receive on the tongue while kneeling.

    The thing about roommates in this economy is that people rent out rooms because they need the money. Her house could be underwater or she could have a roommate to fend off foreclosure. If she travels she may want someone around to host toga parties in her absence.

  2. You know I'm kidding about the elderly woman being gay.

    This post is directed especially towards ordinary Catholics and perhaps those troubled by scruples who are made to feel less Catholic or evil because they receive Holy Communion according the the norms established by the Bishop's conference of the United States.

  3. I was just sharing with you more charitable alternatives to assuming her gay roommate moved in for reasons of...gayness.

    We anticipate altar rails being used. I don't know if it's paranoia, but Father used the altar rails at his last parish...

  4. "In the 2003 GIRM, it stated that no one should be refused Communion if they kneel, but that afterward they should be properly catechized."

    I always receive kneeling and from a Priest on the tongue. And if the priest, or some deacon, wants to try his hand at catechizing me after Mass, I would welcome the conversation.

  5. Dear Terry,

    I am a parish priest, ordained almost 27 years, a professor of moral theology and spirituality. Based on my own experience in these roles, I must respectfully disagree with your assessment of the practice of Communion in the hand.

    Though the practice of receiving in this manner may be “common usage,” in many parishes particularly in the United States and Canada, this does not mean that it is “best practice.” Of course I do not believe that the ordinary Catholic who receives Communion in this way is committing sacrilege or receiving unworthily by choosing this option. The Church cannot institute or approve “a sin” in accepting such a practice. Devout people, like yourself, have chosen this option as their practice.

    However, I must also note that many – far too many – receive hurriedly and treat the Host in a very ordinary fashion – often due to nerves, a feeling of awkwardness or simply bad catechesis. Priests and people make eye contact, instead of looking with faith at the Eucharist. Priests often distribute the Eucharist in a manner more suited to dealing cards than ministering the greatest encounter of Sacramental Union.

    Children are most often catechized from the time of their First Holy Communion to receive in this fashion. It strikes me that at the age when parents are instructing their little ones about the niceties of table manners and using a knife and fork, that grown-up meals involve manners and ritual, we are unconsciously telling them that Eucharistic Communion is “finger food” – and finger food for children is not special or wonderful – and it is certainly not Mystery. (Part 1)

  6. I do believe that Communion in the hand has contributed greatly to the lack of correct Catholic belief in the Eucharist, a phenomenon that has been evidenced by studies and surveys over and over again. And it has to be admitted that some who propose or impose this method, do so with a very distinct “agenda” about sacraments, priesthood and faith. . . Some older people, devout but confused, thought that the Church’s faith had changed when this practice was introduced. Some have told me recently that our Eucharistic faith is the same as that of Episcopalians and other non-Catholics “since we all receive in the same way.”

    Communion on the tongue expresses the uniqueness of the Catholic Eucharist in a very powerful way; it serves the act of faith and preserves the Otherness and intimacy of this Greatest of Gifts given us as nourishment. It impresses on us the fact that Grace is given, not “taken,” and that I must approach this Mystery with a childlike wonder. It also impresses on the priest that he too is servant of the Mystery and privileged to participate in his people’s awesome encounter in faith with the Eucharistic Saviour.

    If you feel intimidated by the awkwardness of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who have been badly trained or are trying to impose their own agenda, it is time to speak to your pastor. I have such devout lay people who assist me in my parish; they are well prepared and I am grateful for their assistance and ministry.

    I do not impose Communion on the tongue on anyone; that is not my right and I believe it would in fact adversely affect people’s faith in the Church. But I do encourage and explain when appropriate – and I note that even those who do regularly receive in the hand should sometimes not do so – when hands are dirty, when holding a baby in arms, when only one hand is available, etc. Most people are surprised to hear these things – which says there has been a failure on the part of the catechizing Church. (Part 2)

    1. Dear Father,
      You sound very much like the pastor of my parish, which is a compliment indeed! The children who receive their First Holy Communion in our parish do so kneeling and on the tongue. Whatever option they choose after that is beyond Father's control, but at least he gets them started in the most reverent manner possible.
      Father also does not impose Holy Communion on the tongue to anyone but from time to time, he does preach to us about the beauty of receiving Our Lord in the way that most directly allows the priest to feed us. I received in the hand for the longest time until this particular priest came to our parish and even though it was initially awkward it no longer is.

      Two things I will say, however. One is that it is much easier to receive on the tongue while kneeling than it is when standing and two, that without the use of a paten, the chance of particles being lost is about the same regardless of whether the communicant receives on the tongue or the hand. I attend Mass in both Forms and have occasionally glanced down at the paten at the TLM in astonishment at how many particles it collects.

      What's more, receiving while kneeling seems to eliminate some of the poor practices we see with the Communion queue;namely, the priest calling the communicant by name before saying "The Body of Christ" or, eye contact between the priest and the communicant. There is also a sense of anticipation when one kneels at the altar rail waiting for the priest that is simply lacking in the queue.

      I do not make judgment on those who prefer to receive in the hand. I am simply stating my own observations and preferences.

      God bless

  7. Blessed Mother Teresa, who was herself an authorized Extraordinary Minister, told her Sisters always to receive Communion on the tongue; we know that Blessed John Paul favoured this practice too. Pope Benedict, though justifying the reception of Communion in the hand in one of his interviews with Peter Seewald, nonetheless decided that in practice, all those receiving at his hand should do so kneeling and on the tongue – so that the emphasis was on the Eucharistic Christ, not on the Pope distributing.

    These are all powerful indications for our consideration, I would suggest. I recommend too that you read the wonderful little book by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, “Dominus est – It is the Lord,” available from Newman House. Bishop Schneider is one of the bishops who does not permit Communion in the hand in his diocese (Karaganda, Kazakhstan). His book was originally published by the Vatican Press.

    Finally, Terry, if you would allow me a personal comment, I note that you have written about this subject several times; I think you’re trying to convince yourself of something that you yourself are not completely comfortable with.

    I enjoy your blog immensely and rejoice in your lived Faith and the honesty with which you share your struggles. May your joy in the Eucharistic Christ continue to sustain you and be light for others whom you touch! (Finis)

  8. Thanks very much Father. The fact is that it is permitted and is the norm in the United States. I can't change that, only the Bishops can - or priests such as yourself on the parish level.

    I very much appreciate your contribution to the discussion. Thank you.


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