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  • Writer's pictureMichael Orange

How to Receive the Eucharist

I found this great article by Father Adrian J. Parcher O.S.B which talks about the lack of the sense of reverence, dignity, and awe that is lacking in modern liturgy. Take time to read and pray how you receive our Lord.

“We have the adage "Familiarity breeds contempt." Not that we have contempt for the Eucharist, but we receive it so often that we can become sloppy.

If you were to ask me what two dispositions are absolutely necessary to approach the table of the Lord, I would say without hesitation that the first is faith — deep belief in our Lord who is truly present, body and soul, humanity and divinity who becomes present at the words of consecration and who comes into our lives, into our very beings, assimilates us into himself, through the reception of the Eucharist That is whom we are receiving. We celebrate what Jesus enacted at the Last Supper and on Calvary. We represent that act to the Father and bring its benefits upon ourselves.

The Eucharist like all the great mysteries of our faith, is not something that one can explain rationally. How can Jesus, how can God, be contained in what appears to be a small wafer of bread? But that's our strong belief, that Jesus is truly present on our altars. Once we have received him in the Eucharist, he is present in our very persons, in our bodies. We believe that by the reception of the Eucharist we become tabernacles, with our Lord contained within our very selves. That is a marvelous mystery, and that's the first quality that we have to come with, that deep awareness, that deep faith, that deep belief. That's what really makes Catholics Catholic. Take away the Eucharist, and we're like everyone else.

There's no difference. I think it was one of the French revolutionaries who said, "If I truly believed what the Church wants me to believe, that Christ truly becomes present on the altar at the moment of consecration, I would crawl on my belly. That is how deep my faith and my humility would be."

Now we certainly don't expect anyone to crawl, but there has to be that depth of faith. Out of that faith there has to come a devotion. You know each of us is baptized into the priesthood of Jesus, and one of the ways in which ordinary baptized Catholics exercise that priesthood is by receiving Holy Communion. That is the exercise of a power we have from Christ. It's an act of worship and so we do it. We come with devotion, we come with humility. We come — how should I put it? — with great reverence and respect. I think that's what many people complain about in our modern liturgy, the fact that the sense of reverence, of dignity, of awe, has disappeared. But that's more in our disposition than in anything else.

If you are going to receive on the tongue, you should keep certain things in mind. First, the head should be bent back slightly, and the head should be held erect, but kind of tilted back. The tongue should come out over the bottom teeth, equal with the bottom lip, so that the priest has someplace to put the host. Sometimes people come up with their teeth clenched, and you wonder, "How am I going to get our Lord into that mouth?"

There are certain things that we priests talk about among ourselves (I'm telling the tricks of the trade now), comments we make about certain kinds of communicants. We say, "That one was a snapping turtle," because he closes his mouth so quickly that the priest is afraid his fingers are going to be cut off by the teeth. You look down sometimes and wonder, "Has blood been drawn?" Many a time, I've had the scar of the teeth on my knuckles. There are also the plungers; they sort of leap forward. Or you have the toe dancers, who come up on their toes, and you never know where they're going to light. Others receive on the run; they don't stand squarely in front of you but they stand as if they can't wait to get away. Come straight forward, face the priest, and don't be too far away, because it’s awfully difficult at times to reach.

If you're going to receive in the hand, the best way is to put one hand down and put the other hand on top of it and make, as Tertullian used to say, a kind of throne for the Lord. When the priest puts the Host on your hand, you say, "Amen." Take a step or two to the side to make way for the next communicant, then receive our Lord. Communion should not be received on the run, as you're walking back to your place; it should be consumed before you leave the area below the altar.

I would like to remind people to indicate clearly how they wish to receive. Sometimes communicants come up with their hands out and their mouths open, and the priest doesn't know which way to give the Host. How does this person wish to receive? If you indicate clearly, it's easier. If you're going to receive in the hand, be clear about where the Host should be placed so that it doesn't accidentally fall. By the way, if it should fall on the floor, indicate it to the priest. Sometimes the priest or extraordinary minister doesn't see it. If you're going to kneel for Communion — and it's all right to kneel — remember that, when you rise, you have people behind you. Sometimes those who kneel to receive take a step or two back when they rise. I've seen at times when an older person stands just behind the one who is rising. A person who uses a cane to steady his walk may come close to being knocked over by someone rising up. So remember to rise straight up, thinking about the person right behind you.

It may be kneeling, bowing, crossing oneself or some other act. What is necessary is to receive with reverence and dignity. I don't think there should be any genuflections after receiving Holy Eucharist. I don't mean to sound facetious, but, at that moment, you don't want to genuflect to the tabernacle, because the Lord is within you; you are the tabernacle.

Let me sum up by saying the two main dispositions that we need — faith and devotion. Remember that scene, in the Fourth Gospel, that occurs after the Resurrection. The disciples are out fishing, and the boats are coming toward the shore. Peter, as usual, is completely immersed in what he is doing; he's got his outer clothes off so he can work more easily. The beloved disciple sees someone standing on the shore and says to Peter, "It is the Lord." Peter jumps into the water.

That disposition of John, "It is the Lord" — that's what our faith demands. It is the Lord that we are worshiping. It is the Lord that we are receiving into ourselves. It is the Lord who is giving us in the Eucharist a special way to participate in divine life. It is the Lord who is sanctifying us. That should be the overwhelming disposition with which we approach Holy Communion: "It is the Lord!"

Some great words that we should take to heart and make sure we are very reverent when we receive our Lord!


Deacon Mike


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