Last weekend we celebrated First Holy Communions for 44 young members of our parish. First Communions are always one of the best days of the year. As the priest celebrant, I had the special privilege of seeing them approach the sanctuary with deep reverence, and receive the Most Blessed Sacrament with obvious faith. It was an important reminder to me of the reality of what I do as a priest at Mass. For me, any temptation to be casual about offering Mass is dispelled at the sight of the devotion with which First Communicants receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.With this experience fresh in our minds, it might be a good time to consider how we receive the Eucharist.
There are two ways in which one may receive Communion. The traditional way, which remains normative, is to receive on the tongue. One of the advantages of reception of Communion on the tongue is that it greatly reduces the possibility of the Host falling to the ground. It is also easier for the one who is distributing the Eucharist to confirm that the Host has been consumed, protecting against the possibility of profanation or desecration. The second way that one may receive the Eucharist is on the hand. Though not normative, it is permitted and allowed by the Church and has become a common practice in many places. In the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem gave a helpful instruction on how to receive the Eucharist in the hand with reverence. He explains that one should “make your left hand a throne for your right as for that which is to receive a king. And having hollowed your palm, receive the body of Christ, saying over it, ‘Amen.’” In light of that instruction, when one approaches to receive on the hand, it is important to extend two hands, one supporting the other. After receiving the Host, one should use the bottom hand to pick up the Host very carefully and consume the Host in view of the minister before moving to return to the pew. If you’re using your arms to carry something (or someone), you should be prepared to receive on the tongue in order to avoid the possibility of dropping the Host.
We should also be properly disposed inwardly when receiving the Eucharist, having observed the one hour fast prior to Communion, as well as being in a state of grace. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul writes: “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. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11). If it’s been a long time since you went to confession, or if you have been out of the habit of practicing the faith for any period of time, or if you are aware of any serious sin on your conscience, I would urge you to go to confession before receiving the Eucharist again so that you might do so worthily and benefit from the graces of the Sacrament. There are pamphlets available in our churches that provide helpful guidance on how to go to confession, and your parish priests are very nice confessors!
As we consider our own habits of receiving the Eucharist, we might contemplate the fact that last weekend’s First Communions took place on May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the beginning of the month dedicated to Mary. Our Lady was the first to receive the Body of Christ when she consented to be Our Savior’s mother in response to the message of the angel. The second person to receive the Body of Christ was St. Joseph, the only other person present the night of Our Lord’s birth. One can only imagine the care with which Joseph took the newborn Christ into his arms, gazing down in awe upon the shivering flesh of God Incarnate. When we see the devotion of the children at First Communion, and we reflect on the way Our Lady and St Joseph received the tiny body of Christ, we begin to understand the wisdom behind the Church’s instructions and guidelines. They help us to remember the significance of what we do when we receive the Eucharist, and Who it is that comes to us at Mass under the appearance of bread and wine. May we receive Him every time as though it were our first time.