The Proper Way to Receive the Eucharist
One of the most often overlooked parts of the Divine Liturgy is the way in which a person receives the Body and Blood of Christ at the time of the distribution of the Eucharistic elements. People new to liturgical worship will usually spend a great deal of time thinking about other aspects of the liturgy such as when to genuflect or when to cross themselves, but think that receiving the Eucharistic elements will come naturally. Even those who have regularly participated in liturgical worship, do not really think about the proper way to receive communion. After all, we think, everyone knows how to eat and drink. So, this part of the liturgy is a no brainer, right?
However, just like every other aspect of the liturgy, there is a proper way and improper way to receive the Body and Blood. This is because what we are receiving in the Sacrament is sacred, and in order to protect the sanctity of the Sacrament, we have to consider the proper way to receive the Eucharist. So, let us do that now.
Receiving the Body of Christ
Once the priest has extended the invitation to receive Christ in the Eucharistic elements, the sacred choreography begins (this is a sacred moment and intimate moment shared with God, the communicant, and the priest/server). The first movement of the choreography is to step out into the aisle and make a sign of reverence. This can be done by either genuflecting or making a slight bow toward the altar and tabernacle (which houses the Body and Blood of Christ). Next, the communicant processes with “order and decency” upward out of the Nave and into the Chancel. If one is not carrying a child, or a hymnal or a prayer book in his or her hand, it is appropriate to join the hands in front of oneself in a prayerful position (traditionally over the heart) as the communicant processes forward. Once at the altar rail which separates the Sanctuary from the rest of the church building, the communicant kneels in reverence to receive the Body and Blood of Christ (it is also appropriate to stand to receive communion if a person is unable to kneel).
Before receiving the Host, the priest will hold up the Host over the communicant and say, “The Body of Christ . . .” and the communicate answers, “Amen.” “Amen is an Aramaic word that means, “So be it” or “I agree” or “I believe.” In other words, by saying “Amen” to the priest’s words, the communicant is saying that he or she believes that this is the Body of Christ which he or she is about to receive in the Host.
At this point, there are two ways in which a person can receive the Body of Christ – either in the hand or on the tongue. If a person is to receive in the hand, here are some important things one needs to know. The communicant should extended his or her hands at head level with one hand cupped into the other hand (traditionally this has been the right hand cupped in the left hand). The idea here is to make a “throne for the Lord” to be placed. St Cyril of Jerusalem in the 4th century offered a beautiful picture on the mode of receiving communion in the hand when he said, “When you approach, do not go stretching out your open hands or having your fingers spread out, but make the left hand into a throne for the right which shall receive the King.”
Once the priest has placed the Host on the hand, one should secure it with the thumb of the bottom hand (normally the left) and raise the cupped hands to one’s mouth directly. It is generally not appropriate to take the Host out of one’s hand with the other hand and place it in one’s mouth (although many today receive the Host in this way). The reason for not doing this is because the Host has become the Body of Christ after the consecration and it is to be handled with care in such a way that not particles of the Host are dropped. Again a quote from St. Cyril of Jerusalem is applicable here. He states, “Be careful that no particles fall, for what you would lose would be to you as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with that which is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that not particles are lost?”
Likewise, if a person is to receive on the tongue, one should keep certain things in mind. The communicant’s head should be bent slightly back, 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 some place to put the Host. Then open the mouth as wide as possible by lowering the lower jaw.
In the case that the Host is dropped before being consumed, the priest, deacon or Lay Eucharistic Minister will picked it up and consume the Host and the communicant will be given a new Host. Sometimes those distributing communion will not realize that the Host has been dropped. If this is the case, the communicant should inform either the priest, deacon, or Lay Eucharistic Minister that the Host has been dropped.
Receiving the Blood of Christ
After receiving the Host, the communicant will next be administered the Blood of Christ. This is the next step in the divine choreography. The server will hold the chalice in front of the communicant and say, “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” and the communicant responds “Amen” (just like when the communicant received the Sacred Host).
At this point, the communicant’s head should be erect. The server will then bring the chalice to the communicant’s mouth while holding the pivot in the middle of the chalice. The communicant should help guide the chalice to his or her lips by raising the bottom of the chalice. Once the communicant has received the Blood, he or she should begin to lower the hand holding the bottom of the chalice. This will help the server know when the communicant has received the Sacrament. The communicant is not allowed to take the chalice by himself or herself when receiving the Blood.
The word intinction comes from the Latin root intinctio which means to dip. In the Divine Liturgy, it refers to the practice of dipping the Host into the wine when receiving the Eucharist. The proper way to receive by intinction is to leave the Host in one’s cupped hand. The chalice bearer will then take the Host from the person’s hand and dip it in the chalice and place it on the communicant’s tongue. The communicant is not allowed to dip the Host into the chalice himself or herself or receive the intincted Host in his or her hands. However, please note, that intinction is viewed as a mode of communication to be used in cases of communicable diseases, infirmity, etc. It is not sanctioned as a normal practice in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
Once the communicant has received the body and blood of Christ, the final step in the divine choreography begins as the communicant rises and reverences the altar (done by making a slight bow). He or she then returns to the pew in the Nave by way of the side aisle. It is then appropriate to either sit or kneel and in silent prayer to thank God for the gift of his Son in the Most Holy Sacrament.
General Facts about Receiving:
**It is appropriate for the communicant to sign himself or herself after receiving each element in the Eucharist in symbolic recognition that he or she has just received the Body and Blood of Christ.
**To receive the Eucharist in one kind (i.e., Bread or Wine) is to receive in both kinds. However, ancient tradition and Scripture would indicate that reception in both kinds is normative.
**The Host and the wine should be fully consumed before leaving the altar.
**For ladies wearing lipstick, it is appropriate to blot their lips before receiving communion.
**If a person does not wish to receive communion, he or she may come to the altar rail to receive a blessing only. This is indicated by crossing arms over the chest.
**For Anglicans, the various manual gestures are optional (although they do involve more of one’s full being in the worship). The key is to approach and leave the altar with reverence (not in a rushed or hurried manner).
**Do not feel obligated to receive Holy Communion just because it appears everyone around you is receiving. Receive only if you are properly disposed morally and spiritually to do so. If a person is not prepared to receive Holy Communion, he or she should simply remain at his or her place in the pew. That is perfectly acceptable, and no one will judge you or think twice about it.
**Do not chew gum in church. There should be nothing in a person’s mouth when he or she receives Holy Communion.
**Do not receive the Sacred Host in the hand by extending only one of your hands. Two free hands are necessary for receiving the Sacred Host – one hand in which to cup the other hand. If a person is carrying a child, or a hymnal or a prayer book in his or her hands, that person should receive the Sacred Host on the tongue.
**An important liturgical principle is that the communicant “receives” rather than “takes” Holy Communion from the minister. This is the reason that the priest places the Host either in the communicant’s hand or on his or her tongue and the communicant does not take the chalice out of the chalice bearer’s hands.
**All Christians baptized with water in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are affectionately invited to receive the Sacrament.
(Sources: “Receiving Holy Communion” by Fr. William Saunders; “How to Receive Holy Communion” by Fr. Walter Tappe; “Instructions of Receiving Holy Communion with Proper Reverence” St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Pensacola, Florida; and The Diocesan Customary of The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth)