Liturgy Matters — Distribution of holy Communion

Dr. Judy Bullock

Dr. Judy Bullock

What is the invitation to holy Communion?

The priest gives the invitation to Communion after the Fraction Rite with its Lamb of God litany. This invitation is expanded in the new Roman Missal, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

Our response to this invitation is an act of faith, voicing the words of the centurion in Luke’s Gospel, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

For this brief exchange we kneel, an appropriate posture to express humility in the presence of God and confidence in God’s mercy to transform us.

How are we to receive holy Communion?

Catholics form a procession to the altar to receive holy Communion.  Processions highlight the importance of ritual actions. The procession to Communion marks our faith journey and gives us a visual image of the church, the Body of Christ, coming to the table of the Lord to be united in Christ.

What is the posture and gesture of reverence for the reception of holy Communion? 

The bishops’ conference in each country has the responsibility of determining the posture and gesture of reverence for the people when they receive holy Communion.

In the United States, the bishops have designated “standing” as the posture. The gesture of reverence for the communicant is a bow of the head before receiving the Sacred Host and, once more, before receiving the Precious Blood.  In addition to these physical actions, communicants also engage in a dialogue with the Communion minister, declaring their faith with an “Amen” to the minister’s proclamation of “the Body of Christ” and of “the Blood of Christ.”

Communicants have the choice whether to receive the sacred Host in the hand or on the tongue but may only receive the Precious Blood by drinking from the chalice.

Why do we stand during the entire distribution of holy Communion?

One of the reasons we stand during the liturgy is to express reverence. We stand for the proclamation of the Gospel in honor of the presence of Jesus Christ in his words, actions and the accounts of his life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Likewise, we stand for the distribution of holy Communion. It is out of profound reverence for the presence of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine and our respect for the other members of the Body of Christ that we stand for the entire period of distribution of holy Communion.

Why do we sing during the distribution of holy Communion?

The directives for music during the distribution of holy Communion shed further light on the nature of this rite. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says in No. 86, that the purpose of singing during the distribution of holy Communion is “to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the union of their voices, to show gladness of heart and to bring out more clearly the ‘communitarian’ character of the procession to receive the Eucharist.”

The Communion song begins when the priest receives Communion and continues until the last person receives.

The directives in the Roman Missal make it clear that the period of distribution of holy Communion is not the time for private prayer but has a completely communitarian nature, a time when we are to be attentive to one another.

However, it is important to remember that there is a time set aside immediately after the last person receives holy Communion for private, individual, silent prayer. This period of silence must be carefully respected.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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