As the church in the Archdiocese of Louisville once again has the opportunity to receive Communion under both forms of the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood, it is good to review how we receive Holy Communion.
The “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” reminds us that the faithful should be aware that when the bread and wine are laid on the altar of sacrifice, we, the faithful, are laid there too.
As the priest gives voice to the great prayer of thanksgiving, the Eucharistic Prayer, we pray that the Holy Spirit will change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and change us into the Body of Christ.
The United States bishops’ “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion” tell us that “the consummation of the Mass is found in Holy Communion, whereby the people purchased for the Father by his beloved Son eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. They are thereby joined together as members of Christ’s mystical Body, sharing the one life of the Spirit. In the great sacrament of the altar, they are joined to Christ Jesus and to one another.”
The “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” states, “Holy Communion has a fuller sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet is the Kingdom of the Father.”
Since 1979 in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Communion under both forms has been the norm for the celebration of all Masses until the pandemic caused the temporary removal of the chalice. We now again can receive under both forms if we choose.
Our immediate preparation to receive Communion begins as we pray the Lord’s Prayer together followed immediately by the Sign of Peace, which more properly signals a reconciliation with our brothers and sisters than a greeting.
Next is the Fraction Rite or breaking of bread, which is the one bread broken for many and the action that echoes the Emmaus story, where the apostles recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
The invitation to Communion and our response of faith concludes the immediate preparation before reception. This invitation, which echoes the words of the centurion to Jesus, “O Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word,” reminds us of God’s love for us as we are about to receive this greatest of gifts.
As we begin distribution of Communion, many things happen simultaneously. Everyone in the assembly stands to show unity of posture, the Communion song begins, the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion come forward and the priest receives communion.
These things happen all at once to help show our unity and oneness in the Body of Christ and to demonstrate that we are attentive to the entire Body of Christ when receiving the Body of Christ. When we individually approach to receive Communion, we do so with reverence. As we stand in front of the minister, we make a simple bow of the head as the minister says, “The Body of Christ” or the “The Blood of Christ.” We respond “Amen,” which professes our belief in the real presence, and we receive Holy Communion.
If we are receiving the Sacred Host in the hand, we make of our hand a throne with one hand over the other. If we are receiving on the tongue, we extend our tongue for the minister to place the Sacred Host on our tongue. As we approach the minister with the chalice, we again make the gesture of reverence and drink from the chalice. Drinking is the only proper way for communicants to receive from the chalice.
After the last person has received Communion, members of the assembly sit or kneel according to their preference for the period of silence in which we thank God for the great gift we have received in the Eucharist. The priest prays the post-Communion prayer, in which he prays for the fruits of the mystery just celebrated.
As we continue this journey through the National Eucharistic Revival, please take the opportunity to reflect on these rituals and how in faith and reverence we receive Holy Communion worthily and well.
Barry Mudd is the associate director of the Office of Worship.