The Eucharist — Reverence and hospitality guide the Communion line

Sister Francis Dominici Piscatella, a member of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, N.Y., receives Communion during a Mass marking her 110th birthday at the Dominicans’ motherhouse in Amityville April 20, 2023. The supercentenarian is the oldest nun in the United States and is believed to be the second oldest religious in the world. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and clergy are trained for the safekeeping of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

They’re also trained to pastorally address unusual scenarios in the Communion line.

“Hospitality and reverence are the two guiding principles when you’re dealing with weird scenarios,” said Dr. Karen Shadle, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship. “We’ve found hosts in hymnals; sometimes someone takes the host but doesn’t eat it. Or if someone drops the host on the ground, we have to have those guiding principles.”

Reverence, Shadle said, means protecting the Body and Blood from abuse, desecration and theft; it means keeping it safe and making sure it isn’t improperly disposed of.

The principle of hospitality presumes “everyone comes with good intentions,” Shadle said. “We don’t want to embarrass or call people out.”

“You can see how those can be in conflict,” she noted, adding that it’s important to remember: Context matters.

“The Communion line is not time for catechesis,” Shadle said. But ministers can ask whether the person in front of them is Catholic or receiving Communion. 

If the person isn’t receiving, the minister isn’t “supposed to give a blessing, but they can say something like ‘Jesus loves you,’ ” she said. “Just be hospitable and look them in the eye.”

When in doubt, people serving as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should speak with the celebrant following Communion.

“Don’t refuse Communion to anyone who comes earnestly seeking Communion,” Shadle said. “But if a pastoral conversation needs to happen after, that happens after.”

These unusual circumstances are one of the reasons lay people who want to serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion attend a training course offered by the Office of Worship.

The guiding principles of reverence and hospitality aren’t for eucharistic ministers alone, said Barry Mudd, associate director of the Office of Worship. People in the pew can adopt this approach as well.

Mudd said he’s found that when someone receives Communion but doesn’t consume it — instead pocketing it or slipping it into a hymnal — “that kind of thing is a cry for help.”

Usually, he said, “It’s someone who doesn’t think they’re able to receive but don’t want people to know.”

“Don’t refuse Communion to anyone who comes earnestly seeking Communion. But if a pastoral conversation needs to happen after, that happens after.”

Dr. Karen Shadle, director of the Office of Worship

In those situations, Mudd, who conducts many of the archdiocese’s training sessions, reminds folks to be Christ to others.

“Most of the situations are people who are hurting and we can push them away or we can bring them in,” he said. “As Pope Francis says, judgment is not ours to make. We worry about the object, but what gets changed is us. We are changed as a result of the host being changed.”

Communicants should bow their heads before receiving Communion as a sign of reverence. No other gesture — such as the sign of the cross — is necessary. 

And, Mudd said, every Catholic has the call to the ministry of hospitality by living what they proclaimed during Communion. 

“Southern hospitality we do well around here,” he said. “Christian hospitality takes it to a whole new level.” 

Kayla Bennett
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Kayla Bennett
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