The power to transform
At Mass, the Holy Spirit is sent not only to ‘to transform the bread and wine, already symbols of our lives into the body and blood of Christ’ but also to ‘transform the lives of those who receive the sacrament into the Body of Christ, ever more united with one another in Christ.
(Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland)
Exactly how people receive Holy Communion can differ from country to country. We are expected to observe the practice in England and Wales set out by the Bishops’ Conference and approved by the Church in Rome.
- We should prepare to receive Christ’s Body and Blood by not eating or drinking, except to take water or medicine, for an hour before we receive the sacrament.
- In our parish, on Sundays, Holy Days, or when there is a large congregation, the communion procession is led by the Altar Servers or the people in the side aisles who are closest to the Altar. The procession begins once the Priest has received Communion and we join the procession when the end of it reaches us.
- We should approach the sacrament with dignity and reverence. We are part of a procession and not in a queue.
- As we reach the priest or minister, he or she will hold up a Host and say ‘The Body of Christ’ to which our response is ‘Amen’.
- “…he broke it and gave it to the disciples..” The Host will be given to us in the hand or on the tongue by the priest or minister acting in imitation of Christ at the Last Supper. We should not take the Host from their hand.
- If we receive the Host in our hand, it should be placed in our mouth as we stand before the altar and not as we walk away.
If we wish to receive from the Chalice, the minister, when we stand before them, will say ‘The Blood of Christ’ and we respond ‘Amen’.
- We should accept the Chalice reverently using both hands, take a sip from it and return it to the hands of the minister.
- We should then return to our place in church via the side aisles to make a quiet act of prayer and thanksgiving.
- In some countries, the Host may be dipped in the Precious Blood in the Chalice before it is placed on the tongue. This is only permitted in England and Wales if carried out by the priest or minister of the Eucharist. We do not do this in our parish and you are asked not to do it yourself.
In their document ‘One Bread One Body’, the bishops say:
We are called to be one, and we seek together more urgently than ever before to be one band of pilgrims, united in faith and in love, in holiness and in mission. This makes us feel even more strongly the pain of our divisions, above all at the Eucharist when we are unable to share together as one Body the one Bread of Life.’
(One Bread One Body (76); Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland)
Later, the bishops appeal to Catholics and to our brothers and sisters in other Christian communities to respect the discipline of our church.
We echo that appeal. Anyone who has not made their first communion or is not a member of the Catholic Church is very welcome to receive a blessing, joining the procession and coming forward with their arms crossed on their breast.
Bread and Wine
The Church teaches that Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds in the forms of bread and wine.
The Bishops of England and Wales encourage people to receive Communion under both forms, however, Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under one form and if we receive only under the form of bread or under the form of wine we are in no way deprived of sacramental grace.
Receiving the host in the hand
Receiving the host in the hand was the normal practice in the early years of the church as we see in the writing of Cyril of Jerusalem. The change to receiving on the tongue came in the late 8th century.
Make your left hand a throne for your right, since your right hand is about to welcome a king. Cup your palm and receive in it Christ’s body, saying in response ‘Amen’. After partaking of Christ’s body, go to receive the chalice of his blood… Bow your head and say ‘Amen’ to show your homage and reverence and sanctify yourself by partaking also of Christ’s blood.
(Cyril of Jerusalem – 4th century)