Is there one 'right' way to receive Communion?

Q: Recently, at church, someone told me receiving communion in the hand is disrespectful. Is this accurate? How should I receive communion?

A: I’ve gotten this one and variations on it from a few readers – I hope my information helps.

Before we dive into the “how” and the “why” though, I’d like to take a moment and explain why these are important issues and not “nit-picking.”

We call the Eucharist the blessed sacrament. All of our sacraments are amazing, but when we talk about the Eucharist, we are talking about the one from which all the others flow. It is the most potent spiritual medicine available to us. Because of its amazing power and beauty, we are always to use one word above all others in relation to it: reverence. Here’s a pretty powerful passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

“Therefore, whoever eats the body or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:27)

So, with that in mind, how are we to receive? According to the laws of the church, there are two ways we can receive Communion: on the hand or on the tongue. To be clear, both ways of receiving are approved by the church. The folks who told you receiving Communion in the hand is a mortal sin were wrong.

So, if we receive on the hand, how do we do it? Look at this quote from St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “When you approach holy Communion, make the left hand into a throne for the right, which will receive the king.” Pope Paul VI added, “Then, with your lower hand, take the consecrated host and place it in your mouth.” For those who receive Communion on the hand, please be sure and follow this practice. Receiving one-handed or cupping the hand is not the right way to receive.

For those who receive in the mouth, the key is to tilt your head back and extend your tongue so that there is no danger of the host falling. Simply opening your mouth is not safe or sanitary. This practice also is affirmed by our history –  Pope Leo the Great referred to receiving in the mouth when he wrote about the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.

In both cases, focus on being reverent. I’ve seen both Communion-in-the-hand and Communion-in-the-mouth folks approach the Eucharist with tremendous respect and honor; and I’ve seen the opposite as well.

Our posture in approaching the Eucharist needs to be different, as well: We should stand ready – alert and prepared to receive Jesus attentiveness and love in our hearts. Our “Amen” should be loud and clear – a strong affirmation of our communal belief.

I’ve received letters from folks about priests not allowing them to receive Communion on the hand and from folks whose priests do not allow them to receive on the tongue. The priest has no authority to do such a thing on either side. I would suggest you politely share with your priest your concerns and ask him to change his personal rule. If not, then I would follow up with a letter to the bishop.

For those of you who have a strong opinion about how others should receive, I invite you to focus on how you and your family receive. Don’t worry about others. Jesus promised that he would guide us as a church and we need to cling to those words. It’s not our duty to save the church, but to let Jesus save us through it.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence!