The Eucharist Teaching #3: Receiving is a Holy Procedure
As we talk about receiving the Eucharist, keep in mind that being reverent and being formal are not the same. We’re trying to raise the level of reverence, not formality.
Receiving the Eucharist at Mass actually starts with a procession. You’re not in a Communion line; you’re in a religious procession. People who are simply standing in line for something often pass the time striking up conversations with other people in line or with people near them. “Hey, good to see you! How are the kids? Still coming over today?” That happens all the time in the Communion procession. But what if that happened in one of the other processions at Mass, say, the procession with the gifts (the bread, the wine, and the offerings). If the people in the procession with the gifts were to stop in the main aisle whenever they saw someone they knew for chitchat and visiting, we would think it odd, wouldn’t we?
So if you don’t do that, what DO you do in a religious procession? You sing. No matter which Communion song we’re using, I bet most people know the refrain by heart, and maybe even some of the verses. The Communion song shows that the procession to receive the Eucharist is communitarian in character. Those aren’t my words; that line is right out of Church documents.
Okay. Receiving Communion in the hand. This is actually the oldest form of receiving the Eucharist, dating back in Church documents to the late 300’s. Those joining the Church then were told: “Using your left hand, make a throne for your right.” In other words, one hand goes on top of the other. Don’t put your hands side by side, and if you have both hands free, please don’t reach up and “take” the Eucharist. In the late 300’s the reason you made a throne for your right hand is because of what we say in the Nicene Creed. According to the Creed, where is the Lord Jesus Christ seated? At the right hand. And now it all makes sense. These days, it’s perfectly fine to place either hand on top of the other. Flat.
Receiving on the tongue. This is trickier than many people think. First, don’t try to “catch” the Host with your teeth and tongue as we’re giving it to you. That makes it very difficult. Remember how those who receive in the hand should not be reaching up to “take” Communion? The same thing applies here. Simply put your tongue out, farther than your teeth (like in the doctor’s office) then just stay still. Don’t move. Now we have a place to put the Eucharist. And second, if you receive on the tongue, you still say “Amen” before you receive, not after.
Finally, don’t add extra words. For those receiving the Eucharist, don’t say “thank you.” At no point in the Mass do you or I say “thank you” to each other, whether I’m invoking God’s blessings upon you, or that the peace of the Lord will be with you always, there’s no “Thank you.” At Mass, we operate on the level of faith, not manners. In fact, saying “Thank you” makes the power of our rituals weaker, not stronger. So save “thank you” for the kitchen table, and buffet lines, and people who pass you the butter. The Mass operates on the level of faith from start to finish. For those distributing the Eucharist, don’t say the person’s name. That only highlights the people you don’t know at a moment when there are supposed to be no strangers, only disciples. Just smile (this is a joyful encounter, with the Risen Lord) look them in right in the eyes, and then wait for their response. This is an exchange of faith, of the highest order.