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February 21, 2012

Why I Kneel to Receive the Eucharist

As you most likely know if you're a Catholic (especially if you've been to Mass this Liturgical year) there's a new translation that we are all adapting to.  With respect to the reception of Communion, there used to be some language in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) that made it seem as though it were in the very least strange, if not outright wrong to kneel to receive Holy Communion.  I found this blog post to discuss what has changed with regard to the GIRM and the gentler language around this particular point of emphasis.

Kneeling has always been the Universal Church's posture for the reception of Holy Communion.  An exception was made in the United States insofar as in our country, it is "the norm" to receive while standing.  The fact that the exception is spelled out as such lends an understanding to the fact that the norm EVERYWHERE ELSE outside of the United States is not standing.  Americans have this funny knack of thinking the way we do something is the way EVERYONE in the world does something.

I didn't always kneel to receive Holy Communion.  As a matter of fact, I never had the option until almost 2 years ago when our current priest and pastor arrived at our parish and installed a kneeler at the base of the altar and explained it was there for the purpose of kneeling to receive Holy Communion.

It has been about 10 years since I began receiving the Eucharist on the tongue, as opposed to in the hand.  From the reception of my First Holy Communion until the age of 29, I received in the hand.  It was the way most people receive, I think (I try not to watch most people receive Communion and really try to focus on my prayers at that time).  One would think they'd have a bit more control and take care in this form, but I am not so sure.

When my reversion to a deeper commitment to my faith took place when I was 28, I began looking up to other Catholics who could help me on my way to being a better Catholic.  One of the things I noticed about them was that they all received our Lord on the tongue.  They went to a more traditional parish than I did, but when I visited their parish for Mass, I felt a bit out of step receiving in my hands.  Over time, I began to feel as though I didn't want to touch the Eucharist with my fingers for various reasons, but the most practical one was that I became convicted about the fact that Jesus is truly present - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity - in the Eucharist.  And because I believed that with my whole heart and soul, I began to worry about things like dropping the Eucharist and spilling the Precious Blood.  If the Eucharist is placed directly on my tongue which brings our Lord directly into my mouth, the opportunity for bungling is pretty small.

As my reversion was occurring, I was commissioned as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC), and as such had never felt comfortable distributing the Host anyway, but I watched with horror (at times!) that most people approach the Blessed Sacrament as though it is no big deal, and I would have to take great care to ensure the Precious Blood was not spilled as people sometimes jerked the chalice from my hands!  It troubled me so much to see how irreverently many faithful would approach the Blessed Sacrament.  (Shortly into my reversion, I asked to be removed from this commission.)

I began receiving on the tongue in a standing position in the spring of 2002.  It made sense anyway since I was usually carrying Sarah in my arms in the Communion line and this, again, made it less likely that I would drop the Holy Eucharist.  Over time, it has become the only way I feel comfortable receiving our Lord.

This can make it awkward when visiting other parishes, because most Catholics do not receive this way.  I've had awkward moments face to face with EMHCs and even a couple of priests.  But all in all, it's gone off without a hitch and I'm happy to report that I have never dropped our Lord in the process and while the EMHCs (and a couple of priests) have given me awkward looks or seemed to feel uncomfortable, they have always been able to accommodate, as they should.

When our priest installed the kneeler and welcomed us to kneel to receive the Holy Eucharist, I was almost in tears with joy.  Receiving on the tongue would be so much simpler from the kneeling position.  From the kneeling position, I need only look up to view the Eucharist, my mouth would be in the perfect position and height for the priest to be able to say, "The Body of Christ" and still be able to see me answer "Amen" and then place it on my tongue.  No awkward reaching up (should I be taller than the priest) and he would be able to see that I consumed the Host fully and immediately.  Being able to witness this is necessary for the priest as it is his responsibility to ensure the entire Blessed Sacrament is fully consumed by the Communicant.

But because logistically, it is easier to kneel to receive Communion on the tongue, that is not why I do it.  I kneel because that feels like the perfect posture when a person believes they are about to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, Body, Blood Soul and Divinity into their own body.  I am receiving God.  I think that if I truly believe I am receiving God...I don't see how I could believe I should stand shoulder to shoulder with Him.  Jesus is my Lord and Savior.  He is my King.  To Him all my homage and adoration is due. 

Kneeling is a humble position.  When a person is kneeling, they are unable to get up quickly to run or walk away.  When a person is kneeling, they are in a position of submission.  And where should we be the most humble, than when we are receiving the greatest Gift our Lord makes present for us in the Holy Eucharist?

I kneel and receive the Holy Eucharist on my tongue because I do not feel worthy to stand toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye, with God.

I realize I will not have the option to kneel in every parish (I'm most likely not going to kneel on the floor...I have seen some folks do this...I'm not sure I'm ready to do it if it looks like it would cause a scene.)  I feel very blessed to attend a parish where this is accommodated easily.  I love that my children will be allowed this accommodation for their First Holy Communion as well as going forward (it's the expectation at our school that this is how the children receive at the weekly all-school Mass).

How do you receive and do you have any particular reasons for doing so?


  1. Beautiful post, Michelle. I didn't realize you had a kneeler. I always wondered about how you received kneeling and I imagined you just dropping to your knees there in front of the preist or minister. This cleared it up for me.

    I also receive the Eucharist on my tongue. There are a few exceptions, like if I have been very sick, but I always seem to flub it up. I should just receive always on the tongue and not worry about it.

    I would kneel if I could, but there is no "normal" option in our parish. To be frank, it's rare that our priest even makes eye contact, which I find frustrating. Most of the EMHCs do take the time to make eye contact and hear the Amen before placing the Eucharist on the tongue.

  2. I receive Communion with my hands formed as a throne. I do this not because it is the more ancient tradition (after all, before he was pope Pope Benedict wrote about the development of liturgical practice and why the newer practice of kneeling and receiving on the tongue can be superior) but rather because it is the practice of my diocese and all of the parishes where I regularly assist at Mass. I obviously receive while kneeling when at a "traditional" parish with communion rails.

    I am curious about the logistics of accommodating various forms of reception in one parish. It is wonderful that you have the opportunity to participate in the way which feels most reverent for you and your family!

  3. Rae, I wonder if you could explain what it means to have your hands formed as a throne? I am having a hard time picturing that...but perhaps it's because it's been so long since I received in my hand?

  4. I remember for First Communion our teacher saying our hands were like a throne to hold Jesus. Not really sure what that means either.

    When I was at Benedictine I received on the tongue for the longest time. It took me awhile to get used to it. After I got married I stop doing it for some reason. I now take it on the tongue again because I always take Joe with me to receive communion.

    This is a great post! Lots to think about!

  5. Hi Michelle ...really appreciated your post today! Since my reversion 3 years ago I had a talk about this with a traditional priest and he made me realize that it just doesn't make sense to receive from the hand from an EMHC. (I try very hard not to judge other's choices..but I probably come off as judgmental...) Anyway for me and my family.. we made the decision to ALWAYS receive on the tongue and from a priest. At our TLM and the conservative parish downtown we are blessed to have a communion rail so its a non issue... on our knees we go. I mentioned before our local "Catholic Lite" parish near our house where we are the the only people under 70 to receive this way. It is a huge parish and there are a ton of EMHCs! It has made for some awkward moments for sure... but we will simply wait in the back and move to the priests line. Once in another church I had an usher rudely direct me to "Get in the other line NOW!" to which I calmly replied that I only receive from a priest and kept moving. I thought I was going to get kicked out! Anyway at these more liberal churches I do stand because I am somewhat self conscious about creating a scene but I try assist inconspicuously as possible to get in the priests line... it just means so much to me and is my way to show reverence and respect to our Lord! So many people don't care! It is my small way to show respect. The priests hands are consecrated and deserving to hold and distribute the Blessed Sacrament. Certainly EMHCs have their place, like to minister to the sick and bedridden, or even to hold the Chalice for large parishes while the priest is distributing to the masses...etc. but at times things just get out if hand with the liturgical abuses and the casual attitudes. (I also do not receive the blood of our Lord.. mainly because he is fully present in the Host, as the Wine...so that is enough for me. That was an influence from attending the Latin mass... however there is obviously nothing wrong with that...just my preference.) I also try not to get too caught up in "looking" but sometimes I just can't help it. One day I was at our liberal local Mass and just was thinking how we were the *only* people to not receive in the hand... I saw a young boy, about 15 or 16, last person in line, approach the priest, reverently kneel down on the floor, look up, and waited to receive communion kneeling and on the tongue! (If you knew this parish of 4000 suburbanite soccer moms most with 1.2 kids, you would understand that this was quite unusual!) It was a beautiful sight to behold and in a way was like a gentle nudge from God saying, hey... you never know. After that I tried extra hard not to try to figure out people's intentions or attitudes when they receive Communion, but whenever I encounter it, I have to admit that it makes my soul happy because I think it is pleasing to Our Lord! Have a great night! You are lucky that your priests decided to install those kneelers! God bless your priests!

    1. Sorry just reread my post and realized I meant to say that the traditional priest made me realize that it doesn't make sense to receive on the tongue from an EMHC... kinda defeats the whole purpose. (I am hunting and pecking this out from my phone..I should probably be using my computer...)

  6. So..yeah one more question about Communion since you brought it up... Does your church ring bells during the consecration, etc? (From the sounds of things I bet they do...) Our conservative parishes do, but our local church doesn't and it always feels like something is missing.

  7. CatholicMom - oh yes...bells! And we do the Sanctus and Agnus Dei - full latin. I hope at some point, our priest will also get us doing the Gloria in Latin. I would love that!

  8. I think the original admonition to form one's hands as a throne physically meant to hold them carefully together in the way which we now think of more as forming a cross, but I cup mine slightly more as a throne than flat as a cross.

    Here's the quote from Cyril of Jerusalem:

    "When you approach, do not advance with open palms and fingers apart, but make your left hand like a throne for your right, which is about to receive the King.

    And, having supped your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying, 'Amen.'

    Then after you have with care hallowed your eyes by touching them with the Holy Body, partake, thereof, taking heed lest you lose any of it."

  9. Rae, that is a beautiful quote! Thanks for sharing it :-)

  10. I never considered the idea of not receiving from a eucharistic minister. I am certain that my hands are not worthy to hold the body of our Lord. As for the EMHC, I just don't know! I don't even know what the qualifications are of an EMHC. I should think about that more.

    Question: What would you do if you knew someone that is not properly catechized (the 11 year old son of a Catholic friend who does not send their children to religious ed, therefore the child has no received his sacraments) receives Communion? I have this weighing on me. Any thoughts? Should I talk to my priest? I suppose it may be none of my business!

  11. It's interesting, Jamie. I was commissioned to be EMHC in November 2001. I served in this capacity for three months. I never felt right about it. Actually, my first REALLY BIG confession occurred shortly after I was commissioned because I thought that I should most definitely be "living the life" if I am going to use myself to give to others in that capacity.

    Then...I started thinking, Hmmm, maybe I shouldn't be doing this if I am still taking the pill. And of course, my reversion was going on. It was a very transforming time in my life. There's a chance that had I not sought and obtained commission to be EMHC, I might not have even thought about the things I needed to revisit in my life! How strange is that!?!

    Anyway, I prefer to receive from a priest at Mass. For years, when there were multiple priests in parishes, you ALWAYS received from a priest...a priest who was not the celebrant would be there to come and distribute the Holy Eucharist with the other priest. Sadly, Vatican II changed many things that weren't for the better.

    In our parish at this time, we only have one priest, but he is assisted by ONE EMHC and only Our Lord, in the Host is received by everyone. The chalice of Precious Blood is not offered. And what's even stranger? when this change went into effect, hardly ANY grumbling at our parish (that I am aware of). We could be getting a second priest for our parish this summer, and I will be interested to watch and see how our pastor handles this and whether most of the time, it will always be a priest as the option to receive (both lines)and EMHC will really be EXTRAORDINARY. :)

    As to your other question. It might be best to take your concern to your priest and have him counsel you on whether this is anything you should concern yourself with or not. I have wondered about people myself, but then I try to remember that God knows their hearts and surely God also knows this young person's situation. Perhaps by your communicating to the priest your concerns, he could follow up as he sees fit and try to help get things moving in the proper direction.

    Thank you so much for coming back and discussing on my blog. I think these are important things for us all to think about and discuss!

  12. When people say "make a throne for Jesus" or whatever--they mean to hold your hand out and place the other hand benieth it to form a cup---that way you form a good place for the extraordinary minister to place the Blessed Sacrament. That way people don't just stick out their hands or worse--grab it.

    Jamie---as for your comment--I wouldn't think it would be a bad thing to ask your priest about the situation as long as it was done with love and respect. For all we know, the child did receive some sort of education that we aren't aware of. But I think that, out of respect for the sacrament, it's not out of line to ask the priest and let him handle it---especially if you are an EMHC--in fact, if you are, I think it's part of your responsibility to ask.

  13. Hi, I'm from Indonesia. I can assure you, we don't kneel when receiving Communion either. But we should. We really should. It is just a proper thing to do when one receives >gasp!< GOD.


Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)