From the Pastor: Last of the series
For the last of my series of writings about postures and gestures at the Traditional Latin Mass, I now present you with something you probably think you already know enough about: How to properly receive Holy Communion. But I can tell you from experience that many people, even those who attend daily Mass, do not pay enough attention to their posture at this very important moment.
It seems so simple. Rise from your pew at the proper time, come forward to the altar rail (or “Communion rail”), kneel and wait for Father to place the Sacred Host on your tongue. But there is much more to it than that. First of all, only practicing Catholics who have kept at least a one hour fast from food and drink (water and medicine being exceptions), and are not aware of any unconfessed mortal sin may receive Holy Communion. This is not a posture or gesture so I won’t dwell on it further here, but it is an essential teaching that must be followed for the sake of one’s soul. Except for the priest celebrant, nobody is obliged to receive Holy Communion in order to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, even one at which attendance is obligatory, so please, if you should not receive, don’t!
Although this is just a parish custom, at Epiphany of Our Lord, the choir members come forward first. Please allow them this courtesy so that they can receive and still have a few moments spent in prayerful thanksgiving before they start singing once again. As soon as the entire choir is lined up at the rail, feel free to fill in the rest of the open space. Can you come down the side aisle instead of the center aisle if you are sitting in the outside pews? Yes, if you wish. Do you need to come up pew by pew? No, but trying to convince people that it is OK to come “out of order” is a lost cause. Do you need to kneel next to the person in front of you? No, in fact, if another person leaves an open space at the rail between themselves and the corner or the next closest person, feel free to move past everybody to fill in the opening! Must you kneel? Yes, unless you have a serious physical impediment. Must you receive on the tongue? Yes. Can you cross your arms over your chest and receive a blessing if you are not able to receive Holy Communion? No. Stay in your pew. You will get a blessing as Mass ends.
Now for some tips on how to receive Our Lord reverently and properly. When kneeling to receive Holy Communion, you are a lot lower than the priest, (especially a tall priest) who is standing. Do not bow your head! He must be able to see your mouth in order to place the Host on your tongue! As the priest approaches, tilt your head back slightly, open your mouth, stick out your tongue to the end of your lower lip, and keep still. Those who keep their mouth closed as the priest gives the Benediction have an unconscious tendency to then “help” the priest by quickly opening their mouth and moving their head forward (like a fish gulping a worm) or by making a lizard-like “licking” motion, both of which often result in the back of the priest’s thumb and/or forefinger getting coated with saliva. Yuck! Fortunately, it is mostly only the next “licker” who is affected by this, since the pads of the priest’s fingers, with which he picks up the next Host, remain dry! If you keep your eyes closed as you receive, both of those issues are completely eradicated. Some people seem to have a “shy” tongue, which, when the mouth is open, quivers at the back of their mouth. Fight against this or Father must put his fingers inside of your mouth to deposit the Host! Still others, though much rarer, “grasp” the Host with their lips and work it into their mouth bit by bit. This may result in any loose edges on the Host becoming Eucharistic crumbs falling to the floor to be trampled upon. As for how far to open your mouth, if the Host could fit in vertically rather than just through a horizontal “slot” you have you mouth just about right. Finally, keep your hands below the rail, not folded under your chin where they will interfere with the use of the paten, and do not rest your elbows or forearms on the rail. Grasping the rail to assist in getting down or up is perfectly acceptable, though.
Feel free to save these bulletins to help your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers whom you are consistently inviting to assist at the TLM for their first time so that they will know what to do and what to expect. (You are doing that, aren’t you?)
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka