Dispelling The Myths On The Correct Posture To Receive Communion

This comes from Fr. Z’s Blog – What Does The Prayer Really Say? The first part is his writings, followed by his emphasis in bold and his comments in red.


From the website of the newspaper the Catholic Herald of the Diocese of Madison, where H.E. Most Rev. Robert Morlino reigns, comes this piece about the manner of reception of Holy Communion.  I must add, as the writer does not, that this pertains to the Ordinary Form, or Novus Ordo.

It is a good, concise presentation of some of the issues which frequently arise and the writer is, in the main, on target.  I will, however, add my own two pence before beginning to add my emphases and comments.  I think that people who are physically capable of doing so, should always kneel and receive Communion directly on the tongue.  I think the permission for Communion in the hand should be abolished.  In advance of it being abolished, people should be urged, taught, persuaded to receive on the tongue while kneeling.  So there.

Remember that this is in a diocesan newspaper.  Something like this would have been unimaginable, say, 10 years ago. 

What is the correct posture for receiving Communion?
Written by Paul M Matenaer, For the Catholic Herald

A few weeks ago a friend had asked about the Church’s law on the proper posture for receiving Holy Communion. Should we receive on the tongue or in the hand? Kneeling or standing?

Over the years, I have heard various answers with slight differences, so I decided to look into it myself. As with my previous articles on the rite of exorcism, I hope to dispel some of the myths and clarify the issue.

My intention here is not to give a complete historical overview of the various practices, nor even to treat the theological reasoning behind them. Rather, I hope to simply and clearly explain the ius vigens, that is, the law presently in force regarding the posture for receiving Holy Communion. [Keeping in mind that Universae Ecclesiae derogates from laws  which conflict with the liturgical in force in 1962.  This article is a good look at the situation for the Ordinary Form.]

In the hand or on the tongue?

Though many may tell you that the Second Vatican Council “did away” with Communion on the tongue, the truth of the matter is that the council fathers did not address such concrete subjects.

Rather, the many liturgical questions following the Second Vatican Council were handled by the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Sacred Congregation of Rites, groups which were later merged to create what we now call the Congregation for Divine Worship [and Discipline of the Sacraments].

The question of receiving in the hand or on the tongue was first treated in an instruction entitled Memoriale Domini, published in 1969, just four years after the conclusion of Vatican II. In this instruction, the congregation stated that the Holy Father has decided not to change the universal practice of receiving on the tongue for three reasons: it had “many centuries of tradition behind it,” it avoided the possibility of profanation, and it expressed a proper “respect, decorum, and dignity” for the Eucharist.

However, the document noted that if the discipline of receiving in the hand prevailed by popular practice, then an individual conference of bishops could request an exception from Rome to allow Communion in the hand provided that the traditional usage of receiving on the tongue was not excluded. [NB: it is an exception which can be granted.]

Following this instruction, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) did indeed request permission that Communion in the hand be allowed in their territory. [And, gosh, how fruitful it has been.] For this reason, the 2002 General Instruction [Institution] of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the official instruction manual for the Mass, states that in the U.S. the communicant “may choose whether to receive in the hand or on the tongue.”

Two years later, the Congregation for Divine Worship published another instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, which states that one “always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice” and that if anyone wishes to receive in the hand where this permission has been granted, he is allowed.

From these documents, it is quite clear, therefore, that each individual may receive on the tongue, or in territories where Communion in the hand is allowed, he may receive in the hand.

[Nota bene…] However, it must be noted that the permission which allows Communion to be given in the hand does not create an absolute right for the communicant. The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, mentioned above, notes that if there is a risk of profanation of the Eucharistic species, Communion should not be given in the hand, but only on the tongue.

Kneeling or standing?

The question of whether one should kneel or stand when receiving Communion is a slightly more complicated one. As with the case above, the Second Vatican Council did not address this specific question, but it was left to be worked out in the period after the council.

In 1967, the Sacred Congregation of Rites promulgated an instruction entitled Eucharisticum mysterium, which stated that “the faithful may receive Communion either kneeling or standing.” It went on to say, however, that one or the other posture was to be chosen by the conference of bishops to be the norm for their territory. The USCCB decided that the norm for the dioceses in the United States would be standing, which is reflected in article 160 of the GIRM as adopted for this country. [And reverence for the Blessed Sacrament has, no doubt, attained new heights.]

The GIRM, though, immediately adds two qualifications. First, it states that communicants “should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel.” [And yet that does happen.  We have heard the horror stories.] Secondly, it notes that “such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.” [I think proper catechesis would have to include why it is better to kneel.]

Unfortunately the reason for this norm is not contained in article 160 itself, as one might expect, but occurs earlier in article 42 regarding the importance of a uniform posture during the sacred liturgy. [How about uniformity with tradition?] Article 42 states that a common posture is to be observed throughout the whole of Mass — not just during Communion — since a uniform posture signifies the unity of the Christian community. [How about unity with our forebears?]

[QUAERUNTUR…] From these statements in the GIRM, a number of important questions arise. Does article 42 of the GIRM imply that there can be no variance whatsoever in the posture of the faithful at Mass? Can a pastor of a parish, after having provided the aforementioned catechesis, refuse Communion to those who still wish to kneel? Are those who choose to kneel being “disobedient” to the norm created by the USCCB?

These questions are not merely theoretical or abstract ones, but are real questions that were addressed to the Congregation for Divine Worship in the years following the publication of the GIRM. Thankfully, the congregation made their replies known, publishing them in their official journal Notitiae and thus allowing us greater insight into the proper application of these norms.

Can there be no variance in the posture of the faithful? [No.  There can be.]

This question came to the Congregation for Divine Worship from Cardinal George of Chicago in 2003, who asked whether the GIRM forbid one from kneeling in personal prayer after receiving the Eucharist even though the rest of the community sat or stood.

The congregation replied that article 42 of the GIRM meant to “ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture” while not seeking to “regulate posture rigidly.” Though the question itself does not directly pertain, this response gives us some insight regarding how article 42 is to be applied throughout the other parts of the Mass, including at Communion.

Can a pastor refuse Communion to those who kneel? [No. He must not.]

This question came to the congregation in 2002 from a parishioner whose pastor had instituted a policy of refusing Communion to those who presented themselves kneeling.

The congregation responded forcefully, [mirabile dictu] stating that they consider “any refusal of Holy Communion to a member of the faithful on the basis of his or her kneeling posture to be a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful.” Furthermore, they issued a warning to priests who “should understand that the congregation will regard future complaints of this nature with great seriousness.[I wonder if there are any instances of the Congregation acting “with great seriousness” in this regard.  That would be interesting to know.]

Are those who kneel for Communion disobedient? [No.  They are not.]

Following the promulgation of the GIRM, many held that those who chose to kneel when receiving were being disobedient to the norm created by the USCCB. This very question came to the congregation in 2003, who indicated that they had received “more than a few letters regarding this matter.”

The congregation was unequivocal in stating that “the faithful should not be imposed upon nor accused of disobedience and of acting illicitly when they kneel to receive Communion.[Get this…] This response corrected the misinterpretation found in a July 2002 newsletter from the USCCB’s own liturgy committee, which stated that “kneeling is not a licit posture.” It is now quite clear that kneeling to receive Communion is a licit posture and not one of disobedience, as some had previously thought.

To summarize

From everything that has been said above, we can conclude the following. [1] First, the faithful always have the right to receive Communion on the tongue, according to the centuries-old tradition. However, those in the United States are also permitted receive in the hand, provided that no danger of profanation exists.

[2] Secondly, the norm in the United States is to receive standing, but those who wish to receive kneeling may freely do so. Any refusal of the Most Holy Eucharist to those who kneel is a grave violation, and no one may impose upon them nor accuse them of disobedience.

Therefore, [3] no pastor, no youth minister, and certainly no employer may prohibit or deter any member of the faithful from receiving on his knees if he so chooses. This is the current law of the Church, to which we, as Catholics, are all bound by conscience.

Allow what the Church allows

A general principle to follow is this: teach what the Church teaches, condemn what the Church condemns, but allow what the Church allows. Unfortunately, this last point can sometimes be the most difficult, especially in liturgical matters. Because our worship of God is both communal and personal, each one of us has our own unique liturgical preferences.

Whatever one’s personal preference may be, we must be careful to allow what the Church allows, while nonetheless always striving for greater holiness, devotion, and reverence in worship. Or else, we risk usurping the seat of Peter and imposing our own preferences on the whole of the Church. The difficult task of allowing what the Church allows requires both humility and obedience, two virtues perfectly modeled in the Person of Christ, Whom we receive in the Most Holy Eucharist.

Paul Matenaer holds an M.T.S. from Ave Maria University, teaches for the Seat of Wisdom Diocesan Institute in the Diocese of Madison, and is currently studying canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario.

A good effort.  Hopefully this will be useful for the Diocese of Madison and, now, a wider audience yet.

P.S. – Would you do Courageous Priest a favor and share this info with your friends on Facebook, Twitter or Email right now? We truly appreciate it. Or leave a comment, we would love to hear what you think.

15 comments to Dispelling The Myths On The Correct Posture To Receive Communion

  • Huey Dash

    In a recent debate with a former friend over this impiety at Holy Mass I encountered a very serious issue on exactly the matter of Communion. I was confronted with the argument that since the priest, himself, stands and commingles both species on the altar after consecration, then there is nothing sinful about doing the same in one’s mouth while standing. I quickly retorted words that could have only been divinely inspired. I said, “Do you eat that way?” Do you stand up and publicly stuff in a fist full of M&M’s while you already have a mouthful of Skittles?” Although this did not change his mind, it did seem to make him think. In fact, he got up and left. Getting a person of faith to think is a great accomplishment in my book.

    I feel I must add one more thing. We must not, in discussing this matter, confuse illicit Public Oral Commingle or Asynchronous Tongue Intinction with the form of these acts made licit by valid petition to the local ordinary’s faculty to dispense with the demands of Canon Law regardless of posture. For a licit and properly sanctioned POC or ATI is in no way to be understood as contrary to Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxy. As long as it is sanctioned you may even hop while doing it. Does not the scriptures say “we will meet the Lord in the air?” It is the illicit form of these, despite resembling exactly the licit form of these, which rightfully draws our righteous and utterly justified rebuke and condemnation.

    Yes. The pope, himself, might agree that the mouth must be clear and that some part of the body should be touching the floor. Otherwise, the same thing will touch the same thing and become one, big thing of sameness whether up or down. I think this is the biggest problem facing the Church today. Too many people are refusing, sinfully I might add, to swallow on time and while kneeling. In some sense, this is a theological nightmare if you think about it too long. Christ wants those things separate until they are well past the epiglottis. Let them touch and who knows what might happen. I for one do not wish to find out.

    Come to think of it, if you read the Synoptic Gospels closely, you’ll see that Judas was in a big hurry at the last supper. He stood up from the table. No doubt, he also committed an illicit erect Public Oral Commingle or Asynchronous Tongue Intinction, if you prefer. I use both terms as I think something this terrible requires great description. When we think of Judas, we tend to only focus on his betrayal of the Lord. But I think this standing while chewing was even worse.

    That being said. For brides, kneeling for reception is the only proper posture at their weddings and later that night as well.

    Thank you for bringing this atrocity of sinful mouths swallowing the Eucharist while standing erect to the attention of many who were worrying about it. I hope the Pope does something about this blatant epidemic of impiety.

  • Marcy C

    I found this the other night while looking for something on the internet
    it happened in Spain. The young man received the Eucharist in his hand , standing. He took it and threw it on the floor and stomped on it. Like a automatic reflex, the priest slapped him across the face.I have seen people walk away with the Eucharist in their hand. God only knows if the choose to put Jesus in their mouth or desecrate it.
    My parish still has the Communion rail and we use it at every mass, weather it be Novus Ordo or the Traditional Latin Mass. Communicants must receive on the tongue only. I cry when I hear how Jesus has been desecrated in the Holy Eucharist! Communion on the tongue would alleviate this 90% of the time.
    We need ALL priest to give a sermon on the true presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and how we should prepare to receive Him. Fasting 1 hour before reception , no gum chewing, no talking, proper posture according to the Vatican’s directives- not those of the priest, proper dress for recipients AND for Eucharistic ministers. Our pastor, every Spring, puts a blurb in the bulletin stating
    “With warm weather approaching , I once again want to remind everyone about the mode of dress for reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.No one should approach the communion rail in shorts, sleeveless dresses or blouses and no plunging necklines. Recipients should prayerfully approach the communion rail and all cell phones must be turned off or on vibrate while in church. ” And while on my soapbox, why do we need 5 Eucharistic ministers and the priest when there are less than 50-60 people receiving communion? I have seen co celebrants having to sit down because there were too many Eucharistic Ministers on the altar and none of them would go sit back down!

  • Eric, what you described in your parish with the priest explaining why all should stand is not at all proper. Recieving communion is not about us and who we watch recieving, this is the mentality of the modern culture. We are to be in tune and reverant to Our Lord truly present in the Euchrist, with our head bowed and kneeling (if physically possible)giving all honor to our Lord, not other people. This is why there seems to be no reverence to Our Lord with all this ridiculous “it is all about me” mentality.

  • Martin

    @ Bill
    Thank you for the post. I’m particularly focused on the last sentence; “There is a twofold purpose here:that none will find in the new rite anything disturbing to personal devotion toward the Eucharist;that this sacrament,the source and cause of unity by its very nature,will not become an occasion of discord between members of the faithful.”

    It seems that (even by some of the posts) this has “become an occasion of discourse”.

    I pray for civility from both sides, and that everyone leaves the decision, to the Church, and the judgement up to God, and that we all are obedient to the outcome.

    God Bless.

  • Bill


    1. The new manner of giving communion must not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional practice. It is a matter of particular seriousness that in places where the new practice is lawfully permitted every one of the faithful have the option of receiving communion on the tongue and even when other persons are receiving communion in the hand. The two ways of receiving communion can without question take place during the same liturgical service. There is a twofold purpose here: that none will find in the new rite anything disturbing to personal devotion toward the Eucharist; that this sacrament, the source and cause of unity by its very nature, will not become an occasion of discord between members of the faithful.

  • Tom

    Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus

    I am consoled that many of you are aware of the great need in our Church for the ordained minister of God – the priest to consecrate and the desire for sacredness the Presence of Body and Blood; Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. I pray that we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, will in time find that holiness and the sacred are crucial for our salvation. We are so fortunate to be Catholic because of the sacraments and the grace Our Master bestows upon us. I hope that someday we will be together with all our brothers and sisters in Heaven. In the meantime I must follow Our Savior in the best way possible and pray constantly for our beloved Church. Some have mentioned that only the priest / deacon should handle the sacred vessels and consecrated hosts. Let us pray that His Majesty will grant us many vocations to fill His emptying convents and monasteries. I hope that I will be an obedient and humble servant before the Eyes of Our Triune God.


    May God Bless and Keep us in His Loving Arms

  • Mary

    This is an utterly tragic debate.

    The fact of the matter is that priests have specially consecrated hands. And it is only those specially consecrated hands that can lawfully touch Our Sacred Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. To receive Our Lord “in the hand” is not only a grave act of irreverence to Him, but also to His priests unto whom He has bestowed very specific rights and duties. It is a sad thing to have to hope that most people don’t realize their error, but where are the priests and bishops? Why aren’t they correcting this horrid abuse? It is a great scandal indeed.

    P.S. To Joan Dunlap — if you live in Omaha, you might try going to Immaculate Conception Church. There you will be left quite in peace to receive Communion on the tongue 🙂

  • Joan M Dunlap

    I live in the Omaha Archdiocese.
    While attending a First Holy Communion.
    not at my parish church, a lay minister
    refused to give me Communion on my tongue, which is my practise. In fact,
    she jammed the Host down between my up-
    right fingers, causing panic that the Host would fall on the floor because I
    could not grab it with my hands in this
    position. It was tramatic and very

  • hsuzan

    Interestingly, this is an issue that also explodes regularly on facebook, I have noted amongst my Catholic friends. The people who receive in the hand are very defensive and almost nasty to the ones who receive on the tongue. I don’t know why.

    I just returned from a retreat where the priests strongly urged the participants to receive Our Lord kneeling on the tongue, however, in the most non-judgemental way I have ever heard, also stated how they wished those who would rather receive in the hand to indicate their preference to them.

    Not a single person received the Lord in the hand, however, because of ambulatory problems, a few people were unable to kneel (understandable).

    Has anyone noted that Our Holy Father will not give Our Lord to anyone who is not kneeling, nor will he give hand communion? A point to consider. Is pride in “how we have been always led to do things” that important?

    Most importantly, has anyone ever read the Roman Ritual regarding the treatment of the Eucharist? Especially the Roman Ritual pre-1965?

    If anyone ever read the Roman Ritual and the precise instructions regarding the carrying and reverent handling of the Eucharist to the sick and storage, they would see very clearly that #1. That sacrilige occurs invariably every time that a so-called Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist gets their hands on the Sacred Host, and #2. Extraordinary Ministers are an abuse in almost 99% of parishes. They are simply not needed. People can wait. It is the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE. Don’t you get it?

  • terrig

    Tom, I couldn’t agree with you more. At my parish, we kneel after Communion & some that can’t knee sit, which is understandable. The tradition is to knee to pray and give thanks to our Lord after Holy Communion. I would never stand. I can see everybody receiving Communion fine from where I’m kneeling. At that time, I try not to pay attention since I’m praying to our Lord. Holy Communion is about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, not paying attention to what my neighbor is doing. Again, the same “man centered” worship disguised as “community” that has entered the Church.

  • Mary Alice

    Please note Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stated we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ on the tongue and kneeling before our beloved Brother, Savior, GOD’s Son. To do otherwise is a grave sin.

    The kneelers must come back…

  • Eric

    The article concludes by reminding us to allow what the Church allows (final 2 paragraphs). So, where there is a choice, please make YOUR OWN choice.
    Tom: a pastor once asked us to remain standing during Communion until all had received (it may have been a Seasonal practice, I don’t recall) with the explanation that we are witnessing one of the wonders of our Faith in seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ receive Holy Communion. And in so doing, we witness our community drawing as close as it can to God. Once put into that context, I had no trouble coupling my own inner joy at receiving, with the communal joy of bearing witness to my brothers and sisters receiving also. Without that understanding, the practice would seem odd. The pastor made a point of regularly reminding us of what we were doing and asking us to be mindful of why we were doing it.
    With Love and prayers,

  • Tom

    Dear Father

    I live in the LA archdiocese. One Sunday several years ago my wife and I began to notice that everyone was standing at Communion time. I am not speaking of standing while receiving the Eucharist (whether in the hand or the tongue) but standing until everyone of the faithful had received Holy Communion. In fact in one newly built parish the kneelers had been removed and the Blessed Sacrament was no longer in the main portion of the Church rather placed in a side chapel. I promise before anyone who reads this commentary that I will obedient to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic church (even if I do not agree with these practices). However, in making this statement I do not understand nor believe in my heart that standing after the reception of Body & Blood; Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ is in keeping with sacred Tradition nor honoring the Eucharist. In fact with the faithful receiving Holy Communion in their hands and then standing, I would suggest that such liturgical practices detract from the sacredness of the Mass. At most Masses the bells are no longer rung at the Consecration; kneeling is minimized etc. I truly hope that we realize that the Queen of Heaven kneels before Our Triune God yet we, the Faithful & it’s ministers are degrading the sacredness of the Mass amongst many Catholics who have not been properly catechized. Logically it’s no surprise that people do not genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament; have gum in their mouth when receiving Holy Communion; talk constantly during Mass and so on. I know that I am not alone in hoping that we will return to some of the practices that lend a holy and sacred atmosphere to the Celebration of the Eucharist. How can we expect our young Catholics to know that they are present before God Himself without keeping the liturgical traditions mentioned above? I was a Eucharistic minister for many years and have watched the reverence for the Eucharist become less and less mostly because of innovations that were never needed nor added to the sacredness of the liturgy. Forgive me if I have offended anyone but surely all of us, who know our Faith, see what is happening!


    May God Bless and Keep us in His Loving Arms

  • Wilma Budden

    Who could ever say that receiving Holy Communion on the
    tongue is better than receiving in the hand? In our
    country, to stick your tongue out is not proper, especially to Jesus. If any irreverance is noted, they could have someone stand by the priest and
    nudge them to consume the Host. But please do not do away with this great practice.
    As far as standing or kneeling for Holy Communion, it
    should be uniform or it would be a distraction. What about all those with knees that do not bend so well with age?

  • Noreen

    Dear Sir,

    You can write all you like, it should not be up for question at all, full stop. Commumion should NOT be taken on the hand. Nothing more should be said you see if or you don’t.


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