What is the etiquette to be followed when receiving the holy Eucharist? Is one to kneel down? Does one receive in the hand or directly on the tongue? Are there any prescribed procedures from Vatican?

3 Answers 3


In the US, what are the guidelines on how one should receive Holy Communion?

Those who receive Communion may receive either in the hand or on the tongue, and the decision should be that of the individual receiving, not of the person distributing Communion. If Communion is received in the hand, the hands should first of all be clean. If one is right handed the left hand should rest upon the right. The host will then be laid in the palm of the left hand and then taken by the right hand to the mouth. If one is left-handed this is reversed. It is not appropriate to reach out with the fingers and take the host from the person distributing.
Source: The Reception of Holy Communion at Mass | USCCB.

The most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand. The history of the liturgy, however, makes clear that rather early on a process took place to change this practice.

From the time of the Fathers of the Church, a tendency was born and consolidated whereby distribution of Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue. The motivation for this practice is two-fold: a) first, to avoid, as much as possible, the dropping of Eucharistic particles; b) second, to increase among the faithful devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In continuity with the teaching of his Predecessor, starting with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the year 2008, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, began to distribute to the faithful the Body of the Lord, by placing it directly on the tongue of the faithful as they remain kneeling.

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  1. It is important to note that no bishop or bishop conference decide on their own what manner Holy Communion should be received by the Faithful. They must first petition the Vatican for an indult and a concession be granted. cf. Communion-in-the-Hand | EWTN.
  2. For the communicant, the reception of Holy Communion by whatever manner that is approved in their own diocese ought to be done with the right and proper reverence due to the One being received. In my diocese the Bishop asks that the communicants bow before receiving Holy Communion, which they do standing.
  3. @AndrewLeach has shared "The practice [...] of not handing the chalice to each communicant is actually laid down in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal." This is something not observed in my parish and therefore worth investigating further.

In the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (whose territory is Great Britain), the following apply. The document was issued under the name of the Ordinary, with the approval of the Holy See:

The Distribution of Holy Communion

  1. In keeping with the Anglican tradition, it is highly commended that Holy
    Communion be distributed at a communion rail (or in a similar manner) to
    kneeling communicants.
  2. Where Holy Communion is received in the hand, due reverence and the patristic
    and Anglican practice of ‘making a throne’ and taking the Sacred Host to the mouth
    are highly commended, as is the practice of receiving Holy Communion directly on
    the tongue.
  3. In keeping with the Anglican tradition, it is highly commended that the chalice is
    always retained by the Minister of Holy Communion, whether Ordinary or
    Extraordinary, and not passed into the hands of the communicant. Holy
    Communion under both kinds is part of the patrimony and remains normal
    practice in the Personal Ordinariate.

[Liturgical Guidelines, Easter 2013]

The practice mentioned in §38 of not handing the chalice to each communicant is actually laid down in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, although in England & Wales at least that exhortation appears to be widely ignored.

  • Amazing that the Anglicans maintained this very reverent tradition while some in the Universal Church sought an indult ... Thank you for sharing and enriching our knowledge.
    – user13992
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 17:15

Receiving Communion on the tongue and kneeling has always been and still is the norm for Catholics.

The founders of Protestantism (Luther, Cranmer, et al.) advocated Communion in the hand to emphasize, against Catholic teaching, that a consecrated Host is just bread (Deus panis factus).

John Paul II wrote in Dominicæ Cenæ that

To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained

In defense of Communion in the hand, this quote, falsely attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, is cited:

In approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers spread; but make thy left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest thou lose any portion thereof; for whatever thou losest, is evidently a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members.
[quoted in the beginning of ch. 3 of The Eucharistic Storms]

Yet, St. Epiphanius, St Jerome, and St. Augustine all held that the work from which the above quote comes was really written by St. Cyril's successor, the Patriach John of Jerusalem. He was a crypto-Arian heretic. (source)

St. Thomas Aquinas, addressing the question "Whether dispensing of this sacrament belongs to a priest alone?," says:

The dispensing of Christ's body belongs to the priest for three reasons. First, because…he consecrates as in the person of Christ. But as Christ consecrated His body at the supper, so also He gave it to others to be partaken of by them. Accordingly, as the consecration of Christ's body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him. Secondly, because the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people; hence as it belongs to him to offer the people's gifts to God, so it belongs to him to deliver consecrated gifts to the people. Thirdly, because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest's hands, for touching this sacrament. Hence it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency.

For more information, see:

  1. Communion in the Hand and Similar Frauds by Michael Davies
  2. "Understanding Hand Communion" by Fr. Gruner (see also his videos: Part 1 & Part 2)
  3. The Eucharistic Storms: Communion in the hand and marginalizing the Real Presence by Barry Forbes of Communion-on-the-Tongue.org (in AZW3 or EPUB formats)
  • The extraordinary ministers handbook (which I read one night fixing the computer in the sacristy in my church, not a big church) said communion in the hands has ancient historical roots. I think that sounds like hogwash, but it's probably worth investigating.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 2:24
  • @PeterTurner: I added the quote—falsely attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalum, but really written by his crypto-Arian heretic successor, the patriarch John of Jerusalem—that many people use to "justify" Communion in the hand and "show" that it allegedly has ancient historical roots. The fact is, Communion on the tongue has been practiced since the very beginning.
    – Geremia
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 3:03
  • @Geremia: Can you provide a reference for the statement that it is falsely attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem? The following quote comes directly from my copy of the Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23: "21. In approaching(2) therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers spread; but make thy left hand a throne for the fight, as for that which is to receive a King(3). And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen."
    – Dcn. Andy
    Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 18:50

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