Blessing Oneself When Receiving Communion

Blessing Oneself When Receiving Communion

This question that I received today follows on nicely from last week’s column about gestures of reverence at Mass.

Q. I am in the final phase of preparing our parish children for first Holy Communion. This year there have been several enquiries about why we are not instructing children to bless themselves, i.e., make the sign of the cross, after receiving Communion.We teach the bow of reverence, and the way to hold their hands, and continue to emphasise reverent behaviour and the understanding that "you have received Jesus".I point out that it is important to understand what the Church teaches on this point. Despite this, parents still seem concerned we are not doing what some of them were instructed a generation ago. I wondered if you had any words of wisdom that I could use with the parents.
A. I must admit that I found your question rather puzzling. It seems that crossing oneself after receiving Communion is common practice at your parish, but it is not a widespread in this diocese or elsewhere.

Parents asking that the children be taught to do it is like expecting a driving instructor to teach leaner drivers to toot and wave as they drive off. Sure, some people do it, but it is not required, is quite inappropriate and is in fact illegal!

Crossing oneself after receiving Communion has never been an official Church teaching or ritual. Whoever taught the practice “a generation ago” was misguided. In the past many children were taught that they would be punished by God if they chewed the host, but that does not make it right! The priest does not bless himself when he takes Communion, so why should anyone else do so? The sign of the cross is reserved for blessing oneself with holy water on entering the church and at the beginning and end of Mass.

After receiving Communion, hands that have touched the Body of Christ and the chalice of his Blood should be clasped together reverently. As you say, the focus at this point of the Mass is on “receiving Jesus”, not on the Holy Trinity as such which is what the sign of the cross calls to mind.

Paragraph 160 of the official General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes it very clear that the sign of reverence for the sacred elements is a bow that is made as communicants approach the ministers distributing Communion:
“When approaching to receive Holy Communion, the faithful bow in reverence of the Mystery that they are to receive”.

Communicants are to make a simple bow of the head when they step forward to receive the consecrated elements from the minister. Such a bow can be done simply, without disrupting the flow of the Communion Procession.

At the time when the new General Instruction came into effect in 2008, a concerted effort was made to explain the instruction about bowing before receiving Communion and to make clear that its purpose was to stop people choosing their own gesture such as genuflecting and making the sign of the cross.

We process and sing together and use the same words and gestures at the Rite of Communion because Communion makes us One Body in Christ.


Elizabeth Harrington