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How would you describe what was involved in receiving communion at Mass to someone who is not a member of the Catholic Church? The participation of communicants includes all of the following actions:
Processing to the altar. The communion procession is the action of walking together, while singing, to the Lord’s Table where we share communion with Christ and with one another. The ministers do not bring the sacred elements to the communicants; the assembly processes as a pilgrim people to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
Singing. The introduction to the Missal states clearly that the communion song begins while the priest is receiving the Sacrament (GIRM 86). The communion rite is not a time for silent adoration or a private moment with Jesus but a public feast with the Risen Lord and his people.
Making a gesture of reverence. The General Instruction spells out how this is done: “When approaching to receive Holy Communion, the faithful bow in reverence of the Mystery that they are to receive” (GIRM 160).
Responding with “Amen” to the minister. When the minister presents the host, he or she says “The body of Christ”, an acclamation which expresses faith in the Real Presence in the consecrated bread as well as the belief that it is through sharing communion that the Church becomes the body of Christ. The communicant affirms this statement of faith with “Amen”.
Receiving the sacred host. Communicants never take the host but are given it in the hand or on the tongue according to their own preference. The following instruction, which was given by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century to those about to be initiated into the Church, still offers sound guidance for receiving communion in the hand:
”When you come forward, do not draw near with your hands wide open or with fingers spread apart; instead, with you left hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King. Receive the body of Christ in the hollow of your hand and give the response: ‘Amen’.”
Consuming the consecrated bread. Christ’s invitation is to “Take this, all of you, and eat it”, so the current teaching of the Church is that, as soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes it entirely (GIRM 161).
Taking the chalice and drinking the Precious Blood. Christ’s call is clear: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it.” The General Instruction puts it this way: “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident” (GIRM 281).
Singing until all have received. Paragraph 86 of the General Instruction goes on to say that the communion song “continues for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful”.
Praying in silence. “After Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts” (GIRM 45). This is the time to offer thanks and to ask for the strength to be Christ in our world of family, work and community in the days ahead.