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The Question of How to Receive Communion

Very recently a sermon was given about the obligations of the laity in how they posture themselves before receiving communion or while they receive communion, or both.  All I will say about this is that some people heard that one should not present himself for Communion if he is going to genuflect before-hand, or kneel to receive.  I was there, and I didn't hear that.  Actually, in the priest's defense, I thought he said that he wouldn't deny somebody Communion for doing that, but that they should still be obedient, and follow the wishes of the parish priest and the bishop's conference.  I have to say that I was surprised by the comment, but after thinking about it, I didn't know if I was in opposition to what he said, and in fact, I've been leaning in his direction.

Setting aside the common arguments that, on the one hand, we should kneel to receive as a sign of humility before God, and a way of glorifying Him, and on the other hand, that by kneeling to receive we're being “holier than thou”, and that it only creates a disturbance for other people, I'd like to call attention to something else entirely, which is the purpose of this post: Is it morally permissible to genuflect before receiving, or to kneel to receive, when your priest, and/or in some places, your bishop, directs you not to?  Anyone who actually does genuflect before or kneels while receiving has an answer ready for this: Of course!  “We have permission from Rome.”

I've read several documents on the matter; they're letters written by bishops and cardinals in Rome with authority, and they state definitively that people who do that are not to be denied Communion.  But that really doesn't answer my question, and there are two reasons for this; first, I've never seen any document on the subject directed toward the laity (in fact they all seem to be directed toward a specific individual, who is always a bishop), and second, the fact that we shouldn't be denied Holy Communion for kneeling to receive only implies that the act isn't a mortal sin, and leaves the question of genuflecting or kneeling to receive being a venial sin (which we all know is still a serious offense against the law of God) completely open.

My concern is pretty simple.  The bishop's conference has directed us to stand while receiving, and bow before receiving.  While taking into account the fact that the USCCB doesn't have any authoritative power outside of the authority of the individual bishops that comprise it, unless your individual bishop has stated otherwise, that authority holds.  To go against that authority is to commit sin.   Another answer to this would be to find a more definitive document from the Vatican that has less to do with the obligations of our priests and bishops, and more to do with the obligations of the laity.

I'd love to hear (or read) points of view from my coworkers, and especially our CEO, who is an exhaustive encyclopedia on the Liturgy, and also anyone out there who would like to say something about the issue.  I'm also hoping that our Uncle Diogenes, who won my respect with his comments on the guitar at Mass, will read this and one way or another offer his thoughts.

Who knows, maybe I'm wrong, and the documents that I've seen that don't really seem to give the laity permission for anything really do.  What do you think?


  1. hey the thing with kneeling is that if one does it and another sees it they tend to follow and do it but the main picture here is do the know what they are receiving (Jesus of course) Pope John Paul II said the most reverent way to receive is on the knees, would we not want to be in the most reverent way to Our Lord. If Lets say Jesus walked into the room your in now would you stand Or kneel ( I hope not stand) and if we believe that he is truly Present body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity then why not do the same during Communion. aside from receiving standing up the thing with that too is that some of Our Bro and sisters receive with their hands I hate to assume but can you imagine the Percentage of how many people smoke, Pick their nose, impure hands that have committed Lustful actions. and then if Communion is receive by hands the tiny Particles are still on Your hands after you receive the tiny Particles of Jesus’s body is being left on everything car doors keys restrooms what people do after Mass.

    Im From M.H.C.C (Mary help of all Christians Crusade) Lambs of Christ youth Group from Moreno Valley You can contact me at (951) 8075844 if you have trouble understanding and if you need more information in this subject

  2. A couple of thoughts on this topic. First, according to Canon Law a custom that is over a certain number of years old (I think 40) must be specifically abrogated or it remains a valid custom.

    The response from Rome concerning kneeling seems to indicate that the custom of kneeling has never been abrogated as the response to priests who deny Communion based on someone kneeling is called a serious abuse and further that the US bishops were granted permission to set a norm of standing on the condition that no one who knelt, as is their right, would be denied Communion for that reason.

    Had the bishops actually been given the authority to order people to stand instead of kneel Rome would not have responded as it did to the various queries submitted by the Faithful.

    In the case of a bishop or priest that tells everyone that they have to stand, there is no sin involved in continuing to kneel because the bishop and priest lack the authority to make such a demand.

  3. I see…

    So we’re not under any obligation to follow instructions if the person giving the instructions doesn’t have the authority to give them. I love that perspective!

    I was a little worried that I had convinced myself to remain standing…

    Thanks, Ian!

  4. So, have the US bishops “lost” the permission to let people stand since some priests and bishops have denied Holy Communion to kneelers, thus disobeying the conditions of the permission?

    Sorry if that makes no grammatical sense!

  5. The Orthodox Church not only has valid sacraments but usually is considered a bastion of conservatism and piety, so the following description of “Standard Operating Procedure” in Greek Orthodox churches may help some people “think outside the box.”

    Everyone stands through the words “This is my Body…” and “This is my Blood…”

    THEN, the faithful kneel while the priest prays “…send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and these Gifts presented, and make this bread the Precious Body of Thy Christ, and that which is in the Cup the Precious Blood of Thy Christ…” He then kneels and the choir, which has been kneeling, stands and sings.

    Then everyone stands … and remains standing. The faithful stand until leaving their pew for Communion; they stand to receive; they stand upon returning to their pews.

    Yes, if Christ Himself appeared, we’d stand; we’d snap to military attention!

    Baptized infants and toddlers are brought to Communion first, then adults who have fasted from the previous evening and made a recent Confession. The majority of adults do not receive every Sunday, out of respect for the sacrament.

    After Communion, the priest blesses the faithful with the Gifts, then takes them to the sacristy to consume after the service; the faithful then sit and wait for the collection tray, announcements, sermon and dismissal. 😉 If we start at 10 am, we’re out just before noon!

    In 25 years, I saw one genuflection in my parish. A young man genuflected on exiting his pew. On reaching the priest, he was asked “You’re Roman Catholic or Episcopalian, aren’t you?” Apparently, he said yes; he was refused Communion. (The Orthodox DO have a handful of Western Rite parishes which use the Tridentine Missal in English. Presumably, they genuflect!)

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