PLACEMENT OF THE TABERNACLE
The basic provision made for the placement of the tabernacle is as follows: "In accordance with
the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in
a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer" (314).
specifically: "It is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is
reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated. Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according
to the judgment of the diocesan bishop, (a) either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place
more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration; (b) or even in some chapel suitable for the
faithfuls private adoration and prayer and that is organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian
While not providing a single placement for the tabernacle in all churches, this clarifies a point
that previously had been ambiguous in the law: who gets to decide upon the placement of the tabernacle. The answer is that
the diocesan bishop does, within the limits specified above.
SILENCE IN CHURCH
Some have questioned whether the custom of observing silence in churches is to be retained, particularly
before Mass. The new GIRM commends this practice:
"Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence
be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves
to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner" (45).
THE SIGN OF PEACE
In many places the faithful have been perplexed about the priest being able to shake hands, hug, or otherwise
exchange a sign of peace with numerous individuals in the congregation. To prevent this from happening, the new GIRM specifies:
priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration.
In the dioceses of the United States of America, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral,
a wedding, or when civic leaders are present) the priest may offer the sign of peace to a few of the faithful near the sanctuary"
EXTRAORDINARY MINISTERS OF HOLY COMMUNION
For some time the Holy See has been concerned about the overuse in America and other countries of extraordinary
ministers of Holy Communion. These are individuals other than bishops, priests, and deacons who distribute Communion to the
In many places extraordinary ministers have been used in ordinary circumstances. To facilitate this they
are sometimes referred to simply as "Eucharistic ministers" (not a title used for them in Church documents) or as "special
ministers" rather than "extraordinary ministers."
To prevent the overuse of extraordinary ministers, the new GIRM provides
that "the priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests
are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist
him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the
priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion" (162).
In some places extraordinary ministers have been
encouraged to gather around the altar before the distribution of Communion and even to receive Communion before the priest
does. To prevent this, the new GIRM provides that "these ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received
Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the
Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful" (162).
Who Can Receive Communion?
The Holy Eucharist is the most important of the seven sacraments because, in this and in no other sacrament,
we receive the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Innumerable, precious graces come to us through the
reception of Holy Communion.
Communion is an intimate encounter with Christ, in which we sacramentally receive Christ
into our bodies, that we may be more completely assimilated into his. "The Eucharist builds the Church," as Pope John Paul
II said (Redemptor Hominis 20). It deepens unity with the Church, more fully assimilating us into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13;
The Eucharist also strengthens the individual because in it Jesus himself, the Word made flesh, forgives
our venial sins and gives us the strength to resist mortal sin. It is also the very channel of eternal life: Jesus himself.
In Johns gospel, Jesus summarized the reasons for receiving Communion when he said:
"Truly, truly, I say to
you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks
my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the
Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers
ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:53-58).
Because of the gravity of Jesus teaching on
receiving the Eucharist, the Church encourages Catholics to receive frequent Communion, even daily Communion if possible,
and mandates reception of the Eucharist at least once a year during the Easter season. Before going to Communion, however,
there are several things one needs to know.
Catholics and Communion
The Church sets out specific guidelines regarding how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lords
body and blood in Communion. To receive Communion worthily, you must be in a state of grace, have made a good confession since
your last mortal sin, believe in transubstantiation, observe the Eucharistic fast, and, finally, not be under an ecclesiastical
censure such as excommunication.
First, you must be in a state of grace. "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread
or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man
examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Cor. 11:27-28). This is an absolute requirement which can
never be dispensed. To receive the Eucharist without sanctifying grace in your soul profanes the Eucharist in the most grievous
A mortal sin is any sin whose matter is grave and which has been committed willfully and with knowledge
of its seriousness. Grave matter includes, but is not limited to, murder, receiving or participating in an abortion, homosexual
acts, having sexual intercourse outside of marriage or in an invalid marriage, and deliberately engaging in impure thoughts
(Matt. 5:28-29). Scripture contains lists of mortal sins (for example, 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Gal. 5:19-21). For further information
on what constitutes a mortal sin, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Out of habit and out of fear of
what those around them will think if they do not receive Communion, some Catholics, in a state of mortal sin, choose to go
forward and offend God rather than stay in the pew while others receive the Eucharist. The Churchs ancient teaching on this
particular matter is expressed in the Didache, an early Christian document written around A.D. 70, which states: "Whosoever
is holy [i.e., in a state of sanctifying grace], let him approach. Whosoever is not, let him repent" (Didache 10).
Second, you must have been to confession since your last mortal sin. The Didache witnesses to this practice
of the early Church. "But first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one" (Didache
The 1983 Code of Canon Law indicates that the same requirement applies today. "A person who is conscious
of a grave sin is not to . . . receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is
present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act
of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible" (CIC 916).
The requirement for sacramental
confession can be dispensed if four conditions are fulfilled: (1) there must be a grave reason to receive Communion (for example,
danger of death), (2) it must be physically or morally impossible to go to confession first, (3) the person must already be
in a state of grace through perfect contrition, and (4) he must resolve to go to confession as soon as possible.
you must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and
drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor. 11:29). Transubstantiation means more than the Real Presence. According to transubstantiation,
the bread and wine are actually transformed into the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, with only the appearances
of bread and wine remaining. This is why, at the Last Supper, Jesus held what appeared to be bread and wine, yet said:
"This is my body. . . . This is my blood" (Mark 14:22-24, cf. Luke 22:14-20). If Christ were merely present
along side bread and wine, he would have said "This contains my body. . . . This contains my blood," which he
did not say.
Fourth, you must observe the Eucharistic fast. Canon law states, "One who is to receive the most
Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period
of one hour before Holy Communion" (CIC 919 §1). Elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from
the Eucharistic fast (CIC 191 §3). Priests and deacons may not dispense one obligated by the Eucharistic fast unless the bishop
has expressly granted such power to them (cf. CIC 89).
Finally, one must not be under an ecclesiastical censure.
Canon law mandates, "Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others
who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion" (CIC 915).
Provided they are
in a state of grace and have met the above requirements, Catholics should receive the Eucharist frequently (cic 898).
Other Christians and Communion
The guidelines for receiving Communion, which are issued by the U.S. bishops and published in many
missalettes, explain, "We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters.
We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and
begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with
Christs prayer for us that they may all be one (John 17:21).
"Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the
Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are
not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians
requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law. . . . "
is clear that partaking of the Eucharist is among the highest signs of Christian unity: "Because there is one bread, we who
are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17). For this reason, it is normally impossible for
non-Catholic Christians to receive Holy Communion, for to do so would be to proclaim a unity to exist that, regrettably, does
Another reason that many non-Catholics may not ordinarily receive Communion is for their own protection, since
many reject the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Scripture warns that it is very dangerous for one
not believing in the Real Presence to receive Communion: "For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats
and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor. 11:29-30).
However, there are circumstances when non-Catholics may receive Communion from a Catholic
priest. This is especially the case when it comes to Eastern Orthodox Christians, who share the same faith concerning the
nature of the sacraments:
"Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing
of the sick to members of the oriental churches which do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask on
their own for the sacraments and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches, which in the judgment
of the Apostolic See are in the same condition as the oriental churches as far as these sacraments are concerned" (CIC 844
Christians in these churches should, of course, respect their own churchs guidelines regarding when it would be
permissible for them to receive Communion in a Catholic church.
The circumstances in which Protestants are permitted to
receive Communion are more limited, though it is still possible for them to do so under certain specifically defined circumstances.
Canon law explains the parameters: "If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the
diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians
who do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their
own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed" (CIC 844 § 4).
is important to remember that, under the rubrics specified above, even in those rare circumstances when non-Catholics are
able to receive Communion, the same requirements apply to them as to Catholics.
Non-Christians and Communion
The U.S. bishops guidelines for receiving Communion state, "We also welcome
to this celebration those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. While we cannot admit them to Communion, we ask them
to offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family."
Because they have not received baptism, the
gateway to the other sacraments, non-Christians cannot receive Communion. However, in emergency situations, they can be received
into the Church via
baptism, even if no priest is present, and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may bring them
Communion as Viaticum.
How to receive Communion
Communicants may receive Communion either standing or kneeling. "With regard
to the manner of going to Communion the faithful can receive it either kneeling or standing, in accordance with the norms
laid down by the episcopal conference: When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence towards the Blessed
Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration. When they receive Communion standing, it is strongly
recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before
receiving the Sacrament" (Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inaestimabile Donum 11).
Communion may be received either in the hand or on
the tongue. Around the year A.D. 390, Cyril of Jerusalem indicated that the early Church practiced Communion in the hand when
he instructed his audience: "Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy
left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hallowed thy palm, receive the
body of Christ, saying after it, Amen. Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the holy
body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of
thine own members. For tell me, if anyone gave thee gold dust, wouldst thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on
thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss?" (Catechetical Lectures 23:22).
The Congregation of
the Sacraments and Divine Worship permitted the U.S. Bishops Conference to authorize reception of Communion in the hand on
July 25, 1977, provided the local bishop implements the practice in his diocese. Once implemented, the option to receive Communion
either in the hand or on the tongue always remains with the communicant. No priest, deacon, acolyte, or extraordinary minister
of Holy Communion may refuse a communicant Communion on the tongue. Likewise, once the local bishop has introduced Communion
in the hand, none may refuse a communicant Communion in the hand (except when Communion is being given by intinction, in which
case it must be given on the tongue).
Finally, after you have received Communion, it is appropriate to stay after
Mass and thank Jesus for coming to you in the Holy Eucharist. The Church mandates that: "The faithful are to be recommended
not to omit to make a proper thanksgiving after Communion. They may do this during the celebration with a period of silence,
with a hymn, psalm or other song of praise, or also after the celebration, if possible by staying behind to pray for a suitable
time" (Inaestimabile Donum 17).
After receiving Jesus into ones own body and being drawn more closely into
his, how could one do any less?