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Liturgy: Proper Posture After Communion

And More on Bowing

ROME, OCT. 26, 2005 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: What is the proper posture after Communion? Our priest sits down before the tabernacle is closed. During this time the Eucharistic ministers are in the sacristy consuming the remaining wine and consolidating the hosts into one container, while the tabernacle doors are open on the altar. After a minute or so one of the ministers places the leftover hosts back into the tabernacle and closes the doors. Should we stay kneeling, or follow the lead of our pastor and sit down before the hosts are put away and tabernacle doors are closed? -- J.H., Clarksville, Indiana

A: There are so many points to be addressed that it is difficult to know where to start.

First, it is incumbent upon the priest or deacon, and not upon the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, to collect the remaining hosts upon the altar and bring them to the tabernacle. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 163, says:

"When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist."

No. 183 adds some pointers for the deacon:

"When the distribution of Communion is completed, the deacon returns to the altar with the priest and collects the fragments, if any remain."

This task, therefore, may not be delegated to an extraordinary minister and it should be done upon the altar, not in the sacristy and not even upon the credence table.

It is also the normal practice that any Precious Blood that might have remained be consumed by priest or deacon at the altar before bringing the chalices to the credence for purification. There may be exceptions to this norm, however, if the quantity is too much for one person to consume.

Thus the particular norms approved for the distribution of Communion in the United States foresee an alternative possibility in No. 52:

"When more of the Precious Blood remains than was necessary for Communion, and if not consumed by the bishop or priest celebrant, 'the deacon immediately and reverently consumes at the altar all of the Blood of Christ which remains; he may be assisted, if needs dictate, by other deacons and priests.' When there are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, they may consume what remains of the Precious Blood from their chalice of distribution with permission of the diocesan bishop."

These norms do not specify if the extraordinary ministers consume their chalices at the altar or at the place of distribution. It would depend on the practical logistics and the number of such ministers. In all cases, however, the excess Precious Blood should be reverently consumed before bringing the chalices to the credence table.

The purification of the sacred vessels is also reserved to the deacon; the instituted acolyte, if there is no deacon; and the priest, if neither of these is present. It is not normally foreseen that extraordinary ministers of holy Communion purify the sacred vessels.

A temporary exemption to this norm was granted to the United States allowing extraordinary ministers to assist (not substitute) priests and deacons in cases of true necessity. This exemption expired several months ago and I am as yet unaware if it has been renewed.

Getting to the principal question, supposing that the reservation of the sacrament is to be carried out by the deacon, then, depending on the location of the tabernacle, and the amount of time required to gather the hosts in one vessel, it is possible for the priest to sit down while the deacon brings the remaining hosts to the tabernacle or to remain standing until the tabernacle is closed and then go to the chair.

After Communion the faithful are free to adopt the posture most consonant with their physical possibilities and personal devotion, whether kneeling, standing or seated.

* * *

Follow-up: When to Bow Before Communion

A couple of questions arose related to our comments on the sign of reverence before receiving Communion.

A religious from Boston, Massachusetts, asks: "Some people make the sign of the cross after receiving holy Communion. Some even go to the side and genuflect. Why is this? This person was taught that the sign of the cross and genuflection after Communion is unnecessary because the Lord is in the person already. But what about when we receive the Lord in two species: We make a sign of reverence (a deep bow) before receiving his Body, and again a deep bow before receiving his Blood. Is the second bow all right/proper to do even though the Lord is already within the person? At that point the Lord is before the person and within the person, or rather the person is in God."

Here we are dealing with the meaning of signs, and certain signs are not strictly necessary after receiving Communion.

With respect to the first part of the question, while there is no real need to make a sign of the cross after receiving holy Communion, many people do so for several reasons. For some, making a sign of the cross is a spiritual reflex action for any moment of prayer. For others, it represents an act of faith in the mystery they have received.

Whatever the cause, I personally see no reason to bother people about such a simple gesture, even if it does not form part of the liturgy at this moment.

Regarding those who genuflect after having received Communion, I really do not know why people would do so and there is no theological or liturgical reason to support it. Some people habitually genuflect whenever they pass the center of the church and perhaps continue doing it without thinking when they receive Communion.

For such cases, some personal catechesis on the part of the pastor can probably do more good than making a fuss about it in public.

Another case is the second part of the question regarding the sign of reverence toward the Blood of Christ even though one has already received Communion under the species of bread.

This second sign of reverence is required by liturgical norms for all the faithful and likewise for concelebrating priests who genuflect before partaking of the chalice even though they have already consumed the Host.

The meaning of this sign does not deny the presence of Christ in the person who has received the Host (although as we mentioned in an earlier reply the duration of the physical presence in the communicant is an open question; see follow-ups of June 21 and July 5). Rather, the sign is an act of faith and adoration in Christ really and fully present under the species of wine.

An English reader asked about the Communion procession: "Where the practice has been introduced of the faithful queuing to receive holy Communion standing, do individuals have a right to receive the Host kneeling down or is the priest entitled to insist that they stand? If the faithful are permitted to receive in a kneeling position, is each individual who wishes to do so entitled to kneel at the altar rail, or must he do so in the queue as his turn arrives?"

There are two question involved. The short answer to the question if the individual may choose to receive kneeling is yes. He may do so and may not be refused Communion for adopting this posture. There might be occasions when charity requires that a Catholic sacrifice his personal devotion for the good of others, and so receive standing, but in general it is no great problem.

The present liturgy sees the faithful as coming to receive Communion in processional form (not quite a queue). And so the proper thing to do would be to await one's turn if that is the only way foreseen for the distribution of Communion.

However, a pastor may freely offer the faithful the possibility of using the Communion rail once they have arrived at the entrance to the presbytery, if he so desires.

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