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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 ...

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