Proper Posture After Communion

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Proper Posture After Communion

ROME, 25 OCT. 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. ZE05102523

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Follow-up: Proper Posture After Communion [11-08-2005]

In the wake of our comments on postures after Communion (Oct. 25) several readers inquired about a custom in several places.

One Michigan reader writes: "My diocese has adopted some disturbing practices during Holy Mass. The entire congregation has been ordered to stand from the Great Amen until every communicant has received and returned to their seat. Please comment."

There are two points to consider. One is to have the congregation stand from the end of the Eucharistic Prayer until Communion. The second is to have the entire congregation stand until all have received Communion.

With respect to the first point, standing after the Agnus Dei is the most common posture in the universal Church. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states, however, that where the practice of kneeling at this moment is customary, such as in the United States, it is praiseworthily retained.

Because of this, the official U.S. translation of GIRM No. 43 retained the practice but gave some scope to the local bishop. To wit:

"In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise."

Since, in accordance with the final sentence of the above norm, the diocesan bishop has determined to have the faithful stand after the Agnus Dei, this becomes the norm for that diocese.

The second point, of having everybody remain standing until all have received Communion, was already treated in a Feb. 17, 2004, column, and I substantially repeat what I then wrote:

"GIRM, No. 43, caused some controversy. It affirms that the faithful 'may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed.'

"Some liturgists, and even some bishops, interpreted this text to mean that nobody should kneel or sit until everybody had received Communion. The resulting debate led Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. bishops' Liturgy Committee (BCL), to request an authentic interpretation from the Holy See on May 26, 2003.

"Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, responded to the question on June 5, 2003 (Prot. N. 855/03/L):

"'Responsum: "Negative, et ad mentem" [No, for this reason]. The mens [reasoning] is that the prescription of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, no. 43, is intended, on the one hand, to ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of Holy Mass, and on the other, to not regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free.'

"Having received this response, the BCL Newsletter commented: 'In the implementation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore, posture should not be regulated so rigidly as to forbid individual communicants from kneeling or sitting when returning from having received Holy Communion' (p. 26)."

All the same, no matter what posture they adopt, the faithful may still be encouraged to begin their thanksgiving by participating in the Communion hymn, especially if a period of silence for personal prayer is duly observed after the distribution of Communion.

Finally, a religious mentioned a particular point regarding genuflections:

"Your response for Oct. 25 includes that some people habitually genuflect when 'passing the center of the Church.' In our convent if we are passing through the west cloister and the chapel doors are open, we do this. But it is not because of habit. As I understand it, when the tabernacle used to be in the center of the sanctuary, behind the altar, we would be thus reverencing Our Lord in the Sacrament, while passing by."

My response referred only to the case of not genuflecting to the tabernacle immediately after receiving Communion during Mass.

At all other times, genuflection is the proper and appropriate gesture of respect and adoration to be made whenever passing in front of the tabernacle, at least in the context of Western culture.

Some Asian cultures substitute a deep bow which in their context has the same sense of adoration and veneration as the genuflection in the West. ZE05110822

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