Eucharist by Mouth: Matter of Conscience?

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Hands vs. mouth is something worth talking about.

During most of my life I received the Eucharist by hand. In my parish no-one took Him by mouth besides one or two much older people, and as a child I found that there was something awkward, embarrassing and even rather unsightly about seeing these “oldies” poking their tongues out in front of the priest.

I had of course not understood why they were sticking their tongues out in the middle of mass, and likewise, I hadn’t experienced Christ in the Eucharist at such a tender age; I had not met him in the flesh. In a basic and shallow way I understood what I had been taught: “that the bread and wine become body and flesh”, but I had not understood this with my heart.

After my ‘conversion of heart’ as an adult, I truly met Christ in the Eucharist which completely changed the mass for me (well, it completely changed everything in my life, but that’s another story!), I actually had the desire to go to it for one.

However I still continued to receive the Eucharist in my hands.

The question had come up once or twice among friends, but I had never given much thought to the matter: what could be wrong about receiving in your hands?! I’m not being any less respectful, I am receiving Christ just like the others; it was a pointless discussion in my mind.

Then one day my friend told me that the then Pope Benedict XVI only gave the Eucharist by mouth. This stopped me in my tracks, for I had made my journey back to the faith very much under the guiding wings of this good and humble shepherd.

I began to reflect about it seriously.

After a couple of weeks of failing to put the matter out of my mind despite trying very hard to do so, I thought: ‘Well, there is only one thing for it, I’ll have to give it a go.’

So I began to receive the Eucharist by mouth.

I remember the first time I did it, I felt terribly awkward. I found that I had to put myself in a much more vulnerable position before the priest, opening my mouth before him and keeping my hands down in such a way. Yet even in that first embarassing moment, I felt like I was already opening myself up much more, laying myself bare much more before the Lord.

I also realised the fact that in this way of receiving, the Eucharist passed straight from the hands that consecrated it. It seemed to be a more direct and even purer way to receiving this saving host. In not putting my hands as a go between, I was saying from the depths of my heart, “Lord I truly truly am not worthy to receive you”, and I felt that keeping my hands down and laying myself bare in this way, was continually reminding me that truly I am not worthy of this great gift that He gives to me, the gift of His life. Also, in receiving Him more directly, I was increasing my sense of urgency for, and acceptance of His salvation.

Since that first awkward day I have never looked back.

For me, receiving the Eucharist by mouth is not so much a matter of conscience as one of consciousness.

I don’t see anything wrong in receiving by hand. I know plenty of really good men and women of faith who receive in this way. Indeed, the Church recognises both ways as valid.

However for me personally, the more I became aware of just who it was that I was receiving – namely the real body of Jesus Christ himself – and the more I discovered this mystery as a truly existential experience, the more I desired to enter into this mystery of salvation in the greatest state of reverence and self-abandonment as possible. I found that receiving Christ by mouth helps me to do this.

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