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.

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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.

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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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