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Embarrassing Question

Posted By: Roman Interloper

Embarrassing Question - 02/24/13 11:57 PM

It's only embarrassing because I've been attending the Divine Liturgy for months, now, and it only just occurred to me that I may not be approaching the chalice the correct way.

Since we communicate from the chalice via the spoon, what exactly are we to...do with our mouths? For Roman Catholics it's obvious: open up and stick out your tongue. Is that also the right way to approach Communion from the spoon?

It always seems to me as if the priest is struggling to find a way to place the Sacred Elements in my mouth, and suddenly it occurred to me that I might be doing something wrong.

Am I?
Posted By: 8IronBob

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 12:01 AM

I dunno, I just open up my mouth lazily, and just wait for the priest or deacon to do their thing, then once the spoon is taken away, I just walk off to the side, bless myself, and return to the pew.
Posted By: Roman Interloper

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 12:26 AM

I don't bless myself because I don't see anybody else doing it (I don't bless myself after communicating at Mass, either, because I've been told it's redundant).

Also, is there a correct way to return to your pew? At the Church I go to most often, communicants depart left after communicating, even if they are seated right, walking counter-clockwise to return to their pew. At another Church I attend, however, communicants seated to the right go right and those seated to the left go left, just as we do in the RC Church.

Posted By: Paul B

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 02:44 AM

Thank you for asking the question; even many regular parishioners don't practice the proper etiquette.

Think of a mother robin feeding her young. The young bird holds his head back with mouth wide open and the mother drops in the food.
Eastern Christian Communion is received the same way. As I am approaching, I make a small bow and bless myself WHILE THE PERSON IN FRONT OF ME is receiving. Then after I receive I step over 2-3 steps and bow again. You don't want to bow or bless yourself while you are directly in front of the priest because you will bump the chalice.

You may see people with their arms folded while receiving; this is traditional in the Ruthenian Church. It is also practical because if your arms are folded you won't make any sudden moves which will bump the chalice.

Also, if you are one of the last to receive, you step aside and stay there so that you aren't turning your back on the Eucharist before it is returned to the side table.

Posted By: Roman Interloper

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 03:33 AM

Paul B:

Thank you! Perhaps I'm not opening my mouth wide enough.

I'm glad that you recommend a bow before communicating. I do that at Mass, and I used to do so at the Divine Liturgy at first, but stopped because nobody else was doing it. Now that I know it's appropriate, however, I'll start bowing once again. It seems the right thing to do.

I once crossed my arms but felt self-concious about it since nobody else ever seems to do that, but also because in the RC Church that's a sign that you do not want to communicate and are approaching simply to receive a blessing.

I'm still wondering about the proper way to return to one's pew.
Posted By: Fr David Straut

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 02:58 PM

I know that it is considered proper in many circles nowadays to present yourself to the priest with face upturned and mouth open wide ("like a baby bird," as has already been said.) Priests have gotten used to this and even teach this as the 'proper' way to receive Holy Communion so that they can flip the spoon and drop the Holy Gifts into the mouth of the communicant without touching his or her mouth with it. Doubtless people view this method of distributing Holy Communion by spoon as the most sanitary, least disease-spreading, Communion practice.

Just so you know... The traditional method of receiving Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church (and that means, by definition, in the Greek Catholic traditions) is the 'close the mouth on the spoon' method. The communicant presents himself to the priest looking straight ahead, opens his mouth wide enough for the spoon to be comfortably inserted into his mouth, The tongue is usually extended out a bit to cover the bottom teeth (bit not as far as a Latin Catholic is used to doing for receiving the Host on the tongue.) The priest places the bowl of the spoon into the mouth of the communicant and the communicant closes his lips and holds the Holy Gifts in his mouth while the priest withdraws the spoon.

Many, Greek Catholics and even many Orthodox, will protest: "But I've never experienced Holy Communion distributed in this way! My priest insists that we receive Holy Communion like baby birds!" Do not be fooled. The 'baby bird' method is of fairly recent origin by Church standards. It is no older than the irreverent way Modern Catholics of the Novus Ordo have been taught to pick up the Host in their fingers and pop it into their mouths like it was a vanilla wafer. (This is not to say, by the way, that I believe all reception of the Body of Christ in the hand is irreverent. The traditional Anglican way of doing this was far more reverent. But, for all I know, that practice may have gone the way of eastward-facing altars, the all male priesthood, and heterosexual marriage in Anglicanism.)

In the Russian Orthodox Church, we still distribute and receive Holy Communion in the traditional Orthodox manner, i.e. where both priest and communicant expect the mouth to be closed on the spoon. Therefore the priest does not flip the spoon over. I myself talk tough, but my pastoral heart impels me to accomodate myself to non-Russians who sometimes present themselves to me as if baby birds believing me to be their Mama. But this can lead sometimes to disastrous results. If you flip a spoon in the mouth of someone who actually closes their mouth, you can injure them. I've seen Russian Bishops sternly tell the baby birds, "Close your mouth!" At least that avoids broken teeth.

Archpriest David Straut
Posted By: Paul B

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 05:54 PM

Bless, Father David.

Thank you for this information, I wasn't aware of it.

As clarification, I don't thinks most clerics "flip" the spoon; if the faithful's head is far enough back, the Eucharist can be dropped off the spoon.

For additional clarification, there is a trend developing (perhaps it is, or is not not of recent origin) for priests to ask the recipient to hold the lention (Communion cloth) while receiving. Should a drop of precious Blood fall it will be caught.)

The proper way, according to the Ruthenian Recension is for the priest to hold the discos, rather than the lention.

There are probably other traditions or customs and it is best to follow the lead of others when in a new parish.

As far as returning to your pew, it will depend upon physical surroundings in the most orderly way. Most parishes use the logical custom of returning left or right, depending on which side they are sitting.

As an aside, one thing I've noticed as a former soccer coach. Regarding the folding of the arms, the hands should be open, not fisted. In soccer we teach girls to fold their arms with clenched fists for protection when the ball is coming toward their breast. This is not necessary for Communion. smile
Posted By: Roman Interloper

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 05:54 PM

Father David:

That's interesting. I would have imagined it a huge faux pas to close one's mouth on the spoon. Shows what I know.

As far as communicating in the hand in the Latin Rite, it was my understanding that the practice was actually an ancient one...the original method, in fact.

I prefer, myself, to receive on the tongue at Mass. I find it difficult to understand, however, why touching the Eucharist with one's hand is so horrifying to some, yet touching the Eucharist with one's tongue, palate, throat, and esophagus (&c) is just fine.

If so many organs come into contact with the Body of Christ, what is so terrible about skin contact, I wonder? Surely when he sojourned on the earth, people shook hands with the Lord or embraced him or otherwise touched His sacred body with their hands. I don't quite understand what the problem is.
Posted By: Recluse

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 06:42 PM

Originally Posted by Fr David Straut
I know that it is considered proper in many circles nowadays to present yourself to the priest with face upturned and mouth open wide ("like a baby bird," as has already been said.) Priests have gotten used to this and even teach this as the 'proper' way to receive Holy Communion so that they can flip the spoon and drop the Holy Gifts into the mouth of the communicant without touching his or her mouth with it. Doubtless people view this method of distributing Holy Communion by spoon as the most sanitary, least disease-spreading, Communion practice.

Just so you know... The traditional method of receiving Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church (and that means, by definition, in the Greek Catholic traditions) is the 'close the mouth on the spoon' method. The communicant presents himself to the priest looking straight ahead, opens his mouth wide enough for the spoon to be comfortably inserted into his mouth, The tongue is usually extended out a bit to cover the bottom teeth (bit not as far as a Latin Catholic is used to doing for receiving the Host on the tongue.) The priest places the bowl of the spoon into the mouth of the communicant and the communicant closes his lips and holds the Holy Gifts in his mouth while the priest withdraws the spoon.

Many, Greek Catholics and even many Orthodox, will protest: "But I've never experienced Holy Communion distributed in this way! My priest insists that we receive Holy Communion like baby birds!" Do not be fooled. The 'baby bird' method is of fairly recent origin by Church standards. It is no older than the irreverent way Modern Catholics of the Novus Ordo have been taught to pick up the Host in their fingers and pop it into their mouths like it was a vanilla wafer. (This is not to say, by the way, that I believe all reception of the Body of Christ in the hand is irreverent. The traditional Anglican way of doing this was far more reverent. But, for all I know, that practice may have gone the way of eastward-facing altars, the all male priesthood, and heterosexual marriage in Anglicanism.)

In the Russian Orthodox Church, we still distribute and receive Holy Communion in the traditional Orthodox manner, i.e. where both priest and communicant expect the mouth to be closed on the spoon. Therefore the priest does not flip the spoon over. I myself talk tough, but my pastoral heart impels me to accomodate myself to non-Russians who sometimes present themselves to me as if baby birds believing me to be their Mama. But this can lead sometimes to disastrous results. If you flip a spoon in the mouth of someone who actually closes their mouth, you can injure them. I've seen Russian Bishops sternly tell the baby birds, "Close your mouth!" At least that avoids broken teeth.

Archpriest David Straut


Yes. I have experienced both. When I was Ruthenian Catholic, it was always "baby bird."

The Antiochian Orthodox will accomodate "baby bird" or traditional closed mouth. The OCA will accomodate both, but usually lean toward closed mouth (some OCA priests insist on closed mouth). Rocor and MP are always closed mouth. In my experiences, Greek has always been closed mouth. I have not yet been to Bulgarian or Serbian Orthodox Churches....but I think they are closed mouth.

I am a traditionalist....so I always prefer closed mouth. smile
Posted By: Fr David Straut

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 07:04 PM

Originally Posted by Roman Interloper
Father David:

As far as communicating in the hand in the Latin Rite, it was my understanding that the practice was actually an ancient one...the original method, in fact.

I prefer, myself, to receive on the tongue at Mass. I find it difficult to understand, however, why touching the Eucharist with one's hand is so horrifying to some, yet touching the Eucharist with one's tongue, palate, throat, and esophagus (&c) is just fine.

If so many organs come into contact with the Body of Christ, what is so terrible about skin contact, I wonder? Surely when he sojourned on the earth, people shook hands with the Lord or embraced him or otherwise touched His sacred body with their hands. I don't quite understand what the problem is.


If you carefully read my post, I do not criticize receiving Holy Comminion in the hand per se. (I actually extolled the former Anglican manner of receiving in the hand.) As a priest, I myself receive Holy Communion in my hands. But what I observe in Novus Ordo Masses does indeed seem irreverent to me. Rather than lifting his crossed hands to his lips and consuming the Host, making sure that no particle remains clinging to his hand, the new method of receiving the Host has the communicant picking the Host up from one hand in the fingers of his other hand and popping it into his mouth with no concern about particles that might cling to hand or fingers or fall to the floor. If Latin Rite communicants partook of the Host in the same manner as clergy of the Byzantine Rite partake of the Lamb, you would hear ne criticism from me. That being said, I do prefer the practice of partaking of the Host on the tongue, preferably after it has been intincted by the priest.

Archpriest David Straut
Posted By: Roman Interloper

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 07:14 PM

Originally Posted by Fr David Straut
If you carefully read my post, I do not criticize receiving Holy Comminion in the hand per se. (I actually extolled the former Anglican manner of receiving in the hand.) As a priest, I myself receive Holy Communion in my hands. But what I observe in Novus Ordo Masses does indeed seem irreverent to me. Rather than lifting his crossed hands to his lips and consuming the Host, making sure that no particle remains clinging to his hand, the new method of receiving the Host has the communicant picking the Host up from one hand in the fingers of his other hand and popping it into his mouth with no concern about particles that might cling to hand or fingers or fall to the floor. If Latin Rite communicants partook of the Host in the same manner as clergy of the Byzantine Rite partake of the Lamb, you would hear ne criticism from me. That being said, I do prefer the practice of partaking of the Host on the tongue, preferably after it has been intincted by the priest.

Archpriest David Straut


I did carefully read your post, Father, and I apologize. I was wondering about objection to the practice, generally, and I should have been more clear about that. In the RC Church, there are alot of people who object to "touching" the host with unconsecrated hands (as if our tongues were somehow consecrated) and who make quite a stink about it. Their reasoning has always bewildered me.

Posted By: 8IronBob

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/25/13 09:32 PM

I'm trying to think... It was the Melkite tradition that handles Communion differently from other Byzantine Rite traditions, correct? Trying to remember... I think I only went to a Melkite Liturgy once as part of a Labor Day Festival... It's been far too long now.
Posted By: eastwardlean?

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/26/13 01:47 AM

While I agree that many believers seem to receive in a somewhat casual manner (in the Latin Church), let us assume most approach the Lord's body and blood with faithful hearts. It's still reasonable to ask if a gesture is appropriate even if we don't question the individual believer's disposition.(In this connection, I will also confess that I get a little tired too of the casual dismissal of the Novus Ordo as such.)

I am geuninely curious to know too about Eastern communion practices--is the spoon always or mostly used? I am sure that I have seen the faithful receiving directly from a priest's hands in videos, photographs, or newsclips online, though I confess I don't know who was being shown in which case.
Posted By: Fr. Deacon Lance

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/26/13 02:20 AM

Originally Posted by 8IronBob
I'm trying to think... It was the Melkite tradition that handles Communion differently from other Byzantine Rite traditions, correct? Trying to remember... I think I only went to a Melkite Liturgy once as part of a Labor Day Festival... It's been far too long now.

Yes, Melkites intinct using rectangular partilces.
Posted By: melkite

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/27/13 03:09 AM

The Melkites (at least at my parish, but I assume the others) receive the eucharist differently than the other Byzantines. On a regular Sunday or holy day, the priest takes rectangular pieces and dips theem into the chalice before placing it by hand in the communicant's mouth. We only receive from the spoon at presanctified liturgies.
Posted By: Economos Roman V. Russo

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/27/13 03:06 PM

Among those Catholics of Constantinopolitan tradition the Romanians also receive by intinction.
Posted By: Roman Interloper

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/27/13 08:20 PM

I know the Coptic Orthodox receive the Body and the Blood separately, lining up to receive the Body of Christ first (they use a cloth of some sort to cover their mouths as they masticate the transubstantiated bread), then forming a new line after receiving the Body of Christ they approach the chalice to receive the Blood. How they receive from the chalice, whether directly or by spoon, I'm not sure; I don't seem to recall.
Posted By: Booth

Re: Embarrassing Question - 02/27/13 11:10 PM

Originally Posted by Roman Interloper
As far as communicating in the hand in the Latin Rite, it was my understanding that the practice was actually an ancient one...the original method, in fact.
...
If so many organs come into contact with the Body of Christ, what is so terrible about skin contact, I wonder? Surely when he sojourned on the earth, people shook hands with the Lord or embraced him or otherwise touched His sacred body with their hands. I don't quite understand what the problem is.


I'm no expert, but I believe it has to do with self-communication. Ideally you're supposed to receive the Eucharist from someone above you in the hierarchy. You do receive it from a priest on the hand, but then you self-communicate. I think.

Didn't the Latin Church also used to specially bless four of the priest's fingers for the purpose of touching the Host? His other six unblessed fingers - and by extension all laymens' fingers - were not specially blessed. This makes some sense in the Latin theological idiom, I suppose.

Also, as far as ancient Eucharistic customs go, I read some churches used to hand out chunks of Eucharist for people to self-communicate during the week at home. (!!!) Maybe some extra sense of Eucharistic piety developed in the patristic age?

It could be one of those "genie out of the bottle" things. Once the custom is established that it is more reverent to do things one way, it's kind of hard to turn around and purposefully do them in a way that is now viewed as irreverent, without feeling a bit of that irreverent spirit yourself ... even if the act of its own nature was neutral.

Subjectively and aesthetically, it is more intimate to receive on the tongue. As a non-expert, it does seem more appropriate, also.
Posted By: Otsheylnik

Re: Embarrassing Question - 03/02/13 12:23 PM

The reason why you close the mouth around the spoon rather than wait for someone to drop it into a gaping orifice is quite obvious. Think of the spoon still dripping blood being moved away having been flipped over. Aside from that issue of not wanting particles or blood dripping who knows where, there's also a certain symbolism. The Eucharist is real food and drink, and we are not birds, but human beings. Come to the banquet like you mean it.
Posted By: 8IronBob

Re: Embarrassing Question - 03/02/13 03:33 PM

Or another example is when you bless yourself right after receiving the body and blood right in front of the priest, and accidentally bumping into the gold plate or even the chalice... I've been there before, and wound up almost winning a ticket to the confessional for that. Lesson learned there. Also, blessing oneself after receiving is more of a "Latin" thing anyway, iirc...
Posted By: StuartK

Re: Embarrassing Question - 03/03/13 01:48 PM

Quote
I'm no expert, but I believe it has to do with self-communication. Ideally you're supposed to receive the Eucharist from someone above you in the hierarchy. You do receive it from a priest on the hand, but then you self-communicate. I think.


Wrong.
Posted By: 8IronBob

Re: Embarrassing Question - 03/03/13 06:18 PM

Originally Posted by Otsheylnik
The reason why you close the mouth around the spoon rather than wait for someone to drop it into a gaping orifice is quite obvious. Think of the spoon still dripping blood being moved away having been flipped over. Aside from that issue of not wanting particles or blood dripping who knows where, there's also a certain symbolism. The Eucharist is real food and drink, and we are not birds, but human beings. Come to the banquet like you mean it.


True, wound up doing this yesterday at the Vigil Divine Liturgy, and wound up with that metallic taste in my mouth afterwards. I *still* taste a bit of that metal. Mleh.
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