Archbishop Vincent Nichols on the different ways in which we may receive Holy Communion and their symbolic and spiritual meanings

My Dear Brother and Sisters,

Two weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi when we remind ourselves of the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, which we receive in Holy Communion and adore in the tabernacle of every church. In recent weeks many children have made their first Holy Communion, bringing joy to their families. Our faith is clear: in Holy Communion, Christ comes into our inner selves, unworthy though we are, and we are taken into Him to form one Body in Christ through the Sacrament which we share.

In Holy Communion we share in the fruit of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. Those who are not able to receive Holy Communion continue to share in that fruit, as expressed in the blessing they receive. They receive Christ in a spiritual communion.

There are different ways in which we may receive Holy Communion. I want to speak about them now.

The usual practice in our parishes is for the Sacred Host to be received on the hand, standing, and – when practical and prudent to do so reverently – for the Precious Blood to be received from the Chalice, also whilst standing. This practice of standing is now confirmed in the Liturgical Norm for England and Wales, just recently approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome.


This Norm together with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal also provide choices which each recipient is at liberty to make: to receive the Sacred Host in the hand or on the tongue, either standing or kneeling. Each way has its symbolic and spiritual meaning helping us to be profoundly aware of whom it is that we receive and the unity of faith we share.

When receiving Holy Communion in the hand, we make with our hands the form of both a cross and a throne in which to receive our King who sacrificed his life for us. With clean, empty hands and with gloves removed, we receive him with utter reverence and consume the Host carefully in the presence of the minister before turning away.

When we receive Holy Communion on the tongue, we are aware of coming to be fed with the Food of Life, conscious of our utter dependence on the Lord. We know the holiness of the One we receive, beyond our touch.

When we receive Holy Communion standing we show that we are ready to receive the Lord and to walk and act in His name. In standing we are part of a prayerful procession, a people with a mission, summoned by the Lord to the glory of heaven. This is our baptismal calling and dignity.

Standing or kneeling

When we receive Holy Communion kneeling, we present ourselves with humility and reverence, submitting our strength to Him, recognising that He is Lord of all.

Receiving Holy Communion, we know that Christ, whole and entire, his body and blood, together with his soul and divinity, is truly, really and substantially present. This is so whether we receive Holy Communion under both forms of bread and wine, or in one form alone.

However, each form has its own particular meaning or symbolism which enriches our celebration of this Sacrament. In the Sacred Host, Christ is presented as the Body broken for us, in which is our strength; in the Chalice he is the Precious Blood poured out for us, in which is our forgiveness.

Let us deepen our understanding and appreciation of this wonderful gift. We must always present ourselves for communion with the utmost reverence and aware of the immensity of what is taking place. Please reflect on how you personally present yourself to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Each way of receiving Holy Communion expresses awe and must be carried out with care.

Importance of preparation

It is important that we also prepare well to receive Holy Communion. We observe a Eucharistic fast, of at least one hour. We seek forgiveness of our sins, through the penitential prayers of the Mass and through the Sacrament of Penance, especially whenever we are conscious of grave sin.

When we have received the Lord, we concentrate utterly on his presence within us, in prayer and recollection, when we return to our places. A time of silent prayer should follow Holy Communion as we approach the end of Mass. Then, nourished by Holy Communion, we leave the church and become, in our world, living ambassadors for Christ, the one we have received. We bring His love and compassion to all we meet.

Today I ask every parish and community to refresh its reverence and love for the Blessed Sacrament and its practice of receiving Holy Communion.

This pastoral letter was sent by
Archbishop Vincent Nichols to the
Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales ND