Communion: right over left or left over right?

Why put your left hand over your right and not your right over your left?

I grew up Episcopalian and then converted, becoming an Anglican Use Roman Catholic (if there is an Anglican Use parish around). In the Episcopal Church, in my experience. you take communion in the hand by putting your right over your left and then receiving the wafer by lifting the two hands together to your mouth. This is done often kneeling but also standing.

However, the Catholic Church does it differently and I don’t know why. In the Catholic Church, we are instructed to put your left hand over your right and then to use your right hand to pop the wafer into your mouth (often done as you sprint back to your seat).

Why the difference?

The Episcopal way seems more reverent for two reasons . First, you are using one hand, not two. Second, you are bending your head down, as if in prayer, to meet your hands, which are rising together. This is a different way to eat than in day-to-day life. The Catholic way is similar to the way we eat normally, like eating potato chips or an after-dinner mint.

Then there is also the symbolism of accepting Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father in your own right hand.

Now, if you bend your head down, particularly while walking back to your pew, there is a chance that you might stumble, dropping the host, and the left hand is closer to your heart. Are those the only reasons for the Catholic way?

(Please don’t respond about taking communion on the tongue. That’s a different issue. I want to address the sub-issue of why the left hand over the right.)

I have never stopped to think why that is but I see Catholics who are not from North America originally receive the way you describe “right over left and both hands to the mouth”. It follows the way prescribed by St. Cyril of Jerusalem “When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen. [4]”

As for stumbling when walking away – we are not to walk away with the Host in our hand but we are to consume it immediately upon receiving (step to the side and consume before proceeding to either the Chalice or your pew).

In the true Roman Catholic Church, there is no other way to recieve Communion, but on the tongue.


We tell our folks in RCIA to put their non-dominant hand on top. That way they can pick up the host with their dominant hand. And take a moment to put the host into your mouth before you move on. It shouldn’t be something you “pop into your mouth” as you’re on your way back to the pew.

The “true” Church – that is, the one in union with the Pope and the bishops – has given permission to receive on the tongue or in the hand.

Was the GIRM not published by the true Roman Catholic Church? :rolleyes:

Anyway, there is nothing in the GIRM that necessitates receiving in the hand left over right vs. right over left. Any Catholic can choose either.

Permissible, yes. However, do you wash your hands in a special sink after receiving or treat the remnants of the Eucharist on your fingers with special care in some other? It’s a completely personal choice to receive in the hand versus mouth, but I believe that greater respect is shown by not taking the Body of Christ into our own hands, but rather receiving it on the tongue from the hands of the priest, which are then cleansed thoroughly so no trace of the Precious Body is wasted or disrespected.

I will never forget how upset my brother was when a priest at a Novus Ordo Mass refused to give him the Eucharist because my brother knelt to receive it. When I attend N.O., I make it a habit to genuflect before approaching the priest to receive the Eucharist, and I’ve caught looks from people as I return to my pew. I don’t see why it is such an issue for people to show additional reverence to the body of Christ.

I have heard people saying that several years (perhaps even a decade or two) after Vatican II, it became more and more popular for CCD teachers to begin teaching First Communicants to receive in the hand. That’s how I was taught 16 years ago when I first received Holy Communion. Was anyone taught differently? And if so, how long ago?

I’ll be the first to say it: We don’t take communion, we receive it. Receiving in the hands has lent itself to this misconception and ease in mis-stating this reality. There is no way to take something with your mouth unless you are eating like an animal. But we can take things with our hands.

Nevertheless, to answer your question, I don’t think it would matter if you receive left hand over the right or right hand over the left. For most people, doing something reverently has been reduced to a matter of speed. If you do something slowly, then it is apparently reverent.

My apologies, Bruce–I hadn’t read your post before responding to the others. I think there were some thorough answers about why Catholics often receive left-over-right when they opt to receive in their hand. We were told by our Sunday school teacher that we should have our dominant hand on bottom. I also preferred having my right hand underneath because I would then genuflect in front of the Crucifix and make the Sign of the Cross before returning to my pew

I came into the Church 2 years ago at my FSSP parish. So I’ve never received in the hands and was taught to only receive on the tongue.

since part of my job is instructing young people on how to receive communion I will respond. and since I know it will be the next question, yes we instruct them on how to receive properly on the tongue as well as in the hand, and that it is their choice. In this we follow the direction of our bishop and current church documents governing this discipline in the US, since we don’t have the right to make up our own rules. Catholics receive communion as a gift, they do not “take” communion. The proper procedure is to make a gesture of reverence (if you have been kneeling during the fraction rite you have already made this gesture, so there is no further need to genuflect or bow, however you may do either if it is permitted in your jurisdiction). The current discipline in the US is to receive standing, unless you are in a location where the practice is to kneel and it is physically possible for you to do so. In such a place where kneeling is practice it is most likely communion is administered only on the tongue in any case.

The minister holds up the host and says “Body of Christ”. The communicant responds “Amen”, while lifting the hands at a convenient height for the minister, left hand on top, hands slightly cupped “to make a throne for the King” in Augustine’s description, and to lessen possibility of dropping. The communicant picks up the host in the right hand with thumb and forefinger, and puts it in his mouth immediately, without taking even one single step. Under no circumstances may the communicant proceed down the aisle holding the host. There is no “popping” as in the manner of eating popcorn, this is most irreverent, and the reason we pick it up with the fingers is to avoid that very instinct. It should go without saying the hands are clean when we come to church, and if something such as sneezing, caring for a small child etc. makes it necessary, the hands should be discretely wiped, use hand sanitizer, whatever, before receiving. It should also go without saying that one does not approach communion with anything in the mouth–gum, mint, cough drop.

He may then step to the side and make the sign of the cross, and proceed to receive from the chalice, or back to his seat. (if the pastor has instructed the faithful not to make this pause because of local “traffic” problems, don’t do it. The host should be chewed sufficiently to make it easy to swallow and swallowed right away, before sipping from the chalice. Since there is usually a line at the chalice there should be time to swallow properly.

If it is not a church law it should be that anyone who removes gum from the mouth, receives communion, and pops the gum back in should immediately be arrested by swiss guards and taken to a place of execution (all right, they can have a trial first before the spanish inquisition). However I hasten to add that is personal opinion, not church law.

If the communicant is holding anything–purse, tissue, child, missal, etc.–he receives on the tongue. Period.

a left-handed person, especially a child, may be instructed to reverse the above procedure so that the host is placed in the non-dominant hand (on top) and picked up in the dominant hand. The entire procedure is designed to lessen the chance of dropping and to insure reverence.

I forgot how to receive by hand. I don’t think it does matter which hand is over the other.

Thanks for the complete answer, Annie. But I noticed something that has come up in several of the responses–moving from the Precious Body to the Chalice. It may have been due to the size of my church growing up, but the only people to drink the Precious Blood were the priest and anyone unable to receive the Body of Christ (some allergen or something caused a couple of people not to receive the Eucharist in solid form).

To my knowledge and understanding, and assuming all other qualifying factors (i.e. fasted, not in a state of mortal sin, etc), a full communion requires receipt of only the Body or Blood. This being the case, why receive both types when a full communion has already been made?

Does anyone agree with me on this? And for those who are offered and receive both, I understand the significance from the Last Supper, but is there any other motivation or Church teaching that requires or requests people to receive both forms of the Eucharist when available?

There is a current discussion on this forum on this topic. The fullness of the sacrament is received under either or both species. The reason for the faithful being allowed or encouraged to receive under both species is for its sign value, and that is why for instance at first communion it is strongly encouraged. there is no denying that is a forceful sign for the first communicants. But there is no requirement that the chalice be offered or accepted by each and every communicant and each and every Mass. The choice to offer it belongs to the priest, the choice to receive the chalice resides with the communicant. There is NO moral weight to either choice unless it derives in some way from denial of the reality of the doctrine of transubstantiation.

It is said to be a more complete sign to receive under both species. Receiving only the Body of Our Lord was a criticism of the Protestant reformers. Sure it is a more complete sign, but it doesn’t make your communion any more complete. I don’t think the manner of receiving the Precious Blood has been implemented well. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, where intinction is the norm, they have a much better way of distributing the Precious Blood.

I heartily agree, so does Fr. Stravinskas and has said so.
To clarify intinction is administered only by the priest, the communicant may never take the host and dip it in the chalice.

The reason the privilege was withdrawn for so long was precisely what has arisen, and current discussions on the topic show it is still a problem: denial that the fullness of the Real Presence subsists under either or both species, that reception under one form alone is somehow deficient, or denial or diminishing the difference between the ordained sacrificial priesthood and the priesthood of the baptized (the laity).


See the USCCB’s answer to your question source]:

Christ Himself Is Present in the Eucharistic Species

  1. Christ is “truly, really, and substantially contained” (18) in Holy Communion. His presence is not momentary nor simply signified, but wholly and permanently real under each of the consecrated species of bread and wine. (19)

  2. The Council of Trent teaches that “the true body and blood of our Lord, together with his soul and divinity, exist under the species of bread and wine. His body exists under the species of bread and his blood under the species of wine, according to the import of his words.” (20)

  3. The Church also teaches and believes that “immediately after the consecration the true body of our Lord and his true blood exist along with his soul and divinity under the form of bread and wine. The body is present under the form of bread and the blood under the form of wine, by virtue of the words [of Christ]. The same body, however, is under the form of wine and the blood under the form of bread, and the soul under either form, by virtue of the natural link and concomitance by which the parts of Christ the Lord, who has now risen from the dead and will die no more, are mutually united.” (21)

11. Since, however, by reason of the sign value, sharing in both eucharistic species reflects more fully the sacred realities that the Liturgy signifies, the Church in her wisdom has made provisions in recent years so that more frequent eucharistic participation from both the sacred host and the chalice of salvation might be made possible for the laity in the Latin Church.

  1. The communicant makes this act of faith in the total presence of the Lord Jesus Christ whether in Communion under one form or in Communion under both kinds. It should never be construed, therefore, that Communion under the form of bread alone or Communion under the form of wine alone is somehow an incomplete act or that Christ is not fully present to the communicant. The Church’s unchanging teaching from the time of the Fathers through the ages–notably in the ecumenical councils of Lateran IV, Constance, Florence, Trent, and Vatican II–has witnessed to a constant unity of faith in the presence of Christ in both elements. (25) Clearly there are some pastoral circumstances that require eucharistic sharing in one species only, such as when Communion is brought to the sick or when one is unable to receive either the Body of the Lord or the Precious Blood due to an illness. Even in the earliest days of the Church’s life, when Communion under both species was the norm, there were always instances when the Eucharist was received under only the form of bread or wine. Those who received Holy Communion at home or who were sick would usually receive under only one species, as would the whole Church during the Good Friday Liturgy. (26) Thus, the Church has always taught the doctrine of concomitance, by which we know that under each species alone, the whole Christ is sacramentally present and we “receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace.” (27)

16. At the same time an appreciation for reception of “the whole Christ” through one species should not diminish in any way the fuller sign value of reception of Holy Communion under both kinds. For just as Christ offered his whole self, body and blood, as a sacrifice for our sins, so too is our reception of his Body and Blood under both kinds an especially fitting participation in his memorial of eternal life.

I was taught by the Sisters of the IHM to receive Communion on the tongue. A short time later the Mass was changed to English and we started to receive in our hands. The option to receive on the tongue has always been there. I remember memorizing my Latin to become an altar boy only to have them change the Mass to English 3 or 4 months later. I don’t ever remember being taught to put my left hand over the right, but that is the way I do it, and knowing the good sisters of the IHM they never left anything to chance. I was taught always to immediately to take the Host into the mouth.

This is a very good point. I simply couldn’t imagine receiving the Eucharist any other way than on the tongue.

Guess what? The “True Roman Catholic Church” in communion with Benedict XVI allows for Communion in the hand.

Deal with it.

I simply couldn’t imagine receiving the Eucharist any other way than on the tongue.

I don’t have to imagine. I’ve seen Communion given in the hand quite frequently.

You, too, can see it all the time on TV.

I couldn’t imagine receiving it any other way myself. Thought it was apparent what I was referring to, oops on my part. :rolleyes: