On How to Receive Communion in the Episcopal Church

Bishop’s Notebook, June 2013

There are some basic “cues” to receiving Holy Communion in the Episcopal Church, a tradition to “how we do things” that varies from place to place in its details but which still bears a family resemblance no matter what parish we belong to.
Practice differs in different places as to whether communion is received kneeling or standing, but a reverent and humble approach to the Blessed Sacrament is common to both. It is an old tradition dating back at least to the fourth century to distribute the consecrated bread into the hands, one placed under the other in order to make a throne for Christ. In any case, the hands should be held level as the laws of gravity still prevail in spite of the sacramental presence. Some communicants prefer to receive the consecrated bread directly on their tongues.
The consecrated wine is received in a variety of ways in Episcopal parishes. The most common way, and the most traditionally Anglican, is for each communicant to drink directly from the chalice. Others practice intinction, dipping the consecrated bread in the chalice, done either by the minister of communion or by the communicant. Policies for this are set by parishes, not individuals, and approved by the bishop, but everyone should have a chance to drink from the chalice. Communicants should bear in mind that the Eucharistic bread is to be dipped, not dunked, in the chalice: communicants who want more wine than that will need to drink from the cup!
Questions are sometimes raised about the hygiene of communion practices. It is an old custom of the church for the clergy to be involved in the reverent disposal of the consecrated bread and wine, which in the Episcopal Church means eating and drinking what is left over. Clergy in modern times have been known to be plagued by stress but very rarely by communicable disease, which would seem to undercut fears about hygiene.
Finally, it is an important cue if receiving at an altar rail to remain where you are until the next communicant has received from the cup. Communion is something we do together without rushing off or jostling at the rail. It’s also an old custom to make the sign of the cross before and after receiving communion. “Amen” is also appropriate after the minister of communion says the words of administration to each communicant: the Christian’s  “so be it” in the face of the real presence of Christ. — Bishop John
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It is the policy of the Episcopal Church that all baptized Christians are welcome to receive communion in the Episcopal Church. Those who will not be receiving communion are welcome to come to the altar rail and receive a blessing from the priest. Please cross your arms in front of you to indicate that you would like to receive a blessing rather than communion. Anyone who is not baptized is invited to speak to the vicar about being baptized and becoming part of the Church. 

I also want to say a word about the practice of intinction, which is receiving from the chalice by dipping the host into the chalice so that it has some of the consecrated wine on it and then consuming the host. First of all, I encourage you to receive the Eucharistic wine by taking a sip from the chalice itself. It is highly unlikely that anyone will get a communicable disease from the chalice. But if you do prefer to receive by intinction, then please allow the priest to put the host on your upturned palm, hold your palm up so the chalice bearer can pick up the host and dip it into the chalice, and then open your mouth and allow the chalice bearer to place the host onto your tongue. As a courtesy to your fellow communicants, I ask that you let the chalice bearer dip the host for you instead of doing it yourself. This way we have trained clergy and chalice bearers administering the sacrament rather than leaving it up to each person to do it himself or herself. To receive the host from the chalice bearer, who has intincted it for you, is to place emphasis on the fact of receiving communion as a gift rather than taking it for ourselves. This is the proper attitude for the faithful before God at the altar of Christ. 

You may have noticed that the celebrating priest receives communion before giving communion to anyone else. Why would that be? As I understand the sacrament, when I am the celebrant, I receive communion before I give communion to another because I need to receive from Christ what I will be giving away to his people. I receive Christ’s gift of himself so I can then give him to you and others. I cannot give away what I have not yet received. This belief endues the simplest part of our communion service with deep meaning that never loses its power to humble and inspire me.
Faithfully,
Father Joe, Vicar of Grace Church