When I had my first baby thirteen years ago, I knew a lot of things would change. I was warned that sleeping, and showering, and getting laundry done would all suddenly require ingenuity and advance planning, and back up.
And that was true.
But no one warned me about trying to receive communion while holding a baby.
No one warned me. So I tried to figure it out myself . . . with the same ingenuity I applied to other things. And I gotta say, it was not always a great success. Since then, I’ve realized that the perfect solution already existed, I just had to be willing to give it a try.
I’ve seen plenty of other moms fumbling through communion trying various methods. So, I’m here today to show you what not to do, and why . . . with the help of my children, who will participate in pretty much any of my crazy schemes to get to eat crackers.
The guidelines for reception of Communion in the hand, as explained by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are thus:
If Communion is received in the hand, the hands should first of all be
clean. If one is right handed the left hand should rest upon the right.
The host will then be laid in the palm of the left hand and then taken
by the right hand to the mouth. If one is left-handed this is reversed.
It is not appropriate to reach out with the fingers and take the host
from the person distributing.
But, if you’re holding a baby with one arm, that’s pretty much impossible. So, what’re ya gonna do? . . .
1. The Pluck and Pop
This one is tempting. You just reach out and grab the host in your fingers, then pop it in your mouth. Unfortunately, it’s right there in the guidelines that “it is not appropriate” to do so.
Oops, moving on.
2. The Lean and Lick
So, you can’t grab the host. What else can you do? You still have a baby in one arm. So you just end up sticking one hand out to receive the host. And then it’s just sitting there. So . . . you kind of lick it up off your hand. Right?
I’m thinking the big problem with this technique is that when Pope Paul VI introduced communion in the hand as a valid option for Catholics in the United States in 1969, he did so with the caveat that:
The condition is
the complete avoidance of any cause for the faithful to be shocked and any danger of
irreverence toward the Eucharist.
Licking up the Body of Christ out of one hand is probably going to seem both shocking and irreverent to anyone who’s really paying attention.
So that one’s no good either.
3. The Dodge and Dart
Trying to receive with two hands, while squeezing a small person against your chest with your forearms can get . . . awkward. And let’s be honest. Any receiving of any food is going to require avoiding the chubby, grabby little hands of the baby I’m holding. And she’s got two hands to work with, plus a lean. I’ve got a church full of people facing me, and I’m supposed to be focused and mindful and reverent in the reception of the Eucharist, plus not drop the baby, or squeeze her too hard.
So, in practice, there’s twisting and dodging, and trying to just get it in my mouth as quickly as possible. Not super reverent.
I think it’s just plain silly how many years and how many babies it took for me to realize that the perfection solution had been there since the beginning of the church . . .
Just Receive on the Tongue!
Yes. It seemed weird at first.
Yes. It took a little getting used to.
But then, once I did, I really love everything about it.
It solves ALL the holding babies issues. It helps me to be more focused and more reverent. It allows me to hold a newborn with two hands. It even allows me to be nursing a newborn while receiving communion. It allows me to use one arm to hold a toddler and the other to hold her arms down, so there’s no grabby grabbing.
I like it so much that it’s the way I receive now, whether I’m holding a baby or not. In fact, it’s how the husband and kids receive now, too. My kids have never known any other way.
Here’s Jack at his First Communion, receiving on the tongue . . .
It felt like a big transition for me, going from receiving in the hands to receiving on the tongue. But, really, it’s not a big deal. I think the two key things to remember are . . .
1. Be Obvious
Some extraordinary ministers of communion, and even some priests, are not that used to people receiving on the tongue. So, I try to be really obvious that that’s how I’ll be receiving. I make a slight bow while the person in front of me is receiving, then step forward. He says, “Body of Christ.” I say, “Amen.” Then, immediately, I tilt my chin up a bit, open wide, and stick my tongue way out. No confusion.
If I don’t have a baby in my arms, I’m careful to keep my hands together in prayer. Again, no confusion.
2. Be Confident
We always have the right to receive on the tongue . . . NO MATTER WHAT.
The USCCB says:
Those who receive Communion may receive either in the hand or on the
tongue, and the decision should be that of the individual receiving, not
of the person distributing Communion.
Pope Paul VI says:
It is a matter of particular seriousness that in
places where the new practice is lawfully permitted every one of the faithful have the
option of receiving communion on the tongue and even when other persons are receiving
communion in the hand.
So if you decide to give it a try, know that you have every right to do so. Which is not to say that reception in the hand isn’t also valid and acceptable. It is. But only if it can be done in a non-shocking, very reverent manner. And if you can manage that and also hold a baby, well, you’re a better woman than I.