Catholic Funeral Communion Etiquette

by Maryanne Schiffman

Communion is the most important of the seven Catholic sacraments. It is a ceremony that occurs midway through the Mass, in which Catholics symbolically receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ via a small wafer given to the faithful by the priest. Communion is also part of a Catholic funeral rite if there is a Requiem Mass in addition to the Funeral Liturgy. There are many restrictions regarding who may participate in Communion and a specific protocol for how it should be done.

Participation

In order to partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion, the first requirement is that you must have been baptized in the Catholic Church. Second, you must be in a state of grace and free from mortal sin, having gone to confession between the time of sin and communion. Third, you must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, which states that the wafer, or “host,” and the wine that it is kept in actually do turn into the body of Christ through this ceremony. Fourth, you must observe the Eucharist Fast, abstaining from consumption of anything besides water and medicine one hour prior to Communion. Finally, you cannot be under any type of ecclesiastical censure. If all these conditions are not met, you should stay seated in the pew while others participate in the ceremony.

Ceremony

If you have satisfied the conditions to partake in Communion, you should rise from the pews and proceed up the aisle of the church to the area where the priest is administering the sacrament. When it is time for your turn, approach the Eucharist with the appropriate gesture of reverence (head bowed or genuflection) and then extend the hands palms up, one on top of the other to receive the host in the upper palm, responding “Amen” after the priest declares “Body of Christ.” Then, stepping aside, you should grasp the host between the forefinger and thumb and immediately consume it before returning to the pew. Alternately, to receive the host by mouth, you should indicate this by placing your hands together in prayer position and extending your tongue enough to permit the priest to easily place it there.

Non-Participants

Any person attending the Mass who is not qualified to receive Communion should stay seated in the pews while the rest are receiving it. People who cannot receive Communion include Catholics who do not meet the required conditions, Christians who have not been baptized in the Catholic Church and non-Christians. Catholic children who have been baptized but who have not received First Confession and/ or First Communion are not allowed to participate in Communion, but may participate to the extent of receiving a blessing.

Exceptions

There are some non-Catholics who may receive Communion from a priest. These include Eastern Orthodox Christians who, in general, share the same faith concerning the nature of the sacraments. Additionally, there are some circumstances in which Protestants may be able to receive Communion in a Catholic church as well. Any exceptions must be cleared with the priest and, as with Catholics themselves, any participant must meet the communion criteria.

About the Author

Based in MedellĂ­n, Colombia, Maryanne Schiffman has a B.A. in economic development from UC Berkeley and an M.A. in Latin American studies from the University of Texas. Writing for more than 20 years, she has contributed to academic journals and online publications, including the Colombian NTN24 news website.

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