COMMUNION AND ITS RECEPTION IN HISTORY
The reception of the communion in the Early Church was very different from what we are experiencing now. The early Christians would receive the Body of Christ on their hand (the way we receive nafora/antidoron today) and they would partake of the blood of Christ immediately after by drinking from the same chalice (similarly to how deacons receive communion today or the priests from the hand of the bishop).
At some point, presumably towards the end of the fourth century or the early fifth, due to bad behaviors related how communion was received, changed. After receiving the Body of Christ on their hands, some individuals would break a piece and put it in their pockets. Unfortunately, there were some Christians who were using the Body of Christ for witchcraft and other non-Christian rituals. When the Church became aware of this practice by some people, it had to protect the sanctity of the communion and change things up. The communion was then given to people on the spoon and the body and blood of Christ were mixed together. This is the way the communion is given to us today.
Regrettably, even this did not prevent some individuals to misuse communion. Upon receiving the Body and Blood of Christ some Christians would drink the blood but they would save some pieces of the communion in their mouth and after the reception of the communion they would spit it out into a napkin and then use it for whatever evil purposes. In order for the Church to prevent this from happening, the Church made it mandatory to grab some nafora/Church bread after communion. This practice lasts even today. The reason why we grab some bread after we receive communion is because the Church wants to make sure that we will swallow the communion that was previously given to us. In some Churches in addition to Church bread, wine or holy water would be offered.
HOW TO RECEIVE COMMUNION
There are some guidelines from the works of the early fathers of the Church that should be observed in our day and age as well:
- When approaching communion, come close to the chalice with your hands crossed on your chest. We cross hands on our chest because we do not want to move our hand and hit the chalice and God forbid spill the communion.
- If the napkin is offered to you, rather than crossing your hand on your chest, grab the napkin with one hand. In any case, after you receive communion, use the napkin yourself and wipe your mouth.
- As you are approaching the chalice, the priest will say “THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST” and to that you will say AMEN! And then you receive communion. This is the ancient and the most traditional practice of receiving communion as St. Cyril of Jerusalem instructed early Christians in his catechesis (instruction to those about to be baptized) as well as the Apostolic Constitutions which is patristic work written in the 4th century. On a side note, the prayer for the communion which the priest would say “The servant of God …. Receives the body and blood of Christ for the remission of his/her sins and life everlasting” is of much older date and it is not very practical in Churches where the communion line is long.
Upon the reception of the communion, you will go and take Church bread. When you are taking Church bread at the end of the liturgy or if it is given to you by a priest after communion you want to follow the instruction of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who said that we should place our right hand over our left hand and receive the holy bread. The reason behind is practical. If the crumbs fall down through your fingers, you will still be able to catch them with your left hand and eat them. To finish with the words of St. Cyril:
“Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence and sever not yourselves from the Communion…”
St Cyril of Jerusalem