The Eucharist, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is "the source and summit of the Christian life." (1324) All ecclesiastical ministries, all the Sacraments, and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.
Because the Catholic Church was born of the paschal mystery, the Eucharist stands at the center of the life of Holy Mother Church. Acts 2:42 states “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” as one very clear indication of the importance of the Eucharist. Carrying on of this primordial image of the Catholic Church over the millenia is at every celebration of the Eucharist - for when we partake of the Sacrament of the Eucharist we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: literally to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and all the glorious events that followed.
Thus, with the Baptism and the Confirmation, the Eucharist completes the Sacraments of Christian Initiation, and the beauty is that this is celebrated with every Mass. By the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.
What is the Eucharist? It is the bread and wine that by the words of consecration have become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of his priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the form of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Christ is both the priest and the sacrificial lamb, priest and victim.
When the bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist, they cease to be simply be bread and wine, and become (respectively), the body and blood of Christ. This inner transformation is referred to as "transubstantiation." Transubstantiation means that while the Body and Blood still retain the outward physical properties of bread and wine, at the words of consecration, their very substance is permanently changed so that they become in fact, the Body and Blood of Christ. (CCC 1374-76)
For this reason, the consecrated hosts that are not consumed at any given Mass are reserved in a special retaining vessel known as the "tabernacle." Recall in the Old Testament that the Israelites kept the sacred tablets among them in a tent as a sign of God's presence among them. The tabernacle is made a holy object by the content which it holds: Christ himself. Reserved consecrated hosts are later distributed to the sick and elderly. The Precious Blood because of the properties of wine that will spoil, must be consumed entirely at the Mass in which it was consecrated.
Consecration of the bread and wine represents the separation of Jesus' body from his blood at Calvary. However, Christ has risen, and as such, the body and blood of Christ can no longer be truly separated. Where one is, so the other must be. Therefore the person receiving either the Sacred Host or Precious Blood is receiving Christ, whole and entire.
The importance of this - the receipt of the entire Christ regardless if the body or blood is consumed - is important since individuals with aversions to gluten or fermented beverages can still receive the entire Eucharist by accepting either body or blood.
Proper Reception of the Eucharist:
Because we are receiving Christ himself at the Eucharist, Catholics must be in a "state of grace." A state of grace means that we are free of any serious sin, and living according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. For adults, this includes if we are married, we are married by the Church. If we are single, we are living chastely. (CCC 1384-1395, 1415)
If one is conscious of grave sin, he or she must make amends to correct the situation and seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) prior to reception of the Eucharist.
We are to fast for at least one hour prior to the reception of the Eucharist. Fasting is from food or beverage, including gum, and candy. Drinking water or taking necessary medication is permitted.
Manner of Receiving Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Our unity is expressed in our Creed and communal worship, but it is also expressed in our gestures. Each diocesan bishop retains the right to determine the gesture/posture for receiving Holy Communion in his diocese(arch). If we are in another diocese, and their gestures or postures are different from our own, the proper sign of unity is to do as they do. So it is in our own archdiocese; we use the same gestures and postures as a sign of our unity. This may mean sacrificing our own personal preferences, but such sacrifice may be offered up for the good of the Church.
In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the norm for receiving Holy Communion (Eucharist) is standing. One makes a reverent small bow prior their turn, or in front of the minister, and when the minister says the words "The Body of Christ," or "The Blood of Christ," they reply "Amen" loud enough for the minister to hear. It is the communicant's choice whether to receive on the hands or tongue, or whether to receive from both species of Body and Blood or just one.
To receive on the hands: To receive the Body of Christ in one's hands, after bowing, and responding "Amen," the communicant holds out both hands with one hand cupping the other so as to form a well or throne upon which the minister will place the sacred host. The communicant takes one step to the side and consumes (eats) the Sacred Host at once.
What not to do:
= Hold out one hand;
= Hold both hands out "side by side"
= Take the Sacred Host from the minister (reaching out)
= Walk off with the Sacred Host without immediately consuming
To receive on the tongue: To receive the Body of Christ on the tongue, after bowing and responding "Amen," the communicant opens the mouth wide, and sticks out their tongue while holding the head slightly back. This ensures the Body of Christ will not fall out of their mouth, and that the minister has enough room to place it on their tongue without incident. Hands should be folded together down at the hip/waist.
What not to do:
= Barely open mouth so minister must fit Sacred Host between the teeth;
= Dip head downwards
= Keep tongue inside
= Hold hands up close to face
Receiving the Precious Blood: To receive the Precious Blood, one bows again, and responds "Amen," to the words "The Blood of Christ." The minister will hold out the cup (to adults) and the communicant takes the cup with BOTH HANDS, and consumes a swallow. The communicant SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY hands the cup back to the minister with BOTH HANDS fitting hands so that they do not bump the minister's hands.
For children: For children who have received First Holy Communion, the child will still bow, and respond "Amen," to the words "The Blood of Christ." However, the minister may hold the cup to the child's mouth for them to drink if the child is small or the cup is unusually heavy.
What not to do:
= Reach out for the cup before responding "Amen"
= Reach out for the cup with one hand
= Hand the cup back to the minister with one hand
After receiving Holy Communion, one should return to the pew in a prayerful spirit, giving thanksgiving to Jesus for the gift of himself. If a hymn is being sung, the faithful should join in singing the hymn. If the hymn is over, one may either kneel or sit and remain quietly in prayer of praise and thanksgiving.