From the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd edition,
The following norm is the universal norm found in the Roman Missal.
Note that each Bishop Conference determines the particular norm for its
own country. By the general law, each adaptation is then submitted to the
Holy See for recognition.
160 The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a
The faithful are not permitted to take up the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice themselves, and still less hand them on to one another. The faithful may communicate either standing or kneeling, as established by the Conference of Bishops. However, when they communicate standing, it is recommended that they make an appropriate gesture of reverence, to be laid down in the same norms, before receiving the Sacrament.
The following adaptation of GIRM 160 was approved by the Holy See for the
160. The priest then takes the paten or ciborium
and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a
The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated
bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to
hand them from one to another. The norm for reception of Holy
Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing.
Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they
kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally,
by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the
reasons for this norm.
When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or
her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and
receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The
consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in
the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy
Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence
is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.
Recognized by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments, 17 April 2002, and, promulgated as particular
law of the United States by Decree of the President of the USCCB, Bishop
Wilton Gregory, 25 April 2002.
History and Interpretation of the Norm
In the 1967 document Eucharisticum
mysterium (Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery), the Sacred
Congregation of Rites (now called the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of
the Sacraments) established that,
34. ... In accordance with the custom of the Church, the faithful may receive
communion either kneeling or standing. One or the other practice is to be chosen according
to the norms laid down by the conference of bishops.
At the time this directive was issued the US Bishops did
not establish a posture, although Communion processions with reception
standing quickly became the custom throughout the United States, as they
did in much of the world.
Instruction of the Roman Missal (3rd edition) gives the same
160 ... The faithful may communicate either standing or kneeling, as established by the Conference of Bishops.
Acting upon this provision of the GIRM, the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sought and obtained, in March
2002, a particular norm for the United States.
160. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the
dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should
not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such
instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the
faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.
This norm seeks a single posture among communicants. The purpose
spoken of in the norm is given earlier in the General Instruction.
42. The gestures and posture of the priest, the deacon,
and the ministers, as well as those of the people, ought to
contribute to making the entire celebration resplendent with
beauty and noble simplicity, so that the true and full meaning of
the different parts of the celebration is evident and that the
participation of all is fostered.
Therefore, attention should be paid to what is determined by this
General Instruction and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite
and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God,
rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.
A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of
the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for
the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention
and spiritual attitude of the participants.
While the desirability of everyone in the congregation making
the common gestures and postures throughout the Mass is clear (a
sign of unity), recent interpretations of these norms by the Holy See
provides some insight into the mind of the Church. It should be
noted that the Holy See alone can authentically interpret
legislation it has initiated or approved. The following
was issued in response to a dubium of Cardinal
George of Chicago. The reference is to the general posture norm,
GIRM 43, and whether communicants can kneel down for their
thanksgiving after Communion when everyone else is standing,
however, it is clear that the mind (mens) of the Holy See
on the role of posture is expressed. The general principle
enunciated in the response would therefore also apply to GIRM
160, and the issues of kneeling to receive and genuflecting before
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
5 June 2003
Prot. n. 855/03/L
Dubium: In many places, the faithful are accustomed
to kneeling or sitting in personal prayer upon returning to
their places after individually received Holy Communion
during Mass. Is it the intention of the Missale Romanum,
editio typica tertia, to forbid this practice?
Responsum: Negative, et ad mentem. The mens
is that that the prescription of the Institutio Generalis
Missalis Romani, no. 43, is intended, on one hand, to
ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture
within the congregation for the various parts of the
celebration of the Holy Mass, and on the other, to not
regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish
to kneel or sit would no longer be free.
Francis Cardinal Arinze
For more Roman Interpretations regarding posture and other
liturgical norms, see:
General Instruction - Roman
Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL