On August 10, 2023, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM) released Circular No. 2023-61, dated that same day and with the subject-header “Updated Protocols for Liturgical Celebrations”. The circular outlines specific liturgical measures and policies that the Archdiocese will be observing as society moves on from the more than three years of the COVID “public health emergency”. It can be found here.

This circular has been widely shared on social media among Filipino Catholics, not least because it reiterates – citing no. 160 of the current (2002 ed.) of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (better known simply as “GIRM”) – that “the faithful may receive communion ‘either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant’”. This effectively supersedes – at least for the faithful receiving communion within the territory of the Archdiocese of Manila – the circular that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released on Jan. 29, 2020 as COVID began to menace the world. Citing the need to prevent disease from spreading, the 2020 circular effectively banned communion on the tongue for the Catholic faithful throughout the Philippines. (I hope to write about communion on the tongue vis-à-vis communion in the hand in the near future.)

Among the numerous issues that it deals with, the 2023 RCAM circular also reminds the faithful “to have frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Penance” so as to be properly disposed to receive in Holy Communion the true Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, under the species of bread (as well as wine, where communion under both species is made available). This important reminder of the Biblically-rooted (1 Cor. 11:27-30) and irreformable Catholic teaching that “no one conscious to himself of mortal sin, however contrite he may feel, ought to receive the Sacred Eucharist without previous sacramental confession” (cf. Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, “Decree concerning the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist”, chapter VII; TAN Books and Publishers, 1978, see p. 77) is of soul-saving importance at a time when the number of people who go to communion dwarfs the number of those that go to confession. Hopefully, the Church as a whole will work to make confession more accessible, and to catechize the faithful even more on their duty to go to confession. 

In addition, the circular draws attention to two other provisions of the GIRM, no. 160, that safeguard proper reverence for the Eucharist. These are: “It is not permitted for the faithful to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them on from one to another among themselves”, and “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”. (1)

“Self-service communion” is unfortunately common among retreats and small-group Masses in the Philippines. (I don’t know why, but both from personal experience and from anecdotes of which I am aware, small-group Masses and retreat Masses are too frequently the setting for major liturgical abuses.) The practice of bowing one’s head before receiving holy communion is widespread in the United States but is virtually unknown in the Philippines, likely because this is not actually in the Philippine edition of the GIRM (which mentions only “an appropriate sign of reverence”) and so has not been taught at all to the faithful. (2) Nevertheless, I believe that the Archdiocese of Manila’s move to get the faithful to individually bow before receiving holy communion is an excellent decision, and I hope that it will catch on among the faithful (and not just in Manila). As an individual act of reverence, no matter how small, it should serve as both a reminder for, and acknowledgment by, each individual Catholic of the awesome truth that the little white host is no mere wafer, no mere symbol, but is the true Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As the COVID pandemic of 2020-2023 recedes into history and as Filipino Catholics go back to attending Sunday Mass in person, it is doubly important for the faithful to be re-catechized (or properly catechized for the first time) on the basics of showing reverence for the Eucharist. I believe that if far too many Filipino Catholics neglect to show even basic reverence to the Eucharist, it is because they have not been properly taught, or given the correct example, about the ways to demonstrate this reverence. The task of fostering reverence is enormous, but it has to start somewhere! I do think that, slowly but surely, there is a growing awareness among Filipino Catholics of the urgent need to foster reverence for the Holy Eucharist, especially after the widely-publicized stunt (just this year) by an Ateneo senior high school student who pocketed a consecrated Host then posted a “food review” of it on Twitter. To make things worse, it turned out that it was not the first time this student had pocketed a consecrated Host. While stories of hosts being desecrated are not new, the way the news of this student’s action reached an astonishing level of virality among Filipinos on social media, and caused much outrage among ordinary Filipino netizens, seem to indicate that a tipping point has been reached. (The even more recent case of an entertainer in drag, who parodied the “Our Father” and thus triggered immense outrage, demonstrates that not a few Catholics are tired of public irreverence and disrespect to the faith in general.)

In addition to the sign of reverence immediately before holy communion, there are five other signs of reverence that are often neglected by the faithful in celebrations of Mass according to the Roman Missal as promulgated by Pope St. Paul VI and revised under Pope St. John Paul II. These five signs, and the places in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or in the Missal where these are mentioned, are as follows:

  1. For those outside the sanctuary: to genuflect whenever they pass in front of the Blessed Sacrament. (Those inside the sanctuary are subject to different rules, which will not be dealt with here.) GIRM # 274. 
  2. To bow the head “when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the name of Jesus, Mary, and the saint in whose honor Mass is celebrated.” GIRM # 275
  3. To make a bow of the body (profound bow) when “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” is said in the Nicene Creed, or when “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” is said in the Apostles’ Creed. On the Solemnities of the Annunciation and of the Nativity of our Lord, this bow is replaced with a genuflection. GIRM # 275
  4. To strike the chest when saying “through my fault” at the Confiteor / “I Confess” (when Penitential Rite A is used). This is indicated in the rubrics of the Ordinary of the Mass, at the Penitential Rite.
  5. When one is unable to kneel at the Consecration: “Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration.” GIRM # 43 

In addition, the GIRM requires of priests that they incline, or bow slightly, when speaking the words of the Lord at the Consecration (cf. GIRM # 275). This is a beautiful act of reverence that, unfortunately, many priests do not observe. (I assume that it was simply not taught to them at seminary.)

The practice of genuflection, in particular, needs to be taught once more to the faithful, especially when entering a church or chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is visibly kept in a tabernacle. It is a sign that we acknowledge that He is truly and really present there in the Tabernacle, in His Body and Blood, His Soul and Divinity; it is a sign that we realize that we are on holy ground, that we are in the House of God, surrounded by innumerable angels that are invisible to the eye but as real as can be to the eye of the heart that is suffused with faith! Some try to downplay the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as if this is just the same as His presence when two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20), or in the Gospel, or among the people (especially the poor). However, the Church believes that Christ’s sacramental presence in the Blessed Sacrament surpasses all the other ways in which He is present in the Church and in the world; indeed, that His Real Presence in the Eucharist is “presence par excellence”. (Cf. Paul VI’s Encyclical “Mysterium Fidei”, Sept. 3, 1965, nos. 38-39. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_03091965_mysterium.html). 

In line with the teaching and example of countless saints, and to deepen our communion with the Lord right after we have received Him sacramentally, the Church calls on us Catholic faithful to spend some time in thanksgiving after holy communion. What can be more personal, more intimate, than to speak with Our Lord when He is within us sacramentally? “The faithful are to be recommended not to omit to make proper thanksgiving after Communion. They may do this during the celebration with a period of silence, with a hymn, psalm or other song of praise, or also after the celebration, if possible by staying behind to pray for a suitable time.” (Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Instruction “Inaestimabile donum”, 3 April 1980, see # 17.)

The above is not a complete collection of all the mandated / recommended acts of reverence in the celebration of Mass, but a list of the ones that seem to be routinely neglected. Any catechesis aimed at a renewal of Eucharistic reverence would be well-advised to teach these signs to the faithful, that their belief in the Eucharist may be built up.

During World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Pope Francis called for the recovery of adoration before the Holy Eucharist: “Curiously, the prayer of adoration — we have lost it. We have lost it, and everyone — priests, bishops, consecrated men and women, laypeople — have to recover it. It’s to be in silence, before the Lord.” (Marina, D.L. [2023, Aug. 3].Pope Francis Makes Urgent Call to Recover Eucharistic Adoration in the Church.” National Catholic Register. https://www.ncregister.com/cna/pope-francis-makes-urgent-call-to-recover-eucharistic-adoration-in-the-church) For the faithful to pray in adoration before the Eucharist, they need to know first why they should adore, and how they should adore. (Contrary to what some think, adoration also needs to be manifested physically, and in definite ways. However, I will deal at length with this issue some other time.)

In this article, I have barely scratched the topic of reverence in the Holy Mass, let alone our loving duty of adoring our Eucharistic Lord. It is my hope that this little offering will help a few souls to rediscover the gestures by which we can manifest greater reverence to Our Eucharistic Lord, and can serve as an aid to Eucharistic catechesis. 


(1) The latter actually comes from the US edition of the GIRM. The Philippine edition as found in the Roman Missal’s English translation for use in the dioceses of the Philippines, published in Manila in 2012, simply states that the faithful should “make an appropriate sign of reverence” before receiving communion, if they receive standing. If the faithful receive communion kneeling – which happens very rarely in the Philippines outside of Opus Dei oratories and of the few celebrations of the Latin Mass according to the pre-Vatican II Missals – then there is no need for any additional sign of reverence.

I find it interesting that the circular reiterates that the faithful should not hand on the host “from one to another among themselves”. This notoriously happened during the Papal Masses in Manila during the 2015 Papal visit. 

(2) The “Guidelines for the Eucharist” approved by the CBCP in January 1990, and published in the March-April 1990 edition of the CBCP Monitor (Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 2-25), states (in no. 3) that the kneeling of the faithful from after the “Lamb of God” / “Agnus Dei” until communion, is already this sign of reverence. This stipulation does not seem to follow the spirit of the GIRM, which envisages that this sign of reverence be given in the context of the individual act of receiving holy communion. At any rate, the status of the “Guidelines for the Eucharist” is a bit murky; it is not clear if it ever received approval from the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship. Even if it did, it is not clear if it is still in effect in the Philippines after the promulgation of the revised (2002) edition of the Roman Missal of Popes SS. Paul VI and John Paul II. I hold the view that for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Manila, the new circular supersedes what “Guidelines for the Eucharist” said about the sign of reverence before holy communion.