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Fowl Advice for Receiving Holy Communion

June 5th, 2013by Sean Ater

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in a Byzantine Rite liturgy for the first time. One of the most unusual experiences in this Liturgy is how we received Holy Communion. In the Byzantine Rite, the Consecrated Bread is placed in the Chalice with the Consecrated Wine and is administered directly into the mouth by a small spoon.

 I am accustomed to receiving Holy Communion in the hand and in drinking the Consecrated Wine from the Chalice. I am sure this is how many of us receive Holy Communion.

Spoon for LiturgyGold communion spoon, Ukraine, late 17th or early 18th century (State Historical Museum, Moscow).

I hope that it is not too irreverent to admit how strange it felt to receive Holy Communion from a spoon. We were instructed beforehand to tilt our heads back, open our mouths, and allow Holy Communion to be fed to us. When I received Holy Communion in this way I had the strange image come to my mind of a baby bird being fed by his mother. To be honest, it kind of looked that way!

baby bird

As I reflect on that experience, it occurs to me how appropriate the image of a mother bird is for Jesus Christ. Jesus himself, after all, described himself as a mother hen who wishes to gather her brood under her wings (Luke13:34).

Another fowl image that comes to mind is from the legend of the mother Pelican, who saves her starving brood by pricking her breast and feeding her young with her own blood. This sacrificial act saves the chicks but kills the mother, a powerful symbol of Christ who sacrifices Himself for us.


Stained glass window from the Adoration Chapel at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Cincinnati OH (used with permission)

These mother bird images of Christ remind me that the proper disposition that I should have when I receive Holy Communion is that of open reception. Yes, I come forward with all of my desires, all of my prayer intentions, all of my hopes and hurts. Yet I do not grasp at my salvation. I receive it as a child, as a baby chick. As we approach the Altar each Sunday to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, whether we receive in the hand, on the tongue, or from a small spoon, let us approach the Eucharist with an attitude of openness and reception. We can have faith that Christ will gather us under His wings, He will feed us; He will fill us with His very life.

Sean Ater

Sean Ater is the Director of the Office of the New Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is married with 3 children and a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Milford