Etiquette for Refusing Communion

Those not receiving Communion may remain in the pew.
... Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

In the Catholic faith, Holy Communion brings a person closer to God and it's an important part of the Catholic mass. During this portion of the mass, most people in the congregation will go to the front of the church to receive the Eucharist, but some will want to tactfully refuse.

1 Who Should Refuse

Anyone who isn't Catholic should refuse to receive Holy Communion, though there are rare exceptions made for Easter Orthodox Christians and some Protestants. Additionally, any Catholic who has committed a mortal sin, such as murder should also refuse Communion, unless he has confessed these sins to the priest and paid a penance.

2 Remaining in the Pew

The most appropriate way to refuse Communion during the Eucharistic portion of the mass is to remain in the pew. Typically, members of the congregation stand, exit the pew in the center, receive Communion at the front of the church, then circle around to re-enter the pew from the other side. You should leave the pew, standing aside for others to leave, then re-enter the pew, keeping an eye out for the others to return, so that you can do the same. While you wait, it's most appropriate to kneel, though you can sit if you have physical trouble kneeling. You can quietly pray or sing along with the congregation.

3 Caught in the Tide

Occasionally, you may find that you got caught up in the tide of people and are standing in line with others receiving Communion. If this happens, simply wait in line with the others, and when it is your turn, make eye contact with the priest or Eucharistic minister to show that you are refusing, and follow the tide of people back to the pew.

4 Receiving a Blessing

Some may wish to receive a blessing from the priest rather than Holy Communion. In this case, approach the priest with your arms crossed over your chest and your head bent. It's important to note that this practice is not recommended by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, but some churches allow it. If you're not sure, check ahead of time.

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.