Friday, March 28, 2014

On the Act of Receiving Communion

So how is that unity of body and soul manifested in the Eucharistic liturgy when Our Lord is really and truly present under the appearence of tiny little hosts and drops of wine?

In the Latin liturgy we kneel to adore our Savior. We kneel at least at the words of institution and after the Agnus Dei (in the US we kneel from the-beginning in the older form- Sanctus through the anaphora, and then again from the Agnus Dei). But someone in most parish churches throughout the world thought it was acceptable to remove the altar rails, regardless of the lack of any mandate from the Holy See, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and so on as far as possible sources are concerned. The world's bishops did not think it was a good idea for the posture for the reception of Holy Communion to be changed.

Why? Well, in the Patristic era Holy Communion had been distributed in the hand, but very nearly simultaneously in both the East and West the practice was abolished. Evidently the Church recognized that the safeguards recommended by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, among others, such as washing of the hands before and after receiving, the making of a throne with one hand and careful reception and consumption with the other hand, and so on could no longer be practiced with universal consistency.

The Church found that although the spirit of adoration and reverence was possible with Communion in the hand, it was much more effectively accomplished with Communion on the tongue, and in the West, the act of adoration was further emphasized through the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. Countless examples from Scripture could be cited to show that the Lord is received by one who is on his or her knees.

After the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches was promulgated in 1990, the Holy See wrote in 1996 to the Eastern Churches asking them not to change the ancient discipline for Holy Communion, saying:
Even if this excludes enhancing the value of other criteria, also legitimate, and implies renouncing some convenience, a change in the traditional usage risks incurring a non-organic intrusion with respect to the spiritual framework to which it refers.
This is clearly applicable to the Latin liturgical practice as well, and I think this needs to be taken into account for every part of the liturgy. At any rate, it is clear that the Holy See did not wish to see Communion in the hand spread to the Eastern Churches. It seems from Memoriale Domini, the indult for the practice given by Venerable Paul VI, Dominicae Cenae of Blessed John Paul II, Redemptionis Sacramentum of the CDW, etc. that the practice was only made licit so as to quell the rebellion and that the Church has always found Communion on the tongue to be the better practice, especially when done kneeling.

It's funny too that the rails came out, since the Mass was emphasized as a communal meal more than a sacrifice. The rail is an extension of the altar for the people to touch as they participate in the feast of the Lamb, and it places everyone, rich and poor, on an equal level. Whereas Communion in the hand or even Communion on the tongue standing is done in a truly individual way, placing us above our neighbor and above Our Lord (sometimes, for taller people anyways).

Following up on his letter to German liturgists, Romano Guardini wrote, "The man of today is not capable of a liturgical act. For this action, it is not enough to have instruction or education; no, initiation is needed, which at root is nothing but performance of the act."

So just kneel! Fathers, please help people follow the norm of the Church and the traditional posture. Kneelers should be provided until an altar rail can be used at every Mass.

To be continued. 

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