Pope Benedict XVI administers Holy Communion on the tongue
to a kneeling recipient at Westminster Cathedral, September 2010.
Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a positive development whilst attending Masses in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. In those central London churches that have no communion rails, more and more people are choosing to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, kneeling.
This grassroots phenomenon has been growing over the past few years now, but I was really struck by how popular this has become when I was at a Mass last week to mark the opening of the Year of Faith. Unusually for me, I approached the procession for Holy Communion from the side at the particular church where Mass was being offered, as opposed to walking down the aisles that run towards the sanctuary. Doing this gave me a view of all those who were receiving Communion ahead of me, especially those approaching the Sacrament from the main aisles.
I already knew that many people who attend Mass at this particular church receive Holy Communion whilst kneeling. Being a large church in central London, my guess is that a fair number of the worshippers come from nations which weren't as affected by the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ as was the UK. This church, like many others in the capital, attracts a constant stream of worshippers from every part of the globe, and therefore sees all sorts of postures during the liturgy – from the traditional to the more ‘charismatic’. Thankfully, though, most Mass-goers seem rooted in the continuous traditions of the Latin Rite – in which kneeling before the Lord is a sign of humility, reverence, and great love.
What I hadn't noticed until that particular Mass was that the number of people who worship in this church who choose to kneel during Communion is really growing. The proportion of 'kneelers' seems to be on the rise, despite the fact that standing is now offered to as as the ‘norm’ in England and Wales.
This growing phenomenon of kneeling for Communion appears to be entirely people led, not expert driven. Its inspiration is not a human directive from above, or a diktat issued by a middle class clericalised lay leadership. Rather, it is something ordinary Catholics are choosing to do because, deep down, they know that kneeling for Communion is -- for them, at least -- a great and holy thing to do. They do it because they love Jesus, they believe he is truly present before them, and they want to receive him in humility, and reverence him as he gazes upon them in their longing for him.
During the Mass mentioned above, I estimated that about a fifth of the people in the ‘queue’ I could see knelt to receive Holy Communion. And it seemed to be ‘catching’. As people noticed one brave soul getting on their knees before the minister (a bishop, as it happens), others were inspired to do the same – or felt ‘safe’ to do what they might secretly have been longing to do for some time.
I heard a talk by a priest earlier this year, in which he said that just by sitting in a queue for Confession, we might help others develop the confidence to do the same and join the waiting penitents. This seems to be the case with kneeling for Communion. Those who are courageous enough (at OF Masses) and loving enough (in any church) to kneel before their Saviour, do great things – they witness to their faith in the Real Presence, they impart to others the courage to do the same, and they preserve an ancient and venerable tradition in the Roman Rite.
Importantly, those who kneel to receive Communion, especially in those great and busy churches or shrines were standing has become the norm, inspire in other ways, too. Firstly, they give concrete expression to the sensus fidelium on this matter before those men who are both the ministers of the Sacrament and responsible for the right ordering of the liturgy – bishops and priests. Secondly, they highlight that every Catholic has an universal right to kneel and receive Communion on the tongue, despite the fact that some places in the world are now permitted to distribute Communion to people in the hand.
I was baptised 20 years ago last Wednesday. I will never forget the graces poured upon my unworthy soul that day, and the great sense of joy felt immediately during and after being born into Christ. But, during the period of instruction leading up to my Baptism, Confirmation, and first Holy Communion, I was told that people must stand for the latter and that we receive the Host in our hands. This, I was told, was the teaching of the Church following the Vatican Council and that it was based on earlier traditions. I didn't question this at the time, or during the following few years.
For many, many years, then, I received Holy Communion in the hand. In fact, the first time I received the Sacred Host on the tongue was only about seven years ago (at an EF Mass)… and it felt odd and scary – how far should I stick out my tongue, what if the priest missed my mouth, etc? The next few years were spent in a kind of liturgical limbo, where I'd receive in the hand at ‘new’ Masses and on the tongue at ‘old’ ones. Eventually, though, I came to feel that I adore my God more by receiving Communion on the tongue, and this led me to the position I now take – always receiving on the tongue.
After now receiving Communion on the tongue exclusively for a couple of years, I firmly believe that I could never go back to my old ways. I cannot even imagine touching the Sacred Host, as if it were a snack, and feel remorse for the fact that I acted in this way for such a long time. Ideally, I would prefer to kneel wherever and whenever I go for Communion, but sometimes this has felt impossible for me. The fear of not being able to get up again if I have no rail to help me, or self-conscious anxieties have been obstacles to my desire to kneel at Masses where standing for Communion appears to be the norm. No-one likes to be different, do they? Not many like to stand out from the crowd.
So, I am very grateful to those people who kneel at places like the church I was in last week. Their love for the Sacrament of the Altar has inspired me. Their simple faith, their God-given courage, their profound humility before the Lord, can be infectious… and I want to be like them. Normally, I genuflect before receiving on the tongue if I am in a church without rails, but watching those women – and they were mainly women – get on their knees before the Lord during Communion at that Year of Faith Mass encouraged me go and do likewise.
Posted by A Reluctant Sinner at 13:54