Week of 12/16/2018
Today, John the Baptist intensely exhorts all to prepare for the physical presence of God in the Flesh. To understand comportment in the presence of God, let’s review Biblical precedent. Because of their catastrophic Original Sin, Adam and Eve actually hid from God, knowing their unworthiness. When Moses saw the burning bush, he fell prostrate and was commanded to remove his shoes. When Isaiah has a vision of the throne of God he is terrified, and an angel applies a burning coal to cleanse his lips. St. Paul writes to the Philippians: at the name of Jesus every knee must bend. Hence, the immediate presence of God demands incredible reverence or awe, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
In Catholicism, we have a reality that no other religion has, the physical presence of God in the Holy Eucharist. This should leave us awestruck! Again, should we enter Buckingham Palace to dine with the Queen; we would want to know proper protocol. No one would question the palace guard in determining proper comportment and wear. The Mass is a far more grave and colossal privilege than going to Buckingham Palace, because it is the Ultimate Palace, the Veritable Castle of the King of the universe. In terms of wear, the Church exhorts for good taste and reverent dress.
A second point is the actual reception of Holy Communion. This is a moment of enormous magnitude, which we must teach children repeatedly. Years ago the tradition was to kneel at the altar rail and only receive on the tongue. Why? First, to magnify in our human minds the stunning reality of receiving Christ in the Flesh, and to establish a posture reserved only for Jesus Christ, King of Kings. One’s bodily posture imbued one with a sense of the incredible transcendence taking place. Since the 1970’s, the US Catholic bishop’s conference has allowed the norm to become to stand before receiving Eucharist. But, one must make a concrete act of reverence just prior to receiving, such as a genuflection or distinct bow before the Lord. For practicality, we ask such an act take place while the person in front of you receives, so as to facilitate the movement of the line.
This comes to mind as the diocese has prepared updated norms for the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass by the laity. We are very grateful to our lectors and Extraordinary Ministers for their kindness in assisting at Mass. A central theme of the norms is the absolute reverence due to God in the Eucharist. Please remember in receiving, one can never receive in one hand, or have an object, even a rosary, in the other hand. The most efficient way to receive is on the tongue. But if in the hand, it must be a throne of one hand on top of the other, and immediately consumed in front of the priest. Unwashed hands? Receive on the tongue.
Several years ago I was asked by several people if they could kneel at the altar rail for Eucharist. I immediately replied “yes,” as this is extolled in specific instruction from the Popes. We do see in fact the Church recoiling from past abuses; at papal masses at St. Peter’s Communion to the general crowd was permitted on the hand, but then changed to the tongue only; due to people trying to pass Holy Communion from one person to the next, which is explicitly forbidden. So if one is wondering, can I kneel at the altar rail for Sunday or daily Mass, yes, there is explicit Vatican approval. The practical spirituality of such an action is that one is motionless, kneeling in adoration, with eyes towards the Cross. Meditation is engendered, and fewer distractions prevail. Plus, the Eucharist is consumed right at the rail, which removes the possibility of unwittingly walking away while handling the Eucharist.
We must always recollect how Moses and others approached God. Adam and Eve through original sin lost access to the Tree of Life. Access is regained for us by Our Lord’s sacrifice and by being in a state of grace. The Holy Eucharist is the fruit of the new Tree of Life, the Cross; let us always approach with awe-struck reverence and love.
God love you,
Fr. Brian Gannon