“I beg you to show the greatest possible reverence and honour for the most holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven, have been brought to peace and reconciled with Almighty God.” – (St. Francis of Assisi, in a letter to a priest.)
For many years I have been kneeling to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. It has always seemed to me ‘right and fitting’ to fall to my knees, to receive my Lord and Saviour. Nor do I believe my unconsecrated hands should touch His Most Sacred Body, so I receive on the tongue.
There was a time when I was very young, swept along in the tide of novelties that had overwhelmed the Church in the aftermath of Vatican II, that I received the Sacred Host in the hand; it appeared to be unavoidable, even though I had been taught at my First Holy Communion to receive in the traditional way. I soon began to notice that tiny particles of the Host sometimes stuck to my palm and I was horrified. I knew full well that in each one was the fullness of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord. I was not happy about this and yearned for a more traditional and reverent way of receiving the Eucharist.
I was blessed; at the same time as I began to meet and make friends with like-minded traditional Catholics, all the holy Catholic devotions that had so nourished the Church for centuries started to make a slow comeback, bringing with it a call to reclaim the Sacred in the Liturgy. I returned to my earliest childhood days of receiving kneeling and on the tongue, and always from the consecrated hands of a priest. Despite some initial fears, I have never had a problem with this practice. Until the other day!
Last Sunday, as I chanced to be paying a visit to see an old friend who lay dying in hospital, on leaving I went into an unknown nearby church for Holy Mass to offer prayers for him. It was a fairly modern-looking church, but I was pleased to see a large beautiful crucifix hanging above the altar. The N.O. Mass was celebrated in a not-too-modernist way, so I had no inkling of what was about to happen next.
When it came time for the distribution of Holy Communion both the celebrant-priest and an Extraordinary Minister came down the steps from the altar. I got into line to receive from the priest. When it was my turn I knelt down, closed my eyes and opened my mouth, as I always did. Nothing happened! I opened my eyes to see him frowning down at me, when then, still holding the Host suspended in his hands, he growled, “De pie!” (Stand up!) I was so stunned, and without thinking, simply gasped, “no”. He turned away from me then with a, “como quieres” (as you wish) and continued stuffing the Sacred Host into the outstretched hands of all those coming up behind me. I eventually got to my feet, but to make my humiliation complete he still ignored me until the last person in the line had received Communion. Then glaring furiously at me (because I still refused to unclasp my hands) he hurriedly gave me Holy Communion on the tongue without even uttering, “Cuerpo de Cristo” (Body of Christ). I walked back to my bench with downcast eyes to avoid the curious stares of all the congregation.
There was no way after Mass that I could politely enquire of the priest why he had refused me Communion while kneeling – he had slammed shut the door to the Sacristy – but I did approach the Eucharistic Minister as he was leaving the church with his wife to ask his opinion. His explanation was only to say that “this is the way we do things here [i.e. in this church]; it’s quicker and easier”. I suppose his meaning was: this is the way we choose to interpret Catholic teaching, and if you don’t like it, go elsewhere! Echoes of Protestantism (viz, every church picking and choosing what to believe at random) started ringing in my head.
However, under the Vatican website entitled “OFFICE FOR THE LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF”, and under the subtitle, “Communion received on the tongue and while kneeling” it states that:
“The Western Church has established kneeling as one of the signs of devotion appropriate to communicants. A celebrated saying of Saint Augustine, cited by Pope Benedict XVI in n. 66 of his Encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis, (“Sacrament of Love”), teaches: “No one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it” (Enarrationes in Psalmos 98, 9). Kneeling indicates and promotes the adoration necessary before receiving the Eucharistic Christ.
From this perspective, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger assured that: “Communion only reaches its true depth when it is supported and surrounded by adoration” [The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 90]. For this reason, Cardinal Ratzinger maintained that “the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species” [cited in the Letter “This Congregation” of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 1 July 1, 2002].”
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2004, with then prefect Cardinal Francis Arinze, stated in Redemptionis Sacramentum that:
“…it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling…”(91) and “each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue…” (92)
Esteemed priest-blogger of the Diocese of Madison, WI, Fr. Richard Heilman, said in a homily:
“Reports are now widespread of priests refusing Communion to those who wish to receive kneeling and on the tongue. Even reports of priests berating people for this. A friend of mine said he was traveling and attended Mass where he proceeded to kneel and indicate that he wished to receive on the tongue. The minister of Holy Communion refused and ended up walking away from him. He remained. Finally, the priest came over and said, “Get up son, we don’t do it that way here.” My friend said, “So, you are refusing me Communion?” The priest said, “Yes I am.” He got up, walked out and reported him to the chancery. It is a severe infraction against canon law for any priest to do this.”
So I am not the only one to have ruffled the feathers of an anti-traditionalish priest. There are many such stories reported on the Catholic blogosphere. Katrina Fernandez (Crescat) wrote an article last March where she reports how she was: “Denied Communion on the Tongue at My Grandmother’s Funeral…”! She says:
“I mean I’ve heard stories about priests refusing to give communion to people kneeling or on the tongue before but have never witnessed it myself. I just had such a hard time believing a priest could be so poorly formed or dismissively casual with the Eucharist.”
Do priests who have such an evident distaste for kneeling communicants truly believe that the Holy Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Chirst? If they did, would they really wish to deny Holy Communion to those who revere the Sacrament in this way? Every day we hear cases of horrendous Eucharistic abuses. Irreverence and disbelief in the Real Presence of Our Lord has increased as the posture of kneeling has been lost. Can these liberal priests who deny Communion to those who desire to kneel and receive on the tongue not see that? It is very hard not to imagine that priests who refuse to distribute Holy Communion to those who wish to kneel to receive, those who shun handling His Sacred Body as though it were a mere piece of unconsecrated bread, have not lost their faith in the Real Presence themselves. Because, quite frankly, what other reason could there be for this contemptuous attitude towards communicants who wish to honour and revere Our Lord “on bended knee” [Phillippians 2:10], and to receive Him directly onto the tongue? **
The “Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum“, under the subtitle, “Kneeling For Holy Communion. Must Catholics Stand?“, includes this information:
“In view of the law that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them” (Canon 843 s. 1),there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for Holy Communion at Mass, except in cases presenting a danger of grave scandal to other believers arising out of the person’s unrepented public sin or obstinate heresy or schism, publicly professed or declared. Even where the Congregation has approved of legislation denoting standing as the posture for Holy Communion, in accordance with the adaptations permitted to the Conferences of Bishops by the Institution Generalis Missalis Romani n. 160, paragraph 2, it has done so with the stipulation that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds.”
So there we have it. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church encourages the faithful to receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. Those priests who refuse communicants the Sacred Host, not for any dubious motive (like those cases mentioned in the above text) other than their distaste for this pious form of receiving the King of Kings, are disobeying the laws of the Church.
** I would like to point out that Catholics who choose to receive Holy Communion whilst standing (or those who cannot kneel on the ground), and to receive in the hand with reverence, are not committing any Church disciplinary infraction. Such methods are permitted by Canon Law.