Homily for June 26, 2011: Corpus Christi

On Palm Sunday, a woman approached me between masses with an unusual question.  “Excuse me,” she said, “but do you mind if I kneel when I receive communion?”

I was in a hurry, and a little surprised at the question.  But I quickly told her no, that wasn’t a problem, and she thanked me.  And sure enough, when she came up to me at communion time, she knelt to receive the Body of Christ.

It wasn’t until later, after posting something about this on my blog, and following the discussion about this, that I came to realize I had missed an opportunity to explain why we don’t normally kneel at that moment.  The US bishops have made clear – with the Vatican’s endorsement – that standing is the norm for receiving communion in the United States, as well as in many other countries around the world.

But most people, I think, don’t really understand why.

I wondered about that myself. And on this beautiful feast, when we honor the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, I wanted to reflect on our posture during this moment.  It’s something we do so often, we probably take it for granted.

But HOW we receive has a direct connection to WHO we receive.

First, it is as a sign of respect.  We stand in the presence of an important dignitary.  So it is that during mass we stand for the gospel — to acknowledge the presence of Christ in the Word – and we stand, also, to acknowledge approaching his presence, his REAL presence, as we receive him in communion.

Some theologians delve deeper.  Fr. Paul Turner put it this way:

“Standing for communion,” he wrote,  “demonstrates our belief that Christ is risen and that the Eucharistic food we share is a foretaste of the life to come.  Standing emphasizes our participation in the mystery of the mass, which is the point of communion.”

With that, he touches on something that I think is even more beautiful: “our participation in the mystery of the mass.” Central to that mystery is prayer.

So, consider how we pray.  During the mass, whenever we pray together, we stand.  We do it at the beginning of mass, for the opening prayer, and for the “Gloria.”  In a few moments, we will stand to pray together the Creed and the Prayer of the Faithful.  We will stand for the “Holy Holy Holy” and the “Our Father.”  And we will stand for the Prayer After Communion.  More often than not, when the priest says those three words – “Let us pray” – we stand.

So it seems to me it is only fitting that we stand, too, for the most important prayer we say in the mass, that instant when we receive Christ in the Eucharist.

Receiving the Eucharist is a form of prayer.  It is a testament of faith, a song of praise.  It is a call, and a response.  And it is also an affirmation of everything we hold to be true.

We are shown the host and the minister of communion says “The Body of Christ.”  It’s not “Do you want one?”  Or even “Are you worthy?”  It is simple and direct: “The Body of Christ.” In other words: behold what is tangible.  Real.  Present.  He is here.  And we respond with one small word – a word that sounds almost like a whisper, but that echoes like thunder.

“Amen.”

Yes.

Yes.  I believe.  Yes, I accept the Body of Christ – broken and beautiful and present in the appearance of this fractured piece of bread.  Yes, I want Him to become a part of me.  Yes, I hold this mystery in the palm of my hand and hold it, as well, in my heart.

Yes, I will carry Him with me, in me, into the world.

Yes, I believe.

That is what we say with every “Amen” at every communion.

Yes. One small word.  But how much power is in that word!  It is the word that a simple peasant girl uttered 2,000 years ago, when she was also asked to accept the Body of Christ into her own life, into her own body.  “Yes,” she said.  And with that, Mary became the very first tabernacle.  And like Mary, in a similar way, each of us at every mass also becomes a tabernacle.  It happens every time we say “Yes” to that sliver of bread, the Body of Christ.

We do that, and we carry Christ.  He becomes a part of us.  We become a part of him.  It is a moment that is nothing less than monumental.

And saying “Yes” to all that is the greatest prayer we can make.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, let us strive to say that prayer, that “Amen,” as if it is the first time we’ve ever said it.

When you consider all that it means, all that it contains, all that we believe in all its mystery and wonder and awe…that is something to stand for.

And: to stand up for.

  • Joe

    Well okay.

    But I’ll take the HF’s catechesis of why why prostrate/kneel etc in adoration:

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20080522_corpus-domini_en.html

  • Thomas Lichtenberger

    Did You and the very honorable bishops of gods own country ever consider the teaching of our holy father pope Benedict xvi on communion, kneeling, adoration etc. which in my humble opinion might make your statement a little bit looking as being protestant?

  • Thomas Lichtenberger

    Well spoken, Joe!

  • http://www.liturgy.co.nz Rev Bosco Peters

    Strange reasoning. Why do you stand for the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer and then change posture to sit or kneel for the second half of it? Why not stand throughout – following your logic? & why do you use a small “m” for “mass” but a capital for other words?! Does Mass no longer warrant a capital?

    [Hi, Bosco. We kneel for the entire Eucharistic Prayer, which is said by the priest, not by the people. And I don't know why I use a small "m". I suspect my style is all over the map, since I write my homilies primarily to be heard. Dcn. G]

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Thomas and Joe…

    All I can do is try to discuss the bishop’s guidelines for our country, where the norm stated in the GIRM is to stand. I thought this was a good opportunity to reflect on this for the people in my parish and challenge them to think about this practice differently. Do you have any idea what would happen if I encouraged kneeling during communion in my parish? The pope can state his preference. I can’t.

    And I would hardly say that my affirmation of the Real Presence, as laid out in my homily, was anything approaching “Protestant.”

    Dcn. G.

  • Ryan Ellis

    Kneeling was the norm of reception up until the 1970s. Trying to cover up the catastrophic mistake of permitting standing (and actually making it the norm!) with square peg/round hole rationalization is not helpful. This is a JP2-type article in a B16 kinda world.

    And we wonder why people have lost a belief in the Real Presence. When you kneel and receive on the tongue, that creates a different impression than when you stand and receive in your hand like it’s Halloween candy.

    I’m with the Pope on this one, not Marxist theologians and 1970s-era bishops.

    Incidentally, the new GIRM translation will make it clear that the norm in the U.S. is standing UNLESS an individual communicant chooses to kneel. The implication of that formulation is that this is not the norm FOR HIM.

  • Jim Dotter

    Can we please stop nitpicking and dividing ourselves and be in Communion with Christ? Perhaps the posture of our souls is more important than the posture of our bodies.

    AMEN!

  • http://www.liturgy.co.nz Rev Bosco Peters

    “We kneel for the entire Eucharistic Prayer, which is said by the priest, not by the people.” In NZ RCs stand from the introductory dialogue of the Eucharistic Prayer to the end of the Benedictus, then sit or kneel. Here all the people are encouraged to be praying along in their hearts what the priest prays aloud. The people join in the prayer aloud at several points.

  • jkm

    Thank you. Beautifully explicated. Kneeling is a gesture of private devotion and worship–certainly appropriate, as one is able, for Adoration. Or if, as in some places, it is the norm for Communion, and one is not being disruptive of this key communal moment. The Holy Father prefers kneeling, as he has said, as a means of imposing some reverent order in the zoo that liturgies at St Peter’s inevitably become. I just wonder when, in the interests of the ultimate orthodoxy, someone’s going to ask if they can receive reclining, as the apostles did at the Last Supper.

  • http://www.TotusTuusFamily.blogspot.com Allison

    I think that the Bishops here should follow the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. When receiving communion from the Holy Father, as stated by others, the communicant is directed to kneel and receive on the tongue. Why? Many say to recapture our Catholic identity and strike out against the years that led us to so many NOT believing in the real presence.

    Receiving Our Lord should be a moment like no other and our posture can be a signal to us, taking our hearts and minds to reverence DEMONSTRATED to ourselves and others….a catechism on Who we are receiving.

  • Thomas Lichtenberger

    My respects four Your duty as a deacon.
    But I have to “stand for” to. And there i see the successor of St. Peter which whom according to the teaching of the church every bishop has to be in unity. And i see bishops with a obviously strong belief in their national supremacy and ignorance of catholicity. That is what i was refering to as protestant.

  • http://concordpastor.blogspot.com Austin Fleming

    Unfortunately, we are at a point where following and catechizing on Vatican approved norms which our bishops ask us to follow can lead to a faithful deacon or priest being thought of as Protestant.

    It’s important to note that while the Holy Father has established norms for Mass at St. Peter’s and other places where he celebrates, he has not asked any episcopal conferences to change the norms in their territories.

    That being said… thank you, Greg, for a very fine homily which beautifully integrates a solid Eucharistic theology with a catechesis on how we worship. Well done!

  • Bruce T.

    No offense, but this is a terrible homily.
    It is based on the false premise that we have to stand for Holy Communion (or that it is better) and thus discourages devotion.
    And worse, you express a heresy saying “present in this fractured piece of bread.” Christ is not present “in bread.” The bread has become Christ. Catholic teaching is that it is no longer bread; it is Christ. Your statement is the heresy of consubstantiation.

    Moreover, the standing argument is ridiculous. We stand for the Gospel at attention because we are ready to put it into action. Holy Communion is when we are before Christ in His real presence, the true and proper presence surpassing all others. We fall to our knees before God. And we are like babes begging t be fed. Kneeling is most appropriate, even though there has been agenda against it since the late 1960′s. Kneeling makes an important distinction about Christ’s diverse presence at Mass.

    Fr. Turner is entitled to his opinions, but his reasoning is pure subjective speculation. Joee and Thomas are right. Stick to the Universal Pastor rather than Fr. Turner.

    All your examples of standing would seem to prove that we should kneel for communion. We kneel for the real presence of Christ when He becomes present and when we are ready to receive Him. In a parallel way, we genuflect in front of a tabernacle and kneel at Benediction. In fact, we get on our knees anytime Christ is exposed. To stand almost seems like a sign of defiance.

    Fr. Peters is correct . If we follow your logic we should stand for the consecration.

    Frank Sinatra explains it best in Hell’s anthem , “My Way.” Only the humble and meek who seek God’s way kneel in prayer. Modern people prefer their way and so want to feel equal to God and so stand.

    [Thanks, Bruce. My mistake. I should have added the words "under the appearance of" fractured bread. I'll adjust. Blessings, Dcn. G.]

  • Geoffrey

    The Latin custom has been traditionally to kneel upon reception of Holy Communion. In the Eastern Churches, we’ve always received the Eucharist standing. Both postures contain powerful meaning for the respective cultures in which they took form. Arbitrarily altering such deeply symbolic gestures robs them of the natural impact they have on our psyches. By abandoning its practices in the name of fleeting fads of theological emphasis, however well-intentioned and reasoned, the Latin Church has done grave harm to its aesthetic integrity.

  • Geoffrey

    “Fr. Peters is correct . If we follow your logic we should stand for the consecration.”

    That is indeed what we do in the Eastern Churches. But the Latin Church serves the cultures in which it took form, and for these environs, kneeling is proper. If you change, the Church will lose something valuable, just as it would if we were to one day decide to kneel. We shouldn’t violate customs ingrained so deeply in heart and history with such rashness.

  • hannajo

    I have a hard time believing there’s any theological reason to receive Holy Communion standing rather than kneeling. I’ll wager to say that this was implemented to allow the Communion line to move faster. And I don’t believe that is necessarily a bad thing.

    Prayer, reverence, and piety are, of course, hugely important to the Mass. But order has its place as well. Personally, I prefer to receive Holy Communion on my tongue. But there are cases where it is either inconvenient (i.e. EMHC is extremely short) or it would bring possible undo attention to myself (i.e. when I am serving on the alter as an EMHC, and everyone else is receiving in the hand). In any case, I try to be as reverent as possible, both internally and externally. If we are told to stand when receiving, we can go back to our pews and kneel in private adoration of our Lord. Often I kneel even after the tabernacle is closed and everyone else flops back into their seats.

    I am willing to receive Jesus however he will come to me. I think we need to follow Deacon Greg’s example and follow our bishops, even if it’s something we don’t agree with.

  • Deacon Bryan Amore

    Bruce, you are in error. With all the direct and unambiguous references Deacon Greg presented in his post supporting a very orthodox theology of the Eucharist you insist on picking a small statement outside the context of all that he had written? Poor logic and poor reasoning on your part. According to your standards, St. Paul would be considered speaking heresy in his first letter to the Corinthians.

    I also stick to the Universal Pastor. If you indeed would stick to the Universal Pastor, it would have to be in all regards – including his ministry of governing the Universal Church with his decision to allow the local conference of bishops to decide the proper posture for receiving commuion.

  • http://www.byzantinediaspora.com S B

    In response to TL and others, being in communion with Rome does not necessitate agreement, assent, or adherence to every preference of the Petrine successor. B16 would be the first to say this, and does in hbis foreword to Jesus of Nazareth.

    Its also worth noting that you do not need to kneel or even have a preference for kneelin g to be Catholic. The Byzantine Rite does not now, and to my knowledge never has, proscribed kneeling during a typical liturgy. It has always stressed standing, even during the consecration. (Though it does say to bow during the consecration it does say to bow.) The standing is small s sacramental. It points to the reality of our elevated and redeemed nature, made possible through Christ’s sacrifice. We are no longer weighed down and bent over by original sin, but liberated to stand aright and in awe of the God who saves.

  • Kate

    I stand in line at the bank. I stand in line at the cafeteria. I stand in line at the theater box office. I stand in line to receive Communion, but the standing in line has no element of respect. It’s just the most efficient way to get Communion over with, and IMO it has fostered a mundane, “ho-hum” attitude toward the Blessed Sacrament. I have to work at maintaining at least an interior attitude of reverence, in spite of standing in line, which is a hindrance, not a help.

  • Fiergenholt

    To add to this discussion. . .

    I genuinely appreciate the insights provided by the Eastern Christians who have responded to this post.

    We Latin Rite folk in the US kneel during Mass more often — and at different points — than RC folk do in any other country in the world. I do not travel to overseas that often but I know that is true because I have seen it.

    That happens as a result of an indult the American Bishops received from the Vatican before our GIRM was ever published. Let me repeat that — the actual Vatican document prescribing kneeling during Mass in the Latin Rite is no where near as strict as that adopted by the American Bishops.

  • http://breadhere.blogspot.com/ Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    We stand as one Body in Christ. Not that you would know that from how we bicker. God have mercy on us all.

    This is a fine homily and so well put. You give us excellent Eucharistic theology.

    My prayer for this day – well for every day – but most specifically on this day in which we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ, I pray for our unity as one in that Body. We don’t come to receive alone, but we come to be One through, with and in Him.

    If we could just agree about that for the day, well then – we would be living the best Eucharistic theology.

    Thank you Greg.

  • jaykay

    I’m a cradle Catholic born in the mid-fifties and like many of my peers I fell away from the active practice of my faith in my twenties. In 1985 I had a spiritual reawakening courtesy of the Cursillo movement, and yes, the soundtrack to that experience was “On Eagle’s Wings,” “Be Not Afraid,” “Here I Am, Lord,” “Abba, Father” and so on. I went on to be a musician in the movement and did those very hymns at weekends, retreats and Masses for the next 30 years. We stood around the altar at the most important Mass in my life. In other words, everything we did was wrong. Yet somehow, the Holy Spirit managed to grab me by the scruff of the neck, pull me out of my sinful life, save my marriage and my immortal soul anyway. I am now struggling mightily to wrap my old brain around the new things coming our way, the liturgical changes, the “Cultural Revolution” style elimination of all this horrible pop music that has meant so much to so many people, and the call to, as I see it, “Party like it’s 1959.” Much of my struggle comes from my questioning of some people’s motives. Why kneel at communion? Why go back to chanting? Why champion reversing changes made 60 years ago? I can’t help but feel that some folks want to turn back time, as if after Mass, Mom, Dad, Bud and Sis will pile into the Studebaker and go to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner, then watch Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best. It’s not going to happen. To close my rant and get back to the topic at hand, I’ve seen someone drop to their kneels suddenly in line for Communion and almost take down an elderly woman behind him. I know change is inevitable, but I hope that the enactment of these changes can be done with intelligence, compassion and true charity. I don’t feel that in the tone of some of the reform-the-reformers, frankly.

  • Michele

    Thanks Deacon Greg- I enjoyed the homily. And doesn’t part of the Eucharistic Prayer say, “We stand in your presence and serve You” ??
    Michele

  • http://www.mysteriousthings.net Marc

    Fr Zuhlsdorf just the other day pointed out that the new Missale translation is accompanied also by a new translation of the GIRM (and its US adaptations)– from which is now removed the implied pastoral duty of clerics to ‘persuade’ people that the norm, standing for the reception of Holy Communion, is ‘better’ than kneeling. It is the norm, and individual Catholics may elect to kneel.

    (And he also has noted, Michele, that the ‘we stand in Your presence’ translation is eliminated, too.)

    Changes (that I welcome) are coming….

  • http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/ Erin Manning

    I do not wish to stand to receive Communion. However, I do stand, out of obedience to my bishops and the GIRM, even though I think that it was better to kneel to receive, and that the reverence implied by kneeling had profound theological and liturgical significance.

    Our priest mentioned in his homily for today’s feast of Corpus Christi that 75% of all baptized Catholics do not attend Mass and receive Holy Communion. The loss of reverence and the spirit of anything-goes disobedience are equally at fault, and both must be restored.

  • Otto

    Deacon Greg:

    My wife and I spent this past Easter in Iceland. On Easter Sunday we went to the English-language mass at the only Catholic church in Reyjkavik. We found two things very surprising. First, the majority of the congregation was Filipino! And second, communion was received while kneeling. I’ve attended mass in many countries and had never encountered this. Your homily this afternoon reminded me of this detail. A long kneeler located along the front altar permitted groups of about 8 individuals at a time to receive communion while kneeling.

  • http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/ Erin Manning

    Both reverence and obedience, that is. :) Sorry for the awkward construction.

  • brother jeff

    Kneeling will become the norm everywhere soon enough. All knees must bend at the very name of Jesus. No one stands in confession either. If we make it to heaven, that is when Jesus will say, as to daughter of Jairus, ‘arise.’

    [Actually, the last few times I've been to confession I've been sitting, not kneeling. Dcn. G]

  • brother jeff

    Ok fair enough. I can’t roll that way personally though. I think of Mary Magdalen kneeling at the feet of Jesus weeping. I do think you were correct on the real presence though. Only the appearance of bread remains; our material eyes can’t see that is really Jesus Himself after the consecration.

  • sacerdosinaeternum

    The good Bishop Schneider could help considerably here: DOMINUS EST!!!

    http://www.amazon.com/Dominus-Reflections-Bishop-Central-Communion/dp/0977884619

  • Maureen

    The new norms say people can kneel if they feel like it, and that they’re not to catechized about it. (Or scolded, which has been the true norm, alas.)

    I don’t mind standing, but only because I am kneeling in my heart. We never had communion rails or kneeling during my lifetime, but there’s no question in my mind that it’s better the few times I’ve been able to use it.

    Also, it’s kinda dangerous to stand in line. I mean, you close your eyes and go contemplative, and people knock into you. You sing in line, and people give you the hairy eye. People get distracted by checking out your outfit.

    And if you stay in the pew, it’s worse. People try to make my Protestant dad go to Communion, or get so insistent I have to hiss “I already committed one mortal sin, I’m not gonna commit another!” before they’ll go away. At least in our neck of the woods they don’t do the Communion Endurance Stand, which seems pretty much designed to humiliate little old ladies with canes.

  • RP Burke

    A reply to Maureen.

    A teaching moment. Here is what the norm actually says:

    The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. (GIRM, No. 160, US adaptation, available at http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/chapter4.shtml#sect4)

    So, kneelers are indeed to be catechized about the correct posture for receiving communion in the US. A good example of such catechesis is the homily presented here.

  • Regina J. Faighes

    RP Burke wrote: “A good example of such catechesis is the homily presented here.”
    AMEN!!!

  • Brother Jeff

    You’ll have to forgive me but the church in America has officially turned upside down. People like Nancy Pelosi and Andrew Cuomo can receive communion without rebuke, but someone who wants to kneel “needs to be addressed pastorally” on why he or she should stand?

    It is no wonder that Cardinal Ratzinger stated that national conferences of catholic bishops have “no theological basis” when they come out with statements like this.

    What is next, standing when we go to confession (for the few who do…). Do we need to be pastorally addressed on why we should probably stand while confessing as it shows “more respect” for Jesus. The lunatics are running the asylum, sorry.

  • HMS

    Brother Jeff:

    FYI
    Many years ago, when I visited Fatima, Portugal, I went confession standing.

  • brother jeff

    Ive been there too and never once saw someone stand while confessiing. I also witnessed jpii hearing confessions in st peters and everyone kneeled. That goes for every other country ive been to. But who knows, maybe it’s time we all stand in the confessional.

  • HMS

    Brother Jeff:

    Revision

    FYI
    Many years ago, when I visited Fatima, Portugal, I went to confession standing.

  • brother jeff

    You mean like al.pacino in godfather three? I assume it was some kind of urgent situation, but everyone knows how americans love to normalize the exception. I predict the usccb will soon issue guidelines for confession which will call for standing and those who wish to kneel will be pastorally assisted to understand why standing is evidence of a more mature faith.

  • hannajo

    @ Maureen (#31): Thanks for adding a touch of humor to a thread that was becoming not very much fun. That was enjoyable to read. :)

  • Pingback: I’ve changed my mind. It’s time to bring back the altar rail.

  • Pingback: Bring Back the Communion Rail » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  • Pingback: The Eucharist is not the DMV

  • Pingback: Bring back the altar rail – an appeal from The Deacon’s Bench |


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X