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.
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.