Last Sunday I addressed the importance of spiritual preparation for receiving the Eucharist – namely, that one must be in a state of grace in order to come forward for Communion. I attempted to explain why our bishops insist that “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession.” In light of that statement I tried to help you understand the difference between mortal (grave) and venial sin. This Sunday I will give some instruction on how to receive Communion and what to do after receiving Our Lord. I would like to place this instruction in the context of our Scripture readings.
In the Old Testament reading, the prophet Hosea foretells a day when Israel will respond to the Lord “as in the days of her youth.” He compares her to a young bride responding with joy and fidelity to God, her spouse. In the Gospel we hear something similar. Jesus tells us we must become like “new wineskins” so that we can receive the new wine that he wishes to pour into us. We must try to have this interior newness, this renewed youth, every time we come forward to receive Christ who is God, the divine Bridegroom.
It is easy to become casual, even slovenly, in our approach to Communion. Preparation begins at home when we pick out our clothes. If a man were going for a job interview, he would select a clean shirt, a pair of pressed pants and make sure his shoes did not have scuff marks. He might even ask his mother, “Mom, how do I look?” Shouldn’t we do the same, or even more, to meet the One who will determine where we spend eternity?
To continue the job interview comparison, one other thing he would do is arrive on time, perhaps even a few minutes early. Arriving early allows a person to collect their thoughts before Mass begins. During the prayers, the Scripture readings and the homily we should each do our best to concentrate. I admit that sometimes circumstances seem to conspire against us: an inadequate sound system, children fussing and – as sometimes even happens at Holy Family – a less than inspiring homily. If you notice your mind drifting, try to gently bring yourself back to the Lord and the Word that he has just for you.
During the Eucharistic Prayer we follow our bishops’ instruction to kneel. In the Bible and the tradition of our Church, that posture signifies gratitude and receptivity. St. Paul says, “I kneel before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...” (Eph 3:14) So do we during that central act of worship: the renewal of Christ’s Sacrifice. In the New Testament you will find at least thirty-four examples of kneeling in prayer, including of course Our Lord himself. By no means is kneeling limited to prayer of repentance, but includes petition, gratitude, intense worship and even one example of kneeling during an emotional departure ceremony.
Immediately before receiving Communion we stand and say together the Lord’s Prayer. Then we call upon Jesus, the Lamb of God, to heal our unworthy souls so that we can receive him. As you come forward for Communion, I encourage you to pay attention to your hands so that you do not put them into your pockets. As the person ahead of your takes Communion, bow your head in reverence. If you receive on the tongue, respond “Amen,” when the priest holds out the Host saying, “The Body of Christ.” If you receive in the hands, place your left hand on top of the right in the form of a cross. After you have responded, “Amen,” step to one side to place the Sacred Species in your mouth. Those are the only two approved ways of receiving Communion, not, for example, to grab the host with two fingers. If you receive from the cup, the Precious Blood of Christ, you should also bow and, likewise respond “Amen” when the minister says, “The Blood of Christ.”
At this point we are going to be doing something a little different. About three years ago, when the Archbishop instituted a series of changes, we initiated the practice of standing after Communion. People have noticed that the Cathedral and other parishes have the practice of being seated or kneeling after coming back to one's place. The Archbishop granted an exception to parishes like the Cathedral which have large congregations. We certainly qualify so next Sunday I would like to ask you to be seated or to kneel when you return from Communion. Many people have told me that they prefer to kneel or be seated as they thank Jesus for the wonder of him coming to us in that intimate way. If the choir is singing a Communion hymn, you are welcome to remain standing to join in it. I believe that those who are able will probably prefer to remain kneeling until the tabernacle is closed, but I want to encourage you to do what most helps your own prayer.
I hope that you will take this as an opportunity to put into practice what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: not to become hardened, brittle wineskins, but in Christ to always maintain our youth. In a sense, Jesus offers us the only surefire way of remaining forever young.
From the Archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Participation in Sunday Mass)
Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus on Bishop Robinson's rehab program
The orthodoxies of evolutionary psychology are all here... (New York Times book review)
University of Illinois suspends students over cartoon
More bishops like this, please
Homosexuality and the Seminaries: How to Read the New Vatican Instruction by Fr. Robert J. Johansen (Crisis Magazine article)