Thursday, August 4, 2011
What is the best posture for receiving communion?
A local priest criticized the Second Vatican Council during a recent Sunday homily. He disparaged Vatican II because he felt it ushered in the “new” without properly respecting the “old”. His was one of the more publicly expressed dissents against these church teachings but it reflects a church leadership trend of steadily departing from Vatican II teachings.
Another church leader dissenting from Vatican II-based norms is Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship. He expressed his personal opinion that Catholics should resume the pre-Vatican II practice exclusively receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling rather than in hand while standing. This was a personal not an official statement so it does not change reception norms. However, it is confusing for the worldwide liturgy leader to say this.
These types of dissent represent alarming ignorance and disregard for church teachings, not only those emanating from Vatican II but also those on the dogmatic precedence conciliar efforts have over individual utterances and pronouncements, including those of popes. Due to affirmation of the Spirit’s guidance across a large body of individuals rather than just a single individual, the church teaches councils’ doctrinal efforts carry more weight than individual pronouncements. Thus, the Second Vatican Council’s teachings should be considered extremely binding, not things to dismiss casually based on personal preference or disagreement.
Like it or not, Vatican II resulted in sixteen documents that present binding (albeit not infallible) church teachings: four constitutions, three declarations and nine decrees. They do not include Humanae Vitae, Pastores Dabo Vobis, Mulieris Dignatatem or Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, lesser binding (and also not infallible) teachings issued via papal encyclicals from Paul VI and John Paul II. They do not include Inter Insigniores which is a lesser binding (and not infallible) teaching issued via declaration made by a Vatican office rather than a council. For those unfamiliar with those latter documents, they contain teachings on birth control, priest gender requirements and the role of women - topics from which many church leaders permit no dissent. Why do current leaders tolerate no dissent for lesser binding teachings while dissenting from more binding conciliar teachings?
Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council was not about ushering in the new and discarding the old. It was about reclaiming the old, looking back to original Christian traditions and appropriately adapting them for the Church in the Modern World. During its multi-millennial history, the church took many small, seemingly valid tangential deviations that cumulatively set the church off course. Vatican II corrected course, returning to that which Jesus originally entrusted to his followers.
The statement about communion reception is particularly puzzling for a few reasons. First, Cardinal Llovera feels that kneeling is THE appropriate way to respect and adore Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. Going back in time, standing was a sign of respect; kneeling symbolized subservience. Regardless, is there really a universal way for someone to show respect? How can someone think to impose a universal “ultimate” when respect is conveyed in diverse ways depending upon individuals and cultures?
Second, the Eucharist re-actualizes the Last Supper. The church teaches that priests represent the person of Jesus in this effort. At the Last Supper, the disciples reclined at table with Jesus; they didn’t kneel. Scripture suggests Jesus was the only person who knelt at the Last Supper, as he made himself a servant to wash the disciples’ feet. He told them to do likewise. He even chastised Peter, who felt uncomfortable with Jesus’ radical act of humility. Yet Jesus told Peter accepting this seemingly inverted humility was essential for inheritance in God’s kingdom.
If we imitate Jesus, shouldn’t priests, acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during the Mass, kneel during communion – not before the host but as they serve the people approaching them for reception? At the Last Supper Jesus didn’t say, “Get down on your knees and adore me or you cannot share in my inheritance.” He blessed and broke bread, sharing with friends. Therefore, at a minimum, shouldn’t people approach the Eucharist in communal friendship rather than servile adoration?
This brings up another point of confusion. Jesus told the disciples and apostles “Follow me.” He didn’t say “Adore me.” It seems many people expend great efforts trying to perfectly “adore” Jesus and fall far short following him. Adoration is significantly easier than emulation.
Yet scripture indicates our judgment will not be based upon how much we adored Jesus, or passing an exam on the church’s dogmatic teachings, but rather how well we followed Jesus. When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When in prison, did you visit me? When a stranger in a strange land, did you welcome me? Did you radically forgive and radically include? If I follow Christ, shouldn’t I kneel before the poor I serve at the food pantry more readily than kneeling before the host?