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?    


  1. I guess you hear what you want to hear. I heard the same homily and the priest did not 'disparage' VaticanII. He was making the point that their needs to be balance between old and new. As I recall he said sometimes the new is called for and needed. You can't take peoples views out of context. That is unfair and I think you are unfair. You fail to listen to anyone other than yourself, it must be nice always being right! Before you criticize, make sure you tell people about the whole message. I'll tell the priest how you unfairly criticized him without allowing him the opportunity to defend his words. You think you're very intelligent, but it is obvious you have no love for the church, only for yourself.

  2. It will be difficult for you to "tell the priest" since I did not identify him, don't know who you are, and do not know if we speak of the same homily. I attend Mass at a lot of churches. You have made an assumption that you know the priest to whom I refer, my intentions, my heart, and my mind. I find it interesting that via what you wrote, you actually commit that which you accuse me of doing.

    I am not sure what your intention is in telling the priest. I can and do express my concerns directly to priests, including the one in question, when I have concerns about what they say. Me having concerns with his expressions would not be news to the priest in question. If you are not relaying concerns on my behalf, then it would seem you are threatening to "tattle". I'm not sure what your desired effect would be in that.

    To the point of my article, disagreeing with Vatican II is dissent and this priest expressed disagreement with Vatican II. Thus, I disagree with your opinion that I "unfairly criticized" the priest in question. Perhaps you are thinking of a different priest if the one you have in mind didn't disagree with Vatican II. Regardless, the specific priest is not the point. When the person's identity is important to making a point, I include their name.

    Just like you think you know who the priest is, I think I know who you are. But, I don't know for sure because you didn't say. And you don't know for sure because I didn't say.

  3. I deleted a comment written by an anonymous contributor who stated that I am not in full communion with the church. The comment also contained an irrelevant personal attack. Personal attacks will not be tolerated and irrelevant comments will not be published, especially not from anonymous contributors.

    1. Unless the anonymous contributor was my bishop, he/she lacks authority to declare me outside communion. My bishop has affirmed that I am in communion. Therefore, the anonymous contributor was incorrect.

    2. I changed the way comments will be handled on this blog. Anonymous comments will no longer be accepted, and comments first will be moderated before publication, to ensure respect and relevance. Contributors need to associate themselves with their comments.

  4. I had to delete another anonymous comment that contained a personal attack. However, I will post the part of the comment that was substantive for reflection. The person quoted part of Phil 2:10 and Phil 2:11. Specifically they wrote "every knee shall bend and every tongue confess" followed by a personal insult that will not be permitted on the blog.

    Let me first provide the entire quote from Phil 2:10-11. "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

    First, Paul said that, not Jesus. Second, that is a popular early Christian hymn that Paul repeats (reference Biblical commentaries or even just the footnotes in the USCCB's online Bible). Third, Paul says "at the name of Jesus every knee should bend...." So, if you are going to offer this as a literal guideline for conducting one's life, should you not kneel whenever you hear the name of Jesus rather than at communion?

    Taking that quote in its full context from Phil 2, we see that the hymn Paul repeats is about Jesus' humility and how through his humility, God exalts him. This is the portion of the early Christian hymn (Phil 2:6-9) that precedes the fragments you quoted, "Who,though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name."

    This is a beautiful hymn that we repeat throughout the year. It is interesting though that it introduces what the Church teaches are heretical concepts. For example that hymn alludes to a dualistic (non-integrated) Jesus with a human shell filled by God. This was a major heresy that was corrected in the early Church. It also says that Jesus was in the form of a human but the Church teaches that is a heretical teaching as well. The Church teaches that Jesus is fully human and fully God.

    Thank you for your interest to comment. Next time please identify yourself and omit personal attacks as are the rules for this blog.

  5. I've been thinking more about the moderated comment I mentioned above. If someone thinks that we should literally comply with Phil 2:10-11, then shouldn't we kneel at the gospel and stand at communion? During the gospel is when we hear "the name of Jesus"...for at communion we hear "Christ" not "Jesus" and "Christ" is a title (meaning "anointed") not a name. But at the gospel, we hear the name of Jesus. After the gospel, we speak the name of Jesus ("Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ"). Food for thought anyway....

  6. Ewe make all the posts and almost all the comments too! People tend to back away with a fixed grin after about 10 minutes 'communication' with you, right?

  7. Though this comment violated the rules for not being anonymous, I decided to allow it. It also borders on a personal attack but, I decided to allow it anyway. Let me address the actual comment. Actually over 2/3 of the comments are from other people, so that is an inaccurate observation. I do try to respond when people post. That is how dialogue works. Someone says something and then there is a response.

  8. I've been reflecting upon the comment made by "Anonymous" and realized that I can recall only one person behaving with me as Anonymous described - backing away with fixed grin. That person was an alcoholic priest who regularly used bullying tactics. His idea of "communication" was to listen and nod and then explain why he was "right". Then you were supposed to stop talking or say some empty polite statement to affirm him. As is common with many clergy, he lacked interpersonal skills on how to engage in genuine dialogue, especially one involving an opposing view.

    Anonymous' statement reminds me of that priest because, like him, there is an opinion expressed that carries no support (people backing away with fixed grin) and an attempt to universalize their opinion which is based upon a false premise (that I write most of the comments). These are common practices of people lacking self-awareness and bullies.

    As for the comment policy of this blog - I would ask you to compare it with the blogs of some clergy. Many don't permit comments at all. Those that do permit comments seem to moderate them and only publish opinions that agree with them. I permit divergent opinions to be published provided they are respectful, not a personal attack, pertain to the topic and are not anonymous. As with your comment which is both anonymous and offered a personal attack, sometimes I grant exceptions in the interest of engaging in dialogue. Thanks for voting with your time by choosing to read my blog.