January 15th, 2012The Reception of Holy Communionby Fr. Simon Henry

Bishop Antonio Keller at Mass this Christmas

The Eponymous Flower reports on Bishop Antonio Keller of the southern Brazilian Diocese of Frederico Westphalen following the example given By Pope Benedict. Apparently, a Pastoral Letter issued for Christmas explains that in his Cathedral Holy Communion will be given, as a norm, on the tongue and kneeling. This actually only reverts to the worldwide norm for the way in which Holy Communion is administered as the allowance for receiving in the hand is given by indult - which admittedly most diocese have applied for and received permission to do. To be honest, I'm not sure if kneeling falls into the same category, except that it is always permitted to kneel and no-one can be refused communion should they kneel to receive it (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, written on 1. Juli 2002, Notitiae 2002, S. 582-585). The Bishop's letter also draws attention to other things that apply universally: to fast at least one hour before receiving communion and the necessity of having the right disposition at the reception of Holy Eucharist.

It might be that in times past the reception of Holy Communion was too infrequent because people thought themselves unworthy in their often sinful state . Perhaps today reception of Holy Communion is too frequent because people think themselves only too worthy and have no sense of personal sin at all. This was first noted by Pope Pius XII in a radio message of October 26, 1946, speaking of the greatest sin in the world today being the loss of the sense of sin: “forse oggi il più grande peccato del mondo è perdere il senso del peccato” (Discorsi e radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII, vol. 8, 1955–1959) and is a modern ill that has been commented on by successive Popes. I'm not sure many people think of their disposition before coming to Holy Communion: "Am I in a long-standing enmity with a family member?"; "Have I missed Sunday Mass with no good reason?"; "Have I prayed at all since last time I received Holy Communion?"; "When did I last go to Confession?"

In the past the Church enjoined people to go to Holy Communion at least once a year (and Confession beforehand - the "Easter Duties") but this was because people were minded not to come even once a year, so great was their sense of awe for the Holy Eucharist. Obviously, a sacrament that is never received is a bit pointless but then a sacrament that is never thought about is not going to be the means of channelling all the grace that it should to the recipient.

It does seem strange that at a time when modern western culture (if we can call it a culture - as Pope Benedict says) is almost obsessed with placing blame-- "who can I sue for the fact that I tripped up on a pavement"-- and with making apologies for the past sins of our ancestors-- whether it be for colonialism or for offences committed against the long dead spirit of Galileo. We see sins out there but they are not ours. It seems that, like the greatest of the Saints, we are ready at any moment to be born, fully formed, into the glory of Heaven. As my family, friends, parishioners and, no doubt readers of this blog, might tell you - I am not!

My point is that the rules, which we seem so terrified of mentioning lest we "put anyone off" are actually means of focusing our thought, prayer and energy on the challenge of the Good News and the outward signs push us to recognise the unusual nature of what we are in contact with through the Sacraments - the awesome power and grace of God, the supernatural; literally, above nature. Certainly above our fallen human nature. A scraping of the knee and an hour's fast seem like small things to remind us of this.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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  • January 17 2012 | by Steve

    Great blog post, I agree 100%. It bothers me at Christmas when you see the church packed with those you have never seen before going up and receiving the Eucharist. It's hard not to think that they do not make it to Mass each week and confession regularly, thus should not be going up to receive the body and blood of Christ.

    I think the reason for such a relaxed attitude for some is this false notion that "I'm generally a good person, so I don't need to go to Mass weekly or go to confession."
  • January 19 2012 | by charleswoodbury

    I'm a recent 'kneeling to receive' person. It's not to say look at me, but to try to show HIM a little reverence, a way to say I love HIM, and to thank HIM for HIS bruised, bloodied knees, and for giving me strong ones to serve HIM with.