Guest Post by Vinny Flynn
In his book God is Near Us, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) discusses the issue of how to receive, emphasizing that, instead of arguing about whether it’s better to receive kneeling or standing, in the hand or on the tongue, we need to focus on the spirit of reverence with which the early Fathers of the Church received Communion.
First urging priests to “exercise tolerance and to recognize the decision of each person,” he goes on to ask everyone “to exercise the same tolerance and not to cast aspersions on anyone who may have opted for this or that way of doing it.” What is important
“It is quite wrong to argue about this or that form of behavior. We should be
concerned only to argue in favor of … a reverence in the heart, an inner submission before the mystery of God who puts himself into our hands.” (God is Near Us, San Francisco: Ignatius Press), pp. 69-71.
Pope Benedict goes on to point out that “until the ninth century Communion was received in the hand, standing,” but then explains that this doesn’t mean it always has to be that way, because the Church is always “growing, maturing, understanding the mystery more profoundly.”
Thus the ritual of kneeling and receiving on the tongue, which was introduced in the ninth century, was also “quite justified, as an expression of reverence, and is well founded.” But certainly, “the Church could not possibly have been celebrating the Eucharist unworthily for nine hundred years” (p. 70).
The rituals authorized by the Church may well continue to change as the Church continues to mature. What must always remain is reverence for the real presence and tolerance for the various ways of expressing that reverence, for in the dispute that “has broken out concerning the Eucharist … the opposition of one party to another threatens to obscure the central mystery of the Church” (p. 57).
As an example of the spirit of reverence taught by the early Fathers of the Church, Pope Benedict explains the catechetical teaching of St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century concerning the way people should receive:
“They should make a throne of their hands, laying the right upon the left to form a throne for the King, forming at the same time a cross. This symbolic gesture, so fine and so profound, is what concerns him: the hands of man form a cross, which becomes a throne, down into which the King inclines himself. The open, outstretched hand can thus become a sign of the way that a man offers himself to the Lord, opens his hands for him, that they may become an instrument of his presence and a throne of his mercies in this world” (p. 70).
The pope admonishes us “not to forget that not only our hands are impure but also our tongue and also our heart and that we often sin more with the tongue than with our hands.” He explains that, by coming to us in communion, “God takes an enormous risk … allowing not only our hand and our tongue but even our heart to come into contact with him. We see this in the Lord’s willingness to enter into us and live with us, within us, and to become from within the heart of our life and the agent of its transformation” (p. 71).
(A reflection adapted from 7 Secrets of the Eucharist
Visit Vinny Flynn's website at www.mercysong.com/