Liturgy Series Part 16

Bond between members of Body of Christ supernatural reality

February 5 , 2003
Denver Catholic Register


As they ready themselves to receive holy Communion, the faithful, who have remained in their places during the earlier portion of the Eucharist, now move forward in procession to the table of the Lord.

Even this gesture has significance for the people of God. We walk together in unity toward the heavenly banquet. This helps us to recall that we're living a journey — a journey together because we share in the gift of baptism — toward the heavenly Jerusalem. This is our moment to be nourished by the divine life of the Son who has said, "Do this in memory of me." His flesh and blood are food and drink for us.

As members of the body of Christ, we are linked together more strongly than in any other relationship, because our faith is a supernatural reality. So we approach God's altar in awe, and often while singing. Singing together with one voice both deepens and signifies our unity.

Our demeanor should reflect this privileged moment. Did we prepare our hearts before Mass for the encounter that takes place in the celebration of the Eucharist? If so, it should be obvious to ourselves and others. For example, we should choose appropriate clothes to come before the Lord. We should fast from food (including gum) or drink (not medicine or water, though) for an hour before Mass. If we plan to receive holy Communion in the hand, our hands should be clean.

At this most personal moment of the Mass am I thoughtful of those around me as we move together? Our unspoken manner conveys volumes about our understanding of the reception of holy Communion.

Our gestures should reflect the union we have with every other person in the Communion procession. The 1974 set of rubrics noted that we should make "some kind " of gesture of reverence before receiving the body of Christ. As we approach the minister of holy Communion and the precious body is offered to us, he or she will say "body of Christ", nothing more. No names, no titles. Our response is "Amen," a profession of our faith.

In the revised General Instruction on the Roman Missal, the Holy See indicated that uniformity of gesture should be respected at this time in a specific way. The specific gesture was to be determined by the appropriate conference of bishops, and this has been done in the United States.

The bishops have determined that we should not kneel or genuflect. We receive Communion standing. Before receiving, we bow our head in adoration, and we say "Amen" and receive the body of Christ on the tongue or in the hand.

This will be new for many of the faithful, because the formal act of reverence was not widely promoted in the past. This act helps us avoid nonchalance in receiving holy Communion. It allows us to acknowledge what we are about to do: take under the form of bread and wine the resurrected body and blood of Christ. If we have become distracted during the procession, the gesture helps us to recollect ourselves.

While the act of reverence will be new for some, it may be "different" for others. In the past, we may have made a sign of the cross, a profound bow (one from the waist), genuflected or simply knelt as our act of adoration. The Church now asks us asks to submit our personal preference to her wisdom.

Some of us will need time to remember to do this. Others may not want to change the gesture of reverence they've been using. In all cases, we need to defer to the Church. Just as I ask that kneeling be preserved within the rubrics where indicated (such as during the entire Eucharistic Prayer), I ask that the act of reverence approved by the U.S. bishops — the bowing of the head — be embraced and maintained. This act of reverence, which should also be done before receiving the precious blood, unites us with the whole community of faith.

The archbishop's liturgy series continues next week.