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
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.
liturgy series continues next week.