Kneeling For Communion

Cardinal Francis Arinze served as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and
the Discipline of the Sacraments from 2002 to 2008.

Today something interesting happened.  My 9-year old son, Michael, has recently taken up the habit of kneeling for communion and receiving the holy sacrament on the tongue in the traditional Catholic and Anglican manner.  It took him a long time to do this.  He was under tremendous peer pressure from his classmates in parochial school, who all receive communion in the hand while standing.  I am not aware of anything ever being said to him about it, and he denies that anyone ever told him he couldn't receive on the tongue while kneeling.  That's good to know, as it seems like receiving communion according to the traditional manner is often frowned upon in my area.  Yet, I've never heard anyone say it shouldn't be done, and apparently my son has had a similar experience.  Nevertheless, the peer pressure for children is there, and I have once heard a priest say: "Nobody has fed me since I was a baby, so I find it awkward to receive communion that way."  Such a statement may not seem like a big deal, and just a matter of personal preference, except when you consider this was said in front of children.  One can only imagine what they thought.

It took months for my son to overcome the peer pressure and kneel for communion.  This is my normal custom, but I never pressured him to do it.  I just made sure he knew it was a preferred option.  Last week he got up the courage, overcame the peer pressure, and knelt for communion.   He did it twice that week, but today when he did it, the priest distributing communion appeared confused, and placed the sacred host between the fingers of his clasped hands.  Of course Michael took the host with his hand and placed it in his mouth.  When we got back to the pew, he was confused and upset with a "what just happened?" expression on his face. I assured him that he had done nothing wrong, that God was pleased with his actions, and that the priest was merely confused for some reason.  "It happens sometimes," I told him, "don't worry about it."  He then leaned over and whispered to me: "Dad, will you take me to the Latin mass over summer vacation so I don't have to worry about this happening?"  I assured him that I would. I occasionally take my kids to the Latin liturgy in the Extraordinary Form, because it has some features that remind me of our traditional Anglican roots.

Now I just want to say here that this was a fluke.  I do believe the priest was legitimately confused, and I don't fault him at all for this.  I'm sure what he did made perfect sense in his mind, and I can't know what he was thinking, or what he saw from his perspective.   Perhaps my son knelt down a little late, or maybe he made an unintended gesture that was confusing. After all, he is still new at this. I don't know what happened. I do know this particular priest has no problem distributing communion on the tongue, as he did it for me immediately after he placed communion in my son's hand.  I'm chalking this up to a total fluke and nothing that was deliberate. It was obviously an accident of some kind.  That being said however, I thought this occasion today gives perfect rise for an article on the topic.

It must be confusing for many priests, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, when one considers the four different combinations for receiving communion in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
  1. Receiving in the hand while standing (most common in my area),
  2. Receiving on the tongue while standing (less common, but fairly well practised),
  3. Receiving on the tongue while kneeling (the default standard, but rarely practised),
  4. Receiving in the hand while kneeling (an odd combination, but I've seen it before).
So what is somebody distributing communion supposed to do? Indeed, there is no way to know until the one receiving makes a gesture. This leaves plenty of room for mistakes to be made.  While standing to receive communion in the hand is a dispensation given by the Vatican to some countries during our modern times, it is not the standard way for Catholics to receive communion, and no Catholic can be denied this standard way.  Communion on the tongue, while kneeling, is the normal standard, and has been the normal standard since Antiquity.  No, it was not introduced in the Middle Ages, as will be demonstrated in the last quote below.  In America, I suppose it is licit to just receive any way you want, but that doesn't make it "standard," as the following will demonstrate.  Please read through the quotes below, and feel free to comment...
“It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture - insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ Himself.... The kneeling of Christians is not a form of inculturation into existing customs. It is quite the opposite, an expression of Christian culture, which transforms the existing culture through a new and deeper knowledge and experience of God.... Kneeling does not come from any culture -- it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God... The Christian Liturgy is a cosmic Liturgy precisely because it bends the knee before the crucified and exalted Lord. Here is the center of authentic culture - the culture of truth. The humble gesture by which we fall at the feet of the Lord inserts us into the true path of life of the cosmos.” -- Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger) ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000)

“There is an apostolic letter on the existence of a special valid permission for this [Communion in the hand]. But I tell you that I am not in favor of this practice, nor do I recommend it." -- Pope John Paul II responding to a reporter from Stimme des Glaubens magazine, during his visit to Fulda, Germany in November 1980.

“What does it mean to receive Communion in the mouth? What does it mean to kneel before the Most Holy Sacrament? What does it mean to kneel during the Consecration at Mass? It means adoration, it means recognizing the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; it means respect and an attitude of faith of a man who prostrates before God because he knows that everything comes from Him… That is why it is not the same to place the host in the hand, and to receive Communion in any fashion; it is not the same to receive Communion kneeling or standing up, because all of these signs indicate a profound meaning.” -- Cardinal Llovera, Prefect for the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, 2008

“It is the mission of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments to work to promote Pope Benedict's emphasis on the traditional practices of liturgy, such as reception of Communion on the tongue while kneeling.” -- Cardinal Llovera, Prefect for the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, July 22, 2009

“Many cases of profanation of the Eucharist have occurred, profiting by the possibility to receive the consecrated Bread on one’s palm of the hand... Considering the frequency in which cases of irreverent behavior in the act of receiving the Eucharist have been reported, we dispose that starting from today in the Metropolitan Church of St. Peter, in the Basilica of St. Petronius and in the Shrine of the Holy Virgin of St. Luke in Bologna the faithful are to receive the consecrated Bread only from the hands of the Minister directly on the tongue.” -- Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna Italy, April 27, 2009

“I mention, for example, a change not proposed by the Council Fathers or by the Sacrosanctum Concilium, Holy Communion received in the hand. This has contributed to some extent to a weakening of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This, and the removal of altar rails and kneelers in church and the introduction of practices which oblige the faithful to sit or stand at the elevation of the Sacred Host, weakens the genuine significance of the Eucharist and the Church’s profound sense of adoration for the Lord, the Only Son of God.” -- Cardinal Ranjith, November, 2007

“The right to receive Holy Communion in the hand is permitted only in times of persecution.” -- St. Basil the Great, 330-379 AD !!!


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Patrick Kelly said…

Great post. I receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue and have been tempted to receive while kneeling. Good to know popes and cardinals have spoken favorably about it.

God bless your work!
I usually receive on the tongue while standing up, however at my church, one of the eucharistic ministers is very short. So when I approached for communion, I knelt and stayed there because it seemed easier for her to reach me. I guess I stuck with it since!
MarijaD said…
Since our parish has no altar rail I receive Holy Eucharist on the tongue, standing. I would rather kneel but I doubt I could gracefully return to the standing position. I am hoping our parish will establish the altar rail again or perhaps have a portable kneeling stand for those who wish to kneel. I have to be careful in my parish because I am only a convert for 3 years and this year started wearing a headcovering (lace mantilla) to Holy Mass. I did ask our priest if I could do so and of course he said it is allowed. Now, about 7 other ladies are wearing mantillas.
Pair O' Dimes said…
I'm Latin Rite, and starting last year I made a habit of receiving on the tongue, though I still stood up. This year I made the decision to start kneeling as well, although that has become moot now because since Lent began I've been attending a Byzantine parish, and there they don't kneel on Sunday Liturgy, saying that kneeling suggests penitence, a sentiment inappropriate for the Lord's Day.

I haven't been doing this to get out of kneeling (besides, you cannot receive in the hand in the Byzantine Rite at all), but initially I did it because I mistakenly thought the Novus Ordo was illicit--and when I realized I was wrong I continued simply because there are things about the Byzantine Liturgy I like and prefer (most especially the Eucharist) to the Latin Rite.

The fact that I'm used to the Novus Ordo Latin Rite--and that I've been learning that I haven't been seeing it performed exactly as it's supposed to be performed anyway--is a major factor as well. I know now that the Novus Ordo is perfectly okay, but even as it's supposed to be performed it's still problematic, and when it isn't done exactly as it's supposed to be that makes it worse still.
peco said…
I admire your charity in granting the benefit of the doubt to the priest. I don't know that I could be so kind. I know I tend to be rather cynical. I wonder, did you speak to the priest about the situation after Mass?
Shane Schaetzel said…
Peco, I did not, because I know it was an accident. I am sure of it. No sense making a mountain out of a molehill. It did however, give good occasion to write an article on the topic. I know that others have had experiences that were not accidental.
I know that some priests do not like to give Communion on the tongue. And make a point of making it clear to their Congregation.

God bless.