Saturday, May 14, 2011

Awkwardness & fittingness in the reception of Communion

A letter to the editor of the November 2010 issue of the New Oxford Review recently averred that the needed liturgical reform is not to turn back the clock, "but to insist that the Novus Ordo Missae, or New Mass, be celebrated as Vatican II intended."

What interests me is not the author's questionable assumptions about the relation between what "Vatican II intended" and the Novus Ordo Missae, but a subsequent comment about alternative modes of receiving Communion:
... sticking out one's tongue to receive Holy Communion is not -- I repeat, is not -- more reverential than receiving the Lord in one's hand; in fact, it strikes me as less so.
Again, what interests me here is not so much the various ways in which such an observation might be criticized, but the sense in which I find myself in complete AGREEMENT with it. Permit me to explain.

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Communion in the hand (a practice accepted in earlier Church history), the author's observation could be faulted on other grounds -- for its oblivion concerning the historical circumstances under which Communion in the hand was re-introduced in the Low Countries amidst an ethos of dissent and rejection of the Real Presence (see my "Liturgical Position Statement" near the top of the side bar for further discussion of this). Certainly it could be faulted also for its problematic symbolism, defect of fittingness, profaning of the sacred, not to mention the problem of safeguarding the Sacred Host, and particles that are sometimes dropped in transmission from hand to hand.

What strikes me as absolutely correct about the observation, however, is this: the experience of receiving on the tongue is decidedly different when it is executed while kneeling at the Communion rail vs. standing at the front of a Communion line in front of a priest. I can only attest to my personal experience here (and readers are invited to confirm or deny my claims in their own experience).

When I receive on the tongue standing, at the front of a line of communicants filing up to the front of the church, I have noticed for some time that I experience a slight but palpable awkwardness if not embarrassment. When I am standing eye-to-eye with the priest, I must agree that there is a feeling, as described by the author or the letter above, of "sticking out one's tongue" at the priest. While I have not voiced this to myself until the present moment, this seems exactly right: it feels a bit silly.

By contrast, I find that I experience none of this awkwardness when receiving kneeling at the Communion rail. This may be one of the very reasons I find the latter so much more natural, not to mention fitting, good and right in terms of symbolism, underscoring the sacredness of the Host, safeguarding the consecrated particles, and altogether reverent.


Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"... sticking out one's tongue to receive Holy Communion is not -- I repeat, is not -- more reverential than receiving the Lord in one's hand; in fact, it strikes me as less so."

There is a reason why things are done.

The reason for reception on the tongue is the belief that the wafer is the Lord's body, and we are not worthy of touching it. Ergo reception is most reverently done with the least possible contact.

The reason for reception in the hand is two fold: (1), on a practical level, it moves the procession along more quickly, and (2) on a symbolic level, it is more acceptable to our wondrous and wise friends, the protestants, who will have nothing of this "transubstantiation" argle-bargle.

The reason for thinking that reception on the tongue is less reverent is because of silly embarassment over sticking out your tongue at a priest -- which means your values are confused on so many different levels that I wonder if you are capable of putting your pants on frontwards on a consistent basis.

JM said...

Ralph, your comment is rash. The more root issue is receiving communion standing. The idea of NOT kneeling to receive the host flies in the face of all teachings concerning it. Kneeling, the outstuck tongue makes sense. Standing, sticking out ones tongue is about as in place as winking at the priest. It just does not match the posture unless you are at the doctor. As for kissing up to Protestants, the parishes I know are so out of touch with everyone that Protestant appeasement is a canard. Perhaps general cultural appeasement, since the culture is 'Protestant' in a whitewashed, pagan Episcopalian way. The elimination of kneeling and rails is far more alarming than any question of hand or tongue, IYAM. In this sense, though, Dr. Blosser' comment adds up.

Anonymous said...

Communion in the hand was the practice of the early Church. As was reception of the Chalice.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"Kneeling, the outstuck tongue makes sense."

Not necessarily. If the propriety of wagging one's tongue at the priest is truly a weighty issue with anyone, then why should wagging it at his midsection be any less disturbing in its adumbrations than doing so in his face?

One could kneel and still receive in the hand. Doing so would be an improvement over the present state of affairs, in that the requirement of "teachings" would be fulfilled.

So why not kneel and receive in the hand?

Because -- and this is true regardless of one's posture -- "the wafer is the Lord's body, and we are not worthy of touching it. Ergo reception is most reverently done with the least possible contact."

I am not Spartacus said...

I thought I was about the only one who was thinking that the N.O. was on its way out; sorta just slowly vanishing and being absorbed by the real mass.

I remember reading about certain Cardinals stating that publicly the last half-decade or so (in Latin Mass or 30 Days); that the N.O. is a permanent revolution that can't be halted and that the only option is to return to the real Rite, etc.

And now, with this latest legislation we can see that trend annealing into a firm path back to Tradition. (Certainly Mr Kellmeyer at "Fifth Column" sees it that way)

Just when it seemed that Satan had destroyed the Church via the revolutionary new mass, alongs comes this Pope and the restoration is well underway and those of us who have felt as though we had been abandoned in this Liturgical Desert has been reminded, once again, that it is Jesus who is the Head of The Church.

It is He who is killing the Bugnini Liturgy and restoring the real Mass.

Deo Gratis

JM said...

"Communion in the hand was the practice of the early Church."

Which arguably means little given the idea of development of doctrine and practice.

Anonymous said...

Indeed this is disturbing and dangerous to start thinking this way. It is absolutely, factually, more reverent and more appropriate to receive on the tongue. In reality it should be done kneeling as well, but there is no reason why one should be touching the sacred Body with their hands