Pope Francis: Standing while receiving Communion can be an act of devotion

Retired New York Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh distributes Communion during a Mass on the March 17 feast of St. Patrick, patron of the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)Retired New York Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh distributes Communion during a Mass on the March 17 feast of St. Patrick, patron of the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Catholics receiving Communion should do so with reverence, Pope Francis said, whether kneeling or standing. His comments, delivered during his weekly audience on March 21, appear in tension with those made last month by his liturgy chief, who questioned the common practice of Catholics standing to receive Communion in their hands.

“According to the ecclesial practice,” the pope said during a reflection on the Mass, “the faithful approach the Eucharist normally in a processional form, as we have said, and, standing with devotion or kneeling, as established by the Episcopal Conference, receive the sacrament in the mouth or, where permitted, in the hand, as preferred.”

Advertisement

The Vatican allows the faithful to receive Communion in the hand in nations around the world and the practice has become nearly universal in many countries, including in the United States.

But last month, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship,questioned in an introduction to a book about Communion why Catholics stand—rather than kneel—and receive Communion in the hand. The cardinal asked, “Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?”

“It is clear that what matters to Pope Francis is the transformation of individuals and communities through their attentive and communal participation in the sacramental mysteries."

Many commentators have interpreted the pope’s words on Wednesday as his response to the cardinal’s comments, which Cardinal Sarah made in a section of his essay where he highlighted “diabolical” attacks against the Eucharist.

But one well-known liturgist said that focusing too intensely on the pope’s remark about receiving Communion in the hand misses the main point of the pope’s talk.

Pope Francis “took exactly one sentence to deal with the manner of reception. No new emphasis, no change in practice or liturgical law, no critique of current custom, no accusations, no preference for either manner of reception,” wrote Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., at PrayTellBlog. “The implicit message seems to be something like this: ‘The Church has settled its practice—so everyone respect one another, stop worrying about side issues, and focus on what matters.’

“It is clear that what matters to Pope Francis—and this was the overarching point of the liturgical reform—is the transformation of individuals and communities through their attentive and communal participation in the sacramental mysteries,” Father Ruff continued.

During his address, the pope reflected on the Eucharistic procession, telling the crowd, “In reality, it is Christ who comes toward us to assimilate us in him.”

Receiving the Eucharist means letting oneself be transformed by what is received, he said.

“Every time we take Communion, we resemble Jesus more,” increasingly being transformed in Jesus and stripping away one’s selfishness by uniting oneself closer with Christ, he said.

Just as the bread and wine are turned into the real body and blood of Christ, the pope continued, so too are those who receive the gifts. They are transformed into “a living Eucharist,” becoming the “body of Christ.”

“We become what we receive,” he said.

While the pope has publicly disagreed with Cardinal Sarah about liturgical practices in the past, the two share some concerns.

Last year, the cardinal published a book extolling silence over “the dictatorship of noise,” calling silence “the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences.”

During Wednesday’s address, Pope Francis also praised silence—especially during Mass.

“After Communion, to keep the gift received in our hearts, we are helped by silence, silent prayer. Prolong a little that moment of silence; speaking with Jesus in the heart helps us greatly,” he said, adding, “as does singing a psalm or a hymn of praise that helps us to be with the Lord.”

Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Lisa Weber
7 months ago

Thank you for a nice article. My resistance to those who clamor for multiple outward signs of piety is that they are frequently the most difficult, judgmental people in a parish.

Henry Brown
6 months 3 weeks ago

Lisa,
And can they not say the same about you ?
Why make the remark at all ?

BARBARA LEE
7 months ago

The Pope's words about reverence in receiving the Eucharist are welcome. But why is Cardinal Sarah still in a position of power?

Reyanna Rice
7 months ago

In reality Crd Sarah does not have any power. He cannot make changes on his own to the liturgy. Everything goes through the pope that affects liturgy and the sacraments. In reality he is just a department head as are all the other Curial cardinals. And frankly Francis keeps him where he is because to release him would make him a martyr to the Tradinistas who hang on his every word and move and because by now the cardinal may be hard to put into a diocese. He has created quite a bit of controversy for himself. The pope may be keeping him where he can do the least damage.

Tim Donovan
7 months ago

I don't consider myself to be either a "conservative" or " liberal" Catholic. In fact, I think such terms are political, and so inappropriate to use for our faith. The only legitimate question is whether or not one believes in the authentic teachings of the Church, founded by Jesus. I don't believe that I'm particularly "conservative" ( I 'm contradicting myself by using a political term to discuss our faith. As an imperfect Catholic (more on that later) I certainly believe that the violence of legal abortion is wrong. However, at one point for several years I considered myself to be a "Christian agnostic." Although I doubted God's existence , I did my best to follow the teachings of the Church. While I didn't then (and don't now) believe that every last word spoken by the Pope (whoever he is) is always correct, I do believe that he's infallible in matters of faith and morals. Even as an agnostic, I believed based on the science of biologyv--not theology -- that abortion kills a human being. Even some advocates of legal abortion on demand concede that abortion is an act of killing. In 1963, in a pamphlet titled "Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness," Planned Parenthood stated that " an abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. " Also, Faye Wattleton, the former president of Planned Parenthood, stated in an interview that abortion killed a fetus. I also oppose capital punishment, not only for moral reasons but because of the fact (according to the American Civil Liberties Union) that some people convicted of murder have been found to be innocent of the crime. I also read in 2015 Pope Francis ' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si" and agree with his call for us both for moral and scientific reasons to do what we can to care for the earth. I just say that although I much prefer the Mass celebrated in the vernacular and with the other reforms instituted by Vatican II, I have occasionally attended an approved Latin (Tridehtine )Mass. I found the people, who were of all ages, to be very reverent.

Tim Donovan
7 months ago

I don't consider myself to be either a "conservative" or " liberal" Catholic. In fact, I think such terms are political, and so inappropriate to use for our faith. The only legitimate question is whether or not one believes in the authentic teachings of the Church, founded by Jesus. I don't believe that I'm particularly "conservative" ( I 'm contradicting myself by using a political term to discuss our faith. As an imperfect Catholic (more on that later) I certainly believe that the violence of legal abortion is wrong. However, at one point for several years I considered myself to be a "Christian agnostic." Although I doubted God's existence , I did my best to follow the teachings of the Church. While I didn't then (and don't now) believe that every last word spoken by the Pope (whoever he is) is always correct, I do believe that he's infallible in matters of faith and morals. Even as an agnostic, I believed based on the science of biologyv--not theology -- that abortion kills a human being. Even some advocates of legal abortion on demand concede that abortion is an act of killing. In 1963, in a pamphlet titled "Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness," Planned Parenthood stated that " an abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. " Also, Faye Wattleton, the former president of Planned Parenthood, stated in an interview that abortion killed a fetus. I also oppose capital punishment, not only for moral reasons but because of the fact (according to the American Civil Liberties Union) that some people convicted of murder have been found to be innocent of the crime. I also read in 2015 Pope Francis ' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si" and agree with his call for us both for moral and scientific reasons to do what we can to care for the earth. I just say that although I much prefer the Mass celebrated in the vernacular and with the other reforms instituted by Vatican II, I have occasionally attended an approved Latin (Tridehtine )Mass. I found the people, who were of all ages, to be very reverent.

Henry Brown
6 months 3 weeks ago

Reyanna,

Why do you call them "Tradinistas" ?

Tim Donovan
7 months ago

When I was growing up in the early 1970's (I'm a post-Vatican II Catholic) it was the practice of the Church to receive Communion on the tongue, and although I certainly disagree with Cardinal Sarah that receiving the Eucharist in the hand is "diabolical" I have always received Communion on my tongue. I stand when receiving Communion, but I certainly respect people who choose to kneel. I also agree with both Cardinal Sarah and Pope Francis that remaining quiet after receiving Communion is best. We should be thanking Jesus for His gift of His Body and Blood. I believe that, since surveys indicate that the majority of Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, that it's crucial that the Pope, bishops, priests, and laypeople involved in catechism of the faithful, make belief in this fundamental doctrine a priority.

Charles Monsen
6 months 2 weeks ago

Just a small point - Cardinal Sarah never said that receiving in the hand was diabolical - a attention grabbing headline said that - he didn't .

Bill Niermeyer
7 months ago

On occasion I attend an Anglican Church rather than my own parish Church and they knee at the altar rail for the reception of bread and wine. I remember back in the days prior to Vatican 2 kneeling at the altar rail receiving the bread. It really makes no difference to me what is done but I agree with the Pope that reverence is of utmost importance. I can't help but think that that is already a given.

Mike McDermott
7 months ago

I respect Cardinal Sarah’s viewpoint and I share his concern about the need for reverence when partaking Eucharist. I am sure he knows it is not standing or kneeling which makes the difference. It is the persons disposition.

The problem is poor formation and poot catechesis. The act of kneeling does make it easier for a teacher to train a young person to be properly disposed.

Mike Theman
7 months ago

Everyone takes communion in my parish (except me, usually). That's a function of a lot of things, but handing out hosts somewhat casually as an entitlement is certainly part of the reason. I only knelt at the altar and took the host on my tongue for two years before they changed the rules, but that certainly formed my curiosity and perception of why communion is so important.

I'm also one of only a few who genuflects before entering the pew. And I'd wager to say that the younger people who do genuflect do not know why they do. Poor catechesis.

Greg Lynn
6 months 4 weeks ago

With due respect to Christians in the Catholic Church and elsewhere who kneel to receive communion, I think Sarah's arguments and comments were inflammatory and also misleading. He accused those who receive in the hand of being party to a 'diabolical attack (on the eucharist) consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favouring an unsuitable manner of receiving it.' In effect, the good cardinal is accusing Catholics who choose to receive on the hand (not to mention other Christians) are part of a Jack-Chick cartoonish style Satanic attack on the church. This silly remark (and that is to treat it very kindly) is a calumny on the Christians who in the pre-Tridentine Church received communion on the hand (among other fathers who describe it are St John Chrysostom, saint and doctor of the church) as well as a groundless attack on the faith and bona fides of Catholics who choose to receive communion this way. Catholics who receive communion in the hand don't make it their job to bitterly attack and denounce those who kneel to receive communion as being part of a Satanic conspiracy to destroy the church. Sarah may be a martyr to the Traditionalist movement if he is fired, but Bishops were also removed under the previous papacies for much less than Sarah's outlandish statements and attempts to undermine Francis's explicit instructions on liturgical matters. The previous two Popes would never have supported such dissent, something traditionalist fans of Sarah don't acknowledge. He has to be removed from his post and replaced with someone more in tune with Pope Francis's vision for the church, and several of the newly appointed Cardinals could no doubt do a far better job than Sarah is doing.

Henry Brown
6 months 3 weeks ago

I was out of town last weekend.
I went to Mass and it was the Pre-Vatican II Mass.
I knelt for Communion and recieved on the Tongue.

I felt much closer to Jesus.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018
Kevin Clarke tells us about his reporting from Iraq.
Olga SeguraOctober 19, 2018