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.”
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.