Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Apart from the official norms for receiving Holy Communion, Catholics have always had some leeway in terms of their own piety as it regards personal devotional acts. For example, in the EF form of distributing Holy Communion, there is no rubric that states that the communicant bow before kneeling, or genuflect before kneeling as the actual kneeling is the sign of reverence; but today, at the EF some do what I describe. It is not illegal but it isn't prescribed. The same with making the Sign of the Cross either before or after receiving, this is custom for some but not in the rubrics.

In the OF Mass, the actual norm for receiving Holy Communion is that it is accomplished standing, with a bow prior to receiving and that the person place the Host in their mouth before completely departing the minister. This usually is accomplished by taking one step to the side and place the host in one's mouth before departing. Some though place the host in their mouth immediately without stepping to the side. Many of us witness communicants taking the host and placing it in their mouth as they walk, eating on the run as it were.

But for about 20 years we have seen people genuflecting in the place of a bow prior to receiving Holy Communion, making the "Sign of the Cross" either prior to receiving or after receiving or both. Some kneel on the hard floor to receive. None of these are prescribed in the OF rubrics or General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

Of course we know that more recent instructions have indicated that no one should be refused or harassed if they choose to receive Holy Communion kneeling. It is allowed in the OF by way of exception.

At Saint Joseph Church, we have placed kneelers that are very stable with a wide desk for the hands in front of the Host ministers. This makes it quite easy, safe and comfortable for those who wish to kneel to kneel. My own experience of distributing Holy Communion from behind the kneeler is that when those who approach to receive standing and either in the hand or mouth, it is as though the kneeler isn't there; I don't have to reach further out to them to give them Holy Communion.

What is your experience of receiving Holy Communion in your parishes? Is it rushed, do you have legitimate options and what personal devotions do you bring to receiving Holy Communion. If you kneel on the floor has any one tripped or nearly tripped behind you or someone else you observed? And what about congregational singing as you are in the Procession to Holy Communion?


William Meyer said...

My experience has been in two local parishes, and I have never received in the hand, nor ever will. I neither genuflect or kneel, but bow, as I would find it difficult to rise again without the assistance of a rail, or the shelf of a prie-dieux.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The straw that broke this camel's back concerning making it safe and comfortable for a person who feels strongly about kneeling for Holy Communion occurred a couple of months ago when a nine months pregnant mother knelt before me to receive with her three year old to the side of her and her other five children behind her with her husband. I thought after that and I had to assist her getting up, that hospitality demands making it safe, comfortable and practical for someone like her to receive kneeling or anyone who wants to do that. Kneeling should not be criminalized or mocked.

William Meyer said...

Father, your assessment is exactly as it should be. My understanding it that Canon law assures us the right to kneel; provision should be made for any who wish to, so that such devotion does not impede others. My own problem is that after having had both hips replaced, I have never recovered the strength in my legs which would allow me to rise unassisted.

I watched last week they way that people received. Most received in the hand. Some took a step to the side, consumed the host and crossed themselves. Some were partway down the aisle before consuming. Others did some sort of strange gesture approximating the sign of the cross, without actually touching their forehead, breastbone, or either shoulder.

The parish church is under renovations now, so the parish hall is used in its place. Folding chairs, with rows spaced to closely for kneeling, means that we mostly stand. In this parish, I have observed that few people seem to know when to rise; sometimes the deacon actually gestures to them to stand, as though they had not done this before.

The oddest thing I observe at this parish is that at the end of the recessional hymn, there is invariably applause, no matter how badly it was sung, or how wretched the song selected. I've not seen this elsewhere.

Templar said...

Sadly I believe that those who bow or genulflect before kneeling for Holy Communion are simply confused. The bow or genuflection one would do before receive standing is in lieu of kneeling to receive. That tells me there is a lack of clear understanding and they are simply going through the motions without thinking what they are doing.

As you know father, I began kneeling some 3 years ago and have never received any way since. No problem at St Jo's, but I have completely caught Priests off guard when traveling, most hesitate and look confused for a second, but none have ever denied me Communion. Although a number of the older Priests have certainly frowned at me LOL.

As for the Sign of the Cross, my Mother always said it was a prayer, which could be summed up as "I believe in the Holy Trinity", and she encouraged us to us it in any situation where "Amen" would be appropriate. Therefore I developed the practice of making the Sign of the Cross after Communion from childhood and have always done so.

As for singing while "queuing up" (I can't call that a Procession) no I don't. I'm trying to stay focused on what I am about to do and about to receive. It's something that an Altar Rails would help considerably. To be on my knees for that brief minute before receiving, focused, and not shuffling along with a wave of distractions, only to have my encounter with Sacred Mystery last a brief second or two.

Django said...

You ALMOST got it right Father. The norm in the OF is to bow prior to receiving and the Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion (the priest) places the Host on the Tongue. In unusual circumstances, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion may do the same.

As for the communicant placing the Host in their mouth before departing the minister, that isn't exactly the norm. That is only granted in some countries (most countries unfortunately) by an indult.

For those readers who are unaware of what an indult is, the online Catholic encyclopedia defines it thus:

"Indults are general faculties, granted by the Holy See to bishops and others, of doing something not permitted by the common law. General needs, peculiar local conditions, the impossibility of applying to Rome in individual cases, etc., are sufficient reasons for making these concessions."

The common law of the Church is to receive on the tongue, not in the hand. Pope Paul VI, who reluctantly granted the indult after being deceived by Dutch bishops was against Communion in the Hand. Pope John Paul II was also against it, even though he permitted it. Pope Benedict is also against the practice. He still permits it, but if you are going to receive from him, it is not permitted.

Receiving in the hand is not the norm.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Thanks for the very good clarifications!

Gene said...

I believe people should kneel for Holy Communion unless there is some serious physical condition that prevents it...serious does not mean "I am tired" or "it is uncomfortable." How tired or uncomfortable do you reckon Jesus was on the Cross? Kneeling is a universal sign of obedience and reverence. It is Scriptural, and was the practice for centuries. This mod business about a "resurrection posture" is a lot of nonsense.
If you do not choose to kneel for Communion then, my tendency is to believe that you are either prideful, lazy, ignorant, distracted, defiant, or a progressive (which is to say all of the above).

Marc said...

I too noticed that with the kneelers out at St. Joseph, people seem confused about what to do. Many will genuflect or bow and then kneel to receive. I think they just have never been presented with receiving while kneeling before, so they think they are still supposed to make an initial reverence before kneeling.

How would they know? The Novus Ordo is all they've ever known and there have never been kneelers before! They won't know until someone tells them...

Ostro Picta said...

The line for communion at my parish is always very tight. There is not much room to maneuver without bumping into someone. I give a slight bow as the person in front of me is receiving the host (and I receive on the tongue).

I can’t make myself chew the host. I hold the host in my mouth until it dissolves (it’s always fully consumed by the time the priest sits down). For me, this is one of the practical purposes for receiving under both species – the host dissolves better. My mouth is very, very dry most of the time and this prevents the host from sticking to the roof of my mouth.

My parish is small; the priest distributes the host to both lines that form for communion. One of the few times I have fumbled at the OF was after I attended the EF. When I returned to my parish the next Sunday I forgot to say amen. Father moved to give me communion just as my brain clicked to say amen. It was a fumble on my part – and I blushed bright red. I would prefer to kneel – but it just isn’t practical without (almost) bumping into someone when moving to stand-up.

I do make the sign of the cross after receiving – but I have no idea why I do. I just do it without knowing why. My thought is that I’m not in a state of mortal sin and I have just received the living the God; it just doesn’t seem necessary at that particular moment.

Marc said...

But, Gene, the Eastern Orthodox stand to receive! We wouldn't want to alienate them by kneeling!

I'm joking, but I have actually heard this as an argument people use for standing -- they fail to take into account the different theology of the Divine Liturgy, which does have more emphasis on the Resurrection. Also, it is likely that standing is the more ancient practice. We can know that because kneeling during the liturgy was condemned by the First Council of Nicea.

Marc said...


Kneeling during the Divine Liturgy is disallowed on Sundays and various other days (not every Divine Liturgy).

Here's Canon 20 of the First Council of Nicea:

Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.

Henry Edwards said...

Micromanagement of the behavior and posture of the people at Mass is strictly a Novus Ordo innovation; there have never been any such norms or rubrics for laity in the TLM.

Prior to Vatican II there was (and still is) considerable variety in the patterns of kneeling, sitting, and standing during various parts of the TLM. Though it seemed unanimous that anyone who truly believed in the Real Presence of Our Lord in Holy Communion would (if possible) naturally kneel to receive, whether or not so instructed.

Indeed, it their meeting when the U.S. bishops discussed the proposed U.S.-adapted norm for communion (instigated by the liturgists establishment), before voting for it, the bishops were assured that as a "norm" it was merely descriptive of existing behavior, and not prescriptive in the sense of a requirement.

Of course, the liturgists immediately began to proclaim it as being prescriptive instead, and today even some bishops who were there interpret it this way.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The priest facing the people has also created a push for congregational uniformity. I know I would be distracted to no end if I saw a few people standing during the EP when everyone else is kneeling. The same with charismatics raising their arms high during prayer.

Gene said...

I believe this business of making the oracular gesture during should be spoken to. Some consider it a liturgical abuse. Every time I see people doing it, I want to bring a bag of snakes and trun them loose...

William Meyer said...

The Mass is, after all, a rite, which means that we should expect to follow rituals, and that these would follow some form of instruction. That pretty much rules out 99% of the variability we see in most parishes. But only if instruction is given, and given properly. Time for an end of "if it feels good, do it", which I am afraid is the real norm in the OF in most parishes.

Shelly said...

The norm here is standing, in the hand, singing on the way up (I don't sing the communion "hymn", but most people do). This past Lent I began receiving on the tongue, and I have recently begun kneeling to receive as well. I am always concerned that someone may trip, so I stay back just for a moment then step forward quickly to kneel (one priest, two lines)- it divides my attention in that moment when I should be focused on one thing, but I have noticed kneeling greatly affects my inner experience post-communion. I have not had a priest refuse, but some do look a bit confused. I do wish we had a kneeler available, though.

Marc said...

Again, how do you expect the people to know what to do when no one tells them?

They see everyone doing it, so they go along. I don't blame the laity (except for the subversive ones): I blame priests and bishops who fail to instruct.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion starts offering it to me whle I am still in the process of approaching.

I want to say "Hey, wait for me!"

Just kindly grant me that brief moment before starting without me. ;-)

Kneeling is more reverent, and many in addition to me are grateful to be able to kneel without having to make a spectacle of themselves in order to do it.

anon on purpose this time

Anonymous said...

Templar, Perhaps if you had dressed up as a pregnant woman we could have had kneelers a long time ago! LOL


William Meyer said...

Marc, I will note that in my parish, the catechists in RCIA are the sole instructors, and in my two years there, no priest nor deacon taught at all. If the pastor will leave it all in the hands of the DRE, and her favorite theologian is a dissident, what can be expected?

Marc said...

Good point. I am a catechist for the RCIA at St. Joseph, if that is any indication of where we are with our program! Our priests, including Fr. McDonald, teach quite often. Honestly, I think the RCIA participants much prefer to hear from priests than from laity. But, I enjoy teaching it because I can point out some of these things that we see in the pews that the priests might not be aware of.

For example, last month we had a reuninon meeting with the people who just entered the Church at Easter. Now that they stay thru the entire liturgy instead of leaving after the Liturgy of the Catechumens, they finally noticed that many parishioners hold hands during the Our Father and otherwise pray in the orans position. They were perplexed about that, so that provided an opportunity to explain why Catholics do not do that.

Of course, these neophytes are tempted to join in the crowd - afterall, I am but one young man telling them something that is contrary to what about 65% of the people in the pews are doing. In fact, as I was explaining why we do not do that, there were Catholics who help with the RCIA attempting to contradict me.

So, we certainly have an uphill struggle going on that at least partially begins with solid adult catechesis. The primary method for rooting this out is for priests to mention it during the Mass, whether during a homily or during announcements.

I'm not holding my breath for a priest at my parish or otherwise to wrestle with the congregation on things like silence after Mass, holding hands, and orans posture, though. Even though I'm a hardliner (can you tell), I can see that there are bigger problems in the Church than whether some of the laity hold hands - but that is a symptom of a larger problem in terms of lay identity vis-a-vis priestly identity. That is a topic that would best be addressed in a series of homilies, in my opinion.

Pater Ignotus said...

My experience in the seven parishes to which I have been assigned, and the many others I have visited, is that no "chow line" mentality or behaviour exists. No one is rushed, nor is there discombubulation when someone kneels to receive.

Having someone kneel on the floor has been extremely rare in any of the places I have been assigned or visited. In the last 6 months of masses here, only 2 individuals have chosen to kneel.

Here at Holy Spirit I would estimate that 98% of those approaching communion reverently bow to differing degrees, depending on each person's physical ability.

Having come to know the people here, I would say that their reverence after communion, equally if not more critical, is exceptional.

Marc said...

I'm glad to read those observations Pater.

Is there generally a sense of silence following Mass at Holy Spirit? If so, how did you accomplish that or was that the existing attitude? This is personally a pretty big deal for me as I want to be able to make an adequate thanksgiving after Mass and that is nearly impossible at St. Joseph due to all the gladhanding and talking (if not outright shouting like I witnessed last Sunday) over the organ postlude. But, again, no one tells the people not to do this so they have no reason to not yell in the Church. Well, I guess they are told to exit in silence during Lent - which knowing humanity as I do I am sure they interpret as free reign to yell in the Church during every other liturgical season...

Aside - -

I agree with the Anonymous who said they feel rushed at St. Joseph when the Minister of Holy Communion is already trying to dispense Communion while they are still walking up. So, I personally have felt rushed on numerous occasions at St. Joseph.

Gene said...

Well, Ignotus, you might want to try to encourage kneeling in your Church. It would do you and everyone else a lot of good.

Pater Ignotus said...

Marc - Inasmuch as a parish church is not intended for individual or private devotion, particularly at mass times, the expectation that there must be silence for personal thanksgiving after mass is, in my judgment, not entirely reasonable. In this, and the other six parishes where I have served, there is conversation as people depart. I do not find sushing this conversation warranted.

Anonymous said...

Pater - Obviously, I disagree. I know you won't change your mind in the face of the overwhelming testimony of the saints, but... I'll try anyway.

According to the Baltimore Catechism, Roman Catholics "should spend sufficient time in Thanksgiving after Holy Communion to show due reverence to the Blessed Sacrament; for Our Lord is personally with us as long as the appearance of bread and wine remains."

St. Magdalena de Pazzi said, "The minutes that follow Communion are the most precious we have in our lives."

St. Alphonsus said, "There is no prayer more agreeable to God, or more profitable to the soul, than that which is made during the thanksgiving after Communion."

Once Saint Philip Neri noticed that a parishioner usually left the church immediately after receiving Holy Communion. To correct him, he told two acolytes to accompany the man with lighted candles as he walked home. The people in the streets stared in surprise. When the man returned to St. Philip to ask why, St. Philip replied, "We have to pay proper respect to Our Lord, Whom you are carrying away with you. Since you neglect to adore Him, I sent two acolytes to take your place." Realizing his fault, the man knelt and made proper thanksgiving after Holy Communion.

St. Josemaria Escriva preached: "If we love Christ, who offers Himself for us, we will feel compelled to find a few minutes after Mass for an intimate personal thanksgiving, which will prolong in the silence of our hearts that other thanksgiving which is the Eucharist."


Henry Edwards said...

It seems to me not a question of what the house of God is "for", either before or after Mass, but whether unnecessary conversation in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament is ever appropriate.

Templar said...

SL: I carry as much weight as any pregnant woman I know, clearly Father was being discriminatory towards me LOL

Marc: I don't consider you a hard liner, a smidge to the right of center maybe.

Pater: For shame. It's not about "us", not private devotions or community chatter, it's about respect before the Blessed Sacrament. I still can't believe you said that.

Gene said...

Thank you, Marc. Those quotes would be eye openers to many people (not Ignotus). They should be used at RCIA...

Anonymous said...

Templar - I thinki I would have a smidge to the right of center if I were in the Church in the 1950s! Ha!

Gene - I know Buck and I both try to mention making a thanksgiving after Mass every chance we ge at RCIA. To make a thanksgiving at most Novus Ordo parishes requires the will for forego human respect to an extent and, possibly, a few seconds of glad handing with the priest at the exit. When 98% of the congregation gets up and starts conversing, it is hard to be one of the few kneeling, particularly when you are the "new guy or gal.". This is a non-existent problem in traditional chapels, which leads me to believe the idea of talking in Church is a post-Conciliar problem. As Henry points out, the real question is whether we should be carrying on unnecessary conversation in the midst of the Blessed Sacrament at any time.

Heck, it used to be inappropriate to turn around in Church. It's probably at least a venal sin to be looking around anyway (sin against piety). It is certainly a sin against piety to unnecessarily disturb someone who is praying (because you make yourself more important than God, to whom they are speaking).


Teresa said...

In my parish about half of the people receive Communion on the tongue and a good number kneel on the floor. If I didn't need assistance to get up from the floor I would kneel.

While visiting another local parish I encountered a priest who was enraged that I wanted to receive Communion on the tongue. He hesitated a looonngg time before giving me Communion and made an unfriendly comment to me.

I find it sad that a priest engages in this kind of behavior while distributing Communion and I don't really understand why it made him so angry.

During the one EF Mass I have been to I kneeled to receive Communion and automatically made the Sign of the Cross after receiving. I have never done that at a Novus Ordo Mass.

I think that perhaps making the Sign of the Cross after receiving Communion was something the sisters taught me in Catholic school. We still had an altar rail when I made my first Communion in 1973.

ghp95134 said...


At Our Lady of Peace Shrine in Santa Clara, CA, the Novus Ordo Mass is prayed very reverently (but no Latin!). During Communion, we line up on either side of the main aisle and make our way to the Communion Rail (it's a 1960s building with a rail!) and line up kneeling side by side. Generally there are two IVF priests offering communion and they work opposite sides of the sanctuary, going from communicant to communicant. After receiving, the communicant usually makes the sign of the cross and leaves his position open for the next communicant.

The process works very well and is not slow at all. When the narthex overflows into the overflow-room, usually an IVF sister will act as EMHC. We used to have "civilian" EMCHs, but I haven't noticed them for a loong while.


ytc said...

In Vitro Fertilization priest?

Gene said...

ytc, that was bad...

ghp95134 said...


Change "IVF" to "IVE"

Wow ... how embarassing!