Well, this blog is all but dead. That happens. But for whoever still comes by to check in every once in a while… I’m on break from university and I happen to have something to talk about.
What should we think about our posture at our reception of Holy Communion? Unless you are the Pope celebrating a missa solemnis in the traditional rite (he sits) or you’re on your death bed (you’re lying down), there are two options. The common manner in the majority of churches today is to receive standing. On the other hand, there are some, myself included, who choose to kneel.
So what’s all the fuss about? When it comes down to it, what matters most is that we have a proper interior disposition when we receive Our Lord’s sacred Body and Blood. We should be reverent, humble, free from sin, and full of adoration for this great Gift. Our external posture, however, is not some superfluous action. Common sense will tell you that the external aids in the direction of the internal. It also reflects what is going on inside, so the rest of the world may see. Now God who is omniscient knows all and could receive our worship and adoration without us saying a word or moving a finger. We as Catholics, though, worship together as one body- the Body of Christ. Therefore it pleases God when we carry out the externals of the Liturgy and our own private devotions. Again, it is a no brainer that praying the Rosary kneeling in front of a statue of Our Lady or in front of the Blessed Sacrament is more appropriate and fitting than praying it while reclining on the couch- beads in one hand, beer in the other. But when it comes down to it, our posture is not something of divine and Catholic faith, but something of our culture. That does not mean that it changes willy nilly, according to the ‘culture’ of the times. Rather, it is a part of our deep seated Catholic culture and tradition.
So let us examine the two typical ways of receiving Holy Communion. First, we have standing. In the earliest years of the Church, Christians received Holy Communion standing. It seems, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, that kneeling did not become a common practice until a few centuries into the history of the Church. Even then, kneeling only took over in the West. The Eastern Christians have never understood kneeling as a sign of adoration. They stand for their Divine Liturgy, bowing profoundly at the Consecration as a sign of adoration. Also, in place of genuflecting, our Eastern brethren give a profound bow. So standing is a position of prayer, especially liturgical prayer, but not a sign of adoration.
So while in the Eastern Churches they adore by a profound body bow, in the West we kneel to express adoration. When we enter a church or pass in front of the Blessed Sacrament, we bend our knee. Where does this come from? Going back to the Old Testament and the early Church, kneeling was reserved for prayers of supplication and repentance. It is therefore a good and pious practice to pray prayers of thanksgiving and praise while standing. For this reason, whenever we hear “Let us pray”, we spring to our feet! There is a difference, however, when it comes to the most sacred point of the Mass- the Canon, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Consecration. Here, we kneel. We kneel because a king is coming, is making himself present in our midst. This is where kneeling in the popular sense comes from… it is a symbol of humility and obedience. Kneeling renders us completely vulnerable, unable to run away or even defend ourselves. We are completely exposed and we lay ourselves at the feet of the one who is over us. In the Holy Mass, it is no earthly ruler, but the King of Kings who comes to us. How can we not fall to our knees at His coming?
Very well, we have spoken of how we kneel in adoration, humility, and obedience at the Eucharistic Prayer. Most all Roman Catholics do this. The issue is kneeling for Holy Communion. While standing is the older practice, and it is allowed, let us see if it is the wisest choice. Yes, we have always acknowledged that the Sacred Species become the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Our knowledge and understanding of this mystery, however, has deepened over the course of time. As time passed, the Church in her wisdom and the pious sense of the faithful has decided that we must give the utmost reverence and adoration to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Remember what kneeling means: humility, submission, obedience, laying bare oneself, all in adoration. We worship God because He is above us, greater than us, and yet He loves us as His children. When it comes time to receive the very Creator of the world into our own bodies, should we just walk up and receive Him, maybe giving a little bow? Not with our idea of adoration. Think of it this way- if Jesus came in some apparition, would we just stand there? No, we would fall to our knees. We would consider ourselves so unworthy to be accorded such an honor. Humility. We would recognize that He is greater than us and that we must do as He commands. Submission and obedience. We would be so in awe of His Majesty that we would give ourselves completely to Him at that very moment. We would recognize sin for the ugly thing that it is and turn away from everything unholy and toward His will. Laying bare ourselves. To sum it up, we would ADORE Him. Now that’s fine for an out of this world visible appearance of Jesus Christ. But hold on, isn’t that exactly what happens when He comes to us and we to Him at Holy Communion? The only difference is that we cannot see the glory. In the appearance, the accidents, of bread and wine it is much more difficult to recognize that we are at the feet of the Most High God.
Since it is harder to recognize, shouldn’t we then do everything in our ability to help us recall this fact? Should we hurry on up to receive Jesus, or should we wait for Him, showing Him the reverence due to the All Powerful, Almighty God? Yes, friends, we should do all that we can to aid us in a worthy recognition and reception of Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament. Therefore, I encourage you to follow the example of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, who distributes Holy Communion only to people who are kneeling and receiving Him directly on their tongues. I urge you to consider kneeling for Holy Communion.
“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow.”
- Philippians 2:10