Reception and Reverence

The U.K.’s Catholic Herald featured a thought-provoking piece about reverence and the Eucharist from the perspective of a non-Catholic. To summarize, the article relates a conversation between a Mormon and Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid on the subject of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. The Mormon confessed to Madrid he had a hard time believing that Catholics really sign onto what their own Church teaches about the Eucharist, i.e., that Christ is fully present in the Blessed Sacrament. His conclusion was based on his own observations of how so many Catholics approach the Sacrament in a ho-hum, nonchalant manner, chewing gum, looking bored, or talking, etc. If Catholics truly believed that Christ is present in the Eucharist, shouldn’t a corresponding external disposition accompany their approach to the Sacrament? The Mormon said to Madrid,

If I believed what you believe… if I truly believed that it is really God himself and not just a symbol, I would fall flat on my face and be prostrate before it – him. I would be so overcome with awe and worship. And I’ve never seen any Catholic show that kind of respect. So… I guess they just don’t believe it.

The anecdote offers us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of Christ’s gift to us of Himself in the Eucharist, and to do whatever we can to help catechize others about this teaching. Our own external disposition while inside church, and especially at the moment of reception, should serve as a powerful witness to others, as well as a reminder to ourselves. What are a couple examples? A proper genuflection before Christ in the tabernacle, instead of a hasty bow or half-genuflection, and maintaining prayerful silence while in the church show that we actually believe that Christ is in our midst in a singular way in the Holy Eucharist.

April42004Given the widespread lack of belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is also not a bad idea to encourage a return to more traditional forms of reception of Communion: on the tongue and while kneeling. Both are powerful manifestations of belief, for the benefit of the one receiving and also for others present.

In every aspect of life, when a weak spot is identified, it is not uncommon to find special ways to strengthen it and reinforce it. If a particular muscle is weak, you research certain exercises to target it to build it up. If, during the course of study, you realize a gap in an area of knowledge, you give it special attention and hit the books. If a building or bridge has a weak foundation, there’s an immediate scramble to strengthen it to prevent a disaster. If belief in the Real Presence among Catholics is weak, why not find ways and practices to reverse the trend? It makes sense. The muscle is weak. Let’s target it.

Receiving Communion on the tongue while kneeling are longstanding traditions that, along with essential catechesis, reinforce this all-important Church teaching. They should not be dismissed or ridiculed as old-fashioned or ostentatious. Both are logical, common sense actions that flow from the Church’s teaching regarding the Real Presence.

Think about it: If Jesus, in all His glory, were standing before me right now, would I remain standing? How could I stand while the host of angels worship Him? In Scripture, there are many examples of people falling to their knees before Christ. Peter himself did so at his first encounter with Jesus on the boat. Christ didn’t prevent him or ridicule him for this beautiful act of reverence and adoration. If Christ is fully present in His glorified body in the Eucharist (which He is) what should be the logical response on our part? It’s pretty clear.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jacopo Bassano

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jacopo Bassano

Of course, being prepared spiritually is paramount, but as the Church teaches, contra popular Cartesian dualism, our bodies are not simply physical tag-ons or useless shells to our souls and minds, but an essential part of the complete person. The soul’s preparation should be reflected in the body’s disposition. As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reminded us in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is precisely that of worship.”


* Featured photo: MARCH 3, 1945 U.S. Marines receive Communion from a Marine chaplain on Iwo Jima. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)