"Venite, Adoremus..."

Probably not a shock to anyone who's been following Vatican practices for the last few years, Pope Benedict's reported affinity for Communion on the tongue has been confirmed by the pope's chief liturgist, Msgr. Guido Marini. According to the Catholic News Agency, Marini testified that "people receiving Communion kneeling and on the tongue will become common practice at the Vatican." No doubt, this step toward further adherence to the liturgical tradition of the Church was a long time coming; this and similarly traditional observations have been continuously implemented all throughout Benedict's papacy.

The practice of receiving Communion on the tongue—as many are familiar with—is still the 'normal' means by which to receive the Holy Eucharist. "In this regard," Msgr. Marini reminds us, "it is necessary not to forget the fact that the distribution of Communion on the hand remains, up to now, from the juridical standpoint, an exception (indult) to the universal law, conceded by the Holy See to those bishops' conferences who requested it." According to the CNA, the United States ranks among quite a few other countries whose bishops have elected to pursue such an indult.

Benedict XVI's affection for such a posture of prayer upon reception of Holy Communion has come to the forefront in recent days, specifically after his pastoral visit to the coastal Italian town of Brindisi. All of the faithful who received Communion from the Holy Father during this celebration did so kneeling and on the tongue. As can be expected, this occurrence caused some uproar among less traditionally-minded groups in the Church, and evoked jubilant praise for those on the other side of the liturgical fence. The ultimate goal of the pope's gesture—I am quite sure—was not to inspire further animosity between 'left and right wing' Catholics, though. As pastor of the universal Church, Pope Benedict undoubtedly seeks not only to reconcile existing differences among the faithful, but to steep both 'sides' in the rich authenticity of the Catholic Tradition. The Holy Father's distribution of Communion kneeling and on the tongue is not a diatribe against the past forty years of liturgical reform, nor an emphatic affirmation of the 'traditionalist' position. Instead, it is a faithful articulation of liturgical piety and genuine Catholic teaching surrounding the dignity and honor due to Our Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament.

If it is in fact true that the reception of Holy Communion in papal liturgies will soon assume the traditional form practiced in Brindisi, then we as Catholics ought to rejoice. The Holy Father is seeking to show us the fullness of tradition present in the Sacred Liturgy. Since the liturgy itself is the prima theologia, and the fundamental means of catechesis for the faithful, how could a further respect and reverence for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist possibly be a step in the wrong direction?

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    # by Andrew Reinhart - July 1, 2008 at 9:28 AM

    Another good one. It is so important to see beyond the politics with these issues. Christ calls us beyond this world. Liturgy is not about opinions and politics, but its about Truth and Christ Himself in the Eucharist.

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    # by Anonymous - July 1, 2008 at 5:04 PM

    Some considerations:

    The elderly have a difficult time getting up and down on their knees without something to hold on. I know it would be a hardship for my mother. She and I both receive Jesus on the tongue and it is awkward at times if the Priest is on the short side and the person is on the tall side. Would a return to altar rails(sp?)solve problems of this nature?
    D. Hoover

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    # by Andrew Haines - July 2, 2008 at 1:39 PM


    Those are definitely good considerations. Especially in light of the convenience afforded by altar rails. One thing to remember is that altar rails were never "done away" with, as most would think. The invention and disappearance of altar rails—to my knowledge—was all dependent on the architectural priorities of church construction throughout history. Thus, I would doubt seeing some sort of mandate to re-implement altar rails, since they were never "official" structures in the first place.

    The heart of the altar rail debate centers not so much around convenience, though, as it does a sense of the sacred and transcendent at Mass. Altar rails developed in a time when Mass was celebrated more solemnly than it often is today, and when the faithful had a deep sense of this transcendence (even if sometimes they remained uninformed about major details of the liturgy). Thus, it seems to me that altar rails will not make a return until an appreciation of the ineffable mystery of the liturgy again takes hold in the hearts of Catholics worldwide. Even if papal liturgies do assume the more traditional posture of kneeling for reception of Communion, getting that piety to take root in parishes is a completely different story. That begins with us!

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    # by Anonymous - July 3, 2008 at 9:45 AM

    Well said! I had a sense from readings on liturgical practices that the altar rail was more of a visual means to highlight the sacredness of the altar space and tabernacle. I admit I wasn't thinking of that when I pined for the return of the altar rail...more to help my mother get up and down from her knees! I participated in a Latin Mass at St. Joseph's (downtown Toledo) and thought how awesome it was to take communion on my knees at the altar rail, closer to Jesus. D.H.