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People Now Kneel to Receive Communion on the Tongue at Papal, Public Masses

Online Edition:
September 2008
Vol. XIV, No. 6

People Now Kneel to Receive Communion
on the Tongue at Papal, Public Masses

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

Pope Benedict has introduced a liturgical change in Masses he has celebrated this summer. The usual practice of those who receive Holy Communion directly from the pope has been to receive on the tongue while standing. But beginning at a May 22 Mass held outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran, people who receive Holy Communion from Pope Benedict are kneeling, and receive directly on the tongue. At all public Masses since then — including World Youth Day celebrations in Australia in July — those who receive the sacrament from the Holy Father have knelt on kneelers specially placed in front of the altar by ushers for the occasion.

The papal master of ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, commented that kneeling and receiving Communion on the tongue helps to emphasize “the truth of the Real Presence [of Christ] in the Eucharist, helps the devotion of the faithful, and introduces the sense of mystery more easily”. In the same June 26 interview with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Monsignor Marini said that he believes that this practice will become the norm at all future papal celebrations.

Indeed, at large public Masses, kneeling to receive Communion from the principal celebrant is likely to become the norm. At a recent Mass celebrated by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), people knelt on kneelers to receive.

Last February, in an interview by Bruno Volpe for Petrus, Archbishop Ranjith said that he believes receiving Communion on the tongue would help people to recover a greater sense of the sacred, “reinforcing thereby that in the Eucharist there is really Jesus and that everyone must receive Him with devotion, love and respect”.

“Why be ashamed of God?” the archbishop asked. “Kneeling at the moment of Communion would be an act of humility and recognition of our nature as children of God”. (Italian text of the interview available online at: http://www.papanews.it/dettaglio_interviste.asp?IdNews=5907#a.)

Also, in a July 31 interview with La Repubblica, Archbishop Ranjith again emphasized the importance of a recovery of the sacred and a sense of transcendence to which the gesture of kneeling to receive Communion contributes.

Archbishop Ranjith also wrote the preface to Dominus Est, a book on the Real Presence in the Eucharist by Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, that reportedly analyzes receiving Communion on the tongue while kneeling. The book was published in January by the Vatican’s Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Here Archbishop Ranjith wrote, “The best way to express our sense of reverence to the Lord in Mass is to follow the example of Peter, who as the Gospel tells us, threw himself on his knees before the Lord and said, ‘Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinner’”. (Luke 5:8)

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Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including Spiritual Journeys, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.