Kneeling for Holy Communion

FernandesReverence for the Holy Eucharist is making a comeback of sorts in certain pockets of Catholicdom. One such expression of devotion involves kneeling for Holy Communion and receiving the Eucharist on the tongue. An inquirer asks Fr. Earl Fernandes, Dean of the Athenaeum, about this practice and its legitimacy within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The Dean responds in this his most recent column from The Catholic Telegraph.

Dear Father: I’m a “southerner” as far as the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is concerned and at a recent visit to a northern area parish I observed an unfamiliar custom. The faithful receiving communion often knelt before the priest and received on the tongue. What does the church say about this and how are we to receive Communion? Why does it seem more common in our northern areas and not down near Cincinnati?

Dear Reader, Thank you for your question. I suspect that you are a younger reader as older Catholics will remember receiving Communion only on the tongue while kneeling. For many people and in many countries, this practice is not so unfamiliar. In some countries, Communion in the hand is not permitted, but it has been permitted in the United States for more than 35 years. The Congregation for Divine Worship issued a response in 1969 when requests were beginning to be made for Communion in the hand, noting that the “new manner of giving communion must not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional practice.” The condition under which an indult for Communion in the hand was granted was “complete avoidance of any cause of the faithful to be shocked and any danger of irreverence toward the Eucharist.”

Recall that even at Masses at which Pope Benedict presided, the faithful who would receive from him would do so kneeling and on the tongue. Having said that, in a typical parish most people in the Archdiocese receive Holy Communion standing and nowadays the vast majority of people receive the Host in the hand and some also receive from the chalice.

The answer to your question can be found in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (nn. 160-161). In article 160, we find the following: “The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, March 25, 2004, no. 91).”

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Feature photo from Creative Commons / Wikipedia

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