Communion is Meant to Change Us - Part 1
Apr 10, 2018
Pope Francis: Communion is Meant to Change Us;
Receive it On the Tongue or in the Hand
Pope Francis spoke on the reception of Communion at his ongoing Wednesday catechetical series on the parts of the Mass today. And while various headlines are already trumpeting that the pope approves Communion in the hand, this was but a small point in today’s rich and profound reflection on Holy Communion.
Throughout this catechetical series on the Mass Francis’s approach has been calm and irenic, and firmly grounded in the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. His focus is not on this or that question of the so-called “liturgy wars,” but on the spiritual depth of the reformed liturgy. His main concern seems to be to unite the Catholic Church around the liturgy by drawing out its riches for everyone to behold. By putting the focus on how participation in the liturgy transforms us, the pope is subtly moving our gaze away from secondary issues.
But to the point that grabs headlines: the pope simply said that the faithful receive Communion “standing with devotion or kneeling, as established by the Episcopal Conference,” and that they receive “in the mouth or, where permitted, in the hand, as preferred.” (The U.S. bishops have determined that standing is the posture for receiving Communion, though those who kneel are not to be refused Communion.) The only hint of making a statement might be in the pope’s phrase “standing with devotion,” which gently reinforces that the position of standing is not suspect for being less pious, but is also to be considered a devotional posture.
Be that as it may, the pope took exactly one sentence to deal with the manner of reception. No new emphasis, no change in practice or liturgical law, no critique of current custom, no accusations, no preference for either manner of reception. The implicit message seems to be something like this: “The Church has settled its practice – so everyone respect one another, stop worrying about side issues, and focus on what matters.”
It is clear that what matters to Pope Francis – and this was the overarching point of the liturgical reform – is the transformation of individuals and communities through their attentive and communal participation in the sacramental mysteries. Christ gives himself to us “both in the Word and in the Sacrament of the altar, to conform us to him,” the pope said. [The Vatican website mistakenly has “confirm” as of this writing.] This means “to allow oneself to be changed as we receive,” he said. Sounding the theme again, Francis said, “Just as the bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist.” And yet again he stated “You become the Body of Christ. This is beautiful, very beautiful. … We become what we receive!”