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The best form of receiving the Holy Eucharist; mouth or hand?

The best form of receiving the Holy Eucharist; mouth or hand?

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Reception of Holy Eucharist

The “Sacrament of Unity,” the Eucharist, demonstrates great diversity. In its celebration, ritual families from Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Armenia, and Rome make their own unique cultural contributions. Indeed, the “mystery of Christ is so unfathomably rich that it cannot be exhausted by its expression in any single liturgical tradition” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1201).

Within these traditions, the faithful may receive Holy Communion in a variety of ways. In the Latin Church alone, legitimate options include the communicant’s posture of standing or kneeling. In addition, the minister may distribute the Blood of Christ directly from the chalice, by intinction (dipping the host in the Precious Blood), or—even if not customary for most Catholics—“by means of a tube or a spoon” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal[GIRM] 245). The consecrated host can also be received in multiple ways, “either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant” (GIRM 160).

Communion in the hand, while relatively new to today’s Latin Church, is acknowledged as an “ancient usage” by the Holy See (see the 1969 Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship’s Memoriale Domini, “Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion”). The U.S. bishops, in their Vatican-approved norms on the distribution and reception of Holy Communion, invoke the oft-cited remarks of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 368):

When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost. 

Despite the “ancient usage,” however, and even within the boundaries of the current discipline, the Church has made clear that Communion on the tongue is the preferred practice. (Consider especially the entire 1969 text of Memoriale Domini, as well as Pope John Paul II’s 1980 Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae 11). The Church’s preference for Communion on the tongue is nearly always justified by notions of reverence, devotion, humility, respect, adoration, and decorum. And while Pope John Paul II acknowledges those “who, receiving the Lord Jesus in the hand, do so with profound reverence and devotion” (Dominicae Cenae 11), permission for Communion in the hand is accompanied by warnings of potential disrespect, profanation, weakening of Eucharistic faith, and indifference.

But more needs to be said about these connections between the manner of reception and potential reverence or abuse. Potential for abuse is often not sufficient reason to forego a valid option. Instead, a positive theology for reception of Communion on the tongue is more helpful. Why, for instance, might Communion on the tongue help one’s Eucharistic faith, increase devotion, and better express one’s love to Jesus in the Sacrament? Conversely, whydoes receiving Communion in the hand risk profanation, weakened belief, or signify a possible lack of Eucharistic faith? Indeed, I have received Communion in the hand many times and should like to think I am among those mentioned by St. John Paul II who receive “with reverence and devotion.” Similarly, reception on the tongue does not necessarily guarantee fidelity and a grace-filled spiritual life. Still: how can I more clearly understand the Church’s preference for Communion on the tongue and, more importantly, how can I benefit spiritually from this preferred practice?

Whether receiving Communion on the tongue, in the hand, or each way from time to time, every communicant should reflect upon how the outward manner of reception expresses and fosters his or her Eucharistic faith.

The Passive Action of Communion

An ancient maxim of the Church teaches that “the law of prayer is the law of belief” (lex orandi, lex credendi). Belief and prayer—and prayer and belief—are integrally connected to one another. We pray, for example, in the name of the Father and of Son and of the Holy Spirit because we believe that God is one substance in three persons. Similarly, our belief that Jesus is truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament is deepened by humble prayer on our knees during periods of adoration (See CCC 1124 and Pius XII’s Mediator Dei 46-48).

This liturgical law clarifies the Church’s discipline regarding the reception of Holy Communion. Like most things liturgical—words, music, postures, time, ministers, architecture—the manner of receiving Communion should be understood and carried out in light of our belief. Our reception—whether on the tongue or in the hand—ought to reflect our Eucharistic faith and, at the same time, foster that same faith within us and in the Church.

So, what does the Church, and we as her members, believe about Holy Communion? While there are many (perhaps innumerable) dimensions to receiving the Eucharist, I find three particular notions enlightening to the question of Communion in the hand or on the tongue.

  • First, in Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 

“On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church,” the late pontiff offers a remarkable comparison between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Communicant. “There is a profound analogy,” he says, “between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived ‘through the Holy Spirit’ was ‘the Son of God’ (Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin’s faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine” (55). He goes on to liken Mary to a tabernacle—“the first ‘tabernacle’ in history” (ibid.).

If there is a lesson for the communicant, it is that, like Mary, our reception of Jesus is characterized by lowliness, humility, and docility.

  • A second consideration of Eucharistic Communion stems from the texts of the Roman Missal. At the end of the preparatory rites prior to the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest commands us to “Pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”

This notion of sacrifice, says Pope Benedict, is “a concept that has been buried beneath the debris of endless misunderstandings” (The Spirit of the Liturgy 27). While it is tempting to think of “sacrifice” as essentially pain, loss, suffering, and deprivation, at its heart sacrifice is union with God, divinization, and “becoming love with Christ” (76).

Consequently, if Eucharistic Communion is the fruit of Christ’s—and our own—sacrifice, that is, his action of selfless turning to the Father, our manner of reception likewise needs be characterized by our heartfelt desire to unite to God our entire freedom, memory, will, and all we possess (“Prayer of Self-Offering,”* St. Ignatius of Loyola, found in the Roman Missal).

Finally is the amazing insight of St. Augustine. Recounted by Pope Benedict in his exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, “Augustine imagines the Lord saying to him: ‘I am the food of grown men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into me.’ It is not the Eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we who are mysteriously transformed by it” (70).

If we believe that this “mysterious food” (ibid.) has the power to change us—if we believe as St. Augustine and Pope Benedict believe—our manner of eating must signify such belief. Eucharistic food is “not something to be grasped at” but is received with humility and obedience (Phil 2:7-8). Only then will we be, like Christ, “highly exalted” (Phil 2:9).

The three above reflections offer a number of common elements relative to Eucharistic Communion: humility, docility, fidelity, selflessness. Which manner of receiving (the lex orandi) best expresses and fosters these truths (the lex credendi)?

Even though, as Pope John Paul acknowledges, Communion in the hand can be carried out with reverence and devotion; and even though reception on the tongue is no guaranteed symbol of fidelity and humility; Communion on the tongue is, all things being equal, the most suitable manner of reception.

In certain cultures, including our own, the bride and groom often receive from the hand of the other a piece of wedding cake at the wedding banquet. When done with love and devotion and faithfulness, the small gesture signifies not only the care one pledges to the other, but also the concern a vulnerable spouse can expect from the other. At the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, our humble reception of the fruits of his saving work likewise show our devotion to him, our Spouse, and express our abandonment into his care.

The Best form of Thanksgiving to God

The Best form of Thanksgiving to God

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Thanksgiving should be a way of life

You and I know God wants us to thank and praise Him but I sometimes wonder if I’m thanking Him the ways He wants.

I start my prayers with thank you and praise Him for who He is and what He does but are words enough.

David wrote:

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Psalm 50:14

Honestly, words don’t feel like much of a sacrifice. I can say “thank you” so easily and then just as easily go back to living in ways that don’t seem very thankful.

What does thankful living look like? Thankfulness that is sacrificial? Thankfulness that is God’s will and pleases Him.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:20

How are you with the “all circumstances” part? Not so good? Yeah, me too.

I wonder (you know I do that a lot) . . . maybe there are ways to thank God that go beyond simply speaking words. Ways to live with gratitude even when I don’t feel thankful for my circumstances.

Luke 17 gives the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers. One of the most convicting statements to me in that passage was Christ’s question to the man who returned to give Him thanks: “Where are the nine?”

What really gripped my heart from that question is the fresh realization that Jesus considers our lack of response to the many blessings He lavishes upon us.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.Psalm 68:19

So how do we give Him thanks?

What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?Psalm 116:12

1. OBEY HIS WORD

Giving thanks unto the Lord assumes that we do indeed follow Him as our Lord.

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?Luke 6:46

2. GIVE HIM OFFERINGS

One of the best ways to express thanksgiving is through thankful giving. Out of gratitude for what the Lord has done for you, give an extra offering to Him—invest in His work, or give to someone in need in His name.

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.1 Chronicles 16:29

3. VERBALLY THANK HIM IN PRAYER

Our verbal expressions of gratitude are a sacrifice of praise to Him.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.Hebrews 13:15

4. THANK PEOPLE HE HAS USED IN YOUR LIFE

Take some time today to express gratitude to others who God has used in your life—your family, friends, teachers, mentors, spiritual leaders. Thank them for their investment in you, and tell them specifically how God has used them to provide for, encourage, and strengthen you.

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,—Philippians 1:3

Thanksgiving at its best is thanks giving. Give the Lord thanks!

Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!—Psalm 107:8

WORSHIP HIM.

Remember worship is…

Taking your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (Romans 12:1)

We were made to worship – to thank and praise God, the One who loves us and gives us all we need for today and for always.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping Him with holy fear and awe. Hebrews 12:28

THANK HIM WITH MUSIC.

Make music. Sing praise. Music gives our thanks and praise emotion. So, make that “joyful noise” at home, in the car, at church . . . anywhere. Turn up the tunes and give thanks.

And each morning and evening they stood before the Lord to sing songs of thanks and praise to Him. 1 Chronicles 23:30


What are the Four Marks of the Church?

What are the Four Marks of the Church?

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Marks of the Church

In the Nicene Creed, we profess, “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”:  these are the four marks of the Church.  They are inseparable and intrinsically linked to each other.  Our Lord Himself in founding the Church marked it with these characteristics, which reflect its essential features and mission.  Through the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church fulfills these marks.

First, the Church is one.  The Catechism notes that the Church is one for three reasons: first, because of its source, which is the Holy Trinity, a perfect unity of three divine persons– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; second, because of its founder, Jesus Christ, who came to reconcile all mankind through the blood of the cross; and third, because of its “soul,” the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the souls of the faithful, who unites all of the faithful into one communion of believers, and who guides the Church (#813).

The “oneness” of the Church is also visible.  As Catholics, we are united in our Creed and our other teachings, the celebration of the sacraments, and the hierarchical structure based on the apostolic succession preserved and handed on through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  For example, whether one attends Mass in Alexandria, San Francisco, Moscow, Mexico City, or wherever, the Mass is the same– the same readings, structure, prayers, and the like except for a difference in language– celebrated by the faithful who share the same Catholic beliefs, and offered by a priest who is united to his bishop who is united to the Holy Father, the Pope, the successor of St. Peter.

In our oneness, we do find diversity:   The faithful bear witness to many different vocations and many different gifts, but work together to continue the mission of our Lord.   The various cultures and traditions enrich our Church in their expressions of one faith.  In all, charity must permeate the Church, for it is through charity that the members are bound together and work together in harmonious unity.

The Church is also holy.  Our Lord Himself is the source of all holiness:  “The one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in His body which is the Church” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #14).   Christ sanctifies the Church, and in turn, through Him and with Him, the Church is His agent of sanctification.  Through the ministry of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit, our Lord pours forth abundant graces, especially through the sacraments.  Therefore, through its teaching, prayer and worship, and good works, the Church is a visible sign of holiness.

Nevertheless, we must not forget that each of us as a member of the Church has been called to holiness.  Through baptism, we have been freed from original sin, filled with sanctifying grace, plunged into the mystery of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, and incorporated into the Church, “the holy people of God.”  By God’s grace, we strive for holiness.  The Second Vatican Council exhorted, “Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection and, each according to his station, play his part, that the Church, which bears in her own body the humility and dying of Jesus, may daily be more purified and renewed, against the day when Christ will present her to Himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle” (Decree on Ecumenism, #4).

Our Church has been marked by outstanding examples of holiness in the lives of the saints of every age.  No matter how dark the times may have been for our Church, there have always been those great saints through whom the light of Christ radiated.  Yes, we are frail human beings, and at times we sin; yet, we repent of that sin and continue once again on the path of holiness.  In a sense, our Church is a Church of sinners, not of the self-righteous or self-assured saved.  One of the beautiful prayers of the Mass occurs before the Sign of Peace: “Lord, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.”  Even though poor frail individual members of the Church fail and sin, the Church continues to be the sign and instrument of holiness.

The Church is also catholic.  St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 100) used this word meaning “universal” to describe the Church (Letter to the Smyrnaens).  The Church is indeed Catholic in that Christ is universally present in the Church and that He has commissioned the Church to evangelize the world– “Go therefore an make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Moreover, we must not forget that the Church here on earth– what we call the Church militant– is united to the Church triumphant in Heaven and the Church suffering in Purgatory.   Here is the understanding of the communion of saints– the union of the faithful in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on earth.

Finally, the Church is apostolic.  Christ founded the Church and entrusted His authority to His apostles, the first bishops.  He entrusted a special authority to St. Peter, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome, to act as His vicar here on earth.  This authority has been handed down through the Sacrament of Holy Orders from bishop to bishop, and then by extension to priests and deacons: this continuous handing on of the authority given to the apostles by the Lord is known as “apostolic succession.”  If possible, any could trace his apostolic succession as a bishop back to one of the apostles.  When a bishop ordains men as priests for a diocese, he does so with the authority of apostolic succession, and those men in turn share in the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  No bishop, priest, or deacon in our Church is self-ordained or self-proclaimed; rather, he is called by the Church and ordained into the apostolic ministry given by our Lord to His Church to be exercised in union with the Pope.

Why is church sacred?

Why is church sacred?

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The Sacredness of the Church

According Joseph Ratzinger

Even the staunchest opponents of sacred things, of sacred space in this case, accept the Christian community needs a place to meet, and on that basis they define the purpose of a church building in a non-sacral, strictly functional sense. Church buildings, they say, make it possible for people to get together for the liturgy. This is without question an essential function of church buildings and distinguishes them from the classical form of the temple in most religions. In the Old Covenant, the high priest performed the rite of atonement in the Holy of Holies

I hope all of us have special places in our life. It might be where, as a child, we built a fort or a dollhouse. It might have been that cozy chair where we learned to enjoy mystery stories. It might have been where we had that first kiss. Special places are memorable.

But, what makes a place more than that? What makes a place sacred””really holy? That is to say, what makes it set apart? What makes it somehow blessed?

Sacred places are where we meet something beyond ourselves. They are not always conventionally religious places. I think of the beaches of Normandy, or even many of the battlefields of the Civil War. Men lost their lives in those places; they gave up everything they had, for a cause. It is their very devotion, a devotion to something beyond their individual comforts and their future successes, that has made those bloody places holy. Sacred places are costly places.

I think of awesome places outside our comfortable homes that we call holy. Wide beaches, where our eye meets the mystery of the horizon. Mountain views, where the clouds move constantly into new and mesmerizing configurations. And, of course, I think of churches. 

Traditionally, of course, churches are expected to be holy. Even if one is not traditional, one thinks of churches as holy. Even a non-churchgoer expects to walk into a church and feel something different, even if he or she has never been there before.

And they are. Churches are holy. Our Cathedral of St. Philip is sacred. But our building, our sacred space, is not holy only because of expectation or architecture or silence or time apart.

Our cathedral is holy because holy things have happened there. And the buildings know it. Those events and experiences are real; they make a difference. At the Cathedral, people’s births have been celebrated, and their deaths have been mourned. At the Cathedral, we have rejoiced in good and boisterous times; and we have been disappointed with pain and betrayal.

In churches, prayers have been offered. Weddings and meals have been offered. Even bitterness and anger have been offered. All those offerings make the actual, physical place holy. The actual physical place has provided the space for our human struggle to meet divine grace. 

Every time you offer a prayer at the Cathedral of St. Philip, you help make the place holy. Every time you rejoice here, every time you cry here, you make the place holy. And every time it costs you to be here, you are consecrating this space. Yes, holiness costs something; it always does. Holy places occur when we have paid something, when we have given something, when we have left something of ourselves here. Thus, as always this time of year, I ask you to give financially; if you want to know holiness, give something.

The synagogue, in its shrine of the Torah, contains a kind of Ark of the Covenant, which means it is the place of a kind of “real presence.” Here are kept the scrolls of the Torah, the living Word of God, through which he sits on his throne in Israel among his own people. The shrine is surrounded, therefore, with signs of reverence befitting the mysterious presence of God. It is protected by a curtain, before which burn the seven lights of the menorah, the seven-branch candlestick. Now the furnishing of the synagogue with an “Ark of the Covenant” does not in any way signify the local community has become, so to speak, independent, self-sufficient. No, it is the place where the local community reaches out beyond itself to the Temple, to the commonality of the one People of God as defined by the one God. The Torah is in all places one and the same. And so the Ark points beyond itself, to the one place of its presence that God chose for himself—the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. This Holy of Holies, as Bouyer puts it, remained the “ultimate focus of the synagogal worship”

In a few days, we will invite the homeless of Atlanta into our sacred space. We will remember those who have died on the streets of Atlanta at our annual Requiem Eucharist for the Homeless, on November 1, All Saints Day. If you have not been part of this dramatic evening, you should come and offer something. The homeless do. They bring their struggle, and their pain, and they even make financial offerings at the Offering; they give what they have. In so doing, their prayers too, and their lives, become part of what makes the Cathedral of St. Philip a sacred place. Welcome them on November 1. Together, all of us, continue to make this a sacred place.