During Holy Week, two U.S. bishops called on Catholics in their respective dioceses to grow closer to Christ through greater reverence for the Eucharist.
Bishop Robert Morlino, at the chrism Mass for the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, asked that all Catholics be encouraged by their priests to receive the Eucharist kneeling and on the tongue. In the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley issued a pastoral letter on Holy Thursday encouraging his flock to make Eucharistic adoration an integral part of their lives.
Both bishops aim to bring attention of the faithful back to the focal point of Catholic belief, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, from which the Church draws her life, as St. John Paul II stated in his 2003 encyclical Eclessia de Eucharistia.
However, only 39% of Catholics attend Mass weekly in the United States, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center Survey. Catholics in the United States have famously proven impervious to many Church teachings, but a surprising number of Catholics do not even believe in the Real Presence.
A 2008 survey by the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate (CARA) found that 43% of Catholics agreed with the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.” In 2001, only 37% of respondents had agreed with that statement.
When asked by CARA, nearly half of respondents said they did not know if their parish offered opportunities for Eucharistic adoration. Of those who did know of opportunities for Eucharistic adoration, only 29% had attended in the past year.
Reverence for the Eucharist
In his homily at the chrism Mass, Bishop Morlino noted that, too often, “the impact of our redemption in Christ is not so visible. That’s a crisis.” He traced this to a crisis of faith that manifests itself as a crisis of prayer, “because as we pray, so we believe.”
Bishop Morlino noted in his homily that while parish liturgies had continued to improve, he was distressed by the lack of reverence in the way Catholics received the Eucharist at Mass.
“It’s hard to believe that some people actually believe that that’s the Body of Christ the way they handle it,” he said. “You’d think it was an M&M.”
As a remedy, Bishop Morlino asked “that people be encouraged to receive Communion on the tongue and kneeling.”
Bishop Morlino later told the Register his request “was a way to try to spur greater reverence in as many souls as possible in our diocese as to the reception of holy Communion and at the Mass.”
The bishop emphasized that Catholics should always be mindful of how they receive Communion, including whether they should.
“When it comes to reception of holy Communion, it should never be a casual act,” he told the Register. “Our outward posture and demeanor should always reflect what we really believe — namely that we believe we are receiving the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Morlino said that while every parish might look slightly different in how it encourages people to be more reverent in receiving the Eucharist, he trusts “in the judgment of my various pastors on these matters.” But most priests will need faithful lay collaborators to help “in the catechesis, instruction and encouragement of reception in this way.”
Bishop Morlino made clear that he was only encouraging and asking the faithful to receive Communion kneeling and on the tongue.
“All in all, I am really just trying to encourage greater reverent reception of the Eucharist and reverence at Mass in general,” he said.
“Prayerful and reflective reception of the Eucharist can only lead to greater faith and therefore greater fruits of that faith.”
Section 160 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that “the consecrated Host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant.” For American dioceses, Communion is “to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling.”
Father Thomas Kocik, a priest in the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, and a former editor of the liturgical journal Antiphon, told the Register there is nothing “inherently wrong with Communion received standing or in the hand.” Both practices have precedent in the Latin Church. But, he said, kneeling while receiving Communion on the tongue “symbolically reinforces the fact that the Eucharist is not ordinary food to be taken in hand, but, rather, a gift to be received.”
“It also fosters a deeper sense of holy Communion as personal encounter, as intimate communion with Christ in the sacrament of his Body and Blood, and not simply a social ritual in which anyone can take part,” he said.
Minimizing the importance of posture in Mass can come from a misguided attempt to be more spiritual, Father Kocik told the Register, but the gestures used by the Church are devised to engage the whole person in worship of “the God who entered our world to redeem it.”
While a Communion rail would best accommodate the large numbers of people receiving kneeling and on the tongue, Father Kocik also suggested that other immediate means to increase reverent approaches to Communion were kneelers, or lining up across the front of the sanctuary and standing or kneeling to receive, which would allow “communicants time to prepare, receive and commune with the Lord before returning to their pews.”
Father Kocik also suggested intinction to address any possible irreverence toward the Host. In distributing Communion by intinction, the priest takes the consecrated Host and dips it partially in the Precious Blood before placing it in the mouth of the communicant.
Adoring the Face of Christ
While Bishop Morlino has asked his priests and laity to be more reverent in their reception of the Eucharist, Bishop Conley of Lincoln has asked his people to become more reverent through Eucharistic adoration, which dates back to the time of St. Justin Martyr and St. Basil in the second and fourth centuries, respectively.
In his April 13 pastoral letter, “Love Made Visible,” Bishop Conley wrote that “Christ gave us his body and blood as an act of love, so that we could know the love of God.” He said Catholics are missionaries because they live in a “time and a culture which does not seem to know the love of God,” but the success of that mission depends on “a daily renewal of life in God’s love. At the heart of the renewal is the holy Eucharist.”
The bishop encourages his priests to make Holy Hours and perpetual adoration as available as possible, for schools to make adoration a regular part of the school week, if possible; and for Catholics to make adoration of the Blessed Sacrament a part of daily life.
“When we adore Christ in the Eucharist, exposed in the monstrance,” Bishop Conley said, “the Lord engages all of our senses, through the ministry of the Church, to awaken us to the power of encountering him.”
J.D. Flynn, spokesman for the Diocese of Lincoln, said the bishop’s letter came out of “the fruit of Eucharistic adoration in his own life and the desire to encourage that among Catholics in the diocese,” especially in light of the New Evangelization’s call for missionary disciples.
Flynn said Eucharistic adoration “extends our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” because the Mass is “the context within which we experience the holy Eucharist most immediately and most primarily.”
Even if a parish isn’t large enough to support perpetual adoration, Flynn said, Holy Hours of Eucharistic adoration and exposition, First Fridays and other feasts can provide opportunities to incorporate Eucharistic devotion into our lives.
“Worship in the liturgy should be the focal point of our lives as Catholics,” he said, but through deepening a relationship with Christ through Eucharistic adoration, “we become better evangelists and enter more intimately into the sacrifice of the Mass.”
“The Eucharist is at the heart of cultural renewal, and part of that is personal renewal. As we grow in friendship with the Lord, then we not only are transformed, but we begin to transform our families, and our friendships, and our culture, and can begin to build the kind of Christian culture, a civilization of love, as Benedict says, that runs counter to the dictatorship of relativism and its atomized culture.”
Register correspondent Nicholas Wolfram Smith writes from Rochester, New York.