The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon recently made a video on proper and improper ways to receive the Eucharist. I think it’s pretty good:
Archbishop Alexander K. Sample posted the video on Twitter with these words:
“Here is a short video prepared by our Office of Divine Worship demonstrating how to receive Holy Communion reverently under the Church’s current norms and approved options. Let us bring respect back to the Holy Eucharist.”
However, not everyone liked it. The video is specific to the Mass attended by most Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland, the Novus Ordo Mass. The two ways presented in the video are receiving the host on the tongue while standing and in the hand while standing. What many objected to was the absence of presenting how to receive on the tongue while kneeling.
Nearly every twitter commenter challenged the video, saying the video should have at least included how to receive kneeling and on the tongue, and some called for receiving and standing to be banned altogether. Nearly zero positive comments.
Keep in mind this is the Archbishop who recently celebrated Mass in the usus antiquior form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., broadcast live on television. He is committed to the growth and resurgence of the Traditional Latin Mass. He is actively making incremental changes in his Archdiocese to bring about more reverence for the Eucharist, including the reinstitution of kneeling after the Lamb of God in the Novus Ordo Mass. Those who despise the NO will criticize this move, but it is a step in the direction of greater and more appropriate reverence within the dominant NO landscape. This is a good thing (especially in the region of the U.S. where the “nones” dominate more than in any other area).
Following the criticism the Archbishop’s tweet and the posted video received, he then responded to the critics of the video by tweeting this:
“Concerning my last post – many people commenting on why not show the most reverent way of receiving on the tongue while kneeling. The fact is the Church gives the people several options. We have to deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can. Step by step, people”
To this tweet he got more responses, some actually in favor of going slow, and some seeing no need for kneeling or receiving on the tongue at all (even implying concern about this was silly), but still most were strongly against the message of the video. I feel a few of the comments were actually disrespectful of the Archbishop (a symptom of our broader culture’s steady decline, and of our common social media culture). Others were merely ignorant, which one should expect. Here are some of those comments:
“In allowing the reception of the blessed sacrament in a clearly irreverent manner are we really willing to offend our blessed lord rather than offend those who recieve him????”
“Excellency, the “Church allows” is a low bar. Pastoral reasons can trump that minimal standard at any point, and the fruits of the in-the-hand experiment speak for themselves.”
“As the Archbishop, can’t you just order the priests in your diocese to distribute communion kneeling on the tongue & to do the Mass ad orientium? It’s your diocese, these methods are licit and best practices. Tbh, we’re dying for a Bishop to be a father, demand order, and do this”
“Step by step? How about a directive from a Bishop? Dealing with reality means dealing with it, not punting.”
“Enough already! KNEEL TO RECEIVE THE LORD! AND ON THE TONGUE. Receiving in the hand erodes belief in the real presence, if Catholics nowadays even know what this is.”
“Reality & Options. Simple. Kneel down, open your mouth. Otherwise, stay in the pew. Anything else is Rationalizations & Excuses to be Irreverent.”
Naturally, this topic brings out passionate responses from many Catholics. I have some of the same feelings, I too want more reverence, more tradition, and receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling, but I strongly agree with the Archbishop. Although I would prefer all would receive kneeling and on the tongue (and the TLM everywhere), I believe the Church needs to take this step by step, and do as his excellency says: “deal with the reality in front of us and do the best we can.” The reasons are fairly basic:
First, Catholics have been indoctrinated over the past 50 years with some rather significant and, at times, very troubling assumptions. They tend to believe that the old traditions are a sign of rigidity. Many Catholics even think receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is, at best, a weird act of misplaced piety, and most likely an act of pompous showiness, and at worst actually sinful. These are, of course, much like basic Protestant beliefs that come from the idea that true, authentic faith and worship must have nothing else attached to it other than one’s own inner feelings. Therefore, conforming to outward standards of reverence can’t be anything other than pretension, and therefore must be resisted and even eradicated. But this is a false religion born out of a bad anthropology. But if we are to change these ideas, and encourage Catholics to kneel and receive on the tongue, then we first have to address the ideas head-on and not force outward behavior that might, strangely and ironically enough, cause scandal. We have inherited a kind of Gordian Knot that will take faith, prayer, wisdom and, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit to undo.
Second, culture runs very deep, and is made manifest in habitual actions. Those actions are typically copied from others. Human beings become who they are largely by copying what everyone around them is doing (for good or bad). This is how societies are generally formed. The fact that many Catholics treat the Holy Eucharist with somewhat irreverent actions and nonchalant ease comes from having those behaviors and attitudes worked into them by their surrounding culture. That culture includes specifically Catholic culture (what Catholics see other Catholics doing at Mass, for example), but also includes the pervasive consumerist, self-fulfillment, neoliberal culture of our profoundly influential modern age. To put it bluntly, a great many Catholics are simply blind to how their own actions declare a non-Catholic worldview (even at Mass), and they are probably incapable of not being blind except for the work of the Holy Spirit because the culture is so insidiously powerful and deeply ingrained within their souls (I should say within “our” souls, because you and I are affected too). Therefore, merely pushing hard for external changes assuming it will then automatically change people’s hearts and minds is foolish. If fact, it might push people away. This is why prayer is so important. It is also why loving and befriending others while also being the change you want to see may be the best way to encourage change in others.
Third, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is based on some fundamental theological dogmas and assumptions. The traditions of the Church speak to centuries of working out the Church’s dogmas and assumptions into appropriate actions, such as the actions of the Mass. If one is ignorant of those fundamental dogmas, then being asked to do something that feels weird and awkward will be resisted. Rather, teach the right fundamentals so well and so frequently that the Church will clamor for communion kneeling and on the tongue, as well as a number of other traditions now seemingly lost to history. The video above may help by reorienting people’s attention to the idea of reverence for the Real Presence, and to the fact that our actions actually mean something and have real consequences. That then can become a foundation upon which to build. Could the video be better, maybe. Is it a start, absolutely. Is it an appropriate way to reach the Novus Ordo crowd? Yes.
I believe one of the best ways to get the Church be become more reverent would be for bishops to have their priests preach repeatedly each Sunday on the Real Presence and related topics. Reinstitute that fundamental belief, and much good will follow. If done well, and assuming the priests have been taught well and actually believe the truth, then I am convinced that after a year (perhaps sooner) the laity will be demanding a lot of the old traditions be reinstated; perhaps accompanied with weeping for what has been lost but what can still be recovered — weeping tears of sorrow and joy.
For now, though, encourage reverence wherever and however you can. Pray that the Holy Spirit will blow the “smoke of Satan” out of the Church, and that true worship and authentic faith will begin to flourish like never before. And be sensitive to where your fellow Catholics are in their everyday lives and understanding, and pray that we have strong, courageous, and faithful bishops.