Reverent Worship & Reception of Holy Communion

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity, Year B.

A priest once told me in college that, at the end of the day, “You either have a Pope, or you are the Pope.” What he meant by this was you either belonged to a religion, like the Catholic religion, that had a final authority, or you belonged to a religion in which you yourself were the final authority. Along these same lines, I’d like to suggest that, at the end of the day, “You either worship God, or you worship yourself.” There are ultimately only two alternatives. And what we worship, we will eventually become, or at least become like. If we worship God, we will become like God. If we worship ourselves, you will remain ourselves, but never become anything more. To worship God is to begin to live the life of heaven; to worship oneself is to begin to live the life of hell. For the moto of hell is “I am I,” while the motto of heaven is “I am His.”

But the question is not just who to worship, but how to worship. We may choose to worship God, but we may choose to worship Him in our own way. And this is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to worship ourselves. It is abundantly clear from Sacred Scripture that just as we do not know how to pray as we ought, we do not know how to worship as we ought. Only God, only the Blessed Trinity, knows how He ought to be worshiped. That is the reason for all the rules and regulations of worship in the Old Testament. Israel does not know how to worship the Father as He ought to be worshiped. And so, the Father reveals the right way to worship to Israel. He does so through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

It is through the same Spirit of Truth that the Father continues to teach us how to worship Him properly. In His conversation with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that true worshipers worship the Father in spirit and truth. Without the Holy Spirit, which was entrusted to the Church at Pentecost, we cannot worship in spirit and truth. It is from the Church, then, as our Teacher and Mother, that we come to know how to worship God properly. Worship offered outside the Church or carried out in contradiction to the teaching of the Church, must always be less, therefore, than the proper worship that God desires. This is why, in the document on the liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, the first norm given for the restoration of the liturgy is this: “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church…Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” Fidelity to the words of the Mass, fidelity to the rules and regulations that the Church sets forth for the Mass, therefore, is the first norm we must consider if we wish to worship God as He desires to be worshiped.

Though it may sound rigid and legalistic, this is the only path to true freedom in worship. Man is never less free than when he only does what he wants. For then he is bound to his prejudices, his passions, and his ego. Man is only free to the extent that he does what he ought to do. For then he is free to be what he was created to be: a child of God, loved by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and reborn in the Spirit. Only when we worship the Blessed Trinity as He ought to be worshiped do we become like the Trinity: an Eternal Communion of Life and Love, full of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The fullness of the freedom for which we were created can only be found in the Church, therefore, and in the liturgy of the Church. For it is only in the Church’s liturgy, celebrated according to the mind of the Church, that we worship God as He desires to be worshiped.

When a priest celebrates Mass from the Roman Missal, he is given the words he is to say in black lettering, and the gestures or actions he is to perform in red lettering. This has given rise to the expression, “Say the black, do the red,” as a basic summary of how to celebrate the Mass. Interestingly, to my knowledge, there is only one place in the Roman Missal where the red lettering instructs the priest to do something in a reverent way. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the priest should ever be irreverent when celebrating Mass, any more than he should ever wear a clown outfit when celebrating Mass. But it does mean that he should be especially reverent, as reverent as humanly possible, when doing this one thing. This one thing, of course, is receiving Holy Communion. When it comes time for the priest to receive Holy Communion, the Missal says this: “The Priest, facing the altar, says quietly: May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life. And he reverently consumes the Body of Christ. Then he takes the chalice and says quietly: May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life. And he reverently consumes the Blood of Christ.

When I came to St. Charles, the thing that excited me the most was the opportunity I’d have to celebrate the Mass in a reverent way. Not every associate pastor at every parish has this opportunity, and I’m immensely grateful to Fr. Ken for the ways he has encouraged and supported reverence in the Mass here at St. Charles: From moving the tabernacle back to the center of the church, to placing the crucifix at the back of the altar, to beautifying the sanctuary, to placing the statues of Mary and Joseph in their current locations, to using bells to mark the holiest moments of the Eucharistic Prayer, to reintroducing some Latin into the sung parts of the Mass, to building the new church in a traditional way, to his own reverence in celebrating the Mass. I could go on and on. But with the Feast of Corpus Christi approaching next weekend, and my not being around to celebrate it, I’d like to mention one last thing for which I am especially grateful: The opportunity for the faithful of St. Charles to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, even during the pandemic.

Having a dedicated line for those who wish to receive on the tongue has certainly given this traditional mode of receiving Holy Communion greater prominence. And some of you may have wondered at times why anyone would wish to receive this way. As someone who was taught to receive Holy Communion in the hand when I was growing up but who changed to receiving on the tongue when I was in college, I’d like to offer a few reasons why many of the faithful choose to receive in this way.

Before I do that, I would like to make it abundantly clear that it is perfectly acceptable to receive Holy Communion either in the hand or on the tongue. The choice is up to the individual communicant. In sharing with you the reasons why some may choose to receive on the tongue, my intention is not to denigrate receiving on the hand or to make those who receive in the hand feel like second-class citizens. I hope that after two years here, you know that I love you and care for you and have no interest in shaming anyone. My deepest desire is that whatever way you choose to receive Holy Communion, you do so reverently. That being said, here are a few reasons why some may choose to receive on the tongue.

First, as a sign of humility and dependency on God. Only the humble child and dependent adult allow themselves to be fed by another. Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, allowing ourselves to be fed by God, rather than feeding ourselves, is a powerful reminder of who we are before God: He is our Father, and we are His beloved children. We are small, weak, and utterly dependent on Him. Second, receiving on the tongue is a sign that what we are receiving is not ordinary food. We take so many other kinds of food in our hands: cookies, crackers, chips, pizza, hamburgers, etc. But the Holy Eucharist is no ordinary food. It’s fitting, therefore, to receive the Holy Eucharist in a different way, a way that points to its uniqueness among all the other foods we eat. Third, to avoid, as far as possible, the chance of small crumbs of the Holy Eucharist falling to the ground and being trampled underfoot. If the Holy Eucharist really is Jesus, then every crumb is Jesus. When I first learned to receive Holy Communion in the hand, my mom always told me to look for crumbs in my hand after putting the Host in my mouth. These crumbs are Jesus, and we should never allow Jesus to the fall to the ground and be trampled underfoot. There is less risk of this happening when Holy Communion is received on the tongue. When I distribute Holy Communion in the hand, I always try to ensure that there are no crumbs on the Host when I place Jesus in someone’s hands, but I’m not always successful. Whenever the Host is dropped, or I notice a crumb falling to the ground, it’s like being stabbed in the heart. It’s a radical countersign to the reality of what we are receiving. If this truly is Jesus’ Precious Body and Blood, if this truly is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, then we should do whatever is humanly possible to treat Him reverently.

One of the ways you, the parishioners of St. Charles, can help Fr. Ken and I maintain and even increase our reverent celebration of the Mass here, is by receiving Holy Communion as reverently as possible. If you wish to receive Holy Communion in the hand, please do so as reverently as possible. Remember that the idea is to make your hands into a throne for the King of Kings whom you are receiving. Cup your hands slightly, with your dominant hand on the bottom and your other hand on top. If Jesus is going to slide or fall off your throne, you may not be holding your hands correctly or you may be rushing it. Please make sure your throne is clean from dirt or ink. Also, please do not grab the Host from the person distributing. If you feel the need to do this, because you are holding a child or are no longer steady on your feet, consider receiving on the tongue. Lastly, if you wish to receive on the hand, please look for crumbs of Jesus after receiving. Don’t let a particle of Jesus fall to the ground and be trampled underfoot.

For those who currently receive on the hand, but may be open to receiving on the tongue, think and pray about it. There’s no need to make a change right away, here at this Mass—unless, of course, you feel inspired to do so—but do think and pray about. Talk about it as a family. I have no interest in shaming anyone who chooses to receive in the hand, but I will unapologetically encourage people to receive on the tongue. There is a long and venerable tradition of receiving this way in the Church. And it made a big difference in my love and devotion to the Holy Eucharist when I was in college. It was profound reminder of who I was before God as His beloved and dependent child as well as a reminder of the profound reality of what I was receiving: not ordinary food, but the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Himself.

Let us all try to receive Holy Communion as reverently as possible. In doing so, we will be worshiping the Blessed Trinity as He desires to be worshiped. And in doing so, we will become like Him: an Eternal Communion of Life and Love, full of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Amen.