Imagine for a moment that Jesus was walking the earth again. Imagine you were in his very presence – the same room as him. How would you behave?
Would you ignore the fact you were in the presence of God?
Would you chat on your phone?
Would you go about your daily life even though you had this incredible opportunity to see God?
I hope not.
Then why, tell me, do we do these very things?
When I went to Mass at my college this past school year, it was refreshing to be surrounded by young people who respectfully attended on a regular basis. For the most part, Mass-goers would come on time, act reverently toward Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and participate appropriately in Mass. We knelt during the parts I’ve grown up kneeling to (and in one of our chapels, the students regularly forego the kneeler to kneel on the hard ground).
I got used to this.
When I came home for the summer just a few weeks ago, I was shocked (though how can I really be?) to see the lack of this behavior in my own home church. Let me re-state that. My home church is not terrible. It’s actually one of the best I’ve been to. We go to a different (closer) church for Mass during the week, which, on the other hand, is scary. Let me elaborate.
At my home church, we have perpetual adoration. That means whenever Mass is not going on, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed (ie. God is visibly present). He is exposed until a few minutes before Mass when the curtains are drawn. When people came in for Sunday Mass a couple weeks ago, I was struck by the number of people who did not genuflect before entering their pews. I know I shouldn’t really be noticing this while praying before Mass starts, but it was hard to ignore the fact that so few people genuflected. It’s something I was always taught to do.
At the church we go to during the week (which is much closer to home), it is sad to write down everything we’ve seen:
- The walls are clear glass windows surrounding the circular building which has cushioned chairs instead of traditional pews
- No kneelers
- Closed tabernacle shoved to the side
- The Blood of Christ is consecrated IN the glass pitcher (for lack of better word) and THEN poured into separate glasses. The glass pitcher – which has contained the sacred species – is then casually handed down an assembly line of lay women.
- After consecration, the priest steps back as lay women come up on the altar to divide the Eucharist and Blood of Christ into the respective containers. He stands back watching as this is done.
- One priest in particular likes to applaud the choir after Mass
- The same priest likes to sing “Happy Birthday” to anyone who’s celebrating before giving the final blessing
Now, no one is perfect. We are all far from the ideal person we’re called to become. But these are serious issues we either do not care to address, are ignorant of, or willfully ignore. It’s time that came to an end.
Because I’ve grown up in a family that attends conservative Masses, I am used to what I would call “proper” Mass behavior. But does that make it right? Even though it’s what I prefer, I decided to research it for myself to see what the Church itself says.
Before reading on, please note that CCC stand for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and GIRM stands for the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Both are authoritative texts of the Catholic Church.
Genuflecting & Bowing
In my home church, I’ve noticed how many people neglect to genuflect before entering their pews, so today I decided to count. Of the people I observed entering their pews today, 33 did not genuflect and 5 did genuflect. None bowed. I was taken aback by these numbers, and rather shocked that roughly 1/8 of the people I observed paid Jesus any sign of respect before entering their pew.
1378 -“In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord.”
“274. A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
[A]ll who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession.
Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting.
275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bow: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.
a) A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
b) A bow of the body, that is to say, a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (With humble spirit); in the Creed at the words et incarnatus est (and by the Holy Spirit . . . and became man); in the Roman Canon at the Supplices te rogamus (In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God). The same kind of bow is made by the Deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the Priest bows slightly as he pronounces the words of the Lord at the Consecration.”
Something that has always been different from church to church is when people kneel. I was taught to kneel during consecration, and then right before the “Lord I am not worthy….” line. It’s always seemed weird to me when people don’t kneel then – it’s almost like saying “Lord, I am totally worthy that you should enter under my roof. So yeah, what’s the big deal?” But it is a big deal. If we truly believe we are receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, shouldn’t we be in the most reverent position possible? Shouldn’t we be falling to our knees as Jesus becomes physically present before us?
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
42. “A common bodily posture, to be observed by all those taking part, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them.”
43. “In the Dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by ill health, or for reasons of lack of space, of the large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause. However, those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the Priest genuflects after the Consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.”
Reception of the Eucharist
From the day I received my first communion, I have always received on the tongue (except for once or twice when the EMHC was rather confused when I was little and didn’t hold my hands properly). It’s always made sense to me, because if this is really God (which is kind of the gist of Catholicism) how could I dare to touch him? In the Bible, people wouldn’t dare to touch the hem of his robe or unlace his sandals, so how are we worthy to touch his very body?
1382 – “To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.”
160 – “When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister.”
161 – “If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the Priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The Body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed, in the hand, the choice lying with the communicant. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes the whole of it.”
Contrary to popular belief, Vatican II did not approve the reception of the Eucharist in the hand. Actually, it affirmed the long-held tradition of it being received on the tongue, with the wide majority of bishops in agreement. Here’s what was stated in Memoriale Domini in 1969:
“This method [on the tongue] of distributing Holy Communion must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist. The custom does not detract in any way from the personal dignity of those who approach this great sacrament: it is part of that preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord.
This reverence shows that it is not a sharing in ‘ordinary bread and wine’ that is involved, but in the Body and Blood of the Lord . . .
Further, the practice which must be considered traditional ensures, more effectively, that holy communion is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity. It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species . . .”
As Catholics, we believe that bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s body and blood during the Mass, but it seems to me that we’re quite close to forgetting this. I don’t know your heart. I don’t know where you are in your faith journey. But I do know that no matter what, God deserves nothing less than our unbridled love and respect. We are not capable of repaying Jesus for his death on the cross. But don’t we owe him a little respect when we visit him in his house?