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The Question of How to Receive Communion

Very recently a sermon was given about the obligations of the laity in how they posture themselves before receiving communion or while they receive communion, or both.  All I will say about this is that some people heard that one should not present himself for Communion if he is going to genuflect before-hand, or kneel to receive.  I was there, and I didn’t hear that.  Actually, in the priest’s defense, I thought he said that he wouldn’t deny somebody Communion for doing that, but that they should still be obedient, and follow the wishes of the parish priest and the bishop’s conference.  I have to say that I was surprised by the comment, but after thinking about it, I didn’t know if I was in opposition to what he said, and in fact, I’ve been leaning in his direction.

Setting aside the common arguments that, on the one hand, we should kneel to receive as a sign of humility before God, and a way of glorifying Him, and on the other hand, that by kneeling to receive we’re being “holier than thou”, and that it only creates a disturbance for other people, I’d like to call attention to something else entirely, which is the purpose of this post: Is it morally permissible to genuflect before receiving, or to kneel to receive, when your priest, and/or in some places, your bishop, directs you not to?  Anyone who actually does genuflect before or kneels while receiving has an answer ready for this: Of course!  “We have permission from Rome.”

I’ve read several documents on the matter; they’re letters written by bishops and cardinals in Rome with authority, and they state definitively that people who do that are not to be denied Communion.  But that really doesn’t answer my question, and there are two reasons for this; first, I’ve never seen any document on the subject directed toward the laity (in fact they all seem to be directed toward a specific individual, who is always a bishop), and second, the fact that we shouldn’t be denied Holy Communion for kneeling to receive only implies that the act isn’t a mortal sin, and leaves the question of genuflecting or kneeling to receive being a venial sin (which we all know is still a serious offense against the law of God) completely open.

My concern is pretty simple.  The bishop’s conference has directed us to stand while receiving, and bow before receiving.  While taking into account the fact that the USCCB doesn’t have any authoritative power outside of the authority of the individual bishops that comprise it, unless your individual bishop has stated otherwise, that authority holds.  To go against that authority is to commit sin.   Another answer to this would be to find a more definitive document from the Vatican that has less to do with the obligations of our priests and bishops, and more to do with the obligations of the laity.

I’d love to hear (or read) points of view from my coworkers, and especially our CEO, who is an exhaustive encyclopedia on the Liturgy, and also anyone out there who would like to say something about the issue.  I’m also hoping that our Uncle Diogenes, who won my respect with his comments on the guitar at Mass, will read this and one way or another offer his thoughts.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong, and the documents that I’ve seen that don’t really seem to give the laity permission for anything really do.  What do you think?

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