As some of you know, I write the question-and-answer column for the Our Sunday Visitor weekly newspaper. Here’s a link to some of my back columns: OSV Q & A Columns.
Recently, a liturgical question came in from a Catholic in a Diocese that will remain nameless. Below is the question, along with my brief answer. I’m curious to get some feedback from you about the matter. So I’ll ask a few more questions after the quote from my column.
Q: Our archdiocese has decided that all receiving communion should remain standing until all have completed receiving. The rationale is a sign of unity. However, this does not seem very worshipful, and though we are permitted to be seated after the celebrant is seated, very little time is given for prayer. I’ve chosen not to remain standing, but to observe the traditional practice of returning to my pew, and kneeling in prayer. And I being disobedient?
A: The instructions in the Roman Missal are silent regarding the posture of the faithful during the Communion Rite, though after the Rite they may sit or kneel during the silence (# 43). A local Bishop does have some authority to request that certain norms that do not violate universal norms be followed in his diocese. Other things being equal, it would seem that the faithful should give due consideration, and strive to follow these norms.
However, the norm you have articulated does present a few practical issues. Most notably, it would seem that the elderly and others with issues of physical stamina might find it difficult to stand for so long. Also, as you point out, it does make prayer difficult at a time that is often very precious to people for a quiet moment with the Lord. Given the rather hurried nature of most American liturgies, it seems unlikely that significant time will be reserved for quiet prayer after all are seated.
Given that the local bishop does have the authority to request certain norms be observed, I might encourage you to strive to listen to what he’s teaching. Perhaps there is an issue in the local church he is trying to address. While prayer certainly pleases the Lord, obedience pleases him even more. Scripture says, Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me” (Ps 40:4).
In terms of answering your question in an absolutely legal sense, while not a canonist, I suspect that this norm should be interpreted in the same way that the norm for receiving communion standing in this country is interpreted. While the norm requests, for the sake of unity, the faithful receive Communion standing, an exception is to be made for those who strongly prefer to receive kneeling (GIRM #160). So it seems allowance needs to be made for the faithful who strongly prefer kneeling in silent prayer.
As in all things, balance is required in understanding the nature of Holy Mass. Mass is essentially the communal act of Christ with all His people; it is not essentially a private devotion. However, times of silent prayer and reflection are often mentioned in the general norms. But frankly, with the rather hurried masses of modern times, periods of silent reflection are often nonexistent. In this sense, your concerns are understandable.
I surely encourage you to stay in communion with your bishop, and to continue to raise your concerns.
Of course you may or may not like the answer that I supplied, but I would ask you to recall that the column requires rather brief answers. Further, as a priest, I’m in the chain of command and you will not find me encouraging Catholics to disregard our bishops. That said, I do have some questions.
1. Is this practice of standing after receiving Communion until all have received something you have witnessed? Does it go on in your parish? Do you think it is becoming more widespread?
2. When I came to my current parish in 2007, it was the practice of the congregation to remain standing until all had received communion and the tabernacle door was closed. I had never seen this practice before and it puzzled me, but I did not seek to end it since, as I say above, the instructions are silent about the posture of the people during the Communion Rite after having received communion.
Within a few months of being here however, I received requests from parish leadership to remind the faithful that they should remiain standing, since some were not complying with the parish custom. But I was unwilling to issue this reminder since I did not think that I could require something of the people that the general instructions did not require.
Hence, there are some who currently remain standing after receiving communion and others who kneel. It may look a bit strange, but I see no need as a pastor to interfere with people’s freedom at this moment.
3. However, there is something of a different situation when the local Ordinary requests that all of his people adopt this posture. While I’m fairly certain that a bishop cannot absolutely require this of the faithful, I do suspect that he is within his rights to request strongly that they observe it—particularly if he has some reason to do so.
As a pastor, under the authority of a bishop, if I were asked to teach the faithful and request that they adopt a standing posture until all had received communion, I would do so. However, I doubt I would enforce discipline on those who felt strongly that they should kneel.
3. What do you think of the point above that the Sacred Liturgy, while not a private devotion, per se, nevertheless requires more silent periods than our usual rushed liturgies provide? Even if the people don’t stand, they are still encouraged by the norms to sing the communion hymn. How do we balance the communal nature of the Mass with moments for more private prayer? If there were a longer time for silence after communion, how long do you think it should be?
At any rate, I’m curious to know your thoughts about the practice. If you support it, why? If you do not, why not? Please avoid posting disrespectful comments about bishops. This blog does not exist to provide a forum for that, and I cannot post such comments. It is all right to disagree, or to express some wonderment at the practice, but please do so respectfully.