Communion ~ When to sit & when to stand

Communion Info....

Standing during Holy Communion: Why and Why Not?

Over the last several years a recurring topic of conversation has been the procedure at Saint John's of standing throughout the distribution of holy communion. I am sharing this letter with both of our parishes because we all need to think about why we do the things we do as a community.

Standing during communion was not unheard of in the past or even elsewhere in the present, in other countries and even near to us. At the daily Mass at Saint Thomas, for instance, most people remain standing throughout the reception of communion as a sign of respect for the Eucharist because there are no kneelers in the chapel. There was no policy or discussion that I recall. People did it because they felt it was the better thing to do. If there were kneelers, they probably would kneel.

For many centuries, standing at Mass was regarded as a way of showing reverence for God and respect for others. People stand when someone approaches them to show respect. Kneeling became a posture for worship and for centuries Catholics in the West were obliged to show reverence for the Eucharist in this way. They knelt at the altar rail for communion and then returned to their pew to kneel, at least until the eucharist was returned to the tabernacle. This custom of showing adoration by kneeling has dominated the practice most Catholics I know, to the point where many Catholics resisted any other posture as disrespectful. Such was the case until several years ago the US bishops implemented guidelines for communion that were found in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Here in the Boston Archdiocese we were told that what the Instruction calls for is that the congregation remain standing throughout the distribution of communion. When we introduced this at Saint John's explained the church's rationale. As a family gathers at table and all wait to enjoy the food together, rather than each one beginning to eat by themselves, so the family of faith comes to the altar and all receive as part of one procession. It is not just my communion with the Lord but our sharing in this eucharistic banquet. When our Archdiocese held workshops to help priests and others understand and this new posture, they emphasized that standing throughout the distribution of communion was how we should come to and receive communion. Standing together throughout the reception was intended to be a sign of our unity.

After several years, very few parishes follow this practice. No effort seems to be made to introduce the practice at the Cathedral or others, with the exception of a handful of parishes including Saint John's. Experience has shown that people still prefer to kneel or sit as soon as they return to their places. The result at St. John's has been a mix of postures. I know from talking with visitors that this can be very confusing. So I believe the time has come for us at Saint John's to return to the way we once went to communion, but without forgetting that we are one in this sacred action.

Beginning this weekend at Saint John's, all who come to communion are welcome to kneel or sit when they return to their place. To show our unity as a family of faith, I ask that we all join in the communion hymn, which is a song or refrain that we sing together throughout the communion. We will make every effort in choosing the communion songs to make it possible to join in.

I am grateful to everyone at Saint John's for their patience, understanding and cooperation over these years. I ask for the same as we make this change. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of our being mindful of others as we celebrate the eucharist, including the way we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. It may help to be reminded that when approaching the priest or minister the appropriate gesture of reverence is a simple bow.

Thank you for coming to Mass and being part of our celebration of the Lord's holy sacrifice.

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