To receive Communion… that is the question. I was recently confronted about this, at a parish I will be teaching religious education through my job this year. At this parish, all children are made to kneel in order to receive Communion. When the explanation behind this was a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 and my obedience to the Pope was called into question, I began to feel a bit uneasy. I knew both forms are allowed, but did the Pope really call to kneel for Communion? Am I being unfaithful when I don’t kneel?
I decided to research a few questions about kneeling and the Eucharist. Feel free to add your thoughts and findings on the matter also.
What is the history of kneeling?
“The most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand…From the time of the Fathers of the Church, a tendency was born and consolidated whereby distribution of Holy Communion in the hand became more and more restricted in favor of distributing Holy Communion on the tongue.” (source) Although there is no mention of it in Conciliar documents, receiving Communion while standing slowly became universal practice after Vatican II.
What do Church documents say about it?
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal assigns to Conferences of Bishops the decision as to whether the faithful should stand or kneel (no. 43 §2) and also what an appropriate sign of reverence before receiving Communion is (no. 160§2).
The American adaptation of the General Instruction Roman Missal in 2002 stated that “The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel.” The same document in 2010 was slightly altered to more explicitly allow for kneeling: “The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling.” Why is standing the norm? Uniformity in posture serves as a “sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the sacred Liturgy” and it “both expresses and fosters the spiritual attitude of those assisting” (GIRM, no. 42).
A statement from the Vatican (here) allows for both and Redemptionis Sacramentum also allows for both: “The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the Conference of Bishops will have determined”, with its acts having received the recognitio [approval] of the Apostolic See.” (no. 90 Redemptionis Sacramentum)
If the bishops in your country chose standing as the norm, can you still kneel?
Yes. Cardinal Arinze, speaking on Redemptionis Sacramentum here says, “People are free. Even if the bishops [of your country] have chosen standing, those who want to kneel are free to kneel and no one has the right to say to them ‘you are disobedient’.” And also, “A Catholic who is not forbidden to receive Communion should not be denied just because the Catholic prefers to kneel or to stand.”
Did Pope Benedict XVI always distribute Communion to people that were kneeling?
Yes. In 2008, the Papal master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini announced a new Vatican protocol for receiving communion.
“In continuity with the teaching of his Predecessor, starting with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the year 2008, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, began to distribute to the faithful the Body of the Lord, by placing it directly on the tongue of the faithful as they remain kneeling.” (source)
Does Pope Francis also only distribute Communion to those kneeling?
Although no official communication has been made, the faithful have been receiving Communion from Pope Francis while kneeling.
Does the Eastern Church also kneel?
No. Standing for communion has always been maintained by other rites in the Catholic Church, while kneeling has been tradition only in the Latin rite.
So there you have it. To stand or to kneel, there seem to be convincing arguments from both sides. It is clear that both forms are permitted by the Church. As to which is better… that final decision might have to come down to being between you and God.