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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the First Sunday in Lent (February 18, 2024)

First Sunday of Lent

A newly reverted Catholic in my early twenties, I had to (re)learn the ropes of Catholic practice mostly on my own. Not because there was no one willing to help. Rather, as men are wont, I preferred not to ask for directions. “I can figure this out” was my basic assumption. So I relied in great part on observation. I watched what other Catholics did, and followed suit. 

When I discovered Eucharistic adoration, for example, the practice at the parish, certainly among the more pious, was to make a double genuflection (both knees) and bow to the floor. So that is what I did. Likewise, in the parish I attended for Sunday Mass, the faithful would mirror the priest’s hand gestures when they made their responses. So I mirrored them. 

Before long, however, I encountered a difficulty:  liturgical diversity! At some parishes, no one made hand gestures. Who was right? Which practice was best? In such parishes, do I follow the crowd, or should I faithfully continue to lift up my hands along with my heart, etc.? Whatever the answer was, you can bet I didn’t ask anyone for it. 

Then came the question of Holy Communion. Until then, I was following what I had been taught in second grade. Standing in the parish sacristy with a jar of unconsecrated hosts wrapped in her arm, our teacher has instructed us to make a little “altar” with our hands to receive the Lord and then to use thumb and forefinger to reverently shuttle Him to our mouth. “Don’t chew Jesus!” she told us (in pious contradiction to the Greek in John 6:56), “Just let Him dissolve on your tongue.” 

But now I was noticing that some people received directly on the tongue. Some even kneeled down for it! And many of these, by my judgment, were among the more devoted. What should I do? “Never a no to God'' was my new rule of life. Is this what He was asking?

I would at least give it a shot. At a parish where almost all received on the hand. Didn’t matter: I would buck the trend. I entered the communion line of a lay minister. My turn came. The gentleman raised the host with a mild smile and calmly looked towards my hands for the landing pad. Mild confusion broke out upon his face. I gave my Amen and opened my mouth further. He understood what was required of him, but was evidently inexpert. His trembling hand neared my tongue, which may not even have been extended. The result was a fumble: Jesus dropped to the tile at my feet. 

Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. I quickly stooped down and snatched up the host, wondering why God allowed this when I was trying to do what was best. In the split second between grabbing and consuming, a ray of truth became incarnate in my mind, dressed in these words: What matters is that you receive Me with reverence.” And that put me at peace. 

At St. Mark’s, I don’t want to say our motto is “have It your way” when it comes to receiving Holy Communion. But I do want people to feel free to receive the Lord in the manner that helps them be most reverent, whether that is standing, kneeling, on the tongue or in the hand. I encourage you to “experiment” here to see what helps you most. 

Speaking of experiments, with the brothers away for several weeks this January, we had opportunity to try out one communion practice that many–including those on the Parish council–have asked about: using the length of the Communion rail. And I think it helped. On the one hand, it helps communion to go faster. A single minister is able to distribute the Eucharist more quickly than if he had a helper. More importantly, it allows each recipient to take his or her time to “gaze upon the Lord in His sanctuary” (Ps 27:4) and receive without any pressure to rush, while still allowing all to receive in the manner he or she prefers (standing, kneeling, etc.). Reverence, they say, is one part awareness and two parts simply slowing down to do something with love and attention! 

The practice has worked so well, in fact, that after consulting a good number of persons (and with the approval of Pat Hartshorn, of course), we have decided to make Communion at the rail the default method for our daily Masses. Whether we will implement at the Sunday Masses remains to be seen. In any case, my hope is this helps promote our core value of “reverent engagement with the Sacraments” and the glory of our good God!

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