The people who want an additional sign of reverence before receiving communion seem to be concerned that going to communion has become routine and thoughtless. They feel that some people merely line up, grab the host, then hustle back to a seat, as if on autopilot. They want people to stop and collect themselves before receiving. They think a gesture of reverence, prayer, or whatever, is important.
The problem is that they are trying to add something to the communion service, rather than looking at what is already there and trying to make it work better. There is already an act of reverence built into the communion rite. It simply is not done as envisioned by the liturgical authorities who developed it.
In the Roman Catholic communion rite, [and there are very similar rituals for Evangelical Lutherans and Episcopalians] the communion minister is told to hold up the element before the communicant and proclaim, “The Body of Christ.” The communicant is to respond, “Amen.”
What usually happens is that the minister lifts the bread or wine while saying the formula and continues into a motion to give it to the communicant while that communicant responds and then accepts the sacred species. There is no time for a reverent response separate from the reception. All is mushed together.
The sequence is improved by simple changes by the minister, making distinct each element of the rite.
Wait until both the minister and the communicant have come
to a stop.
Hold up the element.
Then make the proclamation while the element is before the
eyes of the communicant.
Give the communicant time to make eye contact with the
bread or wine before making a profession of faith by saying
“Amen” to the proclamation.
After the “Amen,” then offer the communion element to the
This might slow things down. That in turn might suggest that more communion ministers are needed, but is this not better, to have a difference in the administration of communion which has a better chance to feel meaningful instead of routine?
If one is allowed to change the rite for a local congregation, there is a possible change which would help everyone to better understand the meaning of what is happening in the overall communion service.
Instead of having the communicant response be, “Amen,” each could respond, “We are all members of that one body/blood.”
This gets closer to the essence of the communion service, the sharing of all in the body of Christ. This sharing is certainly there as the service exists now in most denominations, but it is there by implication or in its theology and is not very much there experientially. It is too easy to feel that communion is a “me and Jesus” moment instead of a communal experience.
Indeed, that is reflected in the very concern mentioned at the beginning of this article. One [exactly] gets in line, waits a turn to get for oneself what everyone else is getting, then goes back to one's personal place to sit and respond to what one has received.
This does not reflect the doing something with others, communally, which is the essence of liturgical versus private prayer. It does not speak of participation in the body of Christ, of sharing in that one body of which Jesus is the head and we all are members. One belief about communion, Jesus coming to each of us, is too easily able to dominate the more central belief that Jesus comes to all of us and all of us are part of Jesus.
Another essay will get into how what else we do can enhance the communality of community.
Meanwhile, what do you think about these two ideas?