Q: Archbishop J, why so little true devotion to the Eucharist?
When a missionary asked me this question, my response was very defensive: “Of course, T&T Catholics have true devotion,” I said. “Like everywhere in the world there is a mixture of people and styles, but our people are good Catholics who have great reverence.’’
The question jolted me into looking again, to see as for the first time. Like the missionary, I have been scandalised by what I have seen.
Yes, many Catholics approach Mass with true devotion. You see it from the time they walk into the church. They know it is a holy place and they come to the sacred.
Too many, however, make the church into a fish market, just another building to meet friends and family. They talk, laugh and disturb those around who are praying.
They do not practise recollection before Mass; spend no time in silence or prayer. They no longer genuflect when entering the church or when they reach their pew. They are disconnected.
Unfortunately, with little readiness to listen to the Word and partake in the sacred mysteries, this disconnect often spills over into their participation in Mass.
It is not that a majority of Catholics behave this way, but too many in the pew do not display an awareness of the sacred space as they enter the church and participate in the celebration of the Eucharist.
A culture of disrespect
Recently, to my astonishment, a mature woman at Mass came up for Communion with her phone in hand. I said, “Body of Christ”, expecting her to open her mouth. She raised her phone! She was recording the event. Phone in hand, fumbling and distracted, she then opened her mouth. I said to her: “It is either Jesus or the phone.”
Somewhat confused, she put the phone away. The woman was oblivious to the breach of devotion and extremely poor example she was setting by her action. While sitting in the pew, she was more caught up with the recording than the event in which she was participating. Ultimately her actions showed gross disrespect for the Eucharist, the community, and the priest.
This culture of disrespect, so prevalent in our country, is slipping into church. Our culture of disrespect for God, the church and the Eucharist mirrors our disrespect for one another on a daily basis. The two are deeply connected.
St John says: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar; for whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
I have had people come up for Communion chewing gum. I simply blessed them! Then, there are the grabbers. those who put one hand over the other in the wrong way (dominant hand is supposed to be below) and use their dominant hand to pluck the Eucharist from the priest’s hand in mid-air. You cannot grab God! You cannot have God on your terms! God can only be had on God’s terms that is why we receive Communion.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) tells us, “When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence …”, 160. This bodily gesture of reverence helps us bring to mind the sacredness of the moment.
Communion can be received either in the hand or in the mouth, at the discretion of the communicant (cf GIRM 160,161). There may be a good reason, however, on certain occasions (e.g. an outdoor Mass with wind blowing) for particular instructions to be given on how Communion is to be received.
The way in which Communion is received on the tongue needs improvement in many cases. Some stick their tongues so far out the Host is in danger of falling out of their mouths, or they lick the fingers of the minister. Others close their mouths too quickly, snapping at the minister’s fingers.
Most of us have been receiving Communion for so long the practice is now in unconscious mode. It is as when a driver sits behind the wheel: most actions are performed unconsciously. We need to become conscious about how we are receiving Communion, for each time we receive the Eucharist is special.
We show an occasion is special by how we dress. I am not suggesting we dress for Mass as if we were attending a wedding or graduation, but neither should we dress as if we were going to the beach or corner shop.
What we wear communicates to others, and to ourselves as well, the importance of, or reason for, our activity. I am sure many will recognise a difference in awareness and how we walk, depending on our footwear (e.g., slippers or high heels, formal or casual).
Our reverence for the gift of Communion in the body and blood of Jesus should also be shown in our procession to the minister, and how we receive Communion. The procession should be orderly, and we should be attentive to what we are doing. After all, this line is not for fast food or to a cashier—this is for an encounter with Christ. We come with great reverence.
The Eucharist is our most precious gift! What a wonderful gift we are given in this holy encounter. May we never lose our reverence and awe for the gift of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine. There are many ways the Lord comes to us but none as precious as in Holy Communion. What a gift!