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At St. Peter’s Basilica on November 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI distributes Holy Communion on the tongue to the kneeling faithful.

July 21, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — On July 19, Fr. Longenecker tweeted the following:

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He begins by setting up an alternative: “Which is better?” It may turn out that neither option is good, as if one were to say: “Which is better? Dying by cyanide or dying by firing squad?”

When he sets up as the first alternative “to receive communion reverently and humbly standing,” he begs the question at issue. Is not the entire debate about the question of whether it is possible for Roman Catholics to receive reverently and humbly if they receive standing and in the hand? (This is not the place to bring in various Eastern Catholic practices; these, in any case, could never be confused with the postconciliar manner in which communion is given in most Novus Ordo parishes.)

Having begged the question, Fr. Longenecker sets up the other alternative, which is a classic caricature, custom-made to prove his point: the Catholic who, with self-righteousness, thinks himself better than others because he receives kneeling and on the tongue. Well, naturally, we’d prefer anyone to such a person, wouldn’t we? It’s like asking, “Do you prefer the kindly Muslim or the axe-murdering Christian?”

But what of all those Catholics, surely not few in number, who want to receive kneeling and on the tongue because it is more conducive to actual devotion? Who humble themselves physically to help them bear in mind the One who is feeding us — or rather, the One with whom we are being fed? Who are not afraid to look odd by lowering themselves or to stand out by not standing up, precisely because they are more concerned with the invisible Lord than with His visible agents? We’re talking, in other words, about the kind of Catholics who attend Fr. Longenecker’s parish, where communion kneeling and on the tongue predominates.

The real question of the day should be framed as follows: “Which is better? To receive Communion in a posture dictated by a millennium of exclusive use — a posture that manifestly suggests our creaturely status and our identity as children before God? Or to receive Communion in a posture re-introduced by liturgical experimenters and more or less flagrant Eucharistic heretics in the 1960s, on the basis either of pseudo-antiquarianism or hyper-modern assumptions about what ‘Christian maturity’ should look like?” The benefit of putting the question this way is that it avoids trying to peek inside people’s hearts, which are notoriously hard to read.

Martin Mosebach is the modern author who has seen with the greatest clarity the meaning of the change from Communion kneeling to Communion standing. Here is how he describes it in The Heresy of Formlessness:

Kneeling was medieval, they said. The early Christians prayed standing. Standing signifies the resurrected Christ, they said; it is the most appropriate attitude for a Christian. The early Christians are also supposed to have received Communion in their hands. What is irreverent about the faithful making their hands into a “throne” for the Host? I grant that the people who tell me such things are absolutely serious about it all. But it becomes very clear that pastors of souls are incredibly remote from the world in these matters; academic arguments are completely useless in questions of liturgy. These scholars are always concerned only about the historical side of the substance of faith and of the forms of devotion. If, however, we think correctly and historically, we should realize that what is an expression of veneration in one period can be an expression of blasphemy in another. If people who have been kneeling for a thousand years suddenly get to their feet, they do not think, “We’re doing this like the early Christians, who stood for the Consecration”; they are not aware of returning to some particularly authentic form of worship. They simply get up, brush the dust from their trouser-legs and say to themselves: “So it wasn’t such a serious business after all.” Everything that takes place in celebrations of this kind implies the same thing: “It wasn’t all that serious after all.” Under such circumstances, anthropologically speaking, it is quite impossible for faith in the presence of Christ in the Sacrament to have any deeper spiritual significance, even if the Church continues to proclaim it and even if the participants of such celebrations go so far as to affirm it explicitly. (14–15)

In contrast stands (if we may put it thus) the wisdom of Benedict XVI, who said on May 22, 2008: “Kneeling in adoration before the Eucharist is the most valid and radical remedy against the idolatries of yesterday and today.” This observation is not limited to times set aside for “Eucharistic Adoration,” where the Host is placed in a monstrance. Kneeling is the appropriate response to the Real Presence of the Lord. This is why we kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer, in which the miracle of transubstantiation takes place; this is why we kneel for the most intimate moment of Communion, because — like the Magi, like Jairus, like Mary of Bethany — we know who it is into whose presence we have come. We have come to adore, to receive, to abide, and to love.

Fr. Longenecker himself knows all this. He knows it well, for he writes in his latest book, Letters on Liturgy (Angelico Press, 2020):

One of the most instrumental factors in developing reverence at Mass is how we receive communion. While the faithful can certainly be reverent in receiving communion in the hand while standing, no one can disagree that receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling is more reverent. Why is this? Firstly, because kneeling in our Western culture is an intrinsic act of devotion, homage, and worship. This is true no matter what the context. Knights kneel to receive their knighthood from the Queen. Bride and groom kneel to receive a nuptial blessing. To receive communion on the tongue is a sign of belief in the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharistic host, because a sign that you are intent not to profane the Body of Christ by dropping it or soiling it in any way. (p. 51; cf. p. 118)

Equipped with this knowledge, Fr. Longenecker should publicly support Catholics who wish to honor their Lord and God with all their heart, soul, mind, and bodily strength, in the midst of a Church whose own leaders often seem hell-bent against allowing it to happen.

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.

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