Recently Queen Elizabeth II of England celebrated her diamond jubilee. That’s over 60 years as the Queen of England. She is one of the longest running British Monarchs in history. So it was a big deal in England. There were all kinds of events to mark the celebration. Maybe you saw some of it on TV or read about it in the paper? There was a giant procession down the Thames River with the Queen joined by over a thousand boats. Millions of people gathered on the riverbank to cheer for her. In the evening there was even a concert which included performances by Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John, as well as Stevie Wonder, and an appearance by the pop musician Will.I.Am who is a member of the band the Black Eyed Peas. Will.I.Am., who is famous for tweeting during important events, almost made a huge mistake by appearing with his cell phone before the Queen. This is a breech of protocol and etiquette. It is a major faux paux. And it got me to thinking, “What if I ever had the chance to meet the Queen? What would I need to know so that I wouldn’t offend Her Majesty?”
So I looked it up on the internet, and here’s what I found:
- Don’t speak unless spoken to.
- When addressing the Queen, say “Your Majesty”.
- Women should curtsey; Men should bow their heads.
- If the Queen offers you her hand, a slight touch is sufficient, you don’t need to squeeze her hand or shake it profusely.
- Allow the Queen to leave the room first.
- Never turn your back on the Queen.
- During meals, the Queen eats first and everyone stops eating when she stops.
- Eat what is served and do not request any more or less.
- Do not get up from the table, unless it is to go to the bathroom, and even then it is better to cross your legs and wait.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. As Catholics we believe that the bread and wine offered at Mass, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We say that it has been transubstantiated. That means that the substance of the bread and wine has been changed even through the accidents, or the appearances, of bread and wine remain. This is technical language. But what it means for us as Catholics is that Holy Communion is not ordinary bread and wine, nor is it merely a symbolic offering, but it actually, really and truly is the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Now whereas we may never meet Queen Elizabeth II, As Catholics we believe that every Sunday, we receive the Lord Jesus Christ himself in Holy Communion. And so that makes me think, “What kind of protocols should we follow? How should we come to Mass? What should we do when we receive Communion, so as not to offend the Lord, or look foolish, or cause scandal?”
For me, there are two fundamental principles we should keep in mind. They are the same principles that govern how we should act around Queen Elizabeth II or any royalty for that matter. The first is that we should recognize and respect the dignity of the one we are encountering. Going to Mass is not like going over to a friend’s house to watch a football game. Nor is it is like going grocery shopping, or running an errand. When we come to Mass we should be prepared to encounter Jesus, King of King, Lord of Lord, Maker of the Universe, God of all. And we ought to behave in a manner that reflects this reality.
Second, in this country we tend to act as if we are entitled to things. But think of Queen Elizabeth II, no one places demands on her. She is sovereign. If you were to meet her, it would be a gift. Same with Our Lord. He is Sovereign. He is the Creator of the Universe. What claim do we have on Him? Of what can we say we are “entitled”? If He should come to us, even under the appearance of Bread and Wine, then it is a gift. Never think for a moment that you are entitled or deserving of Communion. You are not. But because the Lord gives us His Body and Blood, the proper attitude therefore should be humility and thankfulness.
So just as there are protocols for meeting the Queen of England, here are some practical guidelines for receiving Christ, Our King, in Holy Communion:
You should prepare yourself for Mass: What you wear is important. You wouldn’t meet the Queen of England wearing street clothes or dressed for the beach. The ancient Church saw the Mass as the “Wedding Feast of the Lamb”. A bride wouldn’t go to a wedding dressed in sweatpants.
You should prepare yourself for Mass: Not just on the outside but also on the inside. If you are aware of any serious sins, go to confession.
Because you are to receive heavenly food, you should fast for at least 1 hour from regular food and drink before receiving Communion. Now, we don’t want people dying before Mass, so of course, you are allowed to take medication and drink water. But you shouldn’t stop by Dunkin Donuts on the way to Sunday Mass.
When you receive Communion, you are receiving the Lord Jesus himself. Therefore when you first approach the host or the cup, you should make a slight bow of the head.
When you receive Communion, you do not take the host; you do not grab the host; you humbly receive the host: either in the hand or on the tongue. If you are going to receive on the tongue, open your mouth and present your tongue, so that the priest knows you wish to receive that way, and so that he can easily give you communion. If you are going to receive communion in the hand, do it reverently, and with care so as not to drop the host. Use both hands. One hand placed under the other. St. Cyril of Jerusalem spoke of making a throne with your hands to receive the Lord. If you cannot use both hands, because you are carrying something, or someone, then receive on the tongue.
If you receive communion in the hand, consume the host immediately. Do not walk away with it. Do not take it back to your seat. Carefully and reverently place the host in your mouth.
If you have children, or are a guardian or caretaker, or you brought someone to Mass as a guest, then you are responsible for them at Communion time. It is your duty to prepare them and make sure they know what they are doing. It is the custom in our parish that people should cross their arms to signify they are not intending to receive communion. Parents, it is your responsibility to teach this to your children before Mass and to supervise them during Communion.
Finally, since we RECEIVE and not TAKE Communion, since we should receive Communion, not with a sense of entitlement, but in a spirit of humility and thankfulness, then it is appropriate after Communion to make an act of thanksgiving. If you just received the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, you SHOULD be in a hurry In hurry to get to the Chickadee? To the all you can eat Asian buffet? No. You should be in a hurry to either get down on your knees in thanksgiving for the gift you have received, or you should be in a hurry to fulfill your mission as Christians by following the Lord Jesus is selfless love. If these aren’t your aims, and it isn’t a medical emergency, then don’t be in such a hurry to leave Mass before the closing prayer.
So these are just a few thoughts on the Feast of Corpus Christi about receiving Holy Communion. One final thought, if I met Queen Elizabeth II, I think it would be a significant moment in my life. I think I’d want to tell other people about it. I think it would change my life. How much more so should the encounter with Jesus, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, change our lives? The Eucharist is often called the Sacrament of Charity. If you have received Communion in the past, has it changed you? Are you more charitable? Are you more faithful? My brothers and sisters, let us recommit ourselves this day to receiving the gift of Holy Communion reverently and fruitfully. May our lives be changed, may our lives bear fruit, and may our lives bear witnesses to the greatness of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.