I’d like to reflect on reverence at Mass.
I know that in our fast-paced, constantly moving society, it can be easy to forget how important it is to show reverence when we come to church on Sundays and holy days. Sometimes, we’re just going through the motions and we often take for granted the most important things. It’s easy to get caught up in our own thoughts and forget that Jesus is right there with us. But if we take a moment to remember that Jesus Christ is in our presence, it can make a world of difference in our lives and in our relationship with him.
First, what is reverence? Reverence is a virtue that inclines us to show honor and respect to God and all things pertaining to God. For example, when we enter a church, we should show reverence. We should be aware of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We should take a moment to remember what this means and why it’s important. We show reverence by our actions, our posture, our behavior, and our dress. But these visible expressions of our reverence must flow from an interior reverence, meaning that we display visible signs of reverence because we are aware in our hearts that we are in the presence of God and in the presence of holy things. The opposite of reverence is irreverence. It would be irreverent, for example, for a young person to be chewing gum while keeping their hands in their pockets and staring off into space during the Holy Mass.
It’s important that we be reverent when we are in church, particularly when we are at Mass, and most especially when it comes time to receive Holy Communion. As Catholics, we can easily take the Holy Eucharist for granted. We can become so accustomed to receiving Holy Communion that we lose our sense of reverence when receiving. While standing in the Communion line we must always keep this truth in mind: we are not receiving simply a piece of bread; we are receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Savior, Jesus Christ!
The way a person receives Holy Communion can be revealing about what that person believes about the Eucharist. If a person is not deeply convinced in their heart that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, then they will lack reverence when receiving the Eucharist. I will always remember the lesson that Sr. Dorothy Sayers, my elementary school principal, taught us before receiving our First Holy Communion. She taught us that a king sits on a throne, and so if we receive Communion in our hands then we ought to make a throne for Jesus. We come with open hands, one hand on top of the other. We elevate our hands in reverence to receive Jesus, our king, and then we reverently place the Eucharist in our mouths. Of course, we also have the option of receiving the Eucharist reverently on the tongue.
There are times when I’m distributing Holy Communion and I find myself becoming a bit sad. Sometimes I’ll see someone reach out and grab the Eucharist like they are plucking an object off the shelf. Or a young person will come to receive with visibly dirty hands, or they will be laughing in line, not paying attention, and then grab at the Eucharist like it’s an object to be taken. This is not a way to receive Holy Communion. We come as beggars to receive Holy Communion, not as people who are taking possession of something. I see this mostly in children and younger people (although we adults can also lack reverence). Parents, I’d ask you to remind your children what a sacred and privileged moment it is to receive Holy Communion. Remind your children to be reverent and show them how to reverently receive Holy Communion, either reverently in the hand (making a throne for Jesus) or reverently on the tongue. And I’d like to invite each of us to reflect on whether we are showing true reverence during the Holy Mass. The Mass is, after all, the most sacred mystery we can participate in on earth.
Image: Thanksgiving Mass Celebrated by Cardinal Arthur Roche. © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk. License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Source: https://flic.kr/p/2nJ3BmL