Question: Our archdiocese has decided that all receiving Communion should remain standing until all have completed receiving. The rationale is a sign of unity. However, this does not seem very worship-like, and though we are permitted to be seated after the celebrant is seated, very little time is given for prayer. I’ve chosen not to remain standing but to observe the traditional practice of returning to my pew and kneeling in prayer. Am I being disobedient?
— Name withheld, Lakewood, Wash.
Answer: The instructions in the missal are silent regarding the posture of the faithful during the Communion Rite, though after the rite they may sit or kneel during the silence (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 43). A bishop does have some authority to establish norms that do not violate universal norms. However, the norm you have articulated does present a few practical issues. Most notably, it would seem that the elderly, and others with issues of physical stamina, might find it difficult to stand for so long. Also, as you point out, it does make prayer difficult at a time that is often very precious to people for a quiet moment with the Lord. Given the rather hurried nature of most American liturgies, it seems unlikely that significant time will be reserved after all are seated for quiet prayer.
Given that the local bishop does have the authority to request certain norms to be observed, I might encourage you to strive to listen to what he’s teaching. Perhaps there is an issue in the local Church he is trying to address. In terms of answering your question in an absolutely legal sense, while not a canonist, I suspect that this norm should be interpreted in the same way that the norm for receiving Communion standing in this country is interpreted. While the norm requests, for the sake of unity, the faithful receive Communion standing, an exception is to be made for those who strongly prefer to receive kneeling (GIRM, No. 160). So it seems allowance needs to be made for the faithful who strongly prefer kneeling in silent prayer.
As in all things, balance is required in understanding the nature of Holy Mass. Mass is essentially the communal act of Christ with all his people, not essentially a private devotion. However, times of silent prayer are often mentioned in the general norms. But frankly, with the hurried modern Masses, periods of silent reflection are often nonexistent. In this sense, your concerns are understandable. I encourage you to stay in communion with your bishop and to continue to raise your concerns.
Question: If I miss Mass for no good reason, may I receive Communion when I do go, even if I didn’t get to confession?
— Name withheld, Ballwin, Md.
Answer: No, you ought first go to confession. The catechism, in conformity with ancient teaching about the necessity of attending Mass says, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin” (No. 2181). Hence you ought to go to confession first. There are some reasons that one might miss Mass that are legitimate, such as serious illness, the care of the sick or a lack of capacity due to weather or distance. But one should consult with his or her pastor or confessor and seek solutions.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.