Sunday, 19 January 2014
Altar Rails, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury
We just heard one of the most memorable lines in the Gospels, a line so significant that the Church has the priest repeat it in every Mass, saying as he holds the Eucharistic host for the congregation to see, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
St John the Baptist recognised the Lord when He came. But, as we know, many did not recognise Him. Ultimately, those who didn’t recognise Him had Him crucified.
For ourselves, thinking of the Eucharist, it’s important to ask ourselves, again and again, “How FULLY do I recognise the Lord here?”
Let me quote from a book I recently read by Bishop Schneider, that takes a similar line in the Gospels: After the death of the Lord the disciples went back to fishing on the Sea of Galilee. The Risen Lord appeared there on the lakeside, and when one of them saw Him and recognised Him, he cried out, “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7)
In our reception of Holy Communion we need to always strive to foster within ourselves those things that enable us, too, to look at the host, look at the One we are to receive, and not see not a thing but a person, not bread but the One who is ‘The LIVING Bread come down from heaven”(Jn 6:51), enabling us to say, “It is the Lord!”
Often we can find ourselves thinking instead of the Sunday lunch, or of the hymn book you’re holding, or the coat of the person in front of you. You get to the front and suddenly the host is thrust at you by the priest, and you’ve barely had a chance to think about it at all.
So, How do we better focus?
Well, as I reminded you at Corpus Christi, we are called upon to make “an act of reverence” (GIRM 160) before receiving Holy Communion –this helps us focus.
But, as of today, I’d like to change the processional movement of the congregation, to do on a Sunday what we’ve been experimenting with for some months on weekdays, namely, to have you line up along the altar rail, and have me come to you along the rail.
This will mean:
(1) You have an additional choice, namely, whether to stand or kneel (a choice the GIRM of 2002AD explicitly mentions). Now I know that some of you are bound to not want this change, so let me point out that this is giving people a choice, so even if you don’t want this choice yourself, there are other people who do want this choice, who are very excited about having this choice –a choice they haven't had until today. Feel totally free to stand or kneel, as you prefer, whichever you find helps you better focus of the fact that it is the Lord God Almighty coming to you. Judging from what has happened elsewhere when this has been introduced, I expect half of us to do one, and half to do the other –so none of us should feel a need to conform to what others are doing. (If you kneel, there is no need to make a further act of reverence by bowing your head.)
(2) You will have a moment to pause and focus your thoughts, as you wait for the priest or deacon to come to you. At weekday Masses people have said that this is very helpful. Talking to another priest just last night, who introduced this in his parish previously, he too said that actually this was by the far the biggest change –the pause it gives you before receiving Holy Communion.
(3) The whole process will be speeded up (ironically, despite you have more time to pause individually) because the slowest delay in distributing Holy Communion previously was the movement of the congregation. (Though I’m sure there will be an initial period where it all feels a little unsure, and slow, and confusing.)
Back to where I began, the general problem in our lives of needing to recognise the Lord. There was a wonderful JOY that we can detect in those declarations in the Gospels when individuals recognised Him. When we, too, recognise the One our hearts are built to yearn for, the One who satisfies the weary heart, the Lamb of sacrifice who takes away our sins, the food of the eternal heavenly banquet that fills us –when we, and as often as we, truly recognise Him, then we too are filled with joy: “it is the Lord!”