Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pump Fakes and Finger Licking

When it comes to the distribution of communion, what I've learned to appreciate since becoming a priest is just how varied are the ways in which people receive.

Case in point: We never received on the tongue growing up. Never. Same in my training in the Society. While I was in the pipeline, we all pretty much received by hand. In fact, I can say with almost no doubt that the first time I had to give communion to someone on the tongue was after I became a priest (so, within the last 7 years). I know, I know, I'm incredibly sheltered.

And it was quite a shock to the system, too, let me tell you, that first year or so of giving communion to people on the tongue. I was licked, I was nipped at, and more than once I think I came pretty close to being bitten. You have the open up and say ahhh, tongue extended form, which is probably the most standard, and also the easiest for the e.m., as the tongue provides a pretty clear and obvious landing pad for the host.

As in many things, Mother Teresa provides a good example.

Then there's the open up and say ah without extending tongue, which can be, umm, dicey. Your fingers go much farther into the mouth than I would like, and it's pretty common (and pretty gross) to get licked.

St. Ignatius doesn't care if this joker is a saint or not. He needs to open his mouth and stick out his tongue, before everyone gets sick. (Although it looks like many already are, doesn't it?)

And then there's the bite downers, who sort of clamp down with their teeth on the host once it's near their mouth. I always wonder, how do those people end up getting the host fully into their mouth? Do they just open and let it fall in -- that's sort of what I expect, maybe with the tongue helping out. But for a novice like myself, it looks a little dicey. I wonder if it ever happens that someone doing this ends up dropping the host on the ground.

Sister, you're working with the Pope here. Please, DO NOT bite his thumb. Lift your head a little and we'll be good.

You'd think the gesture for receiving by hand would be more standard. What's there to do but put out your hands, right? But nope, here, too, there's great variety. Probably the standard is to step up with both hands out, cupped facing upwards. Some -- just men, as far as I've seen it -- will extend only one hand, with the other resting on its forearm. And others bring their hands down into position from their chest only after they've stepped up. That one's a little more dramatic, but still, it's pretty clear when and where to place the host.

Right in the pocket.

Unlike those who do not extend their hands at all. For me, no hands extended means that they're going to receive on the tongue. But I'd say about half the time, that's not the case. Instead, once they've said Amen, they reach out and grab the host with a thumb and index finger -- usually as I beginning to move it toward their mouth (which generally does not make them happy). To me, this approach always seems a little weird. My own prejudice is that the host is not something you're supposed to take. It's something that's given to you. You're supposed to receive it, not reach out for it.

But having said that, I'd love to hear their sense of what they're doing. In fact, with all these different methods, I'd love to know who taught them that and how they understand it. It's so interesting.

It's also true that my own gestures as a eucharistic minister can be puzzling to some people, too. Generally, here's what I do: I take a host, lift it up to somewhere between the recipient's hands and eye level, and say "The Body of Christ". My thought is, you raise it up because it's the body of Christ, but you keep it not too high because you want them to feel free to choose to receive on the tongue or by hand. But I suspect my "neutral" is sometimes too high, because, seeing me raise the host up, some people will then drop their hands and open their mouths. As though I was giving them a not too subtle hint, let's do this right, bub. No communion in the hand for you.

I don't care if your hands are out or not. Open up, 'cuz Jesus is coming in!

I will say this -- I definitely try not to speak too slow or to take the host and press it -- really press it -- into the recipient's hands. Have you ever had someone do that, with that sort of heightened, uber-meaningful intentionality, as if to say, I'm going to do this really really slow so that you realize just how important this moment is. I've certainly heard other people complain about it, and I guess I've had it happen, too -- only with priests. And it always sort of freaks me out. Instead of entering more deeply into the moment, I find myself wondering, how long is he going to keep his finger pushing into my palm? And God, please, when he is going to stop looking at me?

I get the sentiment, it's generally a good sentiment (although it does sort of assume I won't appreciate the moment without him slathering on the portentousness). But if you ask me, it can a bit too, I don't know, "Look into my eyes."

But undoubtedly there's someone out there (many someones) with a story about this priest who pretty much tried to force feed them the host, too. So, glass houses, stones....bygones!

If you're interested in reflecting a bit more deeply on all this, Creighton University has a nice little meditation on the gestures we use when receiving communion. Their piece is aimed at reception by the hand, but I think the process they use and the questions they ask could be modified to those receiving on the tongue, too. Check it out!