Awe at transcendence

St. John Chrysostom on Holy Communion:

“Let us not, I beg you, slay ourselves by our irreverence, but with awe and purity draw near to it; and when you see it set before you, say to yourself: ‘Because of this Body am I no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, to converse with Christ’.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Tom in NY says:

    Don’t forget to spot St.John’s window tomorrow night — one of the few in Latin churches. It’s first on the left in the clerestory, as you face “ad orientem.” The only other one I’ve seen is at a Greek orthodox congregation.


  2. Jason says:

    I love this prayer in the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

    O Lord, I believe and profess that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the World to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal Your mysteries to our enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief will I confess to You.

  3. And still we routinely recieve Him in our hand, standing, after the most minimal of fasts, all the while being assured by the bishops that it is best…

  4. My mother is Byzantine. I love the Divine Liturgy.

    “…for I will not reveal Your mysteries to our enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas…” Always loved that line, as well.

    My favorite aspect of their mass is the constant references for the Virgin Mary. Also, the greatest aspect of the Byzantine rite is that you receive Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation all at the same time. Now, I feel as though Roman children are denied the Body of Christ when they should be receiving it.

  5. Deusdonat says:

    Christopher, that is my favourite line in the liturgy as well : )

    There is definitely a disconnect between east and west regarding the sacraments administered to the infants. I can see it from both sides. What I think is sad is that in the Eastern churches, it is prevalent for ONLY children and clergy (save the odd octogenarian) to recieve communion. I know that is not necessarily the case in the US (where everyone receives) but it is definitely the case (and has been) for centuries on a global level.

  6. “…it is prevalent for ONLY children and clergy (save the odd octogenarian) to recieve communion. I know that is not necessarily the case in the US (where everyone receives) but it is definitely the case (and has been) for centuries on a global level….”

    Hmmm, never heard that before. Interesting.

  7. Jason says:

    What I think is sad is that in the Eastern churches, it is prevalent for ONLY children and clergy (save the odd octogenarian) to recieve communion.

    Wasn’t this the situation in the West as well until relatively modern times?

  8. Jason says:

    I found an entry on frequent communion in the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

    It should be noted that in the early Church and in the patristic ages, the faithful communicated, or at any rate were expected to communicate, as often as the Holy Eucharist was celebrated (St. John Chrysostom loc. cit.; Apostolic canons, X; St. Gregory the Great, Dial. II, 23).

    Strange to say, it was in the Middle Ages, “the Ages of Faith”, that Communion was less frequent than at any other period of the Church’s history. The Fourth Lateran Council compelled the faithful, under pain of excommunication, to receive at least once a year (c. Omnis utriusque sexus). The Poor Clares, by rule, communicated six times a year; the Dominicanesses, fifteen times; the Third Order of St. Dominic, four times. Even saints received rarely: St. Louis six times a year, St. Elizabeth only three times. The teaching of the great theologians, however, was all on the side of frequent, and to some extent daily, Communion [Peter Lombard, IV Sent., dist. xii, n. 8; St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, Q. lxxx, a. 10; St. Bonaventure, In IV Sent., dist. xii, punct. ii, a. 2, q. 2; see Dalgairns, “The Holy Communion” (Dublin) part III, chap. i]. Various reformers, Tauler, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Vincent Ferrer, and Savonarola, advocated, and in many instances brought about, a return to frequent reception. The Council of Trent expressed a wish “that at each Mass the faithful who are present, should communicate” (Sess. XXII, chap. vi). And the Catechism of the council says: “Let not the faithful deem it enough to receive the Body of the Lord once a year only; but let them judge that Communion ought to be more frequent; but whether it be more expedient that it should be monthly, weekly, or daily, can be decided by no fixed universal rule” (pt. II, c. iv, n. 58). As might be expected, the disciples of St. Ignatius and St. Philip carried on the work of advocating frequent Communion. With the revival of this practice came the renewal of the discussion as to the advisability of daily Communion. While all in theory admitted that daily reception was good they differed as to the conditions required.

    The older and better tradition was, however, preserved by some writers and preachers, notably Fénelon and St. Alphonsus, and, with the spread of devotion to the Sacred Heart, it gradually became once more the rule. Difficulty, however, was raised regarding daily Communion. This practice, too, was warmly recommended by Pius IX and Leo XIII, and finally received official approval from Pius X.

  9. Paul says:

    I have been enjoying this blog for several months now – thank you!

    If it isn’t inappropriate I’d like to seek all of your advice.

    I’m going to be in Santa Rosa, CA for a week (down from Edmonton, AB) and was wondering where I could find a mass that is properly and beautifully celebrated (and if I can have all my druthers, in a beautiful church).

    Thanks and God bless,

  10. Quanah says:

    “And still we routinely receive Him in our hand…”

    I am not an advocate of receiving by hand; in fact, I refuse to do so. I did find it interesting, however, that in one of St. John’s catechetical instructions on Communion he only made reference to receiving by hand and said nothing about receiving on the tongue.

  11. Deusdonat says:

    Hello Paul,

    Welcome to CA. You will be about 40 mins drive away from Holy Rosary Chapel. Unfortunately, this is the closest Tridentine Latin mass in the area.

    Christopher – here in the US as I said, there is really no difference between Latin or Eastern Catholic numbers for communion. In the Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, OCA and ACA it’s also pretty much the same as the Catholic churches at this point. I would say the most traditional and “hard core” Orthodox churches are the Ethiopian, Syrian and Russian, which still give you grief if you are an adult and try to receive. If you are an “out of towner” and try to receive without first approaching the priest before the liturgy (a near impossibility) then you will no doubt be stopped and interrogated at the communion line with puzzling expressions such as “are you sick? why do you want to receive communion? we didn’t see you at confession.” etc. It’s just not a common thing to receive communion as an adult (nor is it common to have a desire to do so unless you are part of the clergy or dying).

    Back to the Catholic side, there is evidence showing that it there is not just one scenario: full on bum-rush for communion or a negligent trickle. I believe as with most of “Catholic culture” that it all varied on the times and geographies in question. I can only say that annectodally in Latin countries it was a given that Everyone would receive at least once a year (usually at Easter), but women, particularly married and widowed, would receive daily if not weekly. So, in this sense, the post-Vatican II culture actually decreased the number of communicants among a certain segment of the population.

  12. Nick says:

    The Eastern Orthodox approach the reception of Holy Communion only after serious preparation. This includes 1) Confession, 2) fasting (from meat, eggs, dairy products and olive oil three days to a week prior; which for married people would also include fasting from marital relations), 3) attendance at the vespers the preceding evening if at all possible and 4) private preparatory preCommunion prayers. This is rather rigorous and weekly or daily Communion is rare especially during our hectic times. The priest has the ability to relax some of the requirements as in the case of an ill person. Babies obviously can’t fast but they receive Holy Communion immediately after they are Baptized. In a parish church or monastery the priest or priests would know who had been to Confession and those who had not would be questioned if they approached the chalice. It is true that in the United States a more nonchalant approach is sometimes encountered but this may be due in part to the influence of relatively recent western practices. I believe it was Pius X who initiated frequent Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

    It may be of interest to point out that at an Orthodox priest’s ordination the bishop places Holy Communion into the newly ordained priest’s hands and exhorts him to be a good custodian of the Eucharist because he (the priest) must give an account at the Last Judgement for every particle. Consequently Orthodox priests are generally very careful how and to whom they give Holy Communion.

  13. Deusdonat says:

    Nick – great explanation, thanks! Although I would add that the requirements for taking communion you mention really do vary from church to church (i.e. the Cotps, Ethiopians, Armenians etc do not require you to fast from the foods you mention, which once again vary, unless you are in a fasting season, but you are still required to fast the midnight before you receive communion). And as I mentioned, the GOC here in the US seems to simply give it out at will. Maybe it’s because their churches tend to be larger and more “mainstream” (same with ACA and OCA as I mentioned).

    Also, it is quite obvious that Vatican II had a profound effect on the Orthodox churches as well. There are very few churches (outside the Ethiopan and Syriac) that I have ever been to where a) the women always keep their heads covered and b) the men and women are still separated in the congregation (only here I will also add ROCOR and Old Beleivers to the list).

  14. Nick says:

    Deusdonat, you are welcome.

    The churches in the United States of the Ecumenical Patriarchate seldom if ever have Confession, in fact many people have never been to Confession in their lives. Their priests are too often preoccupied with fund raising and insuring popularity in their parishes since they are employees. Penances in confession do not insure happy customers. Consequently they have mimicked the Roman Catholic Church where everyone is presumed responsible enough to approach Communion. Sadly, sometimes receiving Holy Communion devolves into something akin to a popular sacred hors d’oeuvre or concern for what other people will think if one does not receive. It must be said that this is not the case in their monasteries and convents.

    America Americanizes/Protestantizes more or less all religious groups who settle here. That is one reason why Orthodox Churches in the United States often have pews which is not the case in “Orthodox” countries. It is difficult to separate the sexes in pews when families group together. It is impossible to make prostrations in pews. It is interesting that in the Orthodox Church women traditionally cover their heads in church. See the Holy Apostle Paul. However, if one visits churches in Greece today scarcely any woman has her head covered. Why? This was not the case for centuries. The reason is that since Greece freed herself from the Ottoman Empire there was the mistaken impression that covering women’s heads was an Islamic custom and there was a reaction against it. In actuality the Moslems adapted their sense of modesty from the Christian peoples they conquered. Look at any icon of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the example especially for all women. One never sees her hair. Feminism certainly has influenced the world, and, in my opinion, adversely when the notion of “subjugation” is carted out to justify women’s bare heads in church.

  15. Christabel says:

    I\’ve just read Fr Z\’s entry for today, and the quotations from St John Chrysostom, and had an unworthy-wobble. Does anyone else get these? One of those moments when it all really sinks in and the real awe-fulness of what we are invited to do at Holy Communion – INVITED believe it or not! – hits me like a ton of bricks.

    When waiting in line for Holy Communion I\’ve developed the habit of repeating to myself \”Approaching the Throne of Grace … Approaching the Throne of Grace\”. Don\’t know when or why I started doing it, or where I picked up that phrase. To be honest, sometimes it\’s really frightening.

    I hope no-one minds me sharing this. It\’s just that now and then I really do have a cold blast of how truly unworthy I am to invite the Lord as my guest, however well thought of I am in the world, which is all a sham that people generally seem not able to see past. And I know that you will all understand.

  16. Dave says:

    Christabel, that would be Hebrews 4:16

  17. jaykay says:

    Christabel: nice post. Yes, I also get that feeling. Maybe a throwback (but a good one) to how we were prepared for Communion.

    At school in the mid-60s, as preparation for Holy Communion we were told by the nuns to recite the Act of Contrition silently before leaving the seat and then to repeat constantly on the way to the altar rail, also silently (and with eyes turned down – they were VERY BIG on that!) the “Domine non sum dignus”, which in those days over here was in the form: “Lord I am not worthy to receive thee under my roof but only say the word and my sould shall be healed”. For the prayer after communion they taught us a slightly simplified version of the “En ego…” (Behold, O good and most sweet Jesus, I cast myself upon my knees in thy sight…”). All this for 7-year old kids, which would probably be considered unthinkable nowadays – unfortunately. But it achieved its intended effect of instilling reverence, and over 40 years later I’ve never forgotten it, and still do it.

  18. What happened to awe and reverence?Destroyed by the false democratization in the church.Every one is equal.includingn God who is our friend instead of Kyrios.Thus any special deference to a Bishop or priest in the celebration of mass is frwoned upon -hence the aversion to the TLM.I remenber reading a work by Romano Guardini,one of the leaders of the liturgical movement in which he urged families going to mass to keep silence as they went to church thus connecting silnce with the echaristic fast.If the church is be effective she must stand out by discarding the rags of the last 40years.Benedist is on the way to doing this.Great news that the Divine name no longer can be sung or pronounced!One big step is retoring awe reverence. I believe many more Jews were deeply shocked and offended by the casual use of the Divine name than were those offender by the Good Friday prayers.

  19. The actual Russian practice for receiving Communion is to fast from midnight, confession of sins within one week prior to receiving, the prayers of preparation and going to at least Vespers the night before. But most importantly to reflect on whether one has a bad disposition to his neighbor, go and be reconciled and then approach Holy Communion with fear and trembling for”it is a Fire which consumes sin, but enlivens those who are repentant.”

  20. I greet all of you who love the Feast of the Mother God which many are celebrating today. May her holy Dormition and glorious Assumption fill your hearts with hope, joy, and gladness. May we sing her praises all the days of our lives/

  21. Will says:

    One of the newer parishes in town is offering an EF Mass today, and I’ll be going. It’s been years since I’ve been to the EF, so I dug out my mother’s old St. Andrew’s Missal. Her missal is from 1954, but am I safe in assuming that it will be broadly the same as the 1962 missal that the priest will be using?

  22. Her missal is from 1954, but am I safe in assuming that it will be broadly the same as the 1962 missal that the priest will be using?

    Yes. You likely will not notice any difference whatever.

  23. Coletta says:

    I love St. John Chrysostom. Beautiful.

  24. Chris says:

    still we routinely recieve Him in our hand, standing, after the most minimal of fasts, all the while being assured by the bishops that it is best…
    Comment by Giles Hawkins — 14 August 2008
    Giles, I think this section from the cateches of St Cyril of Jerusalem may help:
    ‘Let us, then, with full confidence, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. For in the figure of bread His Body is given to you, and in the figure of wine His Blood is given to you, so that by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, you might become united in body and blood with Him. For thus do we become Christ-bearers. His Body and Blood being distributed through our members. And thus it is that we become, according to the blessed Peter, sharers of the divine nature’ .
    It was also Cyril who described ‘making our hands a throne for Christ’ as we recieve communion. Far from fostering irreverence this promotes a great sense of reverence. The restoration of communion under both kinds is one of the great blessings of the reform. We need to cherish and promote it, with reverence and love

  25. Henry is right, of course.
    A 1954 Missal would do nicely in order to follow the prayers of a Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Missal.
    But it will contain the second confiteor and absolution before Communion, and it won’t contain the name of St. Joseph in the Canon.
    As for the old liturgical calendar with its Octaves, semi-doubles, etc., they disappeared in the 1955 reforms.

  26. Will says:

    Henry, Peter: Thank you! I knew I could count on the WDTPRS community!

  27. Will says:

    As for the old liturgical calendar with its Octaves, semi-doubles, etc., they disappeared in the 1955 reforms.

    I wondered about those. The heading for today\’s Feast of the Assumption says \”Double of the First Class with an Octave,\” which is all Greek to me. Having grown up with the Novus Ordo, I find the older calendar quite mysterious.

  28. Michael J says:

    There is much debate about whether it was actually St. Cyril who described ” ‘making our hands a throne for Christ’ as we recieve communion”, so I would not bank on it.

  29. MPod says:

    “in our hand” — not necessarily bad in itself, as evidenced by ancient practice (although I’m not sure we’ve really ever been sufficiently catechized on the modern return of this, we simply being told it was okay to do. I myself do not practice this indult);
    “standing” — again, not necessarily bad in itself, as evidenced by ancient practice and the custom of most of the east (my preference certainly being kneeling, although, since I am in the Latin Rite);
    “after the most minimal of fasts” — true enough, but let us encourage a greater devotional fast by example and witness, and non-judgmentally invite others to consider this for themselves (my experience has been that many will respond positively to such a witness and in turn strengthen their own practices);
    “and all the while being assured by the bishops that it is best” — the Holy See, the arbitrer of the Church’s disciplines, granted these practices, and the bishops simply made them possible for the faithful in their various territories (besides, I have never heard a bishop ever preach or teach that we should receive Holy Communion casually, irreverently, or unworthily — the weakness of those who will not discipline their pro-abortion flocks notwithstanding; but this has less to do with posture and fasting and more to do with weakness on the part of the bishop to teach the whole faith, uncompromisingly, and to underscore the implications, both temporal and eternal, of disobeying the teachings of Holy Church).

    Let the faithful strive to build up our brethren through positive example and witness (as required by our baptism), and pray that our “peer pressure” bears the fruits of greater devotion and holiness among those who would “draw near and receive the Body of the Lord” with fear and trembling — not for our own sakes, but for the glory of God.

  30. Paula says:


  31. Chris says:

    Michael J
    Debate where? The accepted text is:
    21. In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King . And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof ; for whatever you lose, is evidently a loss to you as it were from one of your own members. For tell me, if any one gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?

    22. Then after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth your hands, but bending , and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen , hallow yourself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon your lips, touch it with your hands, and hallow your eyes and brow and the other organs of sense . Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who has accounted you worthy of so great mysteries .

    Source. Translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.)

  32. If I were Will, I wouldn’t worry about the old pre-1955 liturgical calendar he found in his old Missal. As Henry said, it doesn’t stop you using this Missal at an “old” Mass. The safest thing is to ignore the intricacies of the pre-1955 calendar. It’s interesting as a historical curiosity, but it’s no longer used. The 1955 calendar lasted only lasted five years, and was replaced in the reign of John XIII with the simplified 1960s calendar. In the 1962 Missal, Feasts are of the 1st, 2nd or 3rd class according to their importance : much easier to understand than the old Doubles and Semi-Doubles. A Feast which was a Double of the First Class with Vigil and Octave was simply a very important Feast. The old Octaves were so numerous, they often overlapped. They were suppressed by Pius XII and replaced with the three “privileged” Octaves of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
    Fr. Z did a very interesting podcast on the history and significance of Octaves. Sorry, I don’t know how to create a link to it. Click onto his PODCAzT page.
    It’s a pity the old Octave of the Assumption was suppressed. Otherwise, we could wish each other a happy feast for 8 days.

  33. Christabel says:

    Peter, let’s be “unsuppressed” and wish each other a happy eight feast days anyway!

    Happy happy happy happy happy happy happy happy Feast of the Assumption of our most Holy and Beloved Mother, and may Her mantle hide you from Satan’s wiles!

  34. Michael J says:

    The late Michael Davies, in his book “Communion in the Hand
    and Similar Frauds” notes that modern scholars are dividided on the authenticity of the attribution of Mystagogical Catecheses to St. Cyril.

    Even if authentic, reviving a 4th century practice with little or no regard for the development of the liturgy (the practice was supressed for a reason) does not strike me as a good idea.

  35. Chris says:

    Pope Benedict is quite clear on their authenticity:

    As for whether it is a good idea to return to communion in the hand this is surely what the Bishops, with the permission of the Pope, have discerned. And, with proper catechesis, it is wonderfully reverent.

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