VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The four dozen people who received Communion from Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ received the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling.
Vatican officials said the gesture at the May 22 Mass outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran does not mark a permanent change in papal liturgies, but highlighted the solemnity of the feast and a connection to Mass practices in the past.
As the pope prepared to distribute Communion, two ushers placed a kneeler in front of the altar on the basilica steps. The chosen communicants -- laypeople, nuns, seminarians, priests and boys and girls who had received their first Communion in their parishes in May -- all knelt and received on the tongue.
Generally at papal Masses, those receiving Communion from the pope stand. The majority choose to receive on the tongue, but some reverently extend cradled hands to receive the Eucharist.
Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, was unavailable for comment.
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Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, told Catholic News Service May 23 "there is no discussion" in the Vatican about insisting that those who receive Communion from the pope do so kneeling or that they receive it on the tongue rather than in their hands.
In addition, he said, "there are no new norms coming" that would change the Vatican's 1969 decision that local bishops could allow their faithful to receive the Eucharist in their hands while standing.
"But the gesture of the Holy Father" at the May 22 Mass "is to be appreciated. It brings out in a better way the fact that we adore the Lord whom we receive" in the Eucharist, Archbishop Ranjith said.
"It was a special occasion" because the feast focuses on Jesus truly present in the Eucharist, he said. "I hope this practice spreads."
In a preface to a January book about the beauty of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling, Archbishop Ranjith had said he thought it was time for the Catholic Church to reconsider its decision to allow the faithful to receive Communion in the hand.
Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, said he did not think the May 22 Mass marked a permanent change; "according to current norms the faithful may receive in the hand while standing," he said.
However, he said, the practice chosen for the special feast day was another example of what Msgr. Marini has said would be the practice at papal Masses, "alternating the old and new to indicate continuity with the past."
In his homily at the Mass, Pope Benedict spoke about the importance of "kneeling before the Lord, adoration that begins at the Mass itself and accompanies the entire (Corpus Christi) procession" through the streets of Rome.
"To adore the body of Christ means to believe that there, in that piece of bread, there really is Christ who gives meaning to our lives," the pope said in his homily.