Q: I am a priest in the third month of a new assignment. I am finding, in my new assignment, a significant number of laypeople who receive Holy Communion on the tongue without responding “Amen” when I offer Communion, saying “The Body of Christ.” I have come to say “Amen” for them, and that prompts some of these lay faithful to respond, but many simply present their tongues.
I note that Rubric 134 of the Missal instructs the priest to show the host to the communicant saying “The Body of Christ” with the communicant responding “Amen.” The 1980 CDWDS document Inæstimabile Donum (№ 11), notes that “The Amen said by the faithful when receiving Communion is an act of personal faith in the presence of Christ.”
I understand that a recent previous pastor has inculcated a distrust in the liturgical reforms following the Council, and frequently celebrated Mass with the 1962 Missal (formerly, the “Extraordinary Form”) before Traditionis Custodes). My understanding is that in the 1962 Missal, the communicant did not respond “Amen” when receiving Communion. I suspect that: either these communicants have become so used to Mass with the 1962 Missal that they do not know to respond “Amen,” or that they are actively choosing to participate in Communion as if I were celebrating the 1962 Mass.
I am inclined to offer some catechesis on this which is likely to touch on broader questions of “full and active participation.” What catechetical tools would you recommend? Also, what would you say is my obligation to communicants who refuse to say “Amen,” even when prompted? Thank you, as always, for your insight.
A: I lived through the liturgical changes, so I remember being instructed to respond “Amen” when receiving communion when I was a teenager. We had not done it before. I don’t remember any pushback on it. It seemed like a welcome act of faith.
I treated this dialogue in my book At the Supper of the Lamb. It can be found in such important fourth-century sources as the Apostolic Constitutions and the writings of Saints Ambrose and Augustine. Ambrose wrote of this Amen, “What the tongue confesses, the heart holds.” Augustine gave an explicit instruction, “For you hear ‘the Body of Christ,’ and you respond, ‘Amen.’ Be a member of the body of Christ, so that your ‘Amen’ may be true.” Pope Saint Paul VI, who as the former archbishop of Milan was familiar with the formula from the Ambrosian Rite, brought it into the Roman Rite.
To address your situation pastorally, there are several options: You could provide catechesis in the bulletin. You could preach about the dialogue some weekend. (The GIRM allows you to preach on elements from the order of Mass, not just on the readings.) You could visit with the individual parishioners, starting with something like, “I notice you don’t answer ‘Amen’ when you come to communion,” and see where it leads.
I generally advise against the minister supplying “Amen” when the communicates fails to say the response. It would be like saying, “And with your spirit,” if no one responded to “The Lord be with you.” This is a dialogue, and the response reflects the communicant’s faith, not that of the minister. If people fail to respond, I give them communion anyway.