I am an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. In distributing Communion, I am surprised by the different answers to “The Body of Christ” I receive. Most people say, “Amen,” but some say, “I believe.” Does it matter?
The simple answer is, “Yes, it does matter.” According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2000), the following rubric was again prescribed concerning the reception of holy Communion: “The priest raises the Eucharistic bread slightly and shows it to each one, saying, ‘The Body of Christ.’ The communicants reply, ‘Amen,’ and receive the Sacrament as they choose, either on the tongue, or in the hand, where this is allowed” (No. 161). The same response of “Amen” also is mandated if the communicant receives the Precious Blood from the chalice or if he receives Holy Communion by intinction, i.e. the priest intincts (dips) the Sacred Host into the Precious Blood and places the Sacrament on the tongue of the communicant (see also No. 286-7).
Given the basic rule, why is the word “Amen” important? The word “Amen” in Hebrew means, “truly,” “it is true” or “so be it.” In sacred Scripture, “Amen” introduces a solemn affirmation and an acclamation of assent. “Amen” denotes not only an asseveration but also a recognition of authority of the one making the proclamation.
For instance, in the Gospel of St. John (6:53), Jesus said, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Often, English translations of the Bible will have “Let me solemnly assure you,” or “Truly, truly I say to you.” Here the Lord solemnly underscores the truth of what He is teaching.
In the Book of Revelation (3:14) Jesus identifies Himself as “Amen”: “The Amen, the faithful Witness and true, the Source of God’s creation…” for He is always faithful to His word. Here the word “Amen” highlights our Lord’s authority since He is Truth.
Finally, in apostolic times, the word “Amen” was used in liturgy as a positive response to the truth of the belief and the authority by which the belief was taught.
For these reasons, since the earliest times of the Church, “Amen” has been the proper response of the communicant receiving the holy Eucharist. For example, St. Justin Martyr (d. 165) in his First Apology (chapters 65-66) notes how “Amen” is the response of the people to the prayers and thanksgiving offered by the priest in the Eucharist Prayer. “Amen” is the assent of the people that the holy Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ, that the priest has the authority to act in the person of Christ to confect the Eucharist, and that the teaching handed down from the Apostles is truly the teaching of the Lord. St. Justin wrote,
We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus.
Without the “Amen,” one should not receive.
St. Augustine (d. 430) in a Sermon (No. 272), taught,
If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord. It is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are to respond, “Amen” (“Yes, it is true!”) And by responding to it, you assent to it. For you hear the words, “the Body of Christ” and respond, “Amen.” Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true. (Cited in the Catechism, No. 1396.)
Therefore, we must say our “Amen” with great confidence before receiving the holy Eucharist. Sadly, some people have decided to change the response to “I believe,” or “Thank you,” or “We are,” or “I am.” All of these responses are inadequate. If a person says, “I believe,” does that person only assent to the holy Communion he is receiving, or also to the whole Church and all of its teachings which “communion” signifies? If a person says, “Thank you,” he is taking, but what is he giving? If a person says, “We are,” does he mean his group, his congregation, the whole Church or his concept of Church? If a person says, “I am,” we ought to lock him in the tabernacle.
The simple straight answer is, “The proper, best, and only legitimate response when receiving Holy Communion is ‘Amen.’” Amen.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders's work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)