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Does it matter if we don’t say “Amen” when we receive the Eucharist?

22 July 2016

When we were children, we were all taught how to receive Holy Communion. I, like many others, was taught to make the sign of the cross after receiving the host. There is no rule written down about making the sign of the cross – it is optional. It doesn’t really affect or make a statement about what we believe about Holy Communion.

There is however, something written down about how we receive Holy Communion which is not optional. The rules state:

“...The priest raises the Eucharistic bread slightly and shows it to each [communicant], 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”. The same response of “Amen” is also obligatory if the communicant receives the Precious Blood from the chalice.

So there is a firm rule, not a suggestion, that when we approach the altar to receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that we respond to the minister who administers the sacrament to us, with the word “Amen”.

But why is this Hebrew word of such importance?

In Hebrew, the word “Amen” can mean, “it is true” or “so be it.” In sacred Scripture, the word “Amen” is a solemn affirmation. And if it was repeated twice, this is particularly solemn. For example, in the Gospel of St. John (6:53), Jesus says, “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.” The double “Amen” might be translated in some modern Bibles as “I solemnly assure you,” or ‘Truly, truly I say to you”, so when He says “Amen, amen,” the Lord is making a serious declaration that what He is teaching is a saving truth.

In the early, Greek and Latin-speaking Church, the Hebrew word “Amen” was retained in prayer and worship as a positive acknowledgement of the truth of a belief and also a positive acknowledgement of the authority of the teacher of the belief.

For example, around the year 155 AD, St. Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman emperor to explain what Christians did:

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and … he gives thanks … When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.'

St Justin went on to say: “…we call this food Eucharist, and no one may take part in it unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught.”

How do we signify that we believe that what the Church teaches is true? By saying “Amen”.

Referring to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1396), St Augustine backed up what his predecessor, St Justin taught by declaring:

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 you 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.

The teaching of St Justin and St Augustine makes clear what we should do: We must say our “Amen” firmly before receiving the holy Eucharist.

Some have fallen out of the habit of making this response, or have decided that there is a better response or even that there is no need to make this affirmation. Sometimes ministers hear, not a loud “Amen” but the polite expression “Thank you.” Or there may be no response at all.

Neither of these alternatives are acceptable.

If a person says “thank you,” just who is he thanking? Is it the Lord of the Universe who gives us in the Eucharist, that same body which he gave up for us on the cross and that same blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”? Or is he thanking the minister who is, unworthy though they are, distributing communion? He is certainly being polite, but is he accepting the truth of the Real Presence of the Lord? Is he acting as a member of the Body of Christ, which is to say as a member of the believing community?

If a person receives in silence, for all the minister knows he could be thinking “Amen”, as a member of the believing community. Or then again he might not be. Recalling that St Justin declared that no one may take part in Holy Communion unless “he believes that what we teach is true” let us declare our belief in the teaching of Christ and His Church, and receive Holy Communion reverently and truly, as members of Christ’s Body by simply saying: “Amen”.

The AMEN is your personal declaration of faith. Say it

1. Distinctly
2. Firmly
3. Clearly
4. With conviction