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Monday, October 10, 2005

Kneeling in the Novus Ordo

Last weekend I went on a retreat with a group of about twenty people. At the first mass (novus ordo) I knelt to receive communion on the tongue and thought nothing of it. The next day I was accosted by the priest just before mass and told that I was not to receive communion kneeling again. I enquired why this was and was told that he found my kneeling embarrassing and saw it as an attempt to seek admiration from my peers, as well as disrupting the ‘reverent procession’ for communion. I stated that the church has explicitly taught that the faithful may legitimately receive communion kneeling (as stated in Redemptionis Sacramentum) and that it is unlawful to refuse Catholics communion on these grounds. The priest refused to have any of this stating that kneeling was an act of disobedience to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales as it has ruled that the faithful should stand to receive communion. He also said that receiving communion kneeling was not part of tradition (!) Again I argued that since Rome has stated that the faithful can kneel to receive communion this should take precedence over what the Bishops’ have ruled, i.e. they can state a norm of behaviour expected but they cannot proscribe a practice, which Rome has ruled as legitimate. Again my protests fell on deaf ears and consequently I did not receive communion at the next mass.

Now this incident is interesting for a number of reasons as it reveals a great deal about the attitudes of some of the post-conciliar clergy. If one looks at the reasons against kneeling for communion proposed in this small incident we find that this practice is seen as ‘embarrassing’, ‘a desire for admiration’, and a disruption of the ‘reverent procession’, disobedient and non-traditional. Taking the first example cited that it is ‘embarrassing’ to kneel for communion, we have to ask who is being embarrassed by it? Are the people who don’t kneel embarrassed by it and if so why? Is the priest embarrassed to have to distribute communion in this way or is it the kneeler who is embarrassed? There is a quite serious question here as to why anyone should be embarrassed by this at all. If we look at the novus ordo mass we find that kneeling is still a significant aspect of that rite, whatever faults it may contain. In particular, kneeling is mandated for the Eucharistic prayer and by custom after the Agnus Dei – that is - the key moments of the Liturgy of the Eucharist – the Consecration and before communion. It is also expected that clergy and laity will kneel throughout the distribution of communion. It is perhaps important to consider why we kneel at all here. The reason has to be out of respect for the great mystery of the mass – the miracle of Calvary re-presented by the Priest in persona Christi. Therefore we are kneeling out of reverence to the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Is this not the same as when we kneel to receive communion?

The second criticism levelled against kneeling was that it was done out of a desire for admiration or even if this was not desired, the fact that it could lead to admiration meant that one should not kneel. This again is rather an interesting point and one, which does raise some awkward questions. It is true that the majority of people receiving communion do so standing; therefore those who receive communion kneeling will, generally speaking, be in a conspicuous minority. Knowing this, it is important to be aware of ones motivations for kneeling. It should not be done out of a desire to appear different or out of condemnation of those who choose to receive communion standing. However, since this relates to one personal motivation it is difficult to see how this could lead to the proscription of kneeling to receive communion, since there would be no indicator as to whether the persons motivation for kneeling was licit or otherwise. Therefore, this is surely not grounds to refuse communion to those who kneel. It may be the case that the laity should be reminded that they should not kneel out of pride or a sense of superiority. But again this really does not ring true – the act of kneeling is one of humility, of subjugation to God and an acknowledgment of the Real Presence. It is not an act of a proud man to kneel, rather, it is the act of one who is contrite before God; one who recognises his own failings and his own inadequacies – Domine non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanibata anima mea.

The next aspect of his criticism was that kneeling disrupts the ‘reverent procession’. This is interesting because it is expected that those who receive communion standing should make an act of reverence before receiving communion such as making the sign of the cross or genuflecting. Yet how often is this ever done? The fact is that whilst many people do make a sign of reverence a great many more people do not. Therefore, if one is to be critical of the posture of kneeling as disrupting the reverence of others is it not also appropriate to criticise those who fail to make a sign of reverence before or immediately after receiving communion? Unsurprisingly, there is usually no criticism for those who fail to make a sign of reverence even though this has called for by the Church since Eucharisticum Mysterium (1967) and in Inaestimabile donum (1980). The Church states that the sign of reverence is not to be considered optional and should follow the norms established by the appropriate Bishops’ Conference. However, the norms for a sign of reverence are to be regarded as usual practice but not a legal obligation. Therefore, the faithful may make a sign of reverence as indicated by the Bishops’ Conference but they may also make an alternative sign of reverence as long as the sign does not unduly delay the reception of communion by others. The time taken to kneel is hardly sufficient to justify its prohibition on these grounds alone.

The question of disobedience is somewhat complicated. We are expected to be obedient to the Bishops as figures of authority within the Church but they are also obliged by their own obedience to the Holy See. A Bishop has authority – that is not in doubt, but he must in turn submit to the authority of the Holy See and in so doing ensure that “the principle shall be respected that each particular Church must be in accord with the Church universal” (GIRM).Therefore, if the Holy See mandates that the practice of kneeling to receive communion is legitimate it is not possible for any Bishop or Bishops’ Conference to prohibit the practice – still less to refuse communion on those grounds; for that would lead to a de facto excommunication of those who choose to kneel. Therefore the question of whether kneeling to receive communion is an act of disobedience towards the hierarchy is clear. It is not disobedient. On the contrary, they are disobedient to the wishes of the Holy See if they attempt to prohibit or discourage it. As the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has stated:

“Even where the Congregation has approved of legislation denoting standing as the posture for Holy Communion, in accordance with the adaptations permitted to the Conferences of Bishops by the Institution Generalis Missalis Romani n. 160, paragraph 2, it has done so with the stipulation that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds.“

Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez, Prefect Congregation de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum. Rome, 1 July 2002

"... while this Congregation gave the recognitio to the norm desired by the Bishops' Conference of your country that people stand for Holy Communion, this was done on the condition that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. Indeed, the faithful should not be imposed upon nor accused of disobedience and of acting illicitly when they kneel to receive Holy Communion".

Mons. Mario Marini Undersecretary Congregation de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum. Rome, 26 February 2003

I was slightly surprised to hear standing described as the traditional method of receiving communion since for centuries kneeling has been the accepted practice. Whereas, to receive communion standing has been the norm for barely thirty years - so I don’t think it is necessary to elaborate any further on that point.

As for myself I shall continue to receive communion kneeling.

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Pray for us.
St. Nicholas Owen, Pray for us.
St. Edmund Campion, Pray for us.

Comments [5]

Blogger G. Thomas Fitzpatrick:

Stick to your guns!

Rome has spoken on this issue, and the priest in question was absolutely wrong!

Mon Oct 10, 06:44:00 PM GMT  
Blogger GFvonB:

Yet another reason that I shall never assist at another Novus Ordo. Ever.

Mon Oct 10, 08:01:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Perpétua:

Thank you for sharing that story! Deus benedicat te! :) May you keep receiving our most Blessed Lord on bended knees without fear :)

Mon Oct 10, 11:40:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Norman:

print out a copy of Redemptionis Sacramentum and mail it to the priest? Then print out the relevant paragraph on a banner and hang it outside the priest's church :P

Tue Oct 11, 06:18:00 AM GMT  
Anonymous Anonymous:

Next time just give the priest a copy of this letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Wed Oct 12, 06:02:00 PM GMT  

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