Thursday, September 07, 2006

"On Your Knees Before the King of the World!"

That title is a line I recall from an audio cassette we had as kids, which put the Biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into dramatic form. The line was spoken by a guard who bellowed it to the trio when they refused to kneel to Nebuchadnezzar's statue.

Obviously, old Nebby wasn't the real King of the World. (Neither was Leonardo DiCaprio.) So kneeling to him would have been an act of grotesque idolatry.

One of the controversies I struggle with most in the sister dioceses of Winnipeg & St. Boniface, whose border I leave near, is the disparity between the two when it comes to the postures during Mass; specifically at the consecration of the Eucharistic elements. Winnipeg's norm is kneeling (except at the funeral Mass held for Pope John Paul II, where our Archbishop said, "As a sign of unity, let us all stand."), and St. Boniface has instructed its parishioners to stand.

Recently I chanced upon a pile of free books from the St. Bonifase Archdiocesan Centre. I found a five-page leaflet entitled, "Reconsideration of Postures for the Laity at the Eucharist." This particular revision was issued by the Western Liturgical Conference in 1986. I can't find it online anywhere; in fact, searching for the title provides only one hit, in a bibliography for a Children's Liturgies manual.

The document itself appears to have been written as a recommendation to the Western Conference of Canadian Bishops, and its main points have been accepted by many dioceses. It tries to explain some of the reasoning behind getting rid of kneeling for the coming of our Lord, and, well... I remain unconvinced. We are taken through a weaving course of logical steps down a ladder of liturgical reform, such as in this snippet:

Feelings of reverence and piety are culturally derived, by and large. The same clergy, for instance, who counsel the people to kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer, seldom, if ever, notice the fact that they themselves have not knelt for the Prayer since there were ordained as deacons: and in the same vein, lay people who wish to retain the kneeling posture during the Eucharistic prayer no longer feel compelled to kneel for the reception of holy communion, do not require communion on the tongue, and quite readily handle the chalice when communion is given under both forms. These activities were forbidden prior to Vatican II, out a sense of reverence.

Twenty years after this document was prepared, I am aware of many people who prefer to kneel for communion and who will only receive communion on the tongue. These aren't throwback kooks either; they're young, vibrant, faithful Catholics who really live their faith. Besides, to encourage a compromise by noting that compromise has already happened in other matters is like believing there's nothing wrong with getting a vasectomy because there's nothing wrong with using birth control pills. When you watch somebody tumbling out of control down a slippery slope, the most uncharitable thing you can do is say, "It's ok if you go a little bit farther!"

As well, did you notice how the authors of this document ignore the differing roles of clergy and laity during the Mass? What's next? Scolding the faithful for not vesting properly? Inviting them behind the altar with the priest?

Here's some more quotes:

  • For many parishes, the standing posture will eliminate a considerable amount of noise, which is caused by the raising and lowering of kneelers. [Should we remove children from the liturgy too, if silence is the end we seek?]
  • It will be somewhat easier to people who are not Catholics to participate in our liturgy, particularly at weddings and funerals, if the postures are simplified. [Ooh, playing the ecumenicism card... but exactly how hard is it to realize, "They're kneeling. Now they're standing. They're sitting now."]
  • Kneeling is called for in the promise of obedience given by candidates for Holy Orders, and for the imposition of hands.* [the footnote reads:] *It could be that we have some short bishops and some ultra-tall candidates: accordingly, when a rite involves imposition or conjoining of hands, or transferring of articles such as a book or chalice, kneeling is called for. No explanation is given for kneeling at such exchanges.
  • Reverence which supports the meaning [italics in original] of the rite should be retained and supported by all of us. [blink blink... What the heck does that mean?]
Over and over again the document identifies standing with resurrection [to which I'm expected to say, "Yay!"], and kneeling with penitence ["Boo!"]:

There are very few places where kneeling is explicitly called for in the Roman Rite. Even at the Rite of Reconciliation, the penitent is called upon to kneel only for the Confiteor; such kneeling may be replaced by a simple bow of the head: and if one does kneel for the Confiteor, one rises immediately for the litanies and intercessions.

Right; we wouldn't want to foster any sort of an ongoing attitude of worship or submission in the Mass - that would be completely uncalled for.

But exactly when was the last time you heard catechesis saying you should kneel (or bow) for even this short moment in the Mass?

This is especially patronizing:

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that there is no place for kneeling in the Roman Rite. Visits to the reserved sacrament normally involve the use of a prie-dieu or kneeler. If the procession which opens Mass crosses before, or comes within close proximity of the tabernacle, the ministers are instructed by the GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] to genuflect.

Um, guys? Genuflecting isn't the same as kneeling. There is normally a difference in the number of knees you use, and in the time you're down for. Genuflecting is what you do when you enter your aisle at the movie theatre [if you're a creature of habit]. Kneeling is what you do when you propose marriage.

People, I think we've been had.

I kneel during the consecration - whether the rest of the congregation does or not - because Jesus is entering the room at that moment. I kneel as an act of worship and to renew my own submission to God's will. It's instinctive to the human psyche: when a person of authority approaches, I will automatically change my posture. Whether it's sitting up straight in your chair when your boss wanders by, or saluting a superior officer in the military, or bowing when the Queen of England greets you, or kissing my bishop's ring ["What are you doing? Oh, right, that... well, if you must."], my very physical form speaks a language. It ties right in to the Theology of the Body.

Why would I not kneel before the King of the Universe? Or more pointedly, why would a Liturgical Conference seek to remove that as the norm?

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