Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Edification and Kneeling: Part I

Herewith a three-part installment called "Edification and Kneeling." Happy reading, Shawn -- and to my good buddy BF, just picture me sitting on top of a giant keyboard, falling fast, waving my ten-gallon and yelling "yeeee haaaawwww . . . "

Edification and Kneeling

I have written about the legalisms of kneeling, both to receive communion and during communion itself, because they impact on the edification of kneeling. There are two dimensions to that question, namely the propriety of kneeling considered objectively as a witnessing act, and the propriety of kneeling considered contextually as a political act. Now I hasten to add that by "political act" I don't mean to refer to the limited and vulgar ideas of "politics" most commonly used in our discourse, but to the higher and perfectly-normal aspects of rightly ordering life in a human community. The legalisms (I use the word specifically in homage to Shawn's wise observation that "legality" is not identical to "propriety") of kneeling relate to both questions in different ways. They provide a reference point for the CDWDS' dealings with the USCC through its pre-GIRM correspondence and the July, 2002 protocol, both of which are protective of kneeling as a witnessing act. Most significantly, however, they relate to the nature of kneeling as a political act, because they oblige our thinking about the proper response to kneeling (and the status of "kneelers") within local worshiping communities. I will address these topics in turn, discussing the nature of kneeling as a witnessing act, then discussing its place with respect to the bishops' campaign against private prayer after communion, and then offering some thoughts on the cultural and political ramifications of continued kneeling under the recent adaptations to the GIRM.

Kneeling as Witness

In the correspondence below I have set out several of my main arguments about the witnessing aspect of kneeling in abbreviated form. At the risk of tedious repetition, I am going to repeat them in the larger context of my discussion with Shawn. As far as I'm aware, the USCC has given only a handful of publicized statements about the Bishops' idea that standing is the only proper posture for communion, one of them being the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy ("BCL") bulletin entitled "Postures and Gestures at Mass":
The posture of kneeling signified penance in the early Church: the awareness of sin casts us to the ground! So thoroughly was kneeling identified with penance that the early Christians were forbidden to kneel on Sundays and during the Easter Season when the prevailing spirit of the liturgy was that of joy and thanksgiving. In the Middle Ages kneeling came to signify the homage of a vassal to his lord, and more recently this posture has come to signify adoration. It is for this reason that the bishops of this country have chosen the posture of kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer, after the Sanctus.[1]

As noted in my correspondence with "Joe," the USCC says kneeling is a "recent" posture which is so rooted in a consciousness of ignominy, worthlessness and subservience that it cannot coexist with an authentic Catholic understanding of the Mass as a witness to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ:
Standing . . . from the earliest days of the Church, has been understood as the stance of those who are risen with Christ and seek the things that are above. When we stand for prayer we assume our full stature before God, not in pride, but in humble gratitude for the marvelous thing God has done in creating and redeeming each one of us. By Baptism we have been given a share in the life of God, and the posture of standing is an acknowledgment of this wonderful gift. We stand for the Gospel, the pinnacle of revelation, the words and deeds of the Lord, and the bishops of the United States have chosen standing as the posture to be observed in this country for the reception of Communion, the sacrament which unites us in the most profound way possible with Christ who, now gloriously risen from the dead, is the cause of our salvation.[2]

When one compares this theological history to the Mass described by the GRIM, one is immediately struck by the entirely-nonsensical relationship between them. If kneeling is a "penitential posture," then why aren't we kneeling during the Confiteor (a/k/a "Act of Penitence"):
I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
[striking the breast lightly] that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask Blessed Mary, ever Virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

According to the USCC's reasoning, when we pray this awful confession and beg God's mercy in the Kyrie which immediately follows it, we ought to be kneeling because "the awareness of sin casts us to the ground!" But we're forbidden to kneel then -- we're commanded to stand and therefore, according to the USCC, "assume our full stature before God." Likewise, we're told that the Fraction and the Agnus Dei "signif[y] that the many faithful are made one body (1 Cor 10:17) by receiving Communion from the one Bread of Life which is Christ, who died and rose for the salvation of the world."[3] According to the Bulletin, that makes it a time for standing to convey "humble gratitude for the marvelous thing God has done in creating and redeeming each one of us." But for some inexplicable reason, we're commanded to be on our knees in a penitential posture during the Fraction and the Agnus Dei. If the USCC is correct about the meaning of these postures, why are we kneeling when we ought to be standing, and standing when we ought to be kneeling?

Perhaps the reason for this nonsense is that the USCC's invented distinction between "penance" and "adoration" is challenged both factually and theologically. The Bulletin says history gives us a clear and unanimous record that the early Christians never knelt at Mass because postures of self-abasement are exclusively penitential. Now I don't pretend to be a liturgical scholar,[61] but I do know that Tertullian, a Church Father who lived between 160 A.D. and 240 A.D. and whose writings are still found in the Liturgy of the Hours, tells us that postures of self-abasement were encouraged, even commanded, for Christians at prayer:

XXIII. Also in the matter of bending the knee the prayer experiences variety of observance by (the action of) a certain few who on Saturday abstain from kneeling. As this dissension is even now on trial before the churches, the Lord will give his grace, that they may either yield, or else establish their judgement without offence to others. We however, as we have received , on the day of the Lord's resurrection alone have the duty of abstaining not only from that but from every attitude and practice
of solicitude, even putting off business so as to give no place to the devil. The like also in the period of Pentecost, (a festival) distinguished by the same established order of exultation. But on ordinary days who would hesitate to prostrate himself to God, at least at the first prayer with which we enter on daylight? On fasts moreover, and stations, no prayer is to be performed without
kneeling and the rest of the attitudes of humility: for (then) we do not only pray, but also make supplication and satisfaction to God our Lord.

Tertullian notes the belief that postures like kneeling or prostration are postures of humility ("solicitude") which are incompatible with exultant celebrations of the Eucharist on Sundays or during Pentecost -- but not with the celebration of the Eucharist per se, since kneeling at Mass is commanded on other days. Moreover, if the early Christians all thought kneeling was "thoroughly . . . identified with penance", why did they kneel for all sorts of prayers which had nothing to do with an "awareness of sin" which "casts us to the ground"? Eusebius, for example, chronicles an early miracle during which Christian legionaries of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius' ( r. 161 A.D. - 180 A.D.) "kneeled on the ground, as is our custom in prayer, and engaged in supplications to God" for a miraculous rainfall to quench the army's thirst -- God not only sent rain, but a lightning storm which destroyed the enemy.[5] And even before that, in the Book of Acts we see St. Paul kneeling twice in prayer, once with the elders of the Church at Ephesus (Acts 20:36) and again before leaving Tyre (Acts 21:5). St. Peter knelt in prayer to bring Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:40). The rich man, who had "observed all" the commandments from "his youth," still knelt to ask our Lord what he must do to be saved (Mark 10:17). St. Stephen knelt in the moment of his martyrdom. (Acts. 7:60). And of course our Lord Himself knelt to pray (Luke 22:41), and there are some theological considerations which bid us to disagree with the USCC's suggestion that He did so because an "awareness of sin cast" Him to the ground.

The USCC's account does wander into proximity with the facts through a vague recognition that eventually, centuries after the first Mass, liturgical law required the faithful to stand at Mass on Sundays or during the Easter season. I believe the first of these was Canon XX of the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.):
Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.[6]

The reason for this tide in favor of standing is indeed alluded to by the USCC -- a number of Fathers, from Tertullian to Augustine to Cassian, note that standing was depictive of the resurrection and therefore a more appropriate posture for communion. Indeed, standing is the posture of the liturgies of the east, such as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. But this is not, I submit, in any way supportive of the USCC's simplistic diktat that authentic Christianity regards "penitential" postures as wholly inappropriate to the reception of communion. In his classic study of the Mass, Fr. Adrian Fortescue tells us that, "People generally received holy communion standing, as they still do in the east. . . . But it seems that on fast-days and stational days, when they prayed kneeling, they made their Communion kneeling too."[7] The USCC's claim of a consistency with the "early Church" is obliterated by its own requirement of standing at all Masses, not just Masses "on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost." More to the point, and directly contrary to the USCC's mythical history, the presence of "penitential" postures was never considered "inappropriate" to the reception of communion even on the Lord's Day or in the days of Pentecost.

There is, for example, an ancient eastern liturgy called the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark. The oldest written version of the liturgy dates to the 12th or 13th centuries, but it is much, much older than that, dating at least to the time of Nicea as its attribution to St. Mark suggests.[8] In that liturgy, we find the following rubric for the end of the faithful's reception of holy communion: "After the service is completed, the Deacon says: - XXI. Stand for prayer." [9] What were these ancient Christian communicants doing before the deacon uttered his command? I don't maintain that they were kneeling, because this is an eastern liturgy and that tradition prefers the standing posture. Instead, the eastern tradition favors bowing before and during communion. The bows, both the profound bow (of the whole body, from the waist) and simple bow (a full inclination of the head) are the postures in which eastern liturgies recognize the dependence of men prone to sin on the greatness and mercy of God. The present and most predominant eastern liturgy, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, is full of the kind of "penitential self-abasement" which the USCC finds so inauthentic, but which is and has always been a central aspect of the eastern tradition which "seemed good" to the Holy Synod of Nicea. In that liturgy, the catechumens are sent out with the following prayer and bows:
Deacon: Bow your heads unto the Lord, ye catechumens.
Choir: To thee, O Lord.

Deacon: O Lord our God, who dwellest on high and lookest upon the humble, who hast sent forth as the salvation of the race of men thine only-begotten Son, and God, our Lord Jesus Christ, look upon thy servants the catechumens, who have bowed their necks before thee. Vouchsafe unto them in due time the laver of regeneration, the forgiveness of sins, and the robe of incorruption. Unite them to thy holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and number them with thine elect flock.

Exclamation: That with us they also may glorify thine all-honorable and magnificent name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Choir: Amen. . . .

Deacon: As many as are catechumens, depart . . . .

The emphasis on this element of man's dependence on God's great goodness and mercy becomes even more intense during the liturgy and instructions for Holy Communion (the instructions are in italics):
Deacon: Bow your heads unto the Lord.
Choir: To thee, O Lord.

Priest: We give thanks unto thee, O King invisible, who by thy measureless power hast fashioned all things, and in the multitude of thy mercies hast brought all things from nonexistence into being, do thou thyself, O Master, look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads unto thee, for they have not bowed down unto flesh and blood, but unto thee, the fearful God. Therefore, O Master, do thou thyself distribute these things here set forth unto us all for good, according to the individual need of each. Travel with those that journey by land, by sea, and by air. Heal the sick, O thou Physician of our souls and bodies.

Exclamation: Through the grace and compassion and love of man of thine only-begotten Son, with whom thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy, and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

. . . They then open the doors of the sanctuary, and the deacon, making a reverence, takes the chalice from the priest with devotion, approaches the doors, and elevating the holy chalice, shows it to the people, saying:

With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near.

Choir: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. God is the Lord that hath revealed Himself unto us.

Those who wish to communicate shall then approach. They come one by one and they make a reverence with all contrition and fear, holding their hands folded on their breast. Thus each receives the Divine Mysteries. . . . The communicant, having partaken, shall kiss the holy chalice, make a reverence, and withdraw. And thus all communicate.

From this I think it's fairly clear that in the eastern tradition, bowing has the same significance which kneeling or genuflecting has with us. In fact I don't think it would be going too far to analogize the "simple" bow of the head with genuflexion and the "profound bow" at the waist with kneeling proper.[12] Kneeling and bowing are both witnesses to the wholesome truth sung by the Psalmist:
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

It was this same utter astonishment at God's omnipotence, His healing power, so above our merits and yet given so graciously to even the lowest and meanest of us, which caused the woman with an affliction of blood to humble herself before Jesus: "But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague." (Mark 5:33-34 KJV). It is what will see us through to the end of our earthly race: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Phillipians 2:12-13 (KJV). It is the magnificat in small, repeated in each liturgy by each Christian. That's what bowing meant to the "early Christians," and they never went to Mass without doing it -- on Sundays or even on Sundays during Easter time.

Eastern Christians don't give profound and simple bows because an "awareness of sin" sends them into contortions. They do it because they have a deep awareness of the relationship between man and God that is seriously at odds with the theology the USCC uses to justify standing in the Mass:
Standing . . . [is for] those who are risen with Christ and seek the things that are above. When we stand . . . we assume our full stature before God . . . in humble gratitude for the marvelous thing God has done in creating and redeeming each one of us. . . . . we have been given a share in the life of God, and the posture of standing is an acknowledgment of this wonderful gift . . . [14]

St. John Chrysostom and the billion or so Byzantines who have come after him would agree with this encomium, as should we all. But none of us should be comfortable with dashing down this heady wine of revelation neat, without the moderating water of acknowledging our own weakness and fallibility: "O Master, look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads unto thee, for they have not bowed down unto flesh and blood, but unto thee, the fearful God." Of course everyone should realize that it is the wonderful God-Man who comes to us in the Mass -- "Jesus, most amiable," Jesus, lover of us." But no one ought to forget that He is wonderful in no small way because He is also the God who thundered from the whirlwind:
Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

"Eternal Father, strong to save . . . ." If Jesus were not the divine friend and lover of our souls, He would not save us. But if He were not also the God of Job, the Holy One upon a Throne of lightnings and thunderings and voices (Revelation 4:5), then He could not save us. So the eastern Christians approach communion: With fear of God, with faith and love..

The theological act embodied by these gestures and postures may be called humiliation, the "process of being humbled or acquiring humility":
The word humility signifies lowliness or submissiveness an it is derived from the Latin humilitas or, as St. Thomas says, from humus, i.e. the earth which is beneath us. As applied to persons and things it means that which is abject, ignoble, or of poor condition, as we ordinarily say, not worth much. . . . Humility in a higher and ethical sense is that by which a man has a modest estimate of his own worth, and submits himself to others. According to this meaning no man can humiliate another, but only himself, and this he can do properly only when aided by Divine grace.[16]

Humility is an aspect of temperance, the ability of men to enjoy good only insofar as God's will permits it to them. Its specific role is to suppress immoderate and unjust hope which lays claim to things which do not belong to us at all, or which are not permitted to us in a given situation.[17] Adam and Eve took the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because they had abandoned their humility, they believed they had a right to something which was not theirs. Adam and Eve had committed the sin of pride, the sin of conceiving of themselves as beings whose life and good was independent of God's will. Humility is the virtue opposed to pride [18] which is the overweening and excessive love of one's own goodness which drives men into a "contempt of God" and "aversion from God and His commandments." Pride is not only a sin in itself, it is the essence all sin because it achieves the intellectual, emotional, and willful separation of man from God without which no other sin could occur.[19]

Not surprisingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church ("CCC") lavishly praises the benefits and inherent goodness of humility:
Faith is impossible without humility: "Humility makes us recognize that "no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him," that is, "to little children." CCC ¶ 2779

Prayer is easily thwarted without humility: "In the battle of prayer we must confront erroneous conceptions of prayer, various currents of thought, and our own experience of failure. We must respond with humility, trust, and perseverance to these temptations which cast doubt on the usefulness or even the possibility of prayer." CCC ¶ 2753

Communion with the Holy Trinity requires humility: "Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty. Contemplative prayer is a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts. Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, "to his likeness." CCC ¶ 2713

Adoration of God requires humility: "Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil. Adoration is homage of the spirit to the "King of Glory," respectful silence in the presence of the "ever greater" God. Adoration of the thrice-holy and sovereign God of love blends with humility and gives assurance to our supplications." CCC ¶ 2628

Prayer is impossible without humility: "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or "out of the depths" of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that "we do not know how to pray as we ought," are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. "Man is a beggar before God." CCC ¶ 2559

Humility is a beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace. Jesus celebrates the joy of the poor, to whom the Kingdom already belongs: The Word speaks of voluntary humility as "poverty in spirit"; the Apostle gives an example of God's poverty when he says: "For your sakes he became poor." CCC ¶ 2546

Humility is required of the Church: So that she can fulfill her mission, the Holy Spirit "bestows upon [the Church] varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her." "Henceforward the Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder and faithfully observing his precepts of charity, humility and self-denial, receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is on earth the seed and the beginning of that kingdom." CCC ¶ 768

This precious virtue will likely make no sense to us if we think God is sitting on some sort of cosmic teeter-totter that can make Him great only when we decide to make ourselves small. We do not practice humility because it makes God great. We practice humility because we want always to see things as He wants us to see them. If we love God, we will want to see the things He has made as they really are, including ourselves:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Humility is the true awareness of anyone who knows and loves the Lord. Elizabeth was humble when she asked, ""And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Mary was likewise humble when she replied. "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name." (Luke 1:43, 46-49 KJV) Humiliation, therefore, is the essential act of self-knowledge by which a soul recognizes God and remains close to Him:
It is in humility that we attain to an exact consideration of the metaphysical situation of man. Humility presents in specifically sharp relief that general aspect of all Christian morality—the unreserved recognition of the metaphysical situation of man, the attitude of throwing all illusions overboard and granting to the whole of reality the response that is due to it. Thus, it has been said justly: "Humility is Truth." Correspondingly, the soul of pride is falsehood, for pride means a refusal to recognize our metaphysical situation.[21]

So our Lord Jesus Christ, our Divine Teacher, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped . . . [and] humbled himself and became obedient unto death," (Phillipians 2:6-8 RSV), "kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:41 KJV).

The USCC is wrong to tell us that kneeling is just a "sinner's posture." It is the posture of anyone who prays what our Lord prayed in Gethsemene, "not my will, but thine, be done." Kneeling is meet for penance because it expresses humility, but the humility expressed thereby is not confined to a personal experience of sin and guilt. Humility, like the prayer it enables, is necessary for saints and sinners alike: The USCC's pejorative description of kneeling makes as much sense as characterizing prayer as a "penitential" act which has no place in a celebration of the Resurrection. Kneeling has always symbolized not merely penance, but the necessary, wonderful humiliation of a soul which has thrown aside its vanity and realized its true significance relative to God. One cannot have this humiliating experience without being immediately conscious of the divine love which reaches out to the humble soul. The two experiences have long (if not always) been linked with kneeling in Western Catholicism, as attested by Cardinal Wiseman's 1849 circular letter instituting the Forty Hours' Devotion:
But now it is that you will practise that angelic worship, lost and unknown out of the Catholic Church -- the worship of pure adoration. For beyond her pale men may praise God or address Him, or perform other religious acts, but they cannot know nor make that special homage which His presence, as we possess it, inspires; when, without spoken, or sound uttered, or act performed, the soul sinks prostrate, and annihilates itself before Him, casts all its powers, and gifts, and brightest ornaments, as worthless oblations, before His altar, and subjects its entire being as a victim to His sole adorable will. When first, then, you approach the place where He is solemnly worshiped, as you humbly bend your knees and bow your heads, let this deep and silent adoration be your first act. Speak not in words, forget all selfish thoughts, repress even all eager longings of your hearts, and receive the benediction of your mighty Lord in solemn stillness; while you, reputing yourselves but dust and ashes at his feet, a nothingness before Him, tender Him the homage of loyal vassals, humbled as the clay, before the potter, as the creature before its God. Then raise up your eyes, those keen eyes of faith, which, through the veil of sacramental elements, see, as John did, ‘in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, one like to the son of man' (Apoc. i. 13); yea, the adorable Jesus, the King of your souls, and there feast long your sight upon that sacred humanity which love hath given Him, and with it kindred and brotherhood, and ties of tenderest affection with you. And now speak to Him, but with outpoured souls, with the unrestrained familiarity of warmest friendship face to face -- no longer with the awful Lord, like Moses or Elias on Horeb, but with them, and Peter, and John on Tabor where you see Him radiant with His own light, but mild and inviting love.[22]

Kneeling means in the West what bows amidst warnings of "the fearful God" mean in the east. There is no hostility between the postures, and (I submit) no reasonable way to rank one before the other in terms of "authenticity." In the Louvre, and in St. Catherine's monastery on Sinai, rest two icons of the Transfiguration. They show our Lord in wonderful converse with Moses and Elijah; the apostles Peter, James and John are kneeling before them. [23] I am aware of no tradition which says the Apostles were cast to the ground from an awareness of their guilty sins. To the contrary, Scripture tells us the Apostles were afraid before the glory and power of the transfigured Lord. (Mark 9:6, Matthew 17:6). Their fear, their humiliation was natural, and its truthfulness brought God's constant response to a humble man: "And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid." (Matthew 17:7 - KJV). That interchange of a creature's self-abasement and his God's loving mercy is what kneeling means, and has always meant, both within and without an individual consciousness of guilty sin.

To read the Bishops' condemnation of kneeling in adoration as a merely-recent invention, a fabrication of ignorant medieval men aping the political culture of their betters, is to shudder. The Bishops' distasteful mentioning of "vassalage" and "lordship," their appeal to the widespread (and often anti-Catholic) prejudice that the "middle" ages were "dark" ages, their insistence that Christian worship must remain unstained by anything smacking of subjugation, takes more from Henry Lea or Peter Fonda than Adrian Fortescue. Yes, Cardinal Wiseman uses the language of "homage" and "vassal" which the USCC finds so horribly "medieval." But why should the Cardinal (or we) not use that language? Are we not our Lord's vassals? Are we not to pay Him homage? Does not the Holy Spirit command us to call Him Lord? Tertullian, Eusebius, and the Evangelists all tell of Christians kneeling long before the fall of Rome and the institution of feudalism. So Cardinal Ratzinger's essay also proves -- kneeling is not a secular posture adapted for liturgical use. Indeed, the eastern posture of bowing was redemptively borrowed from secular pagan culture: Men bowed before God-kings like Thuthmose IV, Xerxes, and Alexander long before the birth of Christ, but kneeling is uniquely Christian.[24] The Bishops of the United States may know only a religion which gets its culture from the Zeitgeist, but that is not the inevitable pattern for all the ages of man. In the coronation rite of the Kings of France, the Bishop who placed the crown intoned, "By this crown you become a sharer in our ministry" and the Bishop who crowned King Henry I of England proclaimed "you are the servant of the servants of God and not their master; you are the protectore and not the owner of your people." [25] If vassals knelt in the middle ages and men knelt before God, the posture was no more "oppressively and inauthentically secular" than our current custom of standing for the entrance of both priest and president. What difference should it make to us (or our Bishops) that kneeling was once a political gesture that had been borrowed from Christianity? I can't see why it should make any difference at all, unless we're trying to tread lightly around a Zeitgeist of egalitarianism and an "I'm OK / You're OK" soteriology.

In that regard, I must say there's something vaguely disturbing about the Bishops' condemnation of a humiliating communion posture, particularly in their universal order that everyone must stand because, apparently, holy communion is a time when we should affirm our "OK-ness" before God: Standing . . . [is for] those who are risen with Christ and seek the things that are above. When we stand . . . we assume our full stature before God . . . in humble gratitude for the marvelous thing God has done in . . . redeeming each one of us. . . . . we have been given a share in the life of God, and the posture of standing is an acknowledgment of this wonderful gift . . . [26] The gratitude mentioned may be humble, but little else about the new posture, which allows only a simple (not profound) bow and no public expressions of fear, dependence, and awe, seems to convey the actual attitude. Reading the Bulletin's description of a congregation glorying (humbly) in a divine life of which they are already sure, without any concomitant plea to the mercy of the "fearful God," reminds one of the Council of Orange:
Canon XIX. [We teach that] a man can be saved only when God shows mercy. Human nature, even though it remained in that sound state in which it was created, could by no means save itself, without the [unmerited] assistance of the Creator; hence since man cannot safeguard his salvation without the [merciful] grace of God, which is [an undeserved] gift, how will he be able to restore what he has lost without the grace of God?[27]

We do not expect communion because we are good in God; we beg for it because we want God to make and keep us good. "Then came she and worshiped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." (Matthew 15:25-28 (KJV)). It is not fashionable to speak this way about our religion, because it is not fashionable to speak this way in our culture. For some, a natural vanity makes hearing such things a repugnant experience, and for others a natural compassion confuses all humiliation with the world's degradation of its children. But if we stop humiliating ourselves, we will eventually abandon God. Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed. Thus says the Mass, and this is (I submit) an indispensable disposition to communion. Even our Bishops, for all their preaching on the corporate glory of communicants, cannot bring themselves to abandon it altogether: "The bishops of this country have determined that the sign which we will give before Communion is to be a [simple] bow . . ."[28] The expression of this attitude through kneeling is uniquely Western, and nothing in the teaching of the Church makes "Western" something to be reviled and jettisoned.

Something very wonderful happens when we humiliate ourselves before our God in the Mass, even when we have a "penitential" disposition. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger noted in his essay, "Kneeling is not only a Christian gesture, but a christological one." The spirit of humiliation expressed by kneeling is two fold. It recognizes our sins, but it also recognizes our humble smallness before God and, thereby, our openness to receiving His divine presence:
The first [purpose of the Mass] is to give glory to the Heavenly Father. From His birth to His death Jesus Christ burned with zeal for the divine glory; and the offering of His blood upon the cross rose to heaven in an odor of sweetness. To perpetuate this praise, the members of the Mystical Body are united with their divine Head in the eucharistic sacrifice, and with Him, together with the Angels and Archangels, they sing immortal praise to God and give all honor and glory to the Father Almighty.

The second end is duly to give thanks to God. Only the divine Redeemer, as the eternal Father's most beloved Son whose immense love He knew, could offer Him a worthy return of gratitude. This was His intention and desire at the Last Supper when He "gave thanks." He did not cease to do so when hanging upon the cross, nor does He fail to do so in the August sacrifice of the altar, which is an act of thanksgiving or a "eucharistic" act; since this "is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation." . . .

The third end proposed is that of expiation, propitiation and reconciliation. Certainly, no one was better fitted to make satisfaction to Almighty God for all the sins of men than was Christ. Therefore, He desired to be immolated upon the cross "as a propitiation for our sins, not for ours only but also for those of the whole world" and likewise He daily offers Himself upon our altars for our redemption, that we may be rescued from eternal damnation and admitted into the company of the elect. This He does, not for us only who are in this mortal life, but also "for all who rest in Christ, who have gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace;" for whether we live, or whether we die "still we are not separated from the one and only Christ." . . .

The fourth end [of the Mass] is that of impetration. Man, being the prodigal son, has made bad use of and dissipated the goods which he received from his heavenly Father. Accordingly, he has been reduced to the utmost poverty and to extreme degradation. However, Christ on the cross "offering prayers and supplications with a loud cry and tears, has been heard for His reverence." Likewise upon the altar He is our mediator with God in the same efficacious manner, so that we may be filled with every blessing and grace. . . .

It is quite true that Christ is a priest; but He is a priest not for Himself but for us, when in the name of the whole human race He offers our prayers and religious homage to the eternal Father; He is also a victim and for us since He substitutes Himself for sinful man. Now the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," requires that all Christians should possess, as far as is humanly possible, the same dispositions as those which the divine Redeemer had when He offered Himself in sacrifice: that is to say, they should in a humble attitude of mind, pay adoration, honor, praise and thanksgiving to the supreme majesty of God. Moreover, it means that they must assume to some extent the character of a victim, that they deny themselves as the Gospel commands, that freely and of their own accord they do penance and that each detests and satisfies for his sins. It means, in a word, that we must all undergo with Christ a mystical death on the cross so that we can apply to ourselves the words of St. Paul, "With Christ I am nailed to the cross." . . .

This offering in fact is not confined merely to the liturgical sacrifice. For the Prince of the Apostles wishes us, as living stones built upon Christ, the cornerstone, to be able as "a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." St. Paul the Apostle addresses the following words of exhortation to Christians, without distinction of time, "I beseech you therefore, . . . that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service." But at that time especially when the faithful take part in the liturgical service with such piety and recollection that it can truly be said of them: "whose faith and devotion is known to Thee," it is then, with the High Priest and through Him they offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice, that each one's faith ought to become more ready to work through charity, his piety more real and fervent, and each one should consecrate himself to the furthering of the divine glory, desiring to become as like as possible to Christ in His most grievous sufferings. . . .

But the desire of Mother Church does not stop here. For since by feasting upon the bread of angels we can by a "sacramental" communion, as we have already said, also become partakers of the sacrifice, she repeats the invitation to all her children individually, "Take and eat. . . Do this in memory of Me" so that "we may continually experience within us the fruit of our redemption" in a more efficacious manner. . . .

To adopt Cardinal Ratzinger's phrase, the unity we enjoy with Christ in the Mass is not merely Christian, but christological. Through unity with Jesus Christ, the divine victim, our High Priest, we are ourselves made living sacrifices to the Glory of God. The reception of holy communion is not, therefore, a simple glorying in which men "assume our full stature before God" in gratitude "for the marvelous thing God has done in . . . redeeming each one of us . . . unite[d] in the most profound way possible with Christ . . .[30] The reception of holy communion is an offering akin to that made by our Lord in Gethsemane, a complete and total offering of oneself as priest and victim as He did, when He "kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father . . . not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:41 KJV).

How odd, then, to see this mystery obscured by a posture which assumes that the "full stature" of such a royal priesthood is one of confident gratitude for a redemption which is, in truth, not yet sealed for any of us ("[h]uman nature, even . . . in that sound state in which it was created, could by no means save itself, without the [unmerited] assistance of the Creator . . . man cannot safeguard his salvation without the [merciful] grace of God, which is [an undeserved] gift . . . .[31]), and centers that gratitude -- not on the eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but on our Baptismal initiation into the priesthood of His believers: Standing is a sign of respect and honor . . .[t]his posture . . . [is] the stance of those who are risen with Christ and seek the things that are above.. . . By Baptism we have been given a share in the life of God, and the posture of standing is an acknowledgment of this wonderful gift." [32] Our Lord commanded that we take up our Cross, not merely our baptism, and follow Him. (Mark 8:34). The Mass should not be arranged to suggest otherwise:
The Church lives by the Eucharist . . . the stupendous content and meaning of which have often been expressed in the Church's magisterium from the most distant times down to our own days. . . . it is not permissible for us, in thought, life or action, to take away from this truly most holy sacrament its full magnitude and its essential meaning. It is at one and the same time a sacrifice-sacrament, a communion-sacrament, and a presence-sacrament. And, although it is true that the Eucharist always was and must continue to be the most profound revelation of the human brotherhood of Christ's disciples and confessors, it cannot be treated merely as an "occasion" for manifesting this brotherhood. When celebrating the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, the full magnitude of the divine mystery must be respected . . . in this sacramental sign He entrusts Himself to us with limitless trust, as if not taking into consideration our human weakness, our unworthiness, the force of habit, routine, or even the possibility of insult. Every member of the Church, especially bishops and priests, must be vigilant in seeing that this sacrament of love shall be at the center of the life of the People of God, so that through all the manifestations of worship due to it Christ shall be given back "love for love" and truly become "the life of our souls." Nor can we, on the other hand, ever forget the following words of St. Paul: "Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup."

This call by the Apostle indicates at least indirectly the close link between the Eucharist and Penance. Indeed, if the first word of Christ's teaching, the first phrase of the Gospel Good News, was "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Metanoeite), the sacrament of the passion, cross and resurrection seems to strengthen and consolidate in an altogether special way this call in our souls. The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His "Repent." Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner. In Christ, priesthood is linked with His sacrifice, His self-giving to the Father; and, precisely because it is without limit, that self-giving gives rise in us human beings subject to numerous limitations to the need to turn to God in an ever more mature way and with a constant, ever more profound, conversion.

In his encyclical's discussion of penance, the Holy Father also refers to the Apostolic Constitution of Paul VI, Paenitemini, in which we again find that the humiliation expressed by kneeling is indeed identified with penance, although not in our Bishop's myopically-exclusive conception of individualized atonement for specific personal sin:

"The kingdom of God announced by Christ can be entered only by a "change of heart" ("metanoia"), that is to say through that intimate and total change and renewal of the entire man—of all his opinions, judgments and decisions—which takes place in him in the light of the sanctity and charity of God, the sanctity and charity which was manifested to us in the Son and communicated fully. . . .

Therefore, following the Master, every Christian must renounce himself, take up his own cross and participate in the sufferings of Christ. Thus transformed into the image of Christ's death, he is made capable of meditating on the glory of the resurrection. Furthermore, following the Master, he can no longer live for himself, but must live for Him who loves him and gave Himself for him. He will also have to live for his brethren, completing "in his flesh that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ . . . for the benefit of his body, which is the church." . . .

[S]ince the Church is closely linked to Christ, the penitence of the individual Christian also has an intimate relationship of its own with the whole ecclesial community. In fact, not only does he receive in the bosom of the Church through baptism the fundamental gift of "metanoia," but this gift is restored and reinvigorated, through the sacrament of penance, in those members of the Body of Christ who have fallen into sin. . . . And in the Church, finally, the little acts of penitence imposed each time in the sacrament become a form of participation in a special way in the infinite expiation of Christ to join to the sacramental satisfaction itself every other action he performs, his every suffering and sorrow.

Thus the task of bearing in his body and soul the death of the Lord affects the whole life of the baptized person at every instant and in every aspect.

The Eucharistic acceptance of the Cross is a humiliating act, a penitential offering of ourselves in saving unity with Jesus Christ for ourselves, the Church, and the world. It is a (no doubt unintended) act of clerical arrogance for the Bishops to suggest that our share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ is "baptismal" only, and to adopt a posture expressly intended to teach us so. ("Each posture we assume at Mass underlines and reinforces the meaning of the action in which we are taking part at that moment in our worship."[35]

For these reasons which I have poorly expressed, and for others which I'm sure I am ignorant about, the CDWDS' insisted on altering §160(2) of the GIRM to preserve the practice of kneeling, and instructed the Bishops that the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species."[36] Kneeling before the real presence isn't "completely appropriate" because the CDWDS said so. The CDWDS said so because kneeling is, in all fact and truth, completely appropriate. I would like to turn at this point to another, even more disturbing, aspect of Bishop X's liturgical directives with respect to kneeling and its role in private prayer after receiving communion.

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