Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Kneeling & Edification, Continued

This is the second part of a three-part reply to I. Shawn McElhinney at Rerum Novarum about kneeling and its place in the Novus Ordo generally, and under the recent American adaptations to the GIRM (US-GIRM). It deals with kneeling and private prayer during communion and after one has received communion. Much of this is mooted by the CDWDS' recent ruling (see below "I told ya so . . . .") but for what it's worth I'll post it here and conclude tomorrow with some thoughts on culture and kneeling in individual Catholic parish communities.

Kneeling and Private Prayer

Hand and hand with the eradication of kneeling is a campaign against private prayer at Mass. Opining that before the Second Vatican Council there was "little sense of liturgical prayer" among the faithful, who were supposedly reduced to ineffectually trying to follow the Mass"with a prayer book containing a translation of the Latin . . . or listen[ing] to a choir," he has determined to eradicate the "privatization of holy Communion" in order to "highlight the more communitarian character" of receiving the Lord. He is gratified that the Second Vatican Council instituted the communion hymn, because "folks are less likely to retreat into private prayer upon returning to their place after receiving holy Communion," but is still disturbed that "for the most part, the time after the reception of Communion has remained a period of private prayer." Accordingly, he commands that there be no private prayer after communion except during the vague, ever-variable, and awkward "period of silence" discussed in my correspondence with "Joe." (He also says, true to my speculation about the USCC's theorizing, that we may not kneel during that period because sitting is the proper posture for reflecting on Jesus' eucharistic glory). In order to obliterate private prayer immediately after Communion, our Bishop suggests the following communion procession:
In most parishes, people approach a Communion minister starting with the front pews and proceeding to the front of the Church, but there is no procession as such. To emphasize the procession aspect, consideration might be given to a different approach. A cross bearer and two candle bearers (acolytes) might proceed from the altar to the back of the Church as the priest celebrant receives Communion. The cross bearer and acolytes then might lead initial communicants to Eucharistic ministers stationed in the front of the Church. This means that those in the rear of the Church would receive first and those in the front last.

Everyone, of course, is to remain standing and singing until the last person communes. The USCC, of course, heartily endorses this crusade against private prayer and the alternative focus on the corporate conception of Christ's body to be expressed in the communion procession:
For some, however, the singing of this hymn is perceived as an intrusion on their own prayer, their private thanksgiving after Communion. In fact, however, this hymn is prayer, the corporate thanksgiving prayer . . . Over and over again the . . . [GIRM instructions] emphasize this fundamental concept of the unity of the baptized, stressing that when we . . . participate in the Eucharistic celebration we come, not as individuals, but as united members of Christ's body . . .[The GIRM] says of the Communion Song that its function is to express outwardly . . . union . . . unity . . . and to highlight the "communitarian" character of the Communion Procession. . . . It is difficult for some of us to embrace this emphasis on Mass [sic] as the action of a community rather than an individual act of [ ] faith and piety, but it is important that we make every effort to do so. . . . We are the Body of Christ, moving forward to receive the Christ who makes us one with himself and with one another. Our procession should move with dignity; our bearing should be that of those who know they have been redeemed by Christ and are coming to receive their God!". . . 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.[37]

I venture to say that the Bishops are so strident on these points because they see them as an effective way to combat individualism, the glorification of a free subjectivism in all aspects of life.[38]

The USCC finds "individualism," at the root of our society's evils. According to USCC publications, individualism promotes our society's disrespect and neglect of the aged; [39] the decline in stable family life and the rise of sexual immorality and cohabitation;[40] the denial of the truth of sin and redemption in favor of false psychological theories of personalism, and; [41] serves as a growth medium for the Culture of Death through the subjectivization of individual ethics that devalues other human beings.[42] "Unlimited individualism" has undermined government's responsibility to protect life" causing violence against all persons, born and unborn, spread through our society like a cancer." [43] Individualism thwarts the spread of the Gospel in Western society, because one cannot achieve a solid faith and disciplined Christian in a society "that is premised on individualism, sexual permissiveness, lack of personal responsibility for one's actions, material comfort and hedonism. Such is the prevailing atmosphere of the Western world."[44] A supposed identity of moral individualism and kneeling at communion appears in episcopal publications. In 1991 the National Bulletin on Liturgy, a publication by the Canadian Bishops, claimed that kneeling is inappropriate at Mass because it is "an act of adoration and individual piety," whereas "the Eucharistic Prayer is the action of the Church offering the prayer and sacrifice of praise to God." [45] In its own recent pronouncements on the issue, the United States' Bishops' Committee on Liturgy says that kneeling gives the "appearance of individualism"[46] in addition to the appearance of "division" caused by allegedly disobeying the Church's instructions on the liturgy.[45] Concerns over "individualism" are well placed, and have been since Pope Leo XIII inveighed against it during the springtime of the modern industrialized world. But is it really that simple? Are modern men to be healed by a paradigm that says they may not go to meet God as individuals, but only as part of a uniformly-regimented whole?

The scourge of individualism is not produced merely by an individual's awareness of himself, nor by the tension between that awareness and his membership in a community. In Veritatis Splendor, the Holy Father diagnoses individualism, finding in it a disordered freedom that simultaneously promises the empowerment of the individual's conscience and encourages him to indulge in a profound skepticism about, and eventual denial of, a universe of truth in which he can have a meaningful place.[47] In his Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Debo Vobis, the Holy Father describes the sad and impoverished dimensions of an individualist's life:
We should take note also of a desperate defense of personal subjectivity which tends to close it off in individualism, rendering it incapable of true human relationships. As a result, many -- especially children and young people -- seek to compensate for this loneliness with substitutes of various kinds, in more or less acute forms of hedonism or flight from responsibility. Prisoners of the fleeting moment, they seek to "consume" the strongest and most gratifying individual experiences at the level of immediate emotions and sensations, inevitably finding themselves indifferent and "paralyzed" as it were when they come face to face with the summons to embark upon a life project which includes a spiritual and religious dimension and a commitment to solidarity.[48]

Individualism isn't the fact of individuality. It is a "distorted sense of freedom. . . Instead of being understood as obedience to objective and universal truth, freedom is lived out as a blind acquiescence to instinctive forces and to an individual's will to power. Individualism naturally erodes internal consent to ethical principles" and results widespread indifference and . . . a life which, even in its more significant moments and more decisive choices . . . lived as if God did not exist.[49] In other words, individualism is a false understanding of true individuality, a fraudulent sense of sufficiency that makes men deaf to the falconer, creating an ever-widening gyre of anarchy wherein the best are unsure of truth and the worst give themselves up to their own lusts.[50]

Individualism is not an exterior illness, a visible separation from a whole. It is a spiritual affliction, an inward, invisible denial of a real moral universe. Supporters of abortion rights and the Culture of Death are thoroughly suffused with individualism, but this does not keep them from engaging in "communal" events like rallies, clubs and associations, etc., etc. The men and women who try to compensate for the loneliness of their individualism are slaves to intellectual and physical fashions, the ever-changing yet ever-same priorities of a consumptive and hedonistic society. They are constantly changing their "lifestyles" in response to the merest variation in the cultural winds which blow about them. This mass of activity is also rife with individualism, even though it is played out in a communal environment that stresses conformity to style, adherence to popular idiom, with a rigor that might be envied by an abbot. In the proper sense of the term, Nazism was an individualistic movement, lived as "blind acquiescence" to the "instinctive forces" of race and a national "will to power." Its pretense of a scientific foundation, and of "moral" objectivity and order, nonetheless bound its adherents to a life which . . . [was] lived as if God did not exist. Individualism is not mere anarchy, and it may dominate what appears to be a highly-organized and "objective" social movement. Considered strictly, therefore, neither visible signs of community nor visible signs of individuality have much (if anything) to do with the existence or influence of individualism.

The Church has, therefore, never recognized the Manichean antagonism between "community" and "individual" which suffuses the Bishops' horror at "privatizing" the Mass. In Catholicism, the relationship of individual and community is not hostile, but reciprocal:
In a natural body the principle of unity unites the parts in such a manner that each lacks its own individual subsistence; on the contrary, in the Mystical Body [of Christ] the mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each the complete enjoyment of his own personality Moreover . . . in every physical, living body, all the different members are ultimately destined to the good of the whole alone; while . . . every moral association . . . is . . . directed to the advancement of all in general and of each single member in particular; for they are persons. And thus -- to return to Our theme -- as the Son of the Eternal Father came down from heaven for the salvation of us all, He likewise established the body of the Church and enriched it with the divine Spirit to ensure that immortal souls should attain eternal happiness according to the words of the Apostle: "All things are yours; and you are Christ's: and Christ is God's." For the Church exists both for the good of the faithful and for the glory of God and of Jesus Christ whom He sent.

But if we compare a mystical body with a moral body, it is to be noted that the difference between them is not slight; rather it is very considerable and very important. In the moral body the principal of union is nothing else than . . . the common cooperation of all under the authority of society for the attainment of [an] end; whereas in the Mystical Body . . . this collaboration is supplemented by another internal principle, which exists effectively in the whole and in each of its parts, and whose excellence is such that of itself it is vastly superior to whatever bonds of union may be found in a physical or moral body. . . . [t]his is something not of the natural but of the supernatural order; rather it is something in itself infinite, uncreated: the Spirit of God, who, as the Angelic Doctor says, "numerically one and the same, fills and unifies the whole Church."

Hence, this word ["body"] in its correct signification gives us to understand that the Church, a perfect society of its kind, is not made up of merely moral and juridical elements and principles. It is far superior to all other human societies; it surpasses them as grace surpasses nature, as things immortal are above all those that perish. . . . that which lifts the Society of Christians far above the whole natural order is the Spirit of our Redeemer who penetrates and fills every part of the Church's being . . . Just as our composite mortal body, although it is a marvelous work of the Creator, falls far short of the eminent dignity of our soul, so the social structure of the Christian community, though it proclaims the wisdom of its divine Architect, still remains something inferior when compared to the spiritual gifts which give it beauty and life, and to the divine source whence they flow.

A Catholic's individuality is not a nail in the flesh of Christ. It is a necessary, constituent part of Christ's Body, the Church, for all the members of that body mutually depend on one another's unique existence: "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness." 1 Cor. 12:21-23 (KJV). The metaphor can be continued to the level of the smallest and most feeble members -- one cell of the eye cannot say to the other "I have no need of thee." It is quite true that this beautiful arrangement is contradicted by a denial of human solidarity through individual subjectivity and separatism. But it is equally contradicted by false conceptions of solidarity in which the entire body tells its members "we are all the same," thus denying the body's real God-tempered dependence on the unique, individual life of each of its members.

This is precisely what the Bishops are unintentionally doing when they foster, both within and without the liturgy, the idea that the Mass has nothing to do with the individual, and everything to do with the collective. Their new GIRM policies are explained in terms which leave no doubt that the individual is inauthentic, the only real experience of Christ is found in uniform participation in a collective identity: "The Mass [is] the action of a community rather than an individual act of [ ] faith and piety . . . We are the Body of Christ, moving forward to receive the Christ who makes us one . . . with one another . . . [w]hen we . . . participate in the Eucharistic celebration we come, not as individuals, but as united members of Christ's body . . . who must not be allowed to "privatize the Mass" by "retreat[ing] . . . into private prayer" upon receiving the Lord's body and blood. Indeed, these explanations leave one unable to understand why even the "period of silence" the Bishops are presently willing to allow us can be thought good, or even tolerable. If "retreat[ing] into private prayer" impermissibly engages in the "privatization of holy Communion" and denies the Mass' true nature as "the action of a community rather than an individual," surely it makes no difference when this baneful intrusion of "individualism" occurs during the Mass. There can be no harmony between the Bishops' condemnation of individualized participation in the Mass and their praise of its collective character, because they have accepted a false opposition of "individual vs. community" as a token for the very real opposition of "individualism vs. solidarity." In essence, they're simplistically attempting to combat "individualism" by ignoring or even erasing the individualized actions which make it possible. That will never work, especially when it's tried within a larger frame that abhors "penitential" activity that might humiliate man's consciousness by forcing him to realize his utter dependence on the "fearful God."

The "active participation" of the faithful sought by the Second Vatican Council was never intended to erect this false antagonism between "privatization" understood as an individual experience of the Eucharist and "the Mass" understood as a sheer collective act which cannot abide private eucharistic encounters with God. To the contrary, the Council's documents reveal that the reciprocal nature of communion and individuality is essential to the Mass, the Church, and the salvation of man:
[T]he liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.

The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with "the paschal sacraments," to be "one in holiness"; it prays that "they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith"; the renewal in the eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.

* * *

"God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in Him." But, God pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us; thus the first and most necessary gift is love, by which we love God above all things and our neighbor because of God. Indeed, in order that love, as good seed may grow and bring forth fruit in the soul, each one of the faithful must willingly hear the Word of God and accept His Will, and must complete what God has begun by their own actions with the help of God's grace. These actions consist in the use of the sacraments and in a special way the Eucharist, frequent participation in the sacred action of the Liturgy, application of oneself to prayer, self-abnegation, lively fraternal service and the constant exercise of all the virtues. For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law, rules over all the means of attaining holiness and gives life to these same means. It is charity which guides us to our final end. It is the love of God and the love of one's neighbor which points out the true disciple of Christ. . . . The Church continually keeps before it the warning of the Apostle which moved the faithful to charity, exhorting them to experience personally what Christ Jesus had known within Himself. This was the same Christ Jesus, who "emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave . . . becoming obedient to death". . . . [53]

* * *

Thus the Eucharistic Action, over which the priest presides, is the very heart of the congregation. So priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives. . . . Priests likewise must instruct their people to participate in the celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy in such a way that they become proficient in genuine prayer. They must coax their people on to an ever more perfect and constant spirit of prayer for every grace and need. They must gently persuade everyone to the fulfillment of the duties of his state of life, and to greater progress in responding in a sensible way to the evangelical counsels. . . .

Exercising the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and according to their share of His authority, priests, in the name of the bishop, gather the family of God together as a brotherhood enlivened by one spirit. . . . For the exercise of this ministry, as for the other priestly duties, spiritual power is conferred upon them for the building up of the Church. In building up of the Church, priests . . . should teach [men] and admonish them as beloved sons, according to the words of the Apostle: "Be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine"

Priests . . . must see to it . . . that the faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free. Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing, will be of little value if they are not directed towards the education of men to Christian maturity. In furthering this, priests, should help men to see what is required and what is God's will in the important and unimportant events of life. Also, Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but, according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others. In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men.

One is tempted to highlight all the occasions in which words like "individual," "each," and "each one," are used, and likewise the passages which show the impossibility of living the Mass without private, individualized concern and experience. But that would suggest another fictive dichotomy between the individual and the community. What is needed is a thorough understanding that the individual lives embraced by and made part of the Body of Christ must be allowed their "private" dimension so that they may fulfill the "public" manifestation of God With Us.

Perhaps Jacques Maritain put his finger on it in his collection of essays published at the close of the Second Vatican Council:
[Contemplating the Council's decrees on "active participation"] one understands a bit better why the liturgical life is a normally necessary aid for those who set out toward the perfection of charity. Because in the Church, and in an infintely more real sense than in all other ‘societies' worthy of the name, is verified the principle that the common good is a good common to the whole and to the parts; or in other words, the common good flows back finally on to the parts, who are human persons. It is by virtue of the work accomplished in common in the liturgical celebration, and the sanctification that flows back from it to each of those who have truly participated, that the Christians who endeavor to advance toward sanctity are made better able to move forward. What they have done during the celebration, they have done as members of the whole. What they receive, they receive ultimately as persons. . . .

The conclusion of these reflections can, it seems to me, be formulated thus: it is essential to the Christian to be at one and the same time person and member; and he is always both, since these two aspects of him are distinct but cannot be separated. I observed a moment ago that in the liturgical celebration Christians are sanctified first of all through the flowing back on each one of the good accomplished through their common work. It is not above all, therefore, by what he does as a member of the whole, in doing his part of the work of the whole, it is above all by what he finally receives as a person on whom the good of the whole is flowing back, that the Christian is then sanctified, and that the liturgy is for him an indispensable aid in his progress toward God.

The Mass must not be "privatized." But that is not to say private prayer after the reception of communion indulges an impermissible subjectification. To the contrary, private prayer after the reception of communion is a necessary means for each Christian to realize both what he has done as a member and what he has thereby received as a person. To be sure, the "communitarian" elements of the Mass are indispensible to its existence at the summit of Catholic life; if we dispensed with them, our worship would lose its connection to the Church and the Body of Christ. But we cannot go to the other extreme; if we condemn individual eucharistic piety as "private" subjectification hostile to the Body of Christ, we make our worship into a simple ceremony. It only remains to allude to my earlier discussion of kneeling, to connect this individual moment with that particularly-expressive posture.

It is a deeply-seated habit in human culture to redress imbalance, even if it is attempted only by another, and countervailing, gout of excess. I believe that the exclusive "communitarian" focus of our Bishops may very well lead to actual individualism, creating uncontainable pressures among the faithful to seek a private, intimate eucharistic unity with Jesus Christ which will erupt in endless sentimental tinkering on a diocesan, parish, or even intra-parish level. The first swell of that pressure is, ironically, present in the USCC's breathless invocation of communal glory that contradictorily invites the body of individuals to claim ownership of the Blessed Sacrament: We are the Body of Christ, moving forward to receive the Christ who makes us one with himself and with one another. Our procession should move with dignity; our bearing should be that of those who know they have been redeemed by Christ and are coming to receive their God!". . . 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. We have already seen Bishop X invent his own fillip, the "communal/communion procession" with candles, altar servers, cross-bearers, and its easy but ambiguous symbolism of making the first go last and the last go first to receive from "eucharistic ministers." Are elderly or infirm people who sit in the front pew because they can't easily walk to communion last in the kingdom of God? Or is their going last to communion a sign that they are first in God's kingdom, acknowledging that those who sit in the front pews really are holier than thou? Who can say? Who should care? It is, after all, more important to understand it is "your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive" -- under the iron guidance of your bishops and liturgists, of course, whose sentimental innovations will express the General Will, your true individuality, through the collective enforcement of whatever new "style" fits the year, the season, or the day. The USCC's war over the false dichotomy of "individual vs. community" may well create a real dichotomy of "human vs. divine," as men proclaim their de facto ownership of the Sacrament with increasingly-frequent changes and innovations, making the liturgy a moveable cultural feast, because they are chasing that ever-illusive intimacy which can so easily be gained in only a few minutes of the forbidden "privatization" which they have all been taught to abhor. We haven't seen enough yet to assure all and sundry that this will happen, but we have already seen more than enough to worry greatly about it.

No comments: