Thursday, July 17, 2003

More Correspondence on Kneeling

My correspondent's words in blue, mine in black (or sometimes brown).

[Y]ou are inaccurate . . . to say that [the Bishop's directive] objectively "denies Catholics the opportunity" for intimate converse with Jesus. In fact, what it does is delay and abbreviate that "intimate converse" in an awkward way. Perhaps you have not yet witnessed a Mass celebrated under the new directive, but the moment of "intimate converse" now begins (yes, it happens) *after* the priest sits down. Its length is contingent on the sensibility of the individual priest, and the whole thing is awkward precisely because nothing else is occuring at that moment in the liturgy. And because, almost without exception, *no one* chooses to kneel rather than sit.

As anyone may infer from my thoughts on the matter, I haven't attended a "Bp. X Mass," and so I will take my correspondent's word on this -- is the period of private prayer after the singing stops as generously long as it is at "St. Bede's"? I asked this question via email and got the following answer:

I doubt anyone can say for certain whether the period of silence is as long as at "St. Bede's," because the new directive leaves that up to the individual priest. I have been to "directive Masses" with very long periods of silence . . . The one consistent thing at these Masses (thus far) has been a general feeling of awkwardness--it is always in the air during the period of silence, regardless of how long the silence lasts. People just don't know what to expect.

. . . I've heard Masses outside of this Diocese where the priest managed to rush through the "period of religious silence" as quickly as possible. . . .

The directive, as printed [in the Diocesan Newspaper] says you may "sit or kneel" after communion. It's possible that some priests are teaching otherwise, and certainly most people are not exercising the option to kneel, but that's what the directive says.

Thanks, Joe, I appreciate the information. In reply, I want to take a look at the larger climate. First, the posture of kneeling has been soundly thrashed up by the USCC and Bishop X in a host of bulletins, editorials, comments, etc. For example:

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.

-- Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Bulletin, "Postures and Gestures at Mass," found at

I'll go into the utter poverty, the sheer "history is bunkness," of this statement in "Edification and Kneeling," which is forthcoming. At first reading the Bishops' statement doesn't sound too awful -- until you think about it. The Bishops are telling us that kneeling always means bad things, depressing things, awful things, like sin and worthlessness before God. Kneeling is soooo depressing and self-accusatory that the early Christians (the good ones, you know, whose every move should be immitated by us, we ourselves, God's people, the Church) were forbidden to do it whenever the occasion called for joy and thanksgiving. Kneeling is joyless. Kneeling isn't thanksgiving. In fact, kneeling is soooo joyless and humiliating that it was the posture of preference during those brutal, dumb, and generally-icky Middle Ages when men had to abase themselves in a vile serfdom to their tyrannical lords. Only "more recently" have some culturally-inane Catholics identified kneeling with adoration, and that's why we kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer: According to the Bishops, we don't kneel at Mass because kneeling really, truly expresses any sense of joy, thanksgiving, or adoration, but because kneeling has been nonsensically identified with those things by some people. Kneeling is a liturgical quirk, a cultural hiccup, kept hanging around in the GIRM because some of the old goats who get to Mass in pristine-condition Ford Fairlanes might be unduly traumatized if it were removed altogether.

Kneeling, according to the USCC is eucharistically uncouth. The correct posture, the saintly posture, the posture of Heaven, is standing:

Standing is a sign of respect and honor, so we stand as the celebrant who represents Christ enters and leaves the assembly. This posture, 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.

-- Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Bulletin, "Postures and Gestures at Mass," found at

"And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." 1 Cor. 15:14 (KJV). Is your faith in vain, friend? Then you'd better stand, because only standing can witness to the Resurrection! Standing is the posture of gratitude for the marvels of redemption, the wonderful gift of Christ, and the Gospel which is the pinnacle of revelation! From the earliest days of the Church, standing was good because Catholics are made good by God -- kneeling apparently came later, when men learned to crawl in shame and servitude because of their own misdeeds.

Now who would want to kneel if all that's true? Who should want to kneel? No one, that's who. I certainly don't want to ignore the Resurrection and its affect on my life. I certainly don't want to fail in gratitude to God, the cause of my salvation, and I doubt any other Catholic would want to display such ignorant thanklessness either. Especially since, as we already know from Bishop X's public statements, kneeling to receive communion "clearly will be demonstrating dissent from the mind of the Church. Rather than reverence, the [posture's] emphasis will be refusal to embrace particular law approved by the Vatican." If kneeling is cause for excommunication when receiving communion, certainly its Resurrection-free uncouthness is inappropriate for anyone who has received communion. Except, of course, for old Cletus and Rae Ann: They can kneel if they're too set in their pre-Vatican II ways to witness the Risen Christ, "and the times of this ignorance God winked at," etc., etc.. The GIRM is so condemnatory of kneeling that it offers an alternative posture for "silence" after the communion procession (a posture which, I predict, will be mandatory within a few years) -- sitting. Sitting, you see, is USCC's posture for "listening and meditation." Id. Surely good Catholics would want to listen in gratitude to God after communion, to joyfully mediate on His glories? Since kneeling doesn't express gratitude or joy, listening or contemplation, there's really no good reason for kneeling after everyone finishes singing "On Eagle's Wings." It's really much better to sit, although a "pastoral concern" for the old goats should allow Cletus and Rae Ann their knee-popping archaisms until we can all witness to the Risen Lord the way everyone did in 250 A.D.

So the USCC has erected a liturgical culture which is hostile to kneeling in any setting other than the Eucharistic Prayer (and, if the USCC is taken at its word, even to kneeling then, as well). As you say, "almost without exception, *no one* chooses to kneel rather than sit. This culture is being assiduously developed (in our Diocese, at least) among priests, "liturgists," lay ministers, parish leaders, and so on through episcopal circulars, bombastic editorials in the Diocesan Newspaper, preaching and "proper catechesis," etc. Within this culture, our Bishop has opted to create what you yourself admit is an "awkward" arrangement, a constant feeling of tension and uncertainty. People are just sitting there, watching the priest just sit there, and while everyone is watching everyone else just sitting there, it's been 1.5 hours since everyone left home. Some of them have to get to Cracker Barrell to meet Aunt June, others need to let the dog out, still others would like to plunge themselves into a few minutes of deep prayer. Ten thousand pressures are crowding into the nave (sorry, "worship environment"), and they'll keep crowding in, becoming more and more insistent, because there's no stability in this period of supposed privacy. It may end in ten minutes. It may end in two. Last week's no guide to this week, because Fr. was particularly moved by the Gospel message and his cousin's death then, but has his grief under control now and hasn't found the meat of this particular reading yet. No one in the congregation knows that, nor could know it. So meditation is encouraged to become anticipation, anticipation encouraged to become agitation . . . . . We all know that God often regards conquering distractions to prayer more than the prayer itself. That's no reason for to foster distraction, to create an environment prone to distract. The Mass ought to be a "safe place," as safe as possible anyway, for people to discover why they don't want to be distracted. Being filled with the Trinity is probably the best time to make that discovery. But instead, we all have to stand, and read our hymnals, and sing, and then sit, and watch Fr., and worry about whether we have time for a Memorare or St. Therese's prayer after communion before he's had enough meditation (or thinks we have) and stands up to begin the announcements.

You don't have to make it a crime to own guns in order to ban them. You just have to put people through enough awkward crap that they lose the desire to own guns. "Oh, you can own a gun, you just have to waive your Fourth Amendment rights and agree that the police can search your house whenever they want, as many times as they want . . ." That's what's happening here. "Oh, you can pray privately, you just have to do it at the tail end of a 1.5 hour Mass for a variable amount of time during which you have to watch your priest to see when he feels you've had enough prayer." I don't need to ask whether this directive is designed to ban private prayer from our liturgy (although I think it is, and will explain why in "Edification and Kneeling"). I only need to ask: Given an institutional preference for large changes made by moderate stages, how would the GIRM look if it were intended to do that? It would look as it looks now. So I stand by my earlier criticism, that Bishop X's directive is shoving and will shove private prayer out of the Mass for good and all. No matter how many protestations we might hear about "early days" and "figuring it out together," the new directive can't have any other result because people are people, and no one's going to put a huge digital "countdown clock" above the crucifix so we can tell how much time we have to meditate and pray after we can finally sit (not kneel) down.

You wrote, "I can only conclude that a "violation" of whatever "norm" §160(2) may be said to represent is not the kind of transgression which brought St. Paul's fiery condemnation on the Corinthians' heresies and scandals -- unless, of course, you want to say that the Pope condemns heresies and schisms in encyclicals but winks at them in the Curia." My point, taken in the context of my message, was not to say that those who kneel are necessarily creating "faction and division" on the order of the Corinthians. My point was that those who choose to kneel to receive against the clear objection/directive of their pastor *are* creating "faction and division" on the order of the Corinthians.

Same thing. The CDWDS has said kneeling to receive is "completely appropriate" in light of the real presence of God. Joe, that opinion binds Bishop X. He can't have another authoritative opinion, or say that it's not completely appropriate to kneel to receive communion. If he can have another authoritative opinion, then he can also have alternative opinions on any other decision a Roman congregation might make -- like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's ("CDF") condemnation of in vitro fertilization or its insistence on the salvific uniqueness of the Church in Dominus Iesus. That goes for all the bishops in the USCC. For that matter, it goes for everyone in the Church. Bishop X can't declare the CDWDS' protocol "non-operative" any more than a Catholic gynecologist can declare the CDF's ruling on in vitro fertilization "non-operative." If none of us can have authoritative opinions contrary to the Curia's, then the Bishops can't have an authoritative opinion that kneeling to receive isn't "completely appropriate." If he must hold an authoritative opinion that kneeling to receive is "completely appropriate," he can't have an intention cognizable in law to contradict his own authoritative opinion. At best, he can utter personal, precatory opinions about what the CDWDS ought to have said, and I'm not obliged to obey those -- especially when they involve me in disagreeing with one of the highest authorities in the Church. In fact, given these aspects of the situation, I should think fans of the Bishop's directive ought to be very cautious before throwing the topic of "faction and division on the order of Corinthians" out for discussion.

As far as the pope's remark commending priests who celebrate "according to the liturgical norm" goes, I'm convinced that most pastors who ignore Bishop X's misinformed directive on the other matter *are* at least being faithful to the norm by providing an appropriate exception in the spirit of the law. As long as their motives are clearly loving rather than divisive, and the exception made is as small as the one in this diocese, I can't see how they can seriously create "faction and division."

OK, I could ask for an agreement stronger than that, but I'm not greedy. :))

But Fr. Irascible, I'm told, has informed his parish that Fr. Vianney is a "heretic" for disobeying the bishop's norm. I'll concede that it's possible Fr. Vianney is creating schism in a broad sense, at least between he and his fellow priests, across the diocese.

Whoa! WHOA! Note the dynamics here -- Fr. Vianney isn't preaching homilies about "heretical" parishes where the Bishop's opinions are implemented. He's just being -- as you say -- "faithful to the norm by providing an appropriate exception in the spirit of the law." So how does he end up a schismatic? I don't want to overblow the comparison, I realize this is hyperbole, but there's still some truth in it -- was Athanasius responsible for schism "in a broad sense" because his actions provoked Eusebius into rages and denunciations? Schism isn't division. Schism isn't bad feelings. Schism is disobedience to lawful ecclesiastical authority and as I've spend hours and hours typing about it, no ecclesiastical authority is being disobeyed when parishes don't follow Bishop X's personal opinions about what ruling the CDWDS should have made regarding § 160(2) of the GIRM, or his personal opinions about what rule he ought to make (but has not yet made) under ¶ 43 of the GIRM.

But I think it's downright criminal to suggest that an entire parish must stop lovingly following its custom merely to appease those malcontents who cannot even walk the streets in good conscience with the knowledge that some "dissent" in good conscience from their bishop's instruction on the matter.

There's no dissent involved, as I've explained. Anyhow, If I follow you, I appreciate the thought and find it very charitable.

After all, such people need only journey to the Archdiocese of Fredonia to see that his opinion is not the "norm" in the U.S.

More and more people are already going to Fredonia, I'm sorry to say. I don't know why the decision's been made to push for this step even though it pressures faithful Catholics into driving to Fredonia, when IMHO the pressure ought to be on unfaithful Catholics to drive to the nearest Methodist Church, where they can contracept, listen to women preach from the pulpit, and dissent from Church teaching to their heart's content. But then, as I've said, if I were the Bishop of Long Island I'd excommunicate Susan Molinari in a public ceremony that would outdo the "candle smashing scene" in Beckett. Maybe I shouldn't be a bishop. (Haw!) But I'd settle for (and recommend) that there be no pressure rather than the lopsided silly pressures we have now.

Shawn is *not* necessarily wrong. Have you considered that this new norm, due to the mess of the compromise, in effect allows Catholics who dissent to receive communion? This seems to me a most realistic and logical conclusion, regardless of whether Rome clarifies it.

Slowly I turn, step by step . . . . . there's no dissent. Dissent is when the Church authoritatively teaches a binding thing, and a Catholic refuses to conform himself to it. Now who's dissenting? Am I dissenting from Bishop X when I kneel to receive communion? You can say I am, because I know what he would prefer I do and won't do it. But is Bishop X dissenting from Rome? You can say he is, because he knows what Rome's said about kneeling to receive and yet says the opposite to every Catholic with a zip code in his Diocese. Am I disobedient to Bishop X's wishes to stand and sing during communion? You can say I am, because I know again that's what he wants and don't do it. But is Bishop X disobedient to Rome when he won't promulgate a directive that makes his wishes binding? You can say he is, because he won't follow the law he's supposedly enforcing. In the presence of conflicting instructions from equally-competent authority, there's no such thing as the "dissent" Catholics like to villify.

Yes, but this is where the present debate must stop focusing on lying bishops and start acknowledging the serious effects consciously causing another to sin. The point, with regard to our immortal souls, is not that laymen are "compelled" to follow a bishop or priest's directive. The point is whether we "should" respect a bishop/priest, acting in a way that doesn't cause him to sin, *even* when he misrepresents his authority. I think we should.

Yo, Joe. I'm not saying the Bishop is lying. I've never said it, and I won't say it. I don't know what kind of sin he could be committing. Silliness isn't a sin. Incomprehension of the law isn't a sin. Wishing people would do something and being upset when they don't isn't a sin. Not realizing that your own Diocesan Newspaper is treading on calumny, suspicion, and detraction isn't a sin -- especially not when your incomprehension of the law encourages you to think it's not calumny, suspicion, or detraction at all. Sin has no physical dimension, so being thick about things isn't sinful. It's upsetting and distasteful because his thickness is making a good number of people suffer needlessly. But that's the kind of meekness Catholics can put up with. (God knows, we do it all the time).

CDWDS doesn't direct or even *urge* you to receive kneeling in defiance of your pastor or even bishop. Again, it does NOT state that it's "completely appropriate" to receive against the wishes of a pastor. That's too pat.

Joe, it says kneeling is "completely appropriate." Let me say that again -- Completely. Appropriate. Am I defying my Bishop, or is my Bishop defying Rome?

What the CDWDS actually says is that a pastor *cannot refuse* communion because kneeling is "completely appropriate" WITHIN ITS TRADITION.

Eh? I quoted the whole protocol below, and where is this "actual statement." You're confusing the circumstance of the CDWDS' ruling with its language. In law (sorry, you know me), that's called "parol evidence" and it's admissible only when the terms of the document are ambiguous and require an interpretive course of dealings to be correctly understood. The only time "tradition" gets mentioned is as follows: the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition,

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.

We're Catholics, and as we keep telling the sola scriptura bunch, it's not "either/or" it's "also/and." Kneeling is a centuries-old tradition AND a physical posture that's completely appropriate when receiving communion because Our Lord is truly present. Since His presence isn't contingent on tradition, the propriety of kneeling isn't either.

That tradition is not practiced or encouraged in every parish, as the CDWDS knows. But too many people seem to believe the CDWDS is encouraging them to kneel regardless of the consideration of others.

See above about "tradition" and the CDWDS protocol. I don't know what the CDWDS is encouraging, except disciplinary chaos. But I do know the CDWDS says it's completely appropriate for me to kneel to receive communion and no one else can disagree with that and still talk about "factions and divisions" a'la the Corinthians.

As you say very concisely in your post, the USCCB and the CDWDS share the blame (the CDWDS the greater portion) for these contradictions. Our bishop is to blame for misrepresenting (consciously or unconsciously) his authority on these matters.

There's lots of blame to go around, yes. And I'm sure the misrepresentation is unintentional -- unfortunately, it's fatal nonetheless. I can believe in perfect good faith that I've filed my case on time with the Clerk of the Court, but that won't change the statute of limitations or the calendar, and my day-late filing is DOA.

I'm not sure this allusion [sic] [with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is apt. Isn't there a difference between doctrine and this sort of liturgical issue? There is a clear teaching on women's ordination. But, as you know, there is no uniform teaching on communion posture anymore. So there's really no comparison.

The only comparison is that I'm not obliged to accept an episcopal interpretation of Church teaching or discipline which is directly, clearly, and obviously contrary to the words of the Church's teaching or disciplinary documents. That's all.

Also, there is nothing in the GIRM which prohibits Bishop X from making us stand and kneel when we do. He has still asked us to kneel "after the Agnus Dei" at some point.

When he asks, I can consider and then decide. When he orders I must obey. He's asked, I've considered, and I've decided. When and if he ever orders I'll have a new set of issues to confront.

[W]here in Canon Law is a bishop required to do otherwise? What requires a bishop, in enforcing a "norm" in an area of liturgy in which there is no uniform teaching, to inform the laity of his reasons? If there is no uniform teaching, what justifies dissent?

I would follow St. Thomas and argue that all governmental directives, in order to bind their subjects, must be promulgated and made from proper authority. My Sheriff can *order* me to let him into my house to look around, but he'd *better* have a warrant if his order is to be legal. My bishop can *order* me to stand during communion, but he'd better promulgate a proper directive under section 43 before I have to comply. Now it might be that my Sheriff *could* get a warrant, but chooses instead to rely on his personal theory about the divine right of kings -- his action is still not legal even though it could be if he abandoned his wrongheaded ideas and did what the law said he can do. It might be that the Bishop *could* issue a proper directive under Section 43, and chooses instead to rely on his personal theory about the GIRM demanding that we all stand -- his action is likewise still not legal even though it could be if he abandoned his wrongheaded ideas and did what the law says he can do. I think the plain fact of the matter is that he wants to insulate himself from personal responsibility for the turmoil that's being caused, and so he's taken "don't blame me, blame the Church" approach.

You win the Donatist debate.

You're damn right I win the Donatist debate. Joe, I like you. You're OK, so don't take this too personally. But I am damn sick and tired of this "bad Catholic, wolves in the flock of Christ" bulls%$# that's being used IN PREFERENCE to a simple, proper procedure allowed by the GIRM with regard to standing after the Agnus Dei and some encouraging, loving preaching about how I will improve my spiritual life by standing through communion done in the style of an honest, God-fearing man who really thinks I am a good Catholic son of his even if he thinks I have some problems in that area. The crap being pulled recently is dysfunctional in the worst "Daddy's Gonna Beat Baby Good" sense of the word. It forms one of my strongest motives for resistance to this standing business -- something which has to be achieved, which is desired to be achieved, by misrepresentations, abusiveness, suspicion, gossip, calumny, and divisive bullying is likely not edifying to the Church.

But, let me ask, what authorizes you or anyone to interpret the GIRM over the bishop's head? The fact that he did not more clearly source/cite his authority? He's not required to do so, far as I know.

Nothing authorizes me to interpret the GIRM "over my bishop's head" except the same thing that requires me to love God with all my mind. I can read English, Joe. The GIRM isn't in code. It says what it says. It says (at most) that I'm supposed to be kneeling after the Agnus Dei unless Bishop X issues a separate, distinct directive under Section 43 on his own authority. He hasn't done that. He's said that he isn't doing that, because the GIRM already requires me to stand after the Agnus Dei. His statement that he isn't issuing a directive is competent, descriptive, and fits the facts. But his depiction of the GIRM as a document which requires standing throughout communion is incompetent, non-descriptive, and directly contrary to the consonents and vowels in the GIRM. So if anything, I'm taking Bishop X at his own word, not going over his head.


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