Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Readers Weigh In

I'm getting emails from friends who've been in this kneeling/standing dispute with me. I thought I'd reply in public, after removing the personal information. My correspondent's words are in blue, mine in black or brown.

The new posting on your blog is very cogent.

Thank you. I fool a lot of people that way. :))

If you get the time, I could benefit from your clarification on the following points. Let me know if you think I've understood anything incorrectly.


You wrote "the US-GIRM is, by reasonable extension, a Vatican-approved grant of localized authority to direct liturgical action." Yes, that's precisely how the majority of our fellow Catholics understand it. If one argues otherwise, then doesn't his argument boil down to a simple affirmation of anarchy in the Church today?

First, I was summarizing Shawn's point about the US-GIRM. But I think that's not an unfair characterization of what the US-GIRM actually is, so you have a really good question. I think "anarchy" is too strong a word, especially with respect to this issue. What we have, taking the case most favorably to the Bishop's authority, are two confused sovereigns (the Bishop and the CDWDS) who have promulgated conflicting laws within a moral regime which allows subjects to determine which law has the strongest claim to their obedience. That's bad government, but bad government isn't anarchy.

In my humble opinion, the USCCB and the CDWDS created this situation because they didn't orient their actions around a crucial fact. The Mass is Heaven on earth, and therefore it is a unified dogmatic event. We forbid non-Catholics from receiving the Blessed Sacrament precisely for that reason, and everything else connected with the Mass is intensely dogmatic, because the Mass is the most intensely-true experience of God any human being can have in this life. It's not the place or time for doodling by liturgical dilletants and soi disant theologians. And the CDWDS is more indictable on that count than the USCCB.

Think about it. Some USCCB committee members rustle through their undergraduate notes and come up with the idea that kneeling is an oppressive medieval intrusion into the liturgy that must be jettisoned under Sacrosanctum Concilium. The idea of mandatory standing is retailed to the CDWDS, which reacts in horror at the idea, but only demands that US-GIRM § 160(2) be written to say that the "norm" for receiving communion in the United States is standing unless a Catholic wants to kneel to receive. That kind of pass-the-buck babbling may serve just fine to save the CDWDS' Cardinals a lot of irritating transatlantic correspondence and get them home in time for their antipasti, but it's not decent. I mean that. It's not kind. It's not fair. It casts a burden onto the consciences of laymen which Cardinals and Bishops ought to be carrying for us. The Church is a divine and perfect society, hierarchically organized. So let the hierarchy do its job and organize rather than adopting a "sola rubrica" GIRM under which every man has to be his own liturgist. They've thrown Catholic laymen to the wolves of doubt, suspicion, and hostility by making us do the job Christ reserved for them. Shame on them.

Good government makes clear laws and enforces them. There are only three decent solutions to the "§160(2) problem"

(1) Revoke §160(2) altogether. Let individuals continue to decide how to receive our Lord in the Mass, but let them decide in an environment which doesn't falsely call their catholicity into doubt no matter what they choose to do. This is called liberty, and good government can allow liberty.

(2) Require that all Catholics who are physically able stand to receive communion, and order that any Catholic so able who kneels be denied the Sacrament until he has confessed a sin of disobedience to his priest. This is called crime and punishment, and good government is supposed to do that.

(3) Require that all Catholics who are physically able kneel to receive communion, and order that any Catholic so able who stands be denied the Sacrament until he has confessed a sin of disobedience to his priest. This is called crime and punishment, and good government is supposed to do that.

That's your choices. Anything else is a recipe for disorder, which is what we have.

. . . . And to what purpose would one affirm and practice such anarchy? Simply to
justify when his posture at Mass contradicts everyone else's?

I am not "affirming anarchy." I think disorder is bad. I think misrule is bad. But that's what we have under §160(2) of the GIRM. So I'm making the best of the mess that bad government has handed to me (and being publicly villified by the Diocesan Newspaper for so doing).

. . . . If his conviction is not motivated by personal preference, on the other hand, then doesn't consistency dictate that he justify and defend someone at a Tridentine Mass who stands at the communion rail with his hand out?

As I understand it, the binding rubrics for the Mass of St. Pius V require kneeling for all those so able. If they said "the norm for receiving communion in the Mass of St. Pius V is kneeling, but communicants who stand should not be denied communion," then I would indeed defend someone who stood to receive communion at a Mass of St. Pius V.

You wrote, "[Denial of communion to those who stand on grounds of scandal or schism is] what Shawn's argument must prove, if it proves anything, but that's also exactly the opposite of the conclusion reached by every authority which has considered the matter." Isn't any assumption that the US-GIRM lacks authority on matters of posture just as equally the opposite of current hierarchical consensus?

That's my point: With respect to kneeling to receive, there is no current hierarchical consensus. The current hierarchical consensus, insofar as it may be said to exist, is that the US-GIRM cannot forbid me from kneeling to receive communion because kneeling is a "completely appropriate" thing which unfaithful Catholics do at Mass. That's not a consensus. It's a bad joke.

With respect to kneeling during communion, I still maintain that my Bishop hasn't issued the instruction required of him by § 43. He is instead wrongly insisting that § 43 means nothing, because the entire US-GIRM already requires standing and has done so since 1974. When and if the Bishop exercises his authority under §43, that will only create the the same problem we have now with respect to §160(2) -- kneeling during communion will be a completly appropriate thing which unfaithful Catholics do at Mass.

You wrote "then surely my bishop is right when he says that those who kneel to receive communion "clearly will be demonstrating dissent from the mind of the Church." That's right. More accurately, it demonstrates dissent from the particular bishop's mind or from the mind of a particular parish that does its own thing. Just as kneeling at a Byzantine Mass would demonstrate dissent from or ignorance of the mind of that particular rite.

No that's not right. Re-read the whole essay, or at least the whole sentence: "Consider, if (as Shawn argues) the norms requiring standing are binding instructions, validly issued by the bishops' power to enact laws for the good of the Church, a power whose legitimate exercise in the present case must be obeyed as a de fide teaching of the Church, then surely my bishop is right when he says that those who kneel to receive communion "clearly will be demonstrating dissent from the mind of the Church." Anyone who publicly dissents from the mind of the Church, and does so in the very act of receiving Communion in a disobedient way, ought to be denied communion. The Catholics who showed up in Australia a year or so ago with "gay pride" ribbons were denied communion, and rightly so. But Catholics who kneel aren't denied communion. Therefore, Catholics who kneel must not be publicly dissenting from the mind of the Church or receiving communion in a disobedient way. Just because my authorities have enacted bad and contradictory legislation doesn't mean I have to invent a consistent rationale for them and behave as though they made laws they never made. They know what they're doing -- the USCCB wants to be trendy and American, and the CDWDS wants to preserve some ancient Catholicism, and so a silly compromise was struck between the two priorities that says Shawn can't be right, because if he were then my priest would deny me communion.

I don't know what your point about "dissent from a particular bishop's mind" means. My Bishop hasn't promulgated a new Rite of the Mass for our "Local Church," and instead looks to the US-GIRM and its accompanying interpretative authority for his intentions on the matter. Therefore my particular bishop's mind says what §160(2) and the CDWDS say -- the norm is to receive standing, unless I want to receive kneeling. That's my bishop's mind on the subject, I am acting consistently with it, and I am under no obligation to conform to my own hypothetical estimation of the liturgy my Bishop might wish into existence without reference to the US-GIRM or the CDWDS. Your comparison to the Byzantine Rite is likewise inapt, if my memory serves, because standing is required without exception from all who are capable of standing. If we ever get that kind of rule, I will obey it. Until we do, I shall do what is permitted to me under the US-GIRM.

Our consciences are not bound to obey the local bishop's precepts (or whatever they are), and dissenting from them is not the same as schism from Rome.<

Well that's the problem I have with our Bishop telling people that dissenting from his local precepts and wishes (since he actually hasn't promulgated a precept under § 43) is the same thing as schism, public dissent from the mind of the Church and the orders of the Vatican. That's disingenuous, because the Vatican has said no such thing about kneeling -- what the Vatican has said about kneeling is exactly the opposite of what my bishop has said about it. It's also a recklessly false statement in that my bishop's mind is not the mind of the Church by definition. If it were, he'd have no need of a college of bishops or the Pope to infallibly teach anything or to govern his own Diocese.

But, when such behavior is consciously enacted against the bishop's wishes, I don't see how one can deny that this is a form of "dissent."

The proponents of standing are clinging to that word, and I think the reason they're doing so is that it means something in the broader context of Catholicism which it definitely doesn't mean in the smaller context of kneeling to receive communion or during Mass. In the broader context of Catholicism, "dissent" is what Rosemary Reuther does. It is heresy and schism. It is heresy and schism because there are clear, consistent, authoritative teachings and decisions of the Church which Rosemary Reuther disobeys and ridicules. Read my essay again -- that simply isn't the case with kneeling to receive communion or kneeling during communion. There are no clear instructions, there is no clear teaching, and therefore there is no Reutheresque dissent from the Church. When the Holy Office gets around to saying that womens' ordination is "completely appropriate," then, yes, I'm a dissenter just like Rosemary Reuther. Until then, I will thank all and sundry to stop talking as though this were a dogmatic argument, when in fact it is an argument about disciplinary unclarity.

Certainly you agree that dissent, if not liceity, is moveable? Is it not at all possible to dissent from the authority of one's bishop in the absence of clarification from Rome?

Yes, but not in this case. There has been a clarification from Rome -- kneeling to receive communion is "completely appropriate" and no one may charge me with dissent from the Church because I do it.

You wrote The CDWDS has said it is a "fact" that "the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion . . . 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. Those who kneel are not schismatic, not scandalous, and may be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion -- hardly terms which characterize actions which are supposedly proximate to scandal, heresy, or otherwise repugnant to the sense of the faithful. Whoa there! Cardinal Ratzinger's defense of "centuries-old tradition" is *thoroughly* general.

Yes, but made specific to the question by its incorporation into the CDWDS' ruling about kneeling to receive communion. Cardinal Ratzinger wasn't the fellow who said that kneeling to receive is "completely apprpriate in light of the . . . presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ." The CDWDS said it, and said it during a specific interpretation of and ruling on §160(2).

The CDWDS has NOT yet clarified whether kneeling for communion is "completely appropriate" *against* the wishes of a pastor who prescribes otherwise via the authority of his bishop and the GIRM.

Yes it has. The Bishop to whom the CDWDS' protocol was written had priests who were refusing to distribute communion to kneeling Catholics. If refusing communion to kneeling Catholics isn't an express indication of the Bishop's or pastor's wishes about kneeling to receive communion, I don't know what is. And the CDWDS said this was "pastoral abuse" because kneeling to receive communion is "completely appropriate." End of story on the weight anyone must give the "wishes" of a pastor and his bishop about kneeling to receive communion. Now everyone is also, by the terms of my argument, free to stand. And I think they ought to if that's the practice of the parish. They also ought to kneel, if that's the practice of the parish.

With respect to kneeling after the Agnus Dei, the CDWDS has not made an express ruling. But for the reasons I explained, in our Diocese there's no present issue about that. Even if there were one, I don't see how the CDWDS can label kneeling after the Agnus Dei "pastoral abuse" without contradicting itself on kneeling to receive. Remember, the CDWDS didn't predicate its favorable opinion about kneeling on the act of reception, but on the presence of Christ Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. That presence is still going on after the Agnus Dei.

If Cardinal Ratzinger made a similar statement about the appropriate nature of *standing* for communion, would you likewise encourage communicants to stand at Tridentine masses?!

If it were incorporated into a specific CDWDS ruling that people can stand at Tridentine masses (which would be rather odd, given Quo Primum), then yes.

You wrote "What about kneeling during Communion? Well, remember that my bishop isn't voicing his personal preference. He's telling us that his instructions are merely obeying the US-GIRM's requirement that the congregation stand after the Agnus Dei. This is patently false: Query: Is it the case that the . . .the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, [the US-GIRM] intends to prohibit the faithful from kneeling after the Agnus Dei and following reception of Communion? Response: Negative." C'mon, man, I thought you [ ] liked accuracy? Once again, this letter from the CDWDS is not the end of the story. It does not even necessarily contradict Bishop X's actions: To say that the US-GIRM is not "intended" to prohibit us from kneeling is NOT the same thing as saying a bishop cannot lawfully *use* it to prohibit kneeling in a locality which wishes to enforce the majority custom in a blanket fashion under the US-GIRM.

If the Bishop says he's not enacting a personal ruling, but is instead only following what the US-GIRM has mandated for all Masses since 1974, then he's entirely contradicted by the CDWDS' response to Bishop Bruskewitz. The US-GIRM is not written to require standing after the Agnus Dei, and when my Bishop says otherwise, he's not relying on any authority granted to him by the US-GIRM.

I said repeatedly in my essay that if my Bishop wants to promulgate a requirement for standing after the Agnus Dei under § 43 of the US-GIRM, then he may do so. (Although its contrast with the CDWDS' protocol on §160(2) would create an echo of the same problem that exists regarding kneeling to receive communion). But since my Bishop has not done so, and since his extant statements on the matter show that he is acting without regard to his actual authority to do so, I think some specificity is required in order to actually enact the precept.

Is further Roman clarification on this matter not both warranted and expected at this very moment?

It's warranted. But I'm not expecting it. Sloppy administrators tend to stay sloppy.

I think the real question at hand is this: If a bishop tells me he is obeying the US-GIRM, who am I to contradict him in the absence of higher clarification and then to read vague statements of the CDWDS about the "intent" of the law as authorizing my own personal provisional dissent from Bishop X?

Well, suppose your bishop told you he was ordaining women to the priesthood in obedience to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Would you nod your head and let these ladies give you the Sacraments because your bishop says he's following Ordinatio Sacerdotalis? Of course not. Why not? Because no one in the Church is above the law of the Church, including the Bishop. He can't make up the moral obligations of Catholics by sheer ipse dixit, not unless Catholicism is what Lorraine Boettner and John Ankerberg say it is. If you trust the Bishop's statement, and have no reason in conscience to dispute it, then by all means you may do what he says. But if his statements are in clear conflict with ecclesiastical and theological reality, then surely no one is obliged to go along with him.

The CDWDS has not been vague. It has said specifically that the US-GIRM doesn't require standing after the Agnus Dei. Heck, §43 itself, the locus of my Bishop's authority to require standing after the Agnus Dei, specifically requires kneeling unless he exercises his authority to determine otherwise. My Bishop simply cannot say that the US-GIRM has always required standing, without reference to §43, and expect anyone to think he's actually made a ruling under §43. It's not a matter of "dissent" from what we imagine that other people want, intend, or think. It's a matter of determining whether there's a valid promulgated rule in the first place. There isn't one. Saying that is no more "dissent" than saying the Church hasn't proclaimed Mary Co-Redemptrix even though my Bishop might want that title to be proclaimed.

Certainly *I* am lightyears behind Bishop X on the path to sainthood. Are you?

Oh, stop it. Just stop it. Why do proponents of standing have to turn this debate into a contest of piety? There were at one time Catholics who came to think that a man's authority rested on his personal holiness. They were called Donatists, and today they're usually Protestants who run around saying there's no such thing as the papacy because Pope So-and-So had an illegitimate child and Pope Such-and-Such obtained his office by simony. Against them, the Church has always taught that the sacraments are the sacraments regardless of the personal holiness of the human minister. So it is with the Sacraments, and so it is with law about the Sacraments. They are what they are because of what they are, not because of the personal holiness of their minister. Suppose my Bishop actually did promulgate a precept about standing after the Agnus Dei, and suppose he were caught in a woman's embrace shortly thereafter. I can imagine the scorn which would attend my arguing that his adultery releives me of the obligation to obey him. It would be deserved scorn, because the binding force of such a precept doesn't depend on my Bishop's spiritual proximity to God.

So no, I'm not more saintly than the Bishop. In fact, I am such a sinner and have such unbelief that I can't imagine anyone who isn't further along on the road to sainthood than I am. That doesn't make me wrong about the present status of posture under the US-GIRM. Would I become right if I miraculously healed someone? No. The law is what it says it is. It's got nothing to do with who loves the Church more, or who loves God more, etc. BTW, that's the kind of thinking that has the Diocesan Newspaper engaging in the public villification of Catholics who kneel. If it's not right, then it must be impious. I leave that kind of thinking to the Baptists, and I wish everyone else would too.

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