Monday, August 30, 2010

Kneeling and Communion

It's been a long time since I updated anything here at my small corner lot next to the information superhighway.  Nonetheless, I have noticed that there is a major topic that seems to be hitting the Catholic blogs I read, regarding our posture to receive Holy Communion.  Father Z’s blog has a current active topic on this matter--let’s see if I can get this link to work:

After a few experiences with the EF over the past few years, I have come to realize that I have ALWAYS felt that "kneeling, on the tongue" was the best way to receive Holy Communion, no matter what was being proffered as the current norm.  Being born in 1965, I remember going to the rail to receive on the tongue in the early Seventies, with patens under our chins (but no Communion cloth).  I don't remember when the change to standing came.  I DO remember Communion in the hand coming--we were given detailed instructions on placing our hands right-under-left, kind of in the shape of a cross--and it was presented as just the way things would be done from now on.  I guess standing and reception under both species came along as part of this change, which I just accepted as the way things were.  (Interestingly, I was never instructed about the “act of reverence” of bowing the head—I only found out about it a short time ago when I noticed the head-bobs of the communicants in line before me.)

I stopped taking Communion on the hand back in the Nineties when I saw a Bob and Penny Lord presentation on Eucharistic miracles on EWTN.  They reported that a community of nuns in Japan had the sacred host burn their hands when they took Communion by hand, but they would be fine if they received the Body of Christ on their tongues.  Bob and Penny were clear to state that Communion in the hand was allowed and PER SE did not cause or signify a lack of reverence, and that this was most likely a call to increased reverence on the part of this particular group of nuns (where reverence for the Body of Christ seems to have fallen off).  Whether or not the story is true (has anyone else heard of this?), I felt the need to express a little more reverence in the "rock-em sock-em" parishes I attended and felt called to receive on the tongue from that point on.  (I only had one difficulty this whole time: one EMHC kept holding out the host at chest level until it finally computed to him that I wanted to receive on the tongue.  I almost stuck my tongue out at him playground-style, but I'm glad I didn't act thusly uncharitably, as I realize that was just a lapse-of-the-brain moment from the EMHC, whose attention was probably lulled by the repetition of everyone else receiving in the hand.)

As to kneeling, I was appalled when some of the congregation in the late Nineties started standing during the CONSECRATION--good gosh, that moment is THE MOST HOLY TIME AND PLACE ON THE WHOLE PLANET and people want to stand and rubberneck like they are at a NASCAR race?  The old phrase "fall to your knees" comes to mind for me--I get "weak in the knees" in or out of Mass when I really contemplate the miracle that goes on at the moment of consecration.  The Archdiocese of Atlanta finally published some norms mandating KNEELING until the “Our Father” and optional posture (stand, kneel, sit) after the Lamb of God until the final blessing.  The norm made it clear that posture during the second period described was at the choice of the individual, but our parish priest at that time, when reading these norms, told us from the pulpit, "We WILL ALL CHOOSE to kneel."  Oddly enough, NO ONE in the parish had a problem with the “option” of kneeling.  (As an additional ancillary observation, if you are kneeling, and the "faithful" in front of you is standing, the aesthetic of having a rear end in your face is also not very pleasing nor conducive to worship.)

Of course, I can understand extraordinary circumstances where standing may be physically necessary.  A Mass at my (Catholic) high school reunion was celebrated in a hotel conference room, and it was necessary for us to stand during consecration because of the chair set-up.  Nonetheless, we bowed profoundly during the consecration, and I still wanted to "fall to my knees" at that moment.

So, somewhere in my peripatetics through the internet I came across a wonderful defense of the posture of kneeling (especially during the consecration) written by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix.  I was "feeling the love" for this Bishop, as he was invoking in his essay humility and other things that those who I’ll call "rupturites" despise.  When the discussion turned to reception of communion, however, all of a sudden this same Bishop made a "one-eighty" and STRONGLY DIRECTED people NOT to receive Communion kneeling:

A few of our laity still kneel or genuflect prior to receiving Holy Communion, and rightly they are not denied the Blessed Sacrament.  While I appreciate the good intentions that prompt these actions, I invite them to consider again the reverential nature of standing during the Sacred Liturgy and the real value of a unified expression of our fraternal communion in Christ.  Taking exception to liturgical norms can distract others and even divert their attention during this most sacred moment of communing with our Savior.  It can draw undue attention to oneself.  Receiving Communion is also a statement of our union with the entire Church, not just a time of individual experience.

Well, Your Excellency, I have considered it again, and your position on this matter loses.  Once I knocked the pride out of my heart (yes, I was originally thinking about doing kneeling for communion to “show everyone a lesson”), I could find no reason not to kneel for communion.  Any “attention” drawn to my act of humility and reverence would be quite due, thank you, and might prompt more folks to do their own “re-considering” and join in the OBVIOUSLY more reverent expression of humility before God.  As for “a statement of our union,” if one other person does it, then would we be in enough union for Your Excellency?  Since many places in the world (and in the United States) promote and practice kneeling, is the USCCB the ones who are out of union?

For the past year, I have received Communion exclusively while kneeling.  I have had only one priest scowl at me while I was so doing, although that priest did not withhold communion from me, however.  (Said priest also earlier in the Mass performed a detailed blessing of “parish ministers” including “liturgical dancers’” ad libbed a dramatic version of the Gospel reading though pretty much close to the entire actual text, and therefore left out the Creed to save time.) I have also stopped receiving the Precious Blood, and commune now only under the species of the Sacred Host (a separate issue, upon which to be ruminated at a later time).  I personally feel those steps I have taken are more reverential.  I cannot say that I feel more in communion with Our Lord after taking these steps—maybe that means God in his grace had already granted me a sufficient inner reverence before I started these steps--but perhaps my increased outer reverence will lead to a far greater reverence on the part of others than appears to be happening now.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Catholic identity - Part IV

In previous posts, I identified criteria for a Catholic identity, and described the crisis of identity we face in the Church today.  I left us in the last part with a question: How do we get our identity back?
If you think I have the answer, then I must apologize for misleading you.  Instead of an answer, all I have is a bunch of questions.
Should we do like the Hassidic Jews and cut ourselves of socially from the rest of the world?  Do we go to mandatory Catholic schooling and fish on Fridays?  Is repudiating the Novus Ordo and the alleged Protestant orientations contained therein the right thing to do, either as a good start or as sufficient to start identity reclamation?  (Here, I have to say that I am neither questioning the validity nor advocating instant repudiation of the Novus Ordo; I merely ask the question.)  Maybe it is simply getting rid of the “big-tent” approach to identity that seems to have descended upon us, perhaps by actually “culling” our membership of folks like Kennedy, Pelosi, Biden, and anyone who supports them.  I don’t know—that’s why I am asking you.  I would love hearing what you folks might think about this.
So, I’ll finish up this topic, finally, with a trenchant observation.  I find it a shame to have to even ask the question “What IS our Catholic identity?”—it seems that McDonald’s has a better idea of its identity than we as Catholics do.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our Catholic Identity - Part III

My last post drew from a letter from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, in which he describes two criteria—pillars, in my view—of our Catholic identity: 1) recognition and acceptance of the teaching authority of the Church, and 2) open participation in our common rites and sacraments.  I further developed and described these two particular criteria as 1) the understanding that there is one exclusive Truth in the world God made, and 2) the recognition that the Catholic Church represents THE Church Jesus said he would establish.

However, I think there is more to our identity than these two criteria, stated either way as above.  I proffer that the Catholic identity, after the essentials of doctrine of course, really revolves around a particular worldview of how to lead our lives.  This worldview comprises a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions within the context of God’s grace.  This sense of responsibility should make us pause and recognize how broken we as sinners are—not just when we are born, and not just before we answer an “altar call,” but EVERY DAY OF OUR LIVES until we face God after our earthly demise.  This responsibility means that we don’t just stop at recognizing our broken nature, for merely doing that isn’t responsibility at all.  Also, this responsibility does NOT mean that we are masters of our own salvation, relying on naught else or other.  In the words of St. Augustine, we pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on us.  And we accept that the Catholic Church—God’s Church—is there to help us if only we accept its help.
Many folks (myself included) see a great crisis of identity in the Church.  Many (myself included) see this crisis most clearly exemplified by pro-choice, CINO (Catholic-in-name-only) politicians such as Representative Patrick Kennedy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Vice-President Joseph Biden.  It makes one wonder how we ever got to this point.  Restraining myself from a protracted and gratuitous lamentation of the crumbling of civilization, I offer my own analysis of the situation we face.
I think that the greatest damage to our Catholic identity came about from a set of circumstances unique in the history of the Church.  For the first time, let’s say starting in the 1800’s, the Church found itself in the position where it wasn’t calling all the moral and sometimes political shots (like in pre-Reformation Europe), but also wasn’t in danger of being stamped out (like it was in first-century Roman times).  The Church is now institutionally stable, and relatively safe, but it doesn’t command allegiance (I use the word “command” intentionally) to its doctrines and moral teachings like it used to.  (As a sidenote, this state of affairs is what I believe defines the “Modern” era, which prompted the perceived need for an “aggiornamento” in the Church which led to the convocation of Vatican II.)  As such, the Catholic Church and its Faith must now compete in the marketplace of ideas; as such, the concept of a single, solitary Truth handed down from the revelation of Christ through the Apostles and down to us just doesn’t cut the mustard for the more “erudite” humanists.  Consequently, there goes the first pillar of particularly Catholic identity enumerated above.
This situation is especially true if one looks at the historical and current state of the Church in America.  Although it is said that the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice is anti-Catholicism, Catholics have come a long way from the time of “No Irish Need Apply” and religious Test Acts.  Unfortunately, we Catholics tried so hard (successfully, I would say) to convince majority Protestant society that we were just another denomination like the Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc., that we unintendedly ended up convincing ourselves of that same fact.  Thus, we ourselves destroyed the second identity pillar noted above.
With those two pillars knocked down, what is left to support the third pillar—the worldview of responsibility for our lives?  With secular humanism on our left and Evangelical Protestantism on our right, most folks can be easily seduced by either the “It’s not your fault—you’re born that way” of humanism or the “You take the bus, leave the driving to God” of Protestantism.  A Gospel of responsibility through grace just doesn’t sell that well.
So, how do we get our identity back?  Stay tuned folks—I’ll treat that subject in the next post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Catholic Identity – Part II

I set out some possible premises for discussion in my first, abbreviated post on the subject of our Catholic identity. In this part, I develop one of those premises, regarding the criteria on which our identity as Catholics rest.
Some of you may have been following last month’s “controversy” between His Excellency, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, and one of the United States Congressmen from that state, Patrick Kennedy (one of, yes, THOSE Kennedys). Representative Kennedy publicized a private discussion between the bishop and him regarding the Congressman’s support of abortion rights, making the following statement:
The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.
Bishop Tobin’s responded to this public statement in an open letter to Representative Kennedy, published in the Rhode Island Catholic, in which the bishop effectively makes the point, “Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does.” The bishop’s letter continues with a reflection on the question, “What does it mean to be a Catholic?”:
Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.
In my reading, Bishop Tobin’s letter proposes a minimum definition of Catholic identity as 1) recognition and acceptance of the teaching authority of the Church, and 2) open participation in our common rites and sacraments.
The bishop’s first prong above means our Catholic identity hinges on a key understanding—the understanding that there is one exclusive TRUTH in the world God made, that applies to EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD, even if we can’t grasp that Truth in its entirety at any one time (i.e., relativism is NOT an option). This Truth by its nature is unitary and whole, and it has been passed down through time from Christ Himself through His Church, the teaching Church that Christ founded personally.
As Truth is unitary and whole, our Catholic identity also requires recognizing we are NOT just the same as other faiths, Christian and non-Christian. We must stand up and proclaim that the Catholic Church IS the fullest—the complete—expression of the Church Jesus said he would build upon the Rock of Peter. We do this through our participation in the visible structures of the Church—Mass (with full interior and exterior participation), sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession), devotions (such as the Rosary)—which represents the second prong of the bishop’s analysis.
Clearly, rejection of the Church’s teaching authority or self-recusal from sacramental participation puts one outside the bounds of true Catholic identity, but I think there is more to our identity than self-subjugation to the Magisterium and Mass attendance—one particular, important, essential item. I’ll cover that in my next post.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Our Catholic Identity – Part I

First, allow me to offer my apologies on the length of my first essay, and for spreading it out in parts over several days. Nonetheless, this issue is right in the wheelhouse of something I have been hashing over and over in my head and heart for some time. Many, many Catholic bloggers (of much greater skills than me) have been adamant and ubiquitous in the mention and promotion of our Catholic identity. But I have to ask the question, just what IS our Catholic identity?
Is it merely our allegiance to a set of doctrines? Is it Mass on Sundays and eating fish on Fridays? Is it simply acknowledgement of our Church leadership as the folks who dress in “funny clothes” like white cassocks and sashes?
More seriously, does our identity rest solely in such things as our belief in the Real Presence, veneration of the Blessed Mother, and Purgatory? Or is it yet even more of an encompassing worldview of the purpose of our lives and how to lead them? If so, what exactly is that worldview which we should uniformly espouse as our identity?
Where do we go to get this identity? Do we need to go back in time? Did we have a complete sense of Catholic identity back in the Fifties? The Thirties? Just before the time of Luther? At the time of the Apostles? The Protestants, especially the charismatic/Pentecostal types, are all too quick to say they have the real identity of the first-century church before “Romish Popery” messed it up. So I guess we have to be careful before engaging in simple “Antiquarianism,” whether we look back fifty years or two thousand years.
I’ll be expanding on this theme over the next few posts, but I thought I would invite some preliminary thoughts from anyone else out there. So, comment away!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hello to the blogosphere!

My name is Michael Val Hietter. This is my first attempt at a blog. I am sure that the quality of this blog (or lack thereof) will show that fact in bare-naked detail.

The theme of this blog is the search for truth in the context of the Catholic faith--the seeking of both the truths contained in and regarding the Faith itself, as well as universal truths as enlightened by the Faith. While most blogs I read are very good at GIVING answers to, or at least one person's opinion upon, matters both trivial and important, I really started this blog with the idea of ASKING questions and LEARNING answers to issues that have been knocking around in my brain for quite a while. Rather selfishly, I hope to GET more than I GIVE.

So, sit back and enjoy the ratiocinations of one soul on a journey through his heart and his mind. Maybe we'll all grow together!