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.