Friday, November 16, 2007

Posture at Communion

In yesterday's Catholic Times, I published a column on posture when receiving holy Communion, which I've pasted below.

While the general trend of irreverent expression has always bothered me, the fact that communication while kneeling is looked down on has bothered me even more. For myself, I've come to terms with making a simple bow, but I respect the witness of those who wish to kneel. I don't understand why the altar rails were removed. When I attend St. Agnes in the Twin Cities, or Mass in the extraordinary form, I find I am able to more firmly assent to Christ's Eucharistic presence through kneeling. I wish this were still the norm.

I remember, in 2002, when the American version of the GIRM came out and said the unified gesture in the United States was to be a bow of the head. At the time I was a seminarian at St. John Vianney in the Twin Cities, a very orthodox seminary. Even so, seminarians who had knelt or genuflected to receive holy Communion were told to bow instead. That never made sense to me. Neither could I understand how the nuns (a great aunt of mine among them) at a Carmelite monastery in upper Michigan could be told by the bishop at the time that they could no longer kneel to receive our Lord.

In neither case, though, was anyone ever denied holy Communion. That was something I saw happen for the first time at a wedding in October. And that's why I wrote the column that appears below:

Remember to express adoration before receiving your Eucharistic Lord
By Franz Klein
Catholic Times Columnist

The composition of the congregation at a wedding often differs from that of an ordinary Sunday. Normally there are a number of non-Catholics in attendance and, at many weddings, there are many non-practicing Catholics as well.
Given this situation, any priest or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist knows that reception of Communion poses a number of difficulties. Even though many priests announce guidelines for receiving Communion before they begin to distribute it, many people come forward nonchalantly, perhaps holding out a single hand and expecting to receive a small wafer of bread.
But the Communion line at a wedding is only an extreme example of a growing irreverence towards the Eucharist, wherein Jesus Christ is present, body, blood, soul and divinity. Even at an ordinary Sunday liturgy, the majority of people – frequent if not weekly communicants – fail to reverence the Eucharistic presence of our Lord.
In the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” published in 2002, the Vatican sought to return greater reverence to the reception of holy Communion. With this in mind, the United States’ version of the GIRM established that “the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence” before receiving either the body or blood or our Lord. A simple gesture, the bow of the head is an exterior action reflecting one’s interior disposition toward Christ’s Eucharistic presence.
In their commentary on Pope Benedict XVI’s recent motu proprio ”Summorum Pontificum,” many theologians are saying the Holy Father is hoping the reverence of the extraordinary (Tridentine) form of the Mass will positively affect the ordinary (new) form of the Mass. In the extraordinary form, as well as in the ordinary form in some other countries, the normative posture for receiving holy Communion is kneeling – a posture that connotes profound reverence.
Although in the ordinary form of the Mass the Vatican allowed the United States to make standing the norm for reception here, and the GIRM states that a common posture “is a sign of unity,” the document also states that communicants “should not be denied holy Communion because they kneel.”
Some Catholics feel standing as a norm for receiving holy Communion in the United States is part of the reason so little reverence is now paid to our Eucharistic Lord in local parishes. Thus they continue to exercise their right to kneel when receiving holy Communion. Sadly, however, some of our nation’s pastors have gone beyond the catechesis called for in the GIRM in explaining why bowing is the normative expression of reverence here and have denied kneeling communicants holy Communion.
That such a denial was widespread was clear already in 2002, when the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship wrote to a U.S. bishop that it had received the complaints of people who had been denied holy Communion for kneeling in “a number of places.” Noting that kneeling remains a legitimate form of reverence and that one of a Catholic’s fundamental rights is access to the sacraments, the letter signed by Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez states that “there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for holy Communion at Mass.”
Cardinal Estévez’s letter also said, “Priests should understand that the Congregation will regard future complaints of this nature with great seriousness, and if they are verified, it intends to seek disciplinary action consonant with the gravity of the pastoral abuse.”
Rather than being denied holy Communion, therefore, kneeling communicants could teach all of us a lesson – a message that has been missing, sadly, from far too many Eucharistic liturgies: Jesus Christ is truly present in the sacred Species, and proper adoration should be expressed before receiving Him, whether that adoration be expressed by kneeling or bowing.


Steve said...

Franz, I remember discussing this when I was a student at Mundelein, because there were concerns raised similar to what you wrote; the consensus seems to stem out of recognizing that our lay faithful is primarily elderly, and that particular populations rapidly growing. It also stems out of the realization that some (like me) could be physically unable to genuflect or kneel to recieve.

So I think that is why the USCCB and US GIRM took the position they did.....

Steve said...

also, franz, why isn't the Catholic Times available online at the Diocese website? Seems to me that option would save funds all the way around......

Franz Klein said...

I would love it if the paper were available online. Hopefully that's in the near future for the Catholic Times.

It doesn't bother me that people stand to receive holy Communion when they're unable kneel. What bothers me is that standing is the norm in a time when we desperately need to remember there's something worth kneeling for in the Eucharist. Aready, during the consecration, those who can't kneel don't. Similarly, if we were to return to kneeling to receive Communion, people who can't kneel would stand. A norm isn't absolute -- rather, it's what's ordinarily done.

Also, I would disagree that our Catholic population is primarily elderly. It seems to me that it makes a big difference where you go to church -- some churches have a more elderly population that others; others are bursting at the seams with young adults on fire for the faith.

The reason I wrote this op-ed, though, was something more fundamental: Someone was denied Communion for kneeling. That's a violation of his basic Christian rights. The first step should be to educate people that kneeling is an acceptable form of reverence -- something I'm amazed even has to be said.