Sunday, September 29, 2002

The No-Kneeling Rule

I know I am late to the party in commenting on this, but some recent posts on a few blogs and an NCR article sparked some thoughts on the subject of the directive that kneeling is not the licit posture for receiving communion in the United States.

For the life of me, I don't understand how this rule ever came up as topic of consideration. Maybe it's a big problem at parishes around the University of Steubenville, but in most parts of the United States standing is already the norm. I've attended mass regularly at some 8 to 10 parishes during my life. I can count on one hand the number of people that regularly kneel to receive communion -- setting aside churches where altar rails are still in full use. I suspect most people have had the same experience. I would venture a guess that less than 5% (maybe even 1-2%) of Catholics regularly kneel to receive the Eucharist.

Given that, why create a law on the subject? One of the first principles most lawyers learn is that not every issue needs a law addressing it. In fact, very unique, factual cases often lead to the worst legal rules precisely because they are unique cases that don't have a general application. To me, that is part of the problem here. Assuming that those who kneel are disrupting the orderly distribution of communion, is it that widespread that a law was needed rather than pastoral attention?

Similarly, the other reasons offered for the rule seem equally weak. For example, the need for uniformity to show unity. Unity is not one of those things that can be evaluated in isolation. That we now all stand to receive the Eucharist makes up for the fact that those in attendance widely differ in their adherence to the Church's teaching on abortion, homosexuality, and even the Real Presence? Besides, as I said from my own experience, Catholics in the United States nearly universally stand. Perfect uniformity is never going to be achieved. So this seems like a straw man of an argument to me. Moreso, it seem to deny an alternative view of all of those expressions of piety people use today. Few would argue with the fact that it is the Eucharist, not the standing, that is the unifying element. So why not recognize all the different forms of pious expression (kneeling, bowing, genuflecting, sign of the cross) for what they are -- the diversity of our Catholic Faith testifying through their unique and varying forms to our central unifying belief: the Real Presence of Christ. That seems like the better (and correct) way to view things.

Second, we hear about the delays caused by kneeling or genuflecting. Again, I haven't seen it. But even if I accept it, isn't this really a pastoral matter? Besides, whenever I hear of reasons based on time I have to ask whose stopwatch are we using to judge what qualifies as a mass of proper length. I know many U.S. Catholics think so, but, no, God didn't have an 11th commandment saying: "Thou shall celebrate Mass in 55 minutes or less, or you shall offend the Lord your God." Seriously, what are we talking about here: an extra couple of minutes at most?

Clearly, I think this is a silly, unnecessary rule. That said, I don't comprehend why anyone aware of the rule would conciously choose to kneel in defiance of the rule. If you don't know about the rule or forget, fine. But why set the priest up for a confrontation? It strikes me that some feel a greater need in scoring a point for kneeling than actually receiving the Lord! And, if told to stand, why would one refuse? It's not like you couldn't say something afterwards. Receiving the Lord would be far more important to me than some small "victory" for traditional piety. I know, many will cite the statement that went along with the new rule that the faithful who still choose to kneel are not to be refused communion. I agree that a priest shouldn't. But there is something to be said against overt disobedience even if motivated by piety.

I also think that that clarification is part of the problem and another example of bad law-making. It sets up a conflict within the rule itself, allowing both the priest and parishioner to believe that they are in the right -- kneeling is not licit vs. don't refuse communion to those who kneel. It's a sign that the rule shouldn't have been adopted in the first place and that a pastoral approach is how the Bishops should have addressed this "problem".

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