Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Let Every Knee Bend

Several friends sent me notices about wonderful news concerning the recent Mass at which the Holy Father distributed Holy Communion exclusively to recipients who knelt and received on the tongue (the photo at right is the First Holy Communion at our own Latin Mass apostolate this past Sunday):

They knew I would be interested in this development not just in a general way, as yet another move by the Holy Father to restore liturgical sanity to the Roman Rite, but because late last year my wife and I were refused Holy Communion for kneeling. (Letters to our bishop asking for some redress have gone unanswered.)

A number of Catholics who saw what happened to us and were very sympathetic were nonetheless confused as to the status of kneeling for Holy Communion at a Novus Ordo Mass (NOM). Certainly, if you're the only one out of a crowd of people who kneels down to receive our Lord it does appear as if you're doing something strange, if not downright disobedient.

So let's get a few things straight. First, the norm of the Roman Rite, in both the NOM and the traditional Latin Mass (TLM), is to receive Holy Communion kneeling, on the tongue. The bishops of the United States had to obtain an indult to allow communicants to stand, an indult being a departure from the norm. What they didn't make public, but what has now been revealed, is that this indult was granted on the condition that no communicant be denied Communion for continuing to kneel:

Another fundamental right of the faithful, as noted in canon 213, is "the right to receive assistance by the sacred Pastors from the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the Sacraments". In view of the law that "sacred" ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them" (canon 843 ß 1), there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for Holy ommunion at Mass, except in cases presenting a danger of grave scandal to other believers arising out of the person's unrepented public sin or obstinate heresy or schism, publicly professed or declared. Even where the Congregation has approved of legislation denoting standing as the posture for Holy Communion, in accordance with the adaptations permitted to the Conferences of Bishops by the Institution Generalis Missalis Romani n. 160, paragraph 2, it has done so with the stipulation that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. (Congregation de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum, Prot. n. 1322/02/L; my emphasis.)

Second, no Catholic is obligated to obey an order that runs contrary to the law of the Church. Therefore, not only is there nothing "disobedient" about kneeling to receive our Lord, there is also nothing "disobedient" if one is ordered to stand up and he refuses. The notion that a Catholic is obligated to obey an unlawful order from a priest represents a real distortion of Catholic obedience.

And third, these kind of incidents highlight why more and more Catholics are quite rightly saying "no thanks" to the NOM and its institutionalized abuses. Recently a local priest expressed his concern in our diocesan paper that Catholics who regularly attend the TLM sometimes refrain from receiving Holy Communion when they attend the NOM. He surmised that it may be because they doubt the validity of the NOM and perhaps in a few cases that's true, although I think that's a rare position. I think it's more likely that they just don't care to be marginalized and possibly publicly ridiculed because their conscience tells them to follow the immemorial custom of the Church and receive kneeling. (To be fair, though, my wife and I have received on our knees from numerous priests and even bishops at Novus Ordo Masses and only the one time did we have any problem.)

To close out I wanted to share the very moving story behind why my friend Michael Forrest always receives our Lord kneeling. The original article sparked a lively discussion/debate with Leon Suprenant, the president of Catholics United for the Faith, which became a model of how Catholics can have a serious disagreement over a critical issue and yet comport themselves as Christian gentlemen:

And here's another good article from the New Oxford Review on the appropriateness of kneeling at the liturgy: At the Name of Jesus, Every Knee Shall Remain Unbent?

I will have more to say about kneeling before our Lord and the new movement against Communion in the hand in future postings. For now, let's just say that this is the worst possible time to shy away from taking a stand (or, in this case, kneeling down) in support of Holy Tradition. The tide is turning.

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