or Up in Adoration Standing?
I love the Church and I know the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Scripture tells us so. But, sometimes I wonder how much of the Church will be left on the last day. Every time I write in this journal, I seem to be complaining or criticizing something. Why do I feel the need? It�s just that I believe we are losing focus at times � not just the laity, but also some of our priests and bishops.
What has happened to our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament? Over the past 30 or 40 years, I have noticed a gradual relaxation of reverent behavior in church. I don�t know when it began exactly. Sure, it would be easy to blame Vatican II, but maybe that wouldn�t be fair. Perhaps it is due to poor catechesis more than anything.
Until recently, I thought our little parish still maintained a rather high degree of respect when compared to some other places, but as of late, we have deteriorated badly. While I don�t want to point fingers, I will say that the example set by the parish priest deeply affects the way the parishioners behave.
The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a mystery for all us to ponder. What appears to be a piece of flat bread and wine is in reality, the body and blood of Christ, our God, our creator, the cause of our existence. If Jesus suddenly walked into our presence, would we not fall down in adoration? Yet, watching people receive the Eucharist, many appear to be blas�. Many of us are simply not �tuned in� to what has just happened on the altar.
Any repetitive act becomes commonplace after a while. It is so easy to go on �autopilot� and do it without thinking. We can become indifferent to even our most precious loved ones. We take them for granted, even treating them disrespectfully at times. How much worse to treat Jesus this way? Yet, we do � maybe not deliberately, but unconsciously. And that�s the problem. We are not conscious of the fact that at this moment, we are truly in Christ�s presence. If we truly believed and understood this reality, we would behave much differently.
Those of who have been Catholics for many years remember a time when more reverence was displayed in Catholic Churches. People were quiet when entering and leaving. Women covered their heads and men did not. We went to confession every two weeks and fasted after midnight before going to Communion. While receiving Eucharist, we knelt at a railing with our hands covered by a white cloth, a paten under our chins so as to avoid any unworthy contact with the host. Afterwards, we knelt in prayer and thanksgiving, often with our faces buried in our hands to avoid distraction. Regardless of whether all such actions were necessary, it was clearly evident that something special was happening here.
As Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, changing any rule without good reason, diminishes the binding power of the rule. In a relatively short time in the long history of the Church, we went from communion cloth to no cloth, rail to no rail, kneeling to standing, paten to no paten, receiving on the tongue to receiving in the hand. We went from priestly distribution to lay Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers. And as St. Thomas warned, the binding power of the rule became so diminished that the rule is now often ignored. In our parish, any confirmed Catholic, even without commission or deputation, may be called upon to distribute Holy Communion.
Reflecting upon this idea of diminished binding power of rule, perhaps one can blame Vatican II for much of our trouble, not because the new rules were bad, but merely because their binding power was weakened to the point of casual abuse. Pope John Paul II has periodically issued warnings about the nonessential use of Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, but his admonishments are largely ignored. Once something previously forbidden is permitted with limitations, the limitations carry little weight in relation to the impact of the initial reversal. We see the same effect in the widespread ignorance of doing penance on Fridays. For years, Catholics practiced abstinence from consumption of meat on all Fridays. After Vatican II, we were permitted to substitute some other form of self denial. Now, Fridays are no different than any other day to most Catholics.
Now, we are being subjected to further rule changes. Our diocese recently issued a document to all parishes from the Spirituality and Worship Commission containing New Norms Regarding the Celebration of the Mass. The introduction to the revisions states the following: �With the publication of the revised Roman Missal (2002), some norms have been changed or added which are to be observed in our celebration of the Mass. These norms, approved for the United States are, according to Bishop Melczek, to go into effect in the Diocese of Gary beginning the weekend of February 2, 2003.� Among the changes is the following, which I believe is particularly harmful to our reverence for the Holy Eucharist:
As usual the congregation stands for the Lord�s Prayer and the Lamb of God. Now, instead of kneeling for the invitation to communion �Behold the Lamb of God,� the assembly remains standing. The assembly will continue to stand throughout the distribution of communion.
All remain standing until the entire assembly has received communion and has returned to their places. Obviously, those who are unable to stand due to age in infirmity should sit as they do presently.
(Note that this particular change involves the entire assembly standing throughout the entire communion rite, not just the communicant standing during actual reception which we have been doing for many years. The directive actually suggests that the cantor should direct the assembly to �Please put your kneelers in the upright position� after the Lamb of God is sung.)
If we were to apply Thomas Aquinas� reasoning to these changes, they would not be made unless continuation of the present rules was �clearly unjust� or �extremely harmful.� So why did the bishop think it was necessary to make this particular change and did he have the right to do so?
I have yet to find a good English translation of the Revised GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on the Liturgy published an English summary of the GIRM revisions, but made no mention of standing throughout the reception of Communion. I did find a letter from the Bishop of Fargo describing the changes to his diocese in which he refers to the �norm of kneeling from after the Agnus Dei until moving forward for the reception of Holy Communion.� He goes on to say that, �The GIRM states the option as follows: �The faithful kneel at the Ecce Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.�� Assuming this is correct, our Bishop does have the option to direct us to stand. For the record, the Bishop of Fargo states that kneeling �was a spontaneous and pious practice developed by the faithful in the United States. The faithful in the Diocese of Fargo are to continue this practice.�
If the change in posture is proper, why is it necessary? Accompanying the list of changes was a short document from the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Gary entitled Revisiting the Communion Rite. Paragraph seven offers an explanation for standing throughout Communion. It states the following: �This adjustment in our posture during the Communion rite is intended to remind us of the deep communal nature of this action. Standing together we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord praying for and giving thanks for our union together in and through Christ. Only when we realize the primary reality of this union does our personal union with Christ in this sacrament find its full meaning and power. Understanding and honoring this gives honor to God. The final sentence of the paragraph is particularly curious. �To shuffle this condition off as less than devotional is to overlook the community, the body of Christ, necessary for our personal union with God.�
Drawing the parallel between the Body of Christ (the Real Presence in the Eucharist) and the body of Christ (the members of His Church) appears to have evolved into a tendency to equate the two. I have heard priests suggest that Christ is present in each one of us the same way He is present in the Eucharist. This is wrong, and the statement only serves to diminish the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the core of our faith. The Bishop�s directive has the same effect by saying that the Sacrament lacks full meaning and power without the community of our brothers and sisters. While our community in the Church is vitally important, the theology implied here is questionable. It is absurd to suggest that we lacked the �full meaning and power� of the Sacrament all these years because we did not grasp our �union together in and through Christ�, and we can correct this by standing until everyone has received instead of kneeling. The new rule is another step away from the vertical (directing our attention to worship of God), and another step toward the horizontal (communal interaction of the worshippers).
Before the priest raises the Host and says, �Behold the Lamb of God . . .�, what greater sign of reverence than to fall to our knees in adoration. The moments following our reception of the Holy Eucharist are precious, intimate, and fleeting. While I recognize the importance of our communal interaction at the table of the Lord, our focus should be on the Bridegroom at the moment He enters the temple. Perhaps one could use this analogy to argue that the guests should rise in unison when the Bridegroom enters and remain standing until all have received Him, but this is no ordinary reception. The Bridegroom feeds us individually, and any horizontal distraction denies us a few precious moments of intimate personal audience with Our Lord.
The Bishop�s directive says, �Overcoming the faulty belief that the Mass was a time for me to do my private devotions has taken many years.� Are we to infer that even a few moments of private devotion when we receive Our Lord is wrong? Is this an �either/or� situation? Can not the Mass be both communal and personal? Those few minutes after the Body of Christ is placed on our tongues are the most precious times we can spend as Catholics. So when is it okay to give thanks to Our Lord? The new instruction says, �When the communion procession is finished, and the celebrant sits down, the assembly sits or kneels for a period of silent prayer.� By that time, the host has already begun digestion and much of that personal intimacy has passed.
Will standing while until everyone receives the Holy Eucharist achieve the Bishop�s objective �to remind us of the deep communal nature of this action�? I doubt that anyone even remembers why the posture changed now that it has been three weeks since it was instituted in our parish. Will anyone look around and say, �Hey, everybody is standing up and that reminds me that we are all communally linked in the Body of Christ.�? Instead, what message will we really be sending?
Believing anything which contradicts our senses is extremely difficult, even for us who are gullible. It took the Church centuries to understand and define Transubstantiation. What we perceive to be bread and wine is the actual Body and Blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. God Himself becomes physically present. If there is ever a time on this earth to fall to our knees in adoration, this is it. If we behave as if this moment is symbolic or somehow less than what it really is, the significance of the miracle becomes obscured or diminished. And indeed, there is a tendency among some modern catechists and clergy to minimize the miracles of Scripture. Some of them are teaching in this diocese, and perhaps this cancer is spreading to our reverence for the Eucharist.
Standing is a common posture. All of us who are able, spend a good portion of our time standing every day. Yes, it can be posture of respect. We stand for the National Anthem or when the flag passes. A gentleman may stand when a lady enters the room. Does it not follow that Our Lord entering the room or passing in front us, deserves some greater show of respect than merely standing? In fact, our gesture should go beyond respect. It is fitting and proper to show adoration.
Those of us who engage in Catholic apologetics routinely spend much of our time explaining to our non-catholic friends that we Catholics do not worship Mary. We draw a distinct line between veneration and adoration. We honor Mary. We worship God and only God. Does it not follow that our postures should be consistent with this distinction? Many of us think nothing of kneeling before a statue of Mary to pray for her intercession. There is nothing wrong with doing so as long we understand that we are not worshiping Mary, nor even worse, worshiping a statue of Mary. I have yet to hear anyone from the Office of Worship discourage the practice. We do seem to be increasingly discouraged from kneeling before the actual Body of Christ, however. This is not a statue of the Body of Christ. It is the actual Body of Christ. If ever there was an appropriate time to assume a posture of adoration, this is it.
Our children learn from us by our example. Our actions speak louder than our words ever could. What better way to convey the magnitude of the Real Presence to our children than to assume a posture of adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Which is more thought inspiring � standing or kneeling before the Lamb of God? Minus the constant reminder in our actions, we are left with mere words to explain our reverence. The recommended new gesture is a bow of the head. When I was growing up, we were taught to bow any time we heard the name of Jesus spoken. Now, even His reception in Holy Communion merits nothing more.
Pope John Paul II expressed concern for a lack of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament in his 1980 letter, Inaestimabile Donum, an instruction concerning worship of the Eucharistic Mystery. While reading this letter, one cannot help but notice how many liturgical abuses have not only continued but proliferated since it was written. The Pope warns of using Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers under ordinary circumstances, stating that they �can distribute Communion only when there is no priest, deacon or acolyte, when the priest is impeded by illness or advanced age, or when the number of the faith going to Communion is so large as to make the celebration of Mass excessively long.� Our small parish typically uses three or four Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers on Sundays, regardless of how many may be in attendance. I timed a Mass at 37 minutes last Sunday, hardly what I would call �excessively long.�
The attire of the Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister can also display a lack of reverence. We occasionally see a Eucharistic Minister in a sweatshirt, bluejeans, and sneakers. When this is tolerated without challenge over a period of time, it becomes acceptable. One can say that God doesn�t care how we are dressed. Perhaps that is true, but the effort one puts into his appearance speaks volumes on how that person regards the importance of the occasion. We would never attend a wedding feast without putting on our best clothing. Does holding the Body and Blood of Christ deserve any less?
All of these little rule modifications serve to alter our perceptions and attitudes toward the Sacrifice of the Mass. They bring about confusion and resentment to some. It is the more pious who are more deeply affected. Those who are indifferent to the Eucharist are indifferent to the changes. While searching for information as I neared the completion of this essay, I came across an article in the Adoremus Bulletin which echoed my concern on this topic. Titled Unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise, author Helen Hull Hitchcock sheds some light on how we have arrived at this point. The author concludes by saying the following:
�Recently, we have received reports from several dioceses that their bishops have been very rigorous in eradicating periods of kneeling during Mass, apparently convinced, as some liturgists insist, that kneeling is a "medievalism" that desperately needs drubbing out of the �modern� Church. To say that this is creating anguish and resentment among the people affected by such actions of bishops is to understate the situation. Ironically, though logically, it is precisely those Catholics who most strongly affirm a bishop's authority and take the concept of obedience to the bishop seriously, that are the most likely to kneel at Mass. Their distress is genuine; and concern about what these liturgical divisions portend for the future seems justified.�
The author is right on target. I have spoken with several of my fellow parishioners about standing through the entire Communion rite. Those who I would consider the most knowledgeable and devout, are the ones who are most upset by this directive. It is also rather ironic that the Bishop who made this change is the same Bishop who has initiated an intense program of Cultural Diversity Awareness in our diocese. On one hand, we are told that we must be tolerant, accepting and appreciative of the diverse personal customs in the lives of others. Yet, those of us who were raised from childhood to cherish an intimate personal relationship with Christ in the Eucharist are now being told that our personal behavior needs modification. If it is wrong to make others feel alienated, why do I feel alienated by this intrusion into my quality time?