Monday, September 12, 2011

He who is able to kneel before the Eucharist

Following on from my last post, Words, Words, I was interested to see that on his visit to Anconna yesterday the Holy Father has been doing some catechesis:
"He who is able to kneel before the Eucharist, who receives the Lord's body cannot fail to be attentive, in the ordinary course of the days, to situations unworthy of man, and is able to bend down personally to attend to need, is able to break his bread with the hungry, share water with the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned," ....

I know our bishops have "recommended" "bowing" before receiving Holy Communion. I hope I am not being disloyal to by criticising this, but recommendations are often easily ignored and "bowing", well it doesn't quite work. Most people simply don't bow when we are supposed to. In the liturgy there are by tradition different kinds of bow, the tiniest almost imperceptible nod at the name of the bishop or the Sovereign Pontiff, a bow of the head at the invocation of the Holy Trinity and at the names of Jesus, Mary and the name of a saint on his/her feast day.There are the courtesy bows between priest and server, there is the bow made to the altar when the Blessed Sacrament is not present, the bow made by the deacon when receiving a blessing or when the priest prays before proclaiming the Gospel.
Oh yes, there is the bow that replaced the genuflection at the Incarnatus est, which converts from Anglicanism make, is in the rubrics but is invariably ignored.

Problem one with bowing is that it is a little indefinite, how deep should it be: an imperceptible nod or as deep as monk at the Gloria Patri? So which kind of bow are their Lordships recommending? to save the embarrassment of getting it wrong most will ignore this recommendation, with genuflection or kneeling there are no degrees, one either does it or not.

Problem two with bowing is that it is associated not with latria worship but dulia, reverence or honouring of people or objects. In Britain it is still used as a secular gesture when meeting the monarch, and in court or at war memorial.

I don't know if early Christians literally did genuflect, in the words of St Paul "bend the knee at the name of Jesus", one could make a good case that some did. In St John's Gospel whenever Jesus says "I am" people do fall to their knees, in the Apocalypse the Saints,  are always on their knees, in the other Gospels Peter is always falling to his knees, the same with the Magdalen, so it seems possible, at least, that this gesture goes back to the primitive Church and Apostolic Tradition, and possible, it was used in worship.
In the West kneeling is gesture, first of all, of pleading, (do grooms still propose kneeling?) and of deep reverence. It is essentially a gesture of reverence, in the New Testament, it is gesture of acknowledgement of Jesus' divinity.

Bowing to the Eucharist suggests honouring a Holy Thing, like an altar, a person or a statue, genuflecting is much more about acknowledging the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ, God with us. The suggestion that we bow to the Eucharist, especially at the most intimate of the reception of Holy Communion, seems to me, and I acknowledge the Bishops are better informed than me, to be destructive of faith, reducing the Eucharist from a person to an object, from the Presence worthy of worship to a thing that we are merely "recommended" to venerate.

The acknowledgement of the Eucharistic Christ by a physical gesture, getting down on one's knees, as one ages it gets more difficult, has an interesting catechetical dimension, it is about doing something. Actions are perhaps our best form of catechesis: speaking is less good than showing, showing much less good than doing. Here the Pope unites it directly to the corporal works of mercy. The best form of catechesis is doing, the worst form is telling. In an age when our faith becoming increasingly "private", public gestures like kneeling, like being able "to bend down personally to attend to need, is able to break his bread with the hungry, share water with the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned", are important. As are the newly re-introduced "meatless Fridays" for which I commend our Bishops.
thanks to Fr Simon Henry


Jonathan said...

"with genuflection or kneeling there are no degrees, one either does it or not."

That's not true in my experience. I see many people who 'genuflect' towards the tabernacle with an almost imperceptible bending of one knee.

Pablo the Mexican said...

Lucifer would not kneel before Christ and became Satan the Devil, and was cast out of Heaven.

Scripture speaks to us of Satan kneeling before Christ and stating, "Jesus is Lord", just before being thrown into the eternal fires, along with his followers.

I was always taught not kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament is to join Lucifer's NonServiam.

Respecting God was never translated to helping the poor, or so on as an excuse for doing so publicly.

You kneel in adoration and love of our Lord.

Helping the poor and so on are corporal acts of mercy of which we are obliged to perform besides kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.

I am not ashamed and make no excuses for kneeling before our Lord.

Pray for the Holy Father.


Fr Ray Blake said...

I know, I do it when my legs aren't working properly, even so I am quite aware it is a substitute for the real thing.

As for kneeling, I've never seen anyone half kneeling.

Michael Petek said...

Whenever I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament it's then that I notice I'm not a spring chicken any more.

me said...

I also have trouble getting up lately after kneeling. It's ok if there's something to hold on to. I always receive kneeling if given the option. I bow otherwise. I look at the Eucharist for a moment too, my bow is something the priest or EM has to momentarily wait for me to do, before I receive Christ. It's not at all to be showy, it's because on blogger people have said it's the right thing to do, and I happen to agree! I have done the meat fast on Friday since July, I misheard when it came into effect. I always choose tuna or salmon sandwiches off the sandwich guy and if people ask, I tell them. Not otherwise though. A couple of Catholic colleagues have sort of shuffled when I said it was the new rule. I wasn't trying to preach, just felt it was my duty to say. I don't want to be in any more trouble with the Big Lad upstairs than I probably already am!

Catholic MC said...

Dear Father Ray,

"Actions are perhaps our best form of catechesis: speaking is less good than showing, showing much less good than doing"

I think this is very true - at our south coast parish church, there is a perceptible shift towards much greater reverence at the reception of Holy Communion. It is as if once a few people start genuflecting and receiving on the tongue, more people start copying and so the practice is spreading.

Thanks for yet another thoughtful and thought provoking post, Father.

Kieran said...

"Big Lad upstairs", do you mean God?
If you do, why not say so?
That type of anthropomorphism drives me mad, it is blasphemous!

Patruus said...

There is an abundance of bowing and genuflection to be seen in the famous Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet video [1].

As to whether the early Christians did genuflection, I don't know either, though there is reason to suppose that they might have practised prostration [2].



Pablo the Mexican said...

" is blasphemous!..."

I agree with Kieran.

Con Tata Dios , nadie juega.

With Tata God, no one plays.

Something I learned from the little old Abuelitas as a child.

“Put my white dress on me
The one I wore when we were married;

The doctor has far to walk
Because our ranch is so far away

Don't waste your time on remedies
My strength is already leaving me,

Put my white dress on me
Father God is calling me”

Everything remains still
Only Juan is telling her:

“See how pretty the cornstalks
growing on the hillside?”

“But now I don't want anything
I'm going to give away the seed;

Father God wants it this way

And with Father nobody plays

Father God... is calling me”

This is a song about a woman dying on the Ranch she and her husband worked for the many years of her marriage.

As her husband Juan tries to comfort her, she tells him to give all her belongings to the poor; she only wants to be dressed in her wedding gown that she presented herself in when they wed at the altar.

She now wants to wear it as she presents her soul before our Divine Master upon her death.

I love our traditions in the Mexican Catholic Church.

They are very beautiful.

I hope you agree.

Viva Cristo Rey!


The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I find the bowing very difficult. Thus far I've tried a nod, but when filing forward, there seems no time before the person before me moving on and the priest presenting the host and saying 'Body of Christ'.

I'm not even sure what the sequence is. Should we bow before it's presented, or after it is and before we say 'amen', or what?

Pablo the Mexican said...

Mr. Patruus,

I really enjoyed the Mass video.

I am sorry I do not comprendo French.

The Padre seems to be giving an excellent sermon.

The second video advocates the three major religions as being equals.

I do not recommend that video.

Thank you for the good French Mass video.

I found it very edifying.


Robert said...

Quote: "Lucifer would not kneel before Christ and became Satan the Devil, and was cast out of Heaven."

And Archbishop Conti of Glasgow won't allow people to kneel either. Go figure!.

Robert said...

Saint Michael Come to Our Defence.

And Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Christians don't kneel during communion either. It's not part of their tradition. Never has been!. So you "Lucifer not kneeling" analogy is irrelevant, in this case.

Pablo the Mexican said...

Mr. Robert,

Even the lowly donkey knelt before the crib of the baby Jesus in the manger.

I don't care if anyone else does not kneel; that does not make it right.

At His name, every knee should bend.

No exceptions.


Physiocrat said...

The problem with kneeling is that there needs to be a clean surface to kneel on! Preferably a soft one.

It is also useful if people have some kind of support such as an altar rail.

If these are provided there is a reasonable chance that people will take the hint.

If not, people are going to be reluctant, especially if they are wearing clean clothes.

Jacobi said...

Father, I share your reservations about bowing. I do it simply because I need an altar rail, or prie dieu, neither available at our Novus Ordo Mass, but I have asked my parish priest to provide one, and that is something which all like minded people should do.

Similarly, I only receive by mouth and from a priest since my hands are not blessed or anointed to handle the Sacred Species so I will have nothing to do with emHCs, nor self administration, which receiving by hand is.

Example is important and like Catholic MC, I have noticed a gradual increase in reverence recently.

It will all take time!

Anne said...

To stoop before a person was, and is, a sign of submission and humility.

Douay-Rheims Bible

"And he preached, saying: There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose".
Mark 1:7

Steve said...

Robert, the Orthodox custom is not to kneel to receive Holy Communion, but at several points during the Divine Liturgy they make full metanias (both knees, both hands and forehead on the floor). The only time this most profound gesture of adoration is not done is during Pascha and its afterfeast, and on Sundays (which are themselves mini-Paschas).

Myself, I have great difficulty in kneeling due to arthritis. Getting down is fine. Getting up requires considerable effort and is usually accompanied by bone-crunching pain. Since age took away my ability to genuflect, I have adopted the full, solemn bow of almost 90 degrees from the waist, as customarily practised by Benedictines.

(Random observation: I was told by my father that in the Good Old Days one never bowed to the Sovereign. One bowed to the empty throne. To the Sovereign, one genuflected.)

Richard said...

"Most people simply don't bow"

Interesting that your impression as a priest matches mine from the pews - that hardly anyone actually obeys the rubric to bow.

Indeed my impression was that more people genuflect than bow (although both groups are tiny - perhaps one in a thousand).

Lady.Rosary said...

I think bowing represents our humility and wilingness to act in service of the Lord. It's a good practice to make us remember that we should try to humble ourselves to an almighty being.

me said...

Kieran & ST Michael

The "Big Lad" is an East end of Glasgow expression for God, used by my very good Presbyterian friend from there, who certainly respects God. It denotes His omnipotence and His one-of-us-ness, but leader of the gang, in just the right way for an East end glaswegian, to show his respects and acknowledgment of those two aspects of the deity.
If you were to suggest it was blasphemous to a group of hard core men in the East end, they'd probably give you the 'heavy deadener' or 'deednur' as it's pronounced (I know you'll want me to keep it linguistically articulate)! Anyway,that's what my friend told me to tell all you, just now, on the phone, when I rang him to tell him of it being a cause for your anthropomorphic insanity. A word which he, personally found a little over necessary for you yourselves to use, although those weren't quite the words he used!!!!!!

What about what I said re kneeling and receiving and meatless Fridays, you fogot to mention what you thought of that!

Ma Tucker said...

I kneel all the time now. It started as a formula :

"If He truly is who the Church claims Him to be and I am about to receive Him then surely I should kneel"

I used to feel self-conscious and embarrassed about being the only person doing so but the more I've grown in love with Him the more shameful it is to me that I ever felt self-conscious and embarrassed.

He suffered terribly for me. He was scourged, abused, nailed to the cross like a lump of meat and died for me. He would allow nothing to separate himself from me not even death itself. Now he comes to be with me and to feed me with His very self and here I am embarrassed and self-conscious to kneel? How mean and little my love is. O my sweet Jesus forgive me.

D. Catherine Wybourne said...

The genuflection derives from Byzantine court ritual. No one is quite sure what the first Christians did since kneeling is only adopted by Jews on Yom Kippur, and Eastern Rite Catholics don't kneel to receive Holy Communion. Personally, I don't mind whether we genuflect or make a deep bow, but I do think whatever we do should be done with mindfulness and great reverence. But then, you'd expect a Benedictine to say that, wouldn't you?


Fr. Dominic O'Connor re-instituted the altar rail and kneeling at Brigg in Lincolnshire about a year ago. It did cause a bit of a kerfuffle (so to speak) for about two weeks but after it was obvious he was not going to budge the congregation soon came round to the idea.

The excellent James Gillick (he who painted the well known portrait of JPII) is in charge of music, even introducing correctly sung liturgy, and between them they have turned the church in to a place of reverence and spirituality during Mass time. You could almost believe you were at a Mass in Italy.

Kneeling for communion just gives you that period of reflection just before receiving the blessed sacrament. I am absolutely sure that Fr. Dominic was pleased that he went through his battle and it is definitely reaping rewards.

rachel said...

my pp never mentioned bowing or kneeling-i read it of the bishops conference website-i think its a good idea and have done it since the introduction of the new translation(which i like very much),but before this 2 other people have always given very low bows at Holy Communion and another lady kneels down,even though thers no kneelers,personally i would like them brought back!!!

Fr. Stephen Brown said...

Like Fr. Ray, I have sometimes questioned the effectiveness of mere preaching from the pulpit as a catechetical tool – at least for 90% of the congregation. I did a whole series of homilies once on the need for reverence and attention when receiving Holy Communion, even coupled with live demonstration of how to receive in the hand, as this was where problems were occurring. At the very same Mass, the people I was particularly trying to reach received in exactly the same careless fashion. It’s striking how the influence of just a few people can start a trend, for good or ill. In one parish, I introduced lining up along the sanctuary step for Communion, with me moving along the line with server & communion plate – my ultimate aim was to install altar rails. I reasoned, like Fr. Ray, that actions on the part of the people would have more impact than lots of words from me. It did indeed increase the sense of recollection, because people had a few moments of stillness to focus their thoughts and prepare to receive the Lord. Moreover, people who were a bit unsteady on their feet and mums and dads managing children also appreciated this practice’s unhurried nature. Sadly I was moved before I could install the rails. Where I am now – a university chaplaincy, most of the students are from Africa or Asia, where it seems it is still common to kneel at the altar rails to receive Communion on the tongue; they are a little surprised that we don’t! If, in my absence, they attend a local church, I discover a few copying the bad habits of the locals receiving in the hand very carelessly. On the other hand, their faith is strengthened when they see a 95 year old Ukrainian lady at daily Mass going down on both knees and touching her head to the floor during Exposition. Yes, these simple gestures are powerful and a real instruction takes place from body to soul, for good or ill again. There is a great urgency to get right how we receive the Lord in Holy Communion.

Unknown said...

I think it's time to bring back the altar rails!

Physiocrat said...

Bring back altar rails and blame Elf 'n Safety if anyone objects. Or accessibility regulations.

. said...

I'm slightly alarmed that no-one has mentioned that kneeling on Sundays is specifically forbidden by Canon XX of the First Council of Nicaea! This is a rather important fact when it comes to what might be seen as an overenthusiasm for the practice.

We might also consider the words of St Jerome:

''There are many other observances in the Church which, though due to Tradition, have acquired the authority of the written Law, as, for instance, the practice of not praying on bended knees on Sunday.'' (St Jerome, 330).

Yes, kneeling is our practice in the West. But please let's not get triumphal on such weak grounds.

nickbris said...

Tha Japanese know a thing or two about bowing,to show the most respect it should be about 45 degrees.The least that has to be done is a nod of the head.

Haven't got the foggiest idea why the Altar Rails were done away with,probably a simple edict that we are not meant to kneel.Bowing before receiving the Host by mouth can be a little difficult if the tray is there.

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