Sunday, 19 June 2011

United States Bishops' Conference on Kneeling at Holy Communion


Following on from the seeming decision of the Bishop's Conference of England and Wales to make standing the norm for receiving Holy Communion when the new missal comes out, I thought it worth publishing the following article by Leo Darroch as a reflection on this. It was originally published in 2002. It makes the wider point, reflected in thoughts expressed by the former Cardinal Ratzinger, on the desirability or otherwise of the dominating role that national bishops' conferences have now assumed.

Thou Shalt Not Kneel

In July 2002, the U.S.A. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy stated in its newsletter: "The bishops of the United States have decided that the normative posture for receiving Holy Communion should be standing. Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States of America unless the bishop of a particular diocese has derogated from this norm in an individual and extraordinary circumstance. "

Before examining the long term impact of this instruction it is worth considering some of the words that have been used in this statement.
"The bishops of the United States have decided" the sad reality of the Catholic Church since the end of the Second Vatican Council is that from being a strong, unified, universal and supranational Church with a governing pope and curia in Rome it has degenerated into a loose confederation of national churches that pay lip service to Rome and decide their own policies for their own flocks in their own countries. Any directives from Rome are looked upon as being an impertinent intrusion, and more often than not are simply ignored. As an English bishop said to one of his priests recently "Anything I get from Rome I just put into a bottom drawer." National Bishops' Conferences are now all powerful and jealously guard their independence from Rome, and the reality is that the Catholic Church is rapidly becoming a communion of like minded national churches similar to the world wide Anglican Communion of Churches which has a nominal head in the Archbishop of Canterbury but who has no actual power over anyone or anything. In effect, many of these national conferences within the Catholic Church are now virtually Protestant in mind and Protestant in behaviour. Many Catholics bishops no longer accept or recognise the authority of the Pope and act as though he is irrelevant. Of course he is wonderful for photo opportunities with which to impress their flocks but is dismissed as irrelevant when some uncomfortable truths are to be followed, or obedience is required. In 1993, at a papal audience, a small group of seminarians from the USA called out to the Holy Father for some item of news "to bring back to the American Church!" Apparently the Pope became very angry and shouted that they should never say that, that there is only one Church the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope then just walked past them. Those who witnessed it were stunned as they had never seen the Pope act like that at a papal audience. Perhaps this is the root of the problem; the American hierarchy believes it has its own Church, independent of Rome and not answerable to Rome. In fact, an 'American' Catholic Church.

'Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States." The bishops are not saying that it is 'no longer' a licit posture but it is NOT a licit posture. In effect, they appear to be saying it has never been a licit posture. Kneeling is not just no longer acceptable, no longer an option, but is UNLAWFUL, FORBIDDEN!!! What has been licit and the norm for centuries is now illicit. This is absolutely breath taking; whether something is licit or not is a serious matter. Surely some particular act has to be licit or not licit throughout the entire Church, or at least in the Roman rite? Perhaps the American bishops think that kneeling in front of our Blessed Lord is such a serious error that their faithful must be saved from this dangerous practice: "Forgive me Father for I have sinned; I have knelt before the Blessed Sacrament,” may well become commonplace in the confessional. Have the bishops that currently constitute the Bishops Conference of the United States taken upon themselves an authority that is not theirs to exercise? In a universal Church how can something be declared unlawful in one country yet remain an accepted practice throughout the rest of the world. And how can the bishops of the USA declare something unlawful yet the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who is responsible for overseeing correct practice in the Church, can say it is perfectly lawful.


"Unless the bishop of a particular diocese has derogated from this norm in a particular and extraordinary circumstance." Such is the suffocating stranglehold that bishops' conferences have over individual bishops that any bishop who disagrees with this policy and wishes to exercise his proper authority in his own diocese and allow kneeling is labelled as sanctioning a practice that is "derogating from the norm" and allowing something "extraordinary". This is the policy of the police state, an abuse of power, the tactics of those who wish to crush dissent and I am surprised that this is happening in the United States, the home of the brave and the land of the free! The words blackmail and coercion come to mind.

The sheer nonsense of this diktat is thrown into sharp relief by Cardinal Medina Estevez, the recently retired Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. In response to numerous complaints from the faithful, he informed one American bishop that he:

“ considers any refusal of Holy Communion to a member of the faithful on the basis of his or her kneeling posture to be a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful, namely that of being assisted by their Pastors by means of the Sacraments (Codex Iuris Canonici, canon 213). 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, 1), there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for Holy Communion 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 Institutio 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."

In fact, as His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has recently emphasized, the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species”

What is crystal clear is that canon law takes precedence over whatever whim overtakes any bishop, whether acting individually or within a bishops' conference. That being so, why do these bishops set themselves on a path against Rome? Is it a sense of self importance in that they know they can impose their own will locally, safe in the knowledge that legitimate authority is too far away to take effective counter action.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the liturgical establishment was the imposition of the vernacular. This change, we were told, would reveal all the riches of scripture to the ordinary man and woman in the pew. Instead of hearing the dead language of Latin that no one understood we would fully understand the gospel stories and our faith would be strengthened. Why, then has this theory failed so spectacularly with the bishops, for in issuing their instruction on standing to receive holy Communion they appear to have forgotten, or no longer listen, to words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? In the gospels the constantly recurring references to personal encounters with Jesus reveal that the people invariably fell to their knees in supplication before Him.

Matthew reveals how the three wise men, on finding the child in Bethlehem “fell down to worship him”(Ch22). When tempted by the devil, Satan promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would "fall down and worship me” (ch2:9). And it was not only the humble leper that “ came and knelt before him " (ch8:2) but also men of high rank "It chanced that one of the rulers came and knelt before him, and said, Lord, my daughter is this moment dead..” (ch. 6:5). In the story of Peter walking on the water Matthew records “And the ship's crew came, and said, falling at his feet, Thou are indeed the Son of God.” And it was not confined only to the men "Then the woman came up and said, falling at his feet, Lord help me." (ch15:5). Perhaps the most telling revelation is in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed to his Father: “When he had gone a little further, he fell on his face in prayer, and said, my Father, if it is possible let this chalice pass me by..” Even our Saviour when praying to his Heavenly Father fell on his face in prayer. He did not stand there to plead his cause; he fell on his face. The final reference in Matthew occurs after the Resurrection when Mary Magdalen and the other Mary came across Jesus: “And while they were on their way, all at once Jesus met them and said, all hail. With that they came near to him, and clung to his feet, and worshipped him”

Mark repeats many of the instances recorded by Matthew. "Then a leper came up to him, asking for his aid; he knelt at his feet and said, if it be thy will, thou hast the power to make me clean.” (ch. 1:40). The leper knelt in supplication but the American bishops are now stating that it is not licit to kneel. Mark does not record that Jesus admonished the leper for kneeling as he was committing an illicit act. In chapter 10: 17 Mark says "Then he [Jesus] went out to continue his journey, a man ran up and knelt down before him, asking him, Master, why art thou so good, what must I do to achieve eternal life?” This is the question we all must ask, as this young man did, on our knees. In the new order of Mass the priest says as he mingles the piece of Host with the precious Blood: "May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it” We, in our turn, are asking for eternal life when we receive our Blessed Lord but the American bishops say their faithful must stand when they are asking the question. Why?

It is interesting to note that in one instance of a personal encounter of an individual with Jesus it concerns Judas the betrayer who stood before Jesus. "The traitor had appointed them a signal; it is none other, he said, than the man whom I shall greet with a kiss; hold him fast, and take him away under guard. No sooner, then, had he come up than he went close to Jesus, saying, Hail, Master, and kissed him; and with that they laid their hands on him, and held him fast.”"[Ch 14: 44,45,46.]

St. Luke records most of the events mentioned by Matthew and Mark. There are, for example, the stories of the lepers, the temptation by the devil, and Jairus the ruler and his daughter. In chapter 22: 4 1, St. Luke records the scene on Mount Olivet where Jesus went to pray: "Then he parted from them [his disciples], going a stone's throw off, and knelt down to pray ..” Jesus himself knelt down to pray to God the Father. We could not have been given a clearer example by Jesus of how to behave in the presence of God but the American bishops are telling us now that it is not licit to kneel to receive God the Son in the Blessed Sacrament. In effect, they are saying that Jesus did something that, in their opinion, was not licit how extraordinary.

And there are other aspects of St. Luke's Gospel that perhaps the American bishops need to study again. In chapter 12: 8,9 he quotes Jesus: "And I tell you this; whoever acknowledges me before men, will be acknowledged by the Son of Man in the presence of God's angels; he who disowns me before men, will be disowned before God's angels.” These are powerful words. When we kneel we publicly acknowledge God in front of all present.

The Gospel of St. John presents a different emphasis of events. But perhaps John's words, in this particular context, are more telling than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John the Baptist said of Jesus. “He who comes from above is above all men's reach; the man who belongs to earth talks the language of earth, but one who comes from heaven must needs be beyond the reach of all” [Ch 3: 31]. How apposite this comment is in regard to modem liturgists who cannot raise their minds above themselves and earthly things and have imposed the language of the earth on an unfortunate laity. And because they cannot raise their minds above earthly things they have no time for Latin, the language of the angels, or for a divine liturgy that comes from heaven. Perhaps the bishops should read Chapter 5: 22 23: "So it is with judgement; the Father, instead of passing judgement on any man himself, has left all judgement to the Son, so that all may reverence the Son just as they reverence the Father; to deny reverence to the Son is to deny reverence to the Father who has sent him.” In ordering their flocks to stand while receiving the Son are the bishops not denying Him reverence and also the Father who sent him?

The nub of the problem seems to be that the American bishops have succumbed to the vanity of their own self importance and forgotten who is the Master. A collective reading of John chapter 13: 13 17 may prove fruitful and reveal new insights: "You hail me as the Master, and the Lord; and you are right, it is what 1 am. Why then, if I have washed your feet, I who am the Master and the Lord, you in your turn ought to wash each other's feet,. I have been setting you an example, which will teach you in your turn to do what I have done for you. Believe me, no slave can be greater than his master, no apostle greater than he by whom he was sent.” Do the American bishops think they are greater than their Master? In the circumstances it is not an unreasonable question to act.

The Gospel of St. John, in fact, is full of instructions that any bishop should pay heed to. In chapter 14: 23,24, there is the admonition: "Jesus answered him, If a man has any love for me, he will be true to my word; and then he will win my Father's love, and we will both come to him, and make our continual abode with him; whereas the man who has no love for me, lets my sayings pass him by.” In chapter 10. 14 16, Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd; my sheep are known to me and know me; just as I am known to my Father, and know him. And for these sheep I am laying down my life. I have other sheep too, which do not belong to this fold; I must bring them in too; they will listen to my voice; so there will be one fold, and one shepherd.” [Ch 10: 14 16]. Christ, as the Good Shepherd, did indeed lay down His life for His sheep. Sadly, our present shepherds, by their words and actions, appear to have no interest in the flocks under their care as they continue to pursue policies that are emptying our churches and scattering their sheep into the spiritual wilderness.

When the priest (or bishop) utters the words of consecration he finds himself in the immediate presence of Christ in fact he is touching him physically in the sacred Host. After elevating the Host to show Our Blessed Lord to the congregation, he genuflects in public adoration. When the congregation moves forward to receive their Communion they are making their own personal approach to Jesus in no less a way than those recorded in the gospels and, at the point of reception, they physically touch Our Blessed Lord in no less manner than the priest. Why, then, do the bishops think it is fitting that they and their priests must genuflect in the presence of their Lord but then declare that it is not licit unlawful for their flocks to do likewise? In psalm 94:6 we are told to "adore and fall down and weep before the Lord that made us.” The angel at Fatima, with the Blessed Sacrament suspended in the air, prostrated himself and recited this prayer:

“O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.”

It is a prayer that recommends itself to all Catholics, bishops and laity.

Father Joseph Jungmann, S.J. states in his book Public Worship:

"Whenever a man speaks with God he feels a sort of compulsion to take up some attitude or posture which will be expressive of his reverence. This is all the more so when he is engaged in social that is, liturgical worship. The history of religion shows that people of all kinds, when engaged in prayer to their god, have always tended to use those particular attitudes and gestures which seem natural in human intercourse especially in the behaviour of the lowly towards the highly placed.” He goes on to say:

" Our Lord himself prayed on his knees in the Garden of Olives, and when St Paul said goodbye to the Christians of Miletus he prayed with them kneeling (Acts xx, 3 6). By kneeling a man emphasises his littleness and submission before his superior.” [emphasis added]
[Public Worship, JA. Jungmann, S.J. 1957. Challoner Publications London]


One of the stated objectives of the post Vatican II liturgists was that the people would play a greater role in Church activities, especially the liturgy. This is true only for those who toe the party line and accept without question what 'Father' tells them. The unquestioning sycophants now rule the roost in parish life and the great majority of rapidly diminishing faithful that remain have been pushed to the margins. Anyone who is not a minister of some kind, either 'extraordinary' or as a minister of the organ (as one person described himself in false humility), is a nobody. Before Vatican II, if one dares to mention 'the bad old days', the faithful at Communion time approached the altar and knelt upon the sanctuary at the altar rails. It was a special moment during the Mass in that they were able to kneel upon the sanctuary that contained the altar of sacrifice. It was a moment of special closeness, of deep spirituality, that many of the congregation looked forward to. Now, because everyone stands and receives the Body of Christ in their hands, the priests and extraordinary ministers commonly stand off the sanctuary. The net effect is that the faithful are pushed further away from the altar and the sanctuary. The sanctuary is now the domain of the priest and his helpers. They alone are allowed the privilege of sharing the sacred space of the altar of sacrifice and they appear determined that no one else will join their club. So much for removing the altar rails and 'opening up the sanctuaries for everyone'. This is another lie to be nailed as an empty promise to delude people into accepting the changes. So not only are we being pushed further away from the altar but American Catholics are being ordered not to kneel. And our bishops wonder why their churches are empty?

What faith reviving reason, if any, was given for this extraordinary instruction from the American bishops? How can the faith be strengthened by ordering their flocks to stand arrogantly before their God rather than kneel? Have the bishops explained in simple terms why they wish to implement this change? Why they are declaring illicit a practice that has been followed by untold millions of devout Catholics for more than a thousand years? What spiritual benefits they think this will bring to their flocks? And how do they think this will increase reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, belief in which has plummeted in the USA and the English speaking world? Faithful Catholics are becoming increasingly tired of being told that everything their parents and grandparents did was wrong. Is it not peculiar that when the faithful were so wrong in every aspect of their Catholic life that the churches, schools and seminaries were full. And now that we are supposedly doing everything so much better our churches, schools and seminaries are empty.

One cannot but think this instruction is yet another step on the deliberate and systematic Protestantisation of the Catholic Church in the search for the final ecumenical solution of a one world Church. Protestants, in all their multitude of sects, will never accept the essence of Catholic doctrine so the Catholic Church will have to capitulate. For many liturgists, both Catholic and other, the Second Vatican Council was their equivalent of the 'Big Bang' theory of the astronomers. The traditional Mass, the epitome of Catholic doctrine and the embodiment of the faith in every word and gesture, was the rock, the cornerstone, that had to be destroyed so that ecumenism could flourish. The changes introduced in the years immediately after the Council provided the first cracks. It was the General Instruction on the Roman Missal in 1969, however, that was the Big Bang explosion that the liturgists had worked tirelessly for. This liturgical explosion was launched in order to take everything away from a central authority, especially the focal point of Rome and the primacy of the Pope. It was meant to obliterate the traditional Catholic liturgy and pave the way for the proliferation of novelties, styles, personal preferences in the celebration of the New Mass in no less a away than the events of the Reformation in the 16th century led to the attempted destruction of the Mass and the Catholic Faith and the introduction of a personal religion rather than one divinely instituted.

It is now quite clear that the further the bishops and clergy move away from the traditional liturgy of the Church that was the norm at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council the more and more they are losing sight of the doctrines of the faith and the more and more they are losing the souls of those under their care. The seamless garment of the Catholic liturgy that once clothed the entire world is being reduced to a patchwork quilt of national and local designs. The instruction of the American bishops that it is forbidden to kneel to receive our Blessed Lord is just the latest in a long series of initiatives from the episcopate to transform the Catholic faith into a bland ecumenical, acceptable to all religion that neither challenges the intellect nor raises the heart and mind above the earthly plane. It is just another step along the road to a bland, comfortable, faith of sorts that does not disturb, does not challenge, and does not upset anyone of any creed or race. In other words, a religion that is not worthy of the name and one that worships man and not God.


Leo Darroch.

November 2002.

5 comments:

Sixupman said...

Vatican II opened the door to 'National Churches' with only nominal responsibility to The Popes. The argument that a Pope can only acr in collegiality with the 'Conferences' and they are now saying as much.

Laurence England said...

So depressing.

GOR said...

Yes, Bishops Conferences have arrogated to themselves powers they do not have, as the Holy Father has pointed out in the past. The Ordinary remains sovereign in his own diocese. Or as Bishop Bruskiewitz once put it: “They don’t speak for me!”

But disdain for Rome occurs at all levels. Here in Milwaukee Archbishop Weakland frequently trumpeted how he had flouted Rome on various occasions – not least in wrecking the Cathedral. In my home parish in Ireland a young curate who had studied in Rome and mentioned that some things being done in the parish would not be approved by Rome, was curtly told by the PP that “This is Ireland - not Rome”. Nice example from a senior clergyman.

Going to the vernacular in Mass exacerbated the problem, leading to the idea of ‘national churches’. But there is only one Church and it is not the ‘American’, ‘Irish’ or ‘English’ church. It is the Catholic Church in America, Ireland, England or wherever. What part of “…Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et Apostolicam…” don’t people understand?

Anonymous said...

Mm. Yes. Now I understand my own inclination to kneel. A longing. But I'd stand out a mile! How sad.

paledin said...

I understand the dismay here. Hardly a place for the bishops to focus given many of the issues that face the church. I wonder if there is a quiet backlash to Rome after years of priest's scandals with such a delayed response. Almost as if it generated so much shame and embarrassment that the reaction was to ignore out of frustration. It's just a thought.