Sunday, July 10, 2011

Genuflection...a sin? UPDATE

“One who learns to believe, also learns to kneel, and a faith and a liturgy that no longer knows about kneeling would be unhealthy in a central point. Where this gesture has been lost, we must learn it again, to remain with our prayer in the communion of the Apostles and martyrs, in the communion of the whole cosmos, in the unity with Jesus Christ himself.”

(J. Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy [Opera Omnia 11]. LEV, Vatican City 2010, p. 183)

On page four of the bulletin today is a question: "I noticed in Mass one day that people do different things. Some change responses, some genuflect before Communion, and one lady went to kneel in front of the tabernacle. Are these part of the new changes that are coming?"

Although no one on our parish staff is named as the author, the pronoun 'I' is used. The person who answers the question frames it in terms of 'liberal' or 'conservative', which sets a divisive tone. Specific expressions of Catholic devotion are couched in political terms, instead of whether they are permissible in terms of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, tradition, and "leaving room for appropriate individual expression."

The point of concern seems to be the act of genuflection before Communion, as well as people doing "things that are distracting, or different than the rest of the community...."

While I have not seen many people genuflect before Communion without a kneeler, I have seen it enough to know that it is not distracting.

The author says he (or she) has seen "people fall because the person in front of them suddenly genuflects before Communion..." The writer seems to be saying that an act of reverence and submission to the Lord, physically present in the Eucharist, is a danger to others. In fact, the author goes on to say that being different than others in one's devotional posture during mass is, "Strictly speaking...a definition of sin: a rupture in our relationship with God and with one another."

I have seen both a priest and a nun genuflect before receiving Communion when visiting our parish. Surely they are not to be named as sinners for doing so.

The highly suggestive statement implying sin is then immediately blunted by the next sentence, "Not that these things are sinful..."

Which is it? "Strictly speaking...sin" or "Not that these things are sinful?"

The writer states that doing anything that is different "introduces a foreign element and breaks the unity of the assembled church." He or she assumes that such things as genuflecting before Communion or kneeling at the tabernacle are "political or religious statements" made by these individuals, instead of genuine and humble acts of reverence toward the Lord.

The historical understanding of the practice of genuflecting, whether in Adoration, before the Tabernacle, Communion, or in private prayer, has roots in the ancient world, though the Catholic practice of such was regularized in the 16th century. The following list gives some background and perspective on the practice of genuflection:

New Advent
Spirit of the Liturgy -- Genuflection
Genuflection 101
Fisheaters -- Posture and Gesture
Ministry and Liturgy -- Genuflection
What Does The Prayer Really Say? (Fr. Z's blog)
Reflections on Genuflection
Confirmation Preparation Article on Reverence 
Genuflection: The Knightly Devotion to the Lord

The practice of genuflecting in a Roman Catholic Church should not be implied as sinful, or distracting, or a political/religious statement. The last sentence of the answer says, "Good intentions do not replace good liturgy!"

If only that statement were taken to heart when parish leadership endorses ongoing liturgical abuses that certainly do distract from the liturgy. It is permissible, apparently, for parish leadership to encourage changes in the rubrics of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass up to and including lay homilies/testimonies, films, and skits to name a few. But, to bow at the knee in solemn and humble reverence for the King of the universe is something to be frowned upon.

Before the kneelers were removed, communicants in our parish received Communion while kneeling. Perhaps Scripture says it best:

"That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth..." (Phil. 2:10)

UPDATE: A friend sent this along from EWTN:  "The norm in the United States is to bow before receiving Holy Communion. However, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments has stated that it is OK to genuflect prior to receiving Holy Communion, and that anyone who prefers to receive Holy Communion while kneeling is not to be refused or mistreated."

Read the whole thing.


  1. I too was disturbed by this Q&A, though I wish to point out that it is a generic Q&A possibly from liturgy publications, inc.

    The same article appears in St. Mary's (Auburn) bulletin and I think St. Jerome in E. Rochester as well as a few others.

  2. Ah, thank you, Dr. K. I wondered about that. A filler article, as those things are commonly called.

    So it was chosen by individual staffs to go out in numerous church bulletins in an attempt to influence many.

    Tricksy, indeed. The staff can claim innocence of authorship...but not of content. When I volunteered with the church bulletin, the pastoral administrator had final approval on content.

    Incidentally, my daughter actually thought the article might have been in reference to her and her friend, who had knelt before the tabernacle after mass last week. She asked me if it was wrong and sinful to do so.

  3. Gretchen-

    Tell your daughter and friend to lie prostrate before the tabernacle. This posture is neither wrong or sinful but certain to raise a few feathers.

    How sad that reference to our Lord is discouraged.

  4. So the article was written to influence as many as possible in the Diocese of Rochester. Well, I hope that everyone who reads the article will from this point on kneel before taking Communion. Enough of Clarks liberal influences here! Maybe, someone could suggest an early retirement.

  5. I'm sure the article was disseminated to a national audience, not just those in the DOR. Those types of generic articles are written and go out to periodicals all over, not just in religious circles, and editors have a wide variety to choose from.

    And early retirement is pretty much a moot point as Bishop Clark has almost exactly one year to go before retirement.

  6. And early retirement is pretty much a moot point as Bishop Clark has almost exactly one year to go before retirement.

    The bishop does have an ad limina visit to Rome coming up in November/December. I don't expect a resignation to follow immediately after, though miracles do happen.

  7. Ah, the bishop is making his ad limina visit...wonder if the recent appointments of so many priests to be PASTORS of a church is influenced by the upcoming visit...i.e. try to make the diocese look like it is in line with the present day church as Rome sees it. By the way, if he can appoint so many priests as pastors in Rochester, FingerLakes, Auburn why can he not appoint a pastor in Corning. Corning sorely needs a pastor.