“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:
Spirit of the Liturgy -- Genuflection
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.