Saturday, December 13, 2008

Liturgy: People of the Ottawa archdiocese take a stand against kneeling

The Archbishop of Ottawa, Canada -- His Excellency Terrence Prendergast -- has addressed the souls under his care with a pastoral letter (PDF) on November 23rd in preparation for the new liturgical year. Here is most of the text of that letter (bracketed parts are in the original, emphasis is mine):
The beginning of a new liturgical year is regularly the occasion for modifications in liturgical practice. This year, I invite all the faithful to adopt a common practice at Mass -- that of kneeling from the end of the "Holy, holy, holy" and standing after the consecration when the celebrants invites the congregation to proclaim "the mystery of faith".

[Exceptions to this rule are permitted for Masses in schools, nursing homes and similar circumstances where other appropriate postures may be determined; parish churches without kneelers are granted an extension of their current practice for a year, or until other provisions are agreed upon with the Chancery.]

In my visitation of other parishes, I have noted a wide range of practices, which have been legitimately introduced but which, overall, present a lack of harmony in matter in which we should be united -- the worship of God. The practice I am mandating for the Archdiocese is one of the Bishops of Canada have determined will be normative in our country once the Third Edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM3) is implemented in the near future.

[In dioceses where the custom has been to kneel throughout the Eucharistic Prayer "this practice may laudably be retained" (GIRM3:42-44).]

Posture in prayer may take the form of standing, expressing our dignity before God as His children set free by the death and resurrection of Christ -- as is the case in much of the Mass -- or by kneeling, to express adoration and reverence, which is appropriate at the consecration of the Mass. This common practice for our Church of Ottawa will allow us to manifest both postures during the Great Eucharistic Prayer of Praise.

I shared my intention to implement this new policy with our clergy in late August and I know that it may not be easy for some to accept. However, I am convinced its implementation will bring blessings to our Archdiocese and I invite your cooperation with this directive.
Some people are not taking it well. Two newspaper articles (here and here) paint a pretty sad picture. The first article reports that "[s]ome expressed concerns that the archdiocesan liturgical commission was not consulted." No offense to liturgical commissions, but the buck doesn't stop with them, it stops with the bishop, the one who has actual eccesial authority, the moderator of the liturgy for his diocese.

The Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium) had this to say about liturgical commissions (first for episcopal conferences, second for dioceses):
44. It is desirable that the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority ... set up a liturgical commission, to be assisted by experts in liturgical science, sacred music, art and pastoral practice. So far as possible the commission should be aided by some kind of Institute for Pastoral Liturgy, consisting of persons who are eminent in these matters, and including laymen as circumstances suggest. Under the direction of the above-mentioned territorial ecclesiastical authority the commission is to regulate pastoral-liturgical action throughout the territory, and to promote studies and necessary experiments whenever there is question of adaptations to be proposed to the Apostolic See.

45. For the same reason every diocese is to have a commission on the sacred liturgy under the direction of the bishop, for promoting the liturgical apostolate.
The commission is supposed to have experts, eminent persons, in the fields of liturgy, sacred music, art, and pastoral practice. Experts, yes, but with the humility to operate "under the direction of the bishop". Inter Oecumenici 47 described the function of a diocesan liturgical commission in more detail.

As for the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, it only mentions the liturgical commission in the context of construction or redesign of buildings: "The Diocesan Bishop ... should use the counsel and help of this commission whenever it comes to laying down norms on [the proper construction, restoration, and remodeling of sacred buildings], approving plans for new buildings, and making decisions on the more important issues." (GIRM 291)

The first article ends this way:
Others objected to the focus on a liturgical change when the Church faces other problems. Parishioner Toddy Kehoe told the Citizen, “Is that all they have to think about? I don’t see the Catholic Church as doing loving things. “I don’t see them as the caring community they should be. It isn’t whether you stand or kneel.”
Perhaps Toddy forgets that he too is part of the Catholic Church and, while his purview may not include liturgical decisions, it does include "doing loving things" and building a "caring community". He also speaks as though the Church can only handle one thing at a time, as if the Ottawa diocese was expending all its energy and resources towards this monumental change of posture. One thing is certain: he fails to see the connection between our liturgical attitude and our missionary life outside of Mass.

The second article goes into greater detail:
In an interview later, he explained: "It's a sign of reverence. People say, 'I don't like that. We are the people set free, we no longer have to kneel to God,' and I said, 'Wait a minute, we do have to kneel to God. Christ knelt in the garden. People knelt before Jesus. Why can't we do that for a few minutes at mass?' "One woman told him her husband might not come to church because of this. "She said, 'we French Canadians have a bit of an inferiority complex. We don't like people telling us what to do'."
How ever do these French Canadians get along with God?
St. Joseph's Rev. Richard Kelly declined to comment, as did a staff member who said in an e-mail: "It is hard to believe that a kneeler is such a big topic, and I wish I could say something about this piece of furniture that was meaningful, and about the prayer posture we have been requested to assume, but we are in difficult times and the focus for us as a parish is really how can we participate in the truth and reconciliation process with the aboriginal community of Canada."
"Reconciliation" and "kneeling" seem to be strongly connected in my mind. How many scenes in the gospels do people come to Jesus and kneel or fall before him, asking to be forgiven, for mercy?

The Archbishop gets to the heart of the matter:
"Every time you talk about liturgy, everything else going on in the church is reflected." Right now, the Catholic church is asking, "Is (the mass) our thing or is it God's thing? There are certain tensions in the church about that. After 40 years since the Vatican Council, we have gotten away from certain aspects of reverence; we're trying to have more harmony and co-ordination. Harmony will help bolster a sense of divine worship, something that has slipped away. What has happened with the liturgy is that it is being asked to bear too many things."

At one mass, people got so enthusiastic about greeting each other at the exchange of the peace that it took 45 minutes to get back to the pews and resume the service. "That's not what mass is about. It's about worshipping God ... At one time, nobody ever applauded. Now, they applaud for everything. It becomes more like a concert."

As to his authoritarian message, he said, "The bishop is the mentor of the liturgy, moderator, the one who calls the shots. I try to do it gently." Nevertheless, to both clergy and congregants, he says, "I know you disagree, but I would like you to come along." If someone comes to church and stubbornly stands, they won't be asked to leave. But, the archbishop says, "You sort of wonder, what are they proving when there are two people standing in a church of 500 kneeling? Some people always have to let you know they're right."
I applaud the Archbishop for trying to bring unity to his archdiocese, recovering a sense of the sacred, and supporting his stance with Scripture and Tradition!


Scelata said...

"Every time you talk about liturgy, everything else going on in the church is reflected."

This says it all.
Excellent blog, your database of magisterial documents is brilliant, a great resource, thank you very, very, very much.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Matt said...

The whole thing is quite absurd isn't it? I wonder what would happen if the Pope made kneeling for communion mandatory again... (Let's pray for that!)

japhy said...

Matt, I'd be happy if the stigma associated with kneeling for Communion (and, in some circles, receiving on the tongue!) was removed. The ideal would be unity of posture, but that is easier in some circumstances (Eucharistic Prayer) than others (reception of Holy Communion).

So where imposing unity is not an easy task (pastorally), embracing a degree of diversity may be the right course of action for the present time. Of course, that diversity must be explained and taught. I'm curious how many people don't receive on the tongue because they're never even told it's an option.

Gretchen said...

I think the tide is turning. Slowly, but inevitably.

Matt said...

Japhy - When I attend the OF I don't feel any stigma receiving on the tongue... If someone has a problem with is my opinion is so what?

I have heard of one lady at my EF parish who attended an OF that was "instructed" later on NOT to kneel. They even brought in several nuns in full habit to teach her about receiving in the hand and standing. She didn't take too kindly to that. She never went back.

japhy said...

At my parish, to my knowledge, children are never instructed about the OPTION of receiving on the tongue.

There is also at least one parish in the area where the EMHCs come up to the sanctuary and are given Holy Communion to hold in their hands before the priest takes his own communion. That totally excludes them from receiving on the tongue (apart from being against the rules).

Moonshadow said...

At my parish, to my knowledge, children are never instructed about the OPTION of receiving on the tongue.

I asked my son who made his first communion in May whether he was aware of the option to receive the host on his tongue and he said yes, that that's how older people receive. So, in the least, there is some teaching of tolerance happening.

I spoke with the program's DRE this morning and she said that the children are instructed uniformly in one way (i.e., in the hand) but that parents could instruct their children otherwise afterwards. Same with receiving from the chalice.

Now, perhaps my son's catechist mentioned the option in passing or maybe he observed the practice at Mass. But my recommendation to those who want the practice of receiving on the tongue to remain accepted and, perhaps spread, is to be a role model, set the example yourself. The classroom may not be the primary setting for this sort of instruction.

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

Moonshadow: I know you didn't mean it this way, but "there is some teaching of tolerance happening" seems rather dismissive to the practice of receiving on the tongue as something merely "tolerated" (and as something that the older folk do). This is compounded by:

"those who want the practice of receiving on the tongue to remain accepted and, perhaps spread, is to be a role model"

Since reception in the hand is by indult and the norm in the Latin Church is to receive on the tongue, I would hope the practice remains accepted everywhere! I do try to be a role model (i.e., I receive on the tongue), but I don't go around flaunting it.

"[P]arents could instruct their children otherwise afterwards. Same with receiving from the chalice. ... The classroom may not be the primary setting for this sort of instruction."

That sounds more like passing the buck to me. How much catechesis is actually taking place in the home nowadays? And how can the parents teach these things if they don't know them themselves?

We're approaching a time when people who have grown up with these changes as if they were norms are having children. If the parents don't know better, how can they teach the children?

Moonshadow said...

More simply, then, the body of Christ is not irrelevant.

The matter isn't as you said - "children are never instructed" - not so.

To children, Mass is a catechesis of sorts. And, to them, many are veritably older, n'est-ce pas?

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

Mass is a catechesis for us all, so long as we're aware and paying attention. :) I'm glad your son pays attention; depending on the layout of your church building, it's not always easy to see a person's reception of Communion. (I'm not advocating "Communion-watching", I'm just stating an architectural observation.)

I suppose my gripe is that certain practices (or elements of the faith, in some cases) are left up to experience rather than instruction.

Matt said...

Perhaps the best way to catechize children on belief of and reverence for the Eucharist is for parents to lead by example. If a parent has respect for it, so will their children.

In a world where we can't really trust parish catechesis to do what it is supposed to parental example is invaluable. Plus, the Mass's purpose is not catechesis, its worship. Catechesis is a by product of the Mass.

Moonshadow said...

the Mass's purpose is not catechesis

I expected disagreement so I didn't push the notion too hard.

for parents to lead by example

Japhy's point is parents and teachers can't be counted on so my point is children learn naturally even from those around them.