Although it may seem a little strange, there is a definite battle being waged within the Catholic Church. It is the same “culture war” being waged by secular moderns against those who uphold traditional morality, it is pro-life vs. pro-choice. But within the Catholic Church the same battle is fought along liturgical lines, and the publication in the Vatican newspaper of an article calling for Catholics to receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue is telling.
“If some nonbeliever arrived and observed such an act of adoration perhaps he, too, would ‘fall down and worship God, declaring, God is really in your midst,’” explained Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, Kazakhstan in the pages of L’Osservatore Romano.
The Catholic News Service reports that in the January 8 edition of the Vatican paper, Bishop Schneider noted that the reverence and awe of Catholics who truly believe they are receiving Jesus in the Eucharist should lead them to kneel and receive Communion on their tongues. “The awareness of the greatness of the eucharistic mystery is demonstrated in a special way by the manner in which the body of the Lord is distributed and received,” the bishop wrote.
Although in all likelihood most Catholics are oblivious to it, the decision to receive communion on the tongue, versus in the hand and the decision to receive communion standing rather than kneeling is a significant fault line in the culture war.
Modernizers who relentlessly work to have the Catholic Church move away from so-called ‘archaic’ positions on sexuality, (forbidding contraception, pre-marital sexual activity, homosexuality etc.) also rail against ‘archaic’ piety in worship.
However, the culture war at least in terms of liturgical issues was nearly lost in the West until the advent of Pope Benedict.
In the United States for instance, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on the Liturgy wrote in its July 2002 newsletter: “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.”
The majority of the faithful have since adopted the practice of standing and receiving communion on the hand.
However, some traditional Catholics, often derisively referred to as “pre-Vatican II” Catholics have held to the practice of communion kneeling and on the tongue. Those same Catholics are often the most vociferous defenders of life and family within and without the Church.
While many valiant Catholic activists who work in the pro-life and pro-family battles receive communion in the common fashion, they nonetheless respect the right of those who wish to receive communion kneeling and on the tongue.
Not so for those within the Church seeking to get the Church in line with the times.
Certain Church leaders, priests and even bishops who are zealous in their attempts to modernize the Church have gone so far as to attempt to enforce modernism by refusing communion to those who kneel for communion.
One prominent example of such was Orange County Florida Bishop Tod Brown who was caught on video last year refusing communion to a woman who was kneeling. Brown is also known for refusing in 1994 to back an Idaho measure to deny homosexuals special privileges. Explaining his actions he said the law “would contribute to attitudes of intolerance and hostility in Idaho directed at homosexual citizens and is potentially discriminatory.”
In Brown’s diocese there has been considerable intolerance toward Catholics who kneel for communion and some traditional Catholics have been asked to leave the diocese.
Another prominent example was the denial of communion to Virginia House of Delegate member Richard Black by Arlington’s St. Thomas More Cathedral Rector, Fr. Dominic Irace in 2002. Black was one of the strongest defenders of life in the legislature. As Delegate Black left the Cathedral, Fr. Irace loudly called him a “conservative idiot.” (see coverage: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2002/oct/02101001.html )
These types of situations caused the Vatican to react rather strongly in 2002. Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which addresses liturgical matters, wrote a bishop about reports received of a priest denying communion to faithful because they were kneeling.
The Cardinal called such denial “a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful,” and directed the bishop to investigate the case. The letter said that the Vatican regards such abuses of the faithful as very grave. The letter said, the Congregation, if such actions are verified, “will regard future complaints of this nature with great seriousness, and if they are verified, it intends to seek disciplinary action consonant with the gravity of the pastoral abuse.”
(see the letter: http://www.adoremus.org/Notitiae-kneeling.html )
Despite this letter from the Vatican, the suppression of kneeling remains strong.
The article in the Vatican newspaper advocating kneeling however signals a sea change.
Those who kneel have a champion in Pope Benedict who prior to his elevation to the pontificate wrote of kneeling and its tie to culture in his book ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy” (Ignatius Press, 2000) “There are groups, of no small influence, who are trying to talk us out of kneeling,” wrote then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. “‘It doesn’t suit our culture’, they say (which culture?) ‘It’s not right for a grown man to do this — he should face God on his feet’.”
Cardinal Ratzinger continued: “The kneeling of Christians is not a form of inculturation into existing customs. It is quite the opposite, an expression of Christian culture, which transforms the existing culture through a new and deeper knowledge and experience of God.
Kneeling does not come from any culture — it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God . . . The Christian Liturgy is a cosmic Liturgy precisely because it bends the knee before the crucified and exalted Lord. Here is the center of authentic culture – the culture of truth. The humble gesture by which we fall at the feet of the Lord inserts us into the true path of life of the cosmos.”