If we are with the Holy Father, we can’t go wrong

May 28, 2010

It was a very nice 22nd anniversary gift to have my May 25 blog post (To Obey, or Not to Obey) included on Fr. Z’s blog. I have much admiration for Fr. Z., and the way he seems to be leading the charge for bringing more reverence to the Holy Mass.

After reading many of the comments to this post, I wanted to follow up here with some of the reasoning I used in deciding to offer a kneeler as an option.

As my blog post indicated, “obedience” needs to be at the essence of all we do in formulating our choices in life. Of course I am referring to obedience to God. After 22 years of priesthood, and a lifetime of being a Catholic in America, I had a growing sense that it becomes difficult to know how to obey God through His Church.

I am referring to almost 5 decades of watching such things as our beautiful churches being gutted out, listening to music that sounds more like a Barry Manilow concert, the Sacrament of Confession being put on a back burner, the rosary being treated as a relic of the past, haughty dissenters joyfully encouraged to come and receive our Eucharistic Lord as our bishops sit idly by and allow confusion among their flock to grow to epidemic proportions … I am left asking myself, “how can I best obey God?”

Of course this is an ecclesiological question. And I believe the answer is that, as a priest, I am to be the extension of my bishop, who must be in union with Peter and his successors. This is amazing, because this vine links me directly to the Bride, and to the Sacred Heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, I DID check with my bishop on offering the kneeler, and I was given his permission to proceed.

When worldly politics and ideologies try to infiltrate this Church of ours, it certainly makes it more difficult for us to discern what is of the Holy Spirit, and what is of man.

In the case of kneeling to receive Communion, I spent some time doing the research. I wanted to be sure I could sift through any “man caused disaster” of ideological proportions (usually of the progressive/modernist type) that may be causing any confusion.

Low and behold, there it was …

It turns out that when the issue of standing or kneeling to receive Communion was heading for a final vote among the US Bishops, the Congregation for Divine Worship stepped in and wrote to the Conference, noting that disturbing reports of people being denied Communion because they were kneeling had made this clarification necessary: The Holy See asked the bishops to make this – “Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel” – explicit in their adaptation of IGMR §160.

Further, before the bishops voted on the proposed adaptation of §160, a bishop questioned the meaning of the term “norm”. The chairman of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy (Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb) said that “norm” is a descriptive term meaning the usual or standard practice, not a legal term. With this clarification, the bishops voted to accept the BCL’s wording of the adaptation.  Since then, however, some bishops and liturgists are interpreting “norm” as implying that standing is legally obligatory. This is not the case.  

Therefore, while the US bishops’ adaptation established standing as the “norm” for the Church in the United States, it is not permissible to deny Communion to any person who kneels to receive. That would amount to virtual excommunication. The universal law permits either posture in IGMR 160 (refer here).

I want to obey. But the hard work of finding the truth, beyond some bishops’ and liturgists’ poor interpretation of “norm” (or ideological ulterior motive) is something that asks us to go the extra mile to uncover the truth. Again, haven’t we all been assaulted by “poor interpretations” (and ideological ulterior motives) since the Council of Vatican II?

Ultimately, I believe I was inspired to take the time to uncover this truth as I watched our Holy Father encourage His Church to offer this option of kneeling to receive.  I thought to myself that there is something more here … how could a “norm” in our country – treated as a mandate – directly oppose the encouragement given by the successor of Peter? The answer was, as it consistently seems to be, “poor interpretation.”

I agree with one of the commenters from Fr. Z’s blog: “If the norm of the Church throughout the world is to kneel (and standing is permitted, but not the norm) then isn’t our bishop’s conference striking a blow against unity of gesture by declaring that we are to have a norm peculiar to this country? Why does the need for unity of gesture stop at our borders? Shouldn’t seeking true union mean that we cleave to the norms of the Church worldwide?”

Here is the conclusion, derived from the facts:  The word “norm,” in this context, is merely stating that it is the most common practice – a custom right now – but not a mandate. And, the universal law permits either posture.  Therefore, kneeling to receive our Lord in Holy Communion remains now and always a legitimate option for our faithful.

And, as we continue to sift through a politically and ideologically charged USCCB, I will humbly yield by having my bishop teach through me, and I will seek the truth in the way my bishop prescribes: “If we are with the Holy Father, we can’t go wrong.”