Rorate Caeli

“Thou Shalt Not Kneel”: Guest Article by Leo Darroch

Background to this guest article: As LifeSiteNews reported on October 7, 2023: “A Catholic family of eight was recently denied Holy Communion while kneeling while attending Mass at a church in the Diocese of Boise. Both the local priest and bishop refused to acknowledge that the denial of the sacrament was a grave violation of canon law. Scott Smith, a Catholic attorney, author, theologian, and father of six, was on vacation with his family in Idaho in August and went to Sunday Mass at St. Charles Borromeo in Hailey. ‘After driving two hours out of the mountains to attend Holy Mass, the parish priest denied all of us, my children and my in-laws, Holy Communion because we knelt to receive the Eucharist,’ Smith recounted… ‘It was so sad to see my little children, kneeling reverently to receive the Eucharist, and then to see the priest wagging his finger at them. Irony of ironies: before denying my whole family Holy Communion, father had just preached a homily on inclusion, warning about exclusivity.’”

In 2003, the Vatican ruled that the USCCB could publish an adaptation of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal stating that standing is the norm for Holy Communion in its region on condition that the same document also stated that no one is to be refused Communion if he chooses to kneel. Apparently, this important condition has been forgotten by many US bishops and pastors, who continue to psychologically abuse the faithful. But let’s not forget, they have been at this for a long time.

The Vatican was responding, in part, to an assertion made in the July 2002 USCCB Committee on the Liturgy newsletter: “The bishops of the United States have decided that the normative posture for receiving Holy Communion should be standing. 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 postconciliar mental sickness is on full display here. Let’s examine it piece by piece.

“Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States.” The bishops say that it is ‘no longer’ a licit posture but it is NOT a licit posture. In effect, they appear to be saying it has never been a licit posture. Kneeling is not just no longer acceptable, no longer an option, but is UNLAWFUL, FORBIDDEN! What has been licit and the norm for centuries is now illicit.

This is absolutely breathtaking; whether something is licit or not is a serious matter. Surely, some particular act has to be licit or not licit throughout the entire Church, or at least in the Roman rite? Perhaps the American bishops think that kneeling in front of our Blessed Lord is such a serious error that their faithful must be saved from this dangerous practice: “Forgive me Father for I have sinned; I have knelt before the Blessed Sacrament,” may well become commonplace in the confessional. Have the bishops that currently constitute the Bishops Conference of the United States taken upon themselves an authority that is not theirs to exercise? In a universal Church how can something be declared unlawful in one country yet remain an accepted practice throughout the rest of the world? And how can the bishops of the USA declare something unlawful when prefects of the Congregation for Divine Worship have said it is perfectly lawful?

“Unless the bishop of a particular diocese has derogated from this norm in a particular and extraordinary circumstance.” Such is the suffocating stranglehold that bishops’ conferences have over individual bishops that any bishop who disagrees with this policy and wishes to exercise his proper authority in his own diocese and allow kneeling is labelled as sanctioning a practice that is “derogating from the norm” and allowing something “extraordinary.” This is the policy of the police state, an abuse of power, the tactics of those who wish to crush dissent.

The sheer nonsense of this diktat has been thrown into sharp relief many times. Consider the following words from Cardinal Medina Estevez, a former Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. In response to numerous complaints from the faithful, he informed one American bishop that he:

considers any refusal of Holy Communion to a member of the faithful on the basis of his or her kneeling posture to be a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful, namely that of being assisted by their Pastors by means of the Sacraments (CIC, can. 213). In view of the law that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them” (can. 843, 1), there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for Holy Communion at Mass, except in cases presenting a danger of grave scandal to other believers arising out of the person’s  unrepented public sin or obstinate heresy or schism, publicly professed or declared. Even where the Congregation has approved of legislation denoting standing as the posture for Holy Communion, in accordance with the adaptations permitted to the Conferences of Bishops by the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani n. 160, paragraph 2, it has done so with the stipulation that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. In fact, as His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has emphasized, the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries‑old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species.

Similar statements can be found from Cardinal Ranjith and Cardinal Sarah.

What is crystal-clear is that canon law takes precedence over whatever whim overtakes any bishop, whether acting individually or within a bishops’ conference.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the liturgical establishment was the imposition of the vernacular. This change, we were told, would reveal all the riches of scripture to the ordinary man and woman in the pew. Instead of hearing the dead language of Latin that no one understood we would fully understand the gospel stories and our faith would be strengthened.

Why, then has this theory failed so spectacularly with the bishops? In issuing their instruction on standing to receive Holy Communion, they appear to have forgotten, or simply no longer listen to, the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? In the gospels the constantly recurring references to personal encounters with Jesus reveal that the people invariably fell to their knees in supplication before Him.

Matthew reveals how the three wise men, on finding the child in Bethlehem “fell down to worship him” (2:11). When tempted by the devil, Satan promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would “fall down and worship me” (2:9). And it was not only the humble leper that “came and knelt before him“ (8:2) but also men of high rank: “It chanced that one of the rulers came and knelt before him, and said, Lord, my daughter is this moment dead” (6:5). In the story of Peter walking on the water,Matthew records: “And the ship’s crew came, and said, falling at his feet, Thou are indeed the Son of God.” And it was not confined only to the men: “Then the woman came up and said, falling at his feet, Lord help me” (15:5). Perhaps the most telling revelation is in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed to his Father: “When he had gone a little further, he fell on his face in prayer, and said, my Father, if it is possible let this chalice pass me by…” Even our Saviour when praying to his Heavenly Father fell on his face in prayer. He did not stand there to plead his cause; he fell on his face. The final reference in Matthew occurs after the Resurrection when Mary Magdalen and the other Mary came across Jesus: “And while they were on their way, all at once Jesus met them and said, all hail. With that they came near to him, and clung to his feet, and worshipped him.”

Mark repeats many of the instances recorded by Matthew. “Then a leper came up to him, asking for his aid; he knelt at his feet and said, if it be thy will, thou hast the power to make me clean” (1:40). The leper knelt in supplication—but the American bishops state that it is not licit to kneel. Mark does not record that Jesus admonished the leper for kneeling as if he was committing an illicit act. In chapter 10:17 Mark says: “Then he [Jesus] went out to continue his journey, a man ran up and knelt down before him, asking him, Master, why art thou so good, what must I do to achieve eternal life?” This is the question we all must ask, as this young man did, on our knees. In the new order of Mass the priest says as he mingles the piece of Host with the precious Blood: “May this mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” We, in our turn, are asking for eternal life when we receive our Blessed Lord but the American bishops say their faithful must stand when they are asking the question. Why?

It is interesting to note that one instance of a personal encounter of an individual with Jesus concerns Judas the betrayer, who stood before Jesus. “The traitor had appointed them a signal; it is none other, he said, than the man whom I shall greet with a kiss; hold him fast, and take him away under guard. No sooner, then, had he come up than he went close to Jesus, saying, Hail, Master, and kissed him; and with that they laid their hands on him, and held him fast” (14:44–46).

St. Luke records most of the events mentioned by Matthew and Mark. There are, for example, the stories of the lepers, the temptation by the devil, and Jairus the ruler and his daughter. In chapter 22:41, St. Luke records the scene on Mount Olivet where Jesus went to pray: “Then he parted from them [his disciples], going a stone’s throw off, and knelt down to pray ..”   Jesus himself knelt down to pray to God the Father. When we come before Jesus, who is God the Son, we should do no less. In our Western tradition, this has been our longstanding custom.

There are other aspects of St. Luke’s Gospel that perhaps the American bishops need to study again. In chapter 12:8,9 he quotes Jesus: “And I tell you this; whoever acknowledges me before men, will be acknowledged by the Son of Man in the presence of God’s angels; he who disowns me before men, will be disowned before God’s angels.”  These are powerful words. When we kneel we publicly acknowledge God in front of all present.

The Gospel of St. John presents a different emphasis of events. But perhaps John’s words, in this particular context, are more telling than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John the Baptist said of Jesus. “He who comes from above is above all men’s reach; the man who belongs to earth talks the language of earth, but one who comes from heaven must needs be beyond the reach of all” (3:31). How apposite this comment is in regard to modem liturgists who cannot raise their minds above themselves and earthly things and have imposed the language of the earth on an unfortunate laity! Perhaps the bishops should read Chapter 5:22‑23: “So it is with judgement; the Father, instead of passing judgement on any man himself, has left all judgement to the Son, so that all may reverence the Son just as they reverence the Father; to deny reverence to the Son is to deny reverence to the Father who has sent him.” In ordering their flocks to stand while receiving the Son, are the bishops not denying Him customary reverence—and therefore also denying it to the Father who sent Him?

The nub of the problem seems to be that the American bishops have succumbed to the vanity of their own self‑importance and forgotten who is the Master. A collective reading of John chapter 13:13‑17 may prove fruitful and reveal new insights: “You hail me as the Master, and the Lord; and you are right, it is what 1 am. Why then, if I have washed your feet, I who am the Master and the Lord, you in your turn ought to wash each other’s feet,. I have been setting you an example, which will teach you in your turn to do what I have done for you. Believe me, no slave can be greater than his master, no apostle greater than he by whom he was sent.”  Do the American bishops think they are greater than their Master? In the circumstances it is not an unreasonable question to act.

The Gospel of St. John, in fact, is full of instructions that any bishop should pay heed to. In chapter 14: 23,24, there is the admonition: “Jesus answered him, If a man has any love for me, he will be true to my word; and then he will win my Father’s love, and we will both come to him, and make our continual abode with him; whereas the man who has no love for me, lets my sayings pass him by.” In chapter 10:14‑16, Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd; my sheep are known to me and know me; just as I am known to my Father, and know him. And for these sheep I am laying down my life. I have other sheep too, which do not belong to this fold; I must bring them in too; they will listen to my voice; so there will be one fold, and one shepherd.” [Ch 10: 14‑16]. Christ, as the Good Shepherd, did indeed lay down His life for His sheep. Sadly, our present shepherds, by their words and actions, appear to have no interest in the flocks under their care as they continue to pursue policies that are emptying our churches and scattering their sheep into the spiritual wilderness.

When the priest (or bishop) utters the words of consecration he finds himself in the immediate presence of Christ in the sacred Host. After elevating the Host to show Our Blessed Lord to the congregation, he genuflects in public adoration. When the congregation moves forward to receive their Communion they are making their own personal approach to Jesus in no less a way than those recorded in the gospels and, at the point of reception, they touch Our Blessed Lord. Why, then, do the bishops think it is fitting that they and their priests must genuflect in the presence of their Lord but then declare that it is not licit—it is unlawful—for their flocks to do likewise? In Psalm 94:6 we are told to “adore and fall down and weep before the Lord that made us.”  The angel at Fatima, with the Blessed Sacrament suspended in the air, prostrated himself and recited this prayer:

O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.

It is a prayer that recommends itself to all Catholics, bishops and laity.

Father Joseph Jungmann, S.J. states:

Whenever a man speaks with God he feels a sort of compulsion to take up some attitude or posture which will be expressive of his reverence. This is all the more so when he is engaged in social—that is, liturgical—worship. The history of religion shows that people of all kinds, when engaged in prayer to their god, have always tended to use those particular attitudes and gestures which seem natural in human intercourse ‑ especially in the behaviour of the lowly towards the highly placed.

He goes on to say:

Our Lord himself prayed on his knees in the Garden of Olives, and when St Paul said goodbye to the Christians of Miletus he prayed with them kneeling (Acts xx, 3 6). By kneeling a man emphasises his littleness and submission before his superior. (Public Worship, J.A. Jungmann [London: Challoner Publications, 1957])

One of the stated objectives of the post‑Vatican II liturgists was that the people would play a greater role in Church activities, especially the liturgy. How is it playing a greater role to make less use of your body in expressing reverence for Christ? Before Vatican II, the faithful at Communion time approached the altar and knelt at the communion rail. It was a special moment during the Mass in that they were able to kneel at the sanctuary and receive Our Lord: a moment of special closeness, of deep spirituality, that many of the congregation looked forward to. Now, everyone stands and receives the Body of Christ in their hands, often from lay ministers. The sacredness of the moment is almost completely gone.

What faith‑reviving reason, if any, was given for this extraordinary instruction from the American bishops? How can the faith be strengthened by ordering their flocks to stand in a queue before their God rather than kneel and receive on the tongue? Have the bishops explained in simple terms why they wish to implement this change? Why they are declaring illicit a practice that has been followed by untold millions of devout Catholics for more than a thousand years? What spiritual benefits they think this will bring to their flocks? And how do they think this will increase reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, belief in which has plummeted in the USA and the English‑speaking world? Faithful Catholics are becoming increasingly tired of being told that everything their forefathers believed and did was wrong, wrong, wrong. Is it not peculiar that when the faithful were so wrong in every aspect of their Catholic life that the churches, schools and seminaries were full? And that now, when we are supposedly doing everything so much better our churches, schools and seminaries are failing?

It is now quite clear that the further the bishops and clergy move away from the traditional liturgy of the Church that was the norm at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, the more they are losing sight of the doctrines of the faith and the more they are losing the souls under their care. The seamless garment of the Catholic liturgy that once clothed the entire world is being reduced to a patchwork quilt of national and local designs.

The attempt over the years of American bishops to forbid the faithful to kneel in order to receive our Blessed Lord is just one more example of a long series of initiatives from the episcopate to transform the Catholic faith into a bland ecumenical, acceptable‑to‑all religion that neither challenges the intellect nor raises the heart and mind above the earthly plane. It is just another step along the road to a bland, comfortable, faith‑of‑sorts that does not disturb, does not challenge, and does not upset anyone of any creed or race. In other words, a religion that is not worthy of the name and one that worships man and not God.