Early this semester, one of my staff colleagues noted some confusion in our parish, especially at the mostly student-populated evening Masses on Sunday and Thursday. It was surfaced at a staff meeting last month. The decision from there was to engage the parishioners in a dialogue, and arrive at a recommendation. The Worship & Spiritual Growth Commission was asked to discern, then submit their input to the parish council. This was the front page bulletin piece I was asked to produce, edited slightly for context:
Last month, the Worship & Spiritual Growth (WSG) Commission examined the STA practice of standing for the second half of the Eucharistic Prayer. Our present practice varies from most of the rest of the US—from practically every parish from which our students and new resident parishioners come.
Was this practice, we discussed, a significant obstacle to unity, to prayer, and to focus for so many of our worshippers? We were instructed to discern a recommendation, and forward this to the parish council. Among the most convincing testimony we considered was this section from the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM), the document that describes how to celebrate Mass:Therefore, attention should be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.
A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.(Section #42)The Church permits variance from kneeling for reasons of health or practicality (a Mass outside of a church setting, for example). However, those exceptions would not seem to apply to our parish’s 1992 compromise. Though well-intentioned, was our compromise arbitrary?
After considerable discussion, the recommendation was to kneel as Catholics in other American parishes do. The parish council agreed, and this weekend, Fr Jon will offer more on this during his homily, and we will implement as indicated. The GIRM also instruct the assembly to kneel after the Lamb of God, and we will now follow as well.
It should be pointed out that this unity of posture applies to other times of the Mass. For example, we stand and bow when receiving Holy Communion, we do not genuflect or kneel.
In the weeks ahead, we will have more information and suggestions to assist in a deepening awareness of the Eucharistic Prayer—how to perceive its parts, how to pray it more deeply, and how to cultivate the interior posture that will reflect our unity as a faith community.
In my work with the commission, this was a good process. Parishioners and commissioners–students and residents alike–contributed well and thoughtfully. All angles were considered, and there was a willingness to listen to varied points of view and consider them. I have received some word from a few upset parishioners. Not all good discernments or decisions will be smooth orwithout conflict or strong feelings. Good faith communities are not know for their avoidance of difficult issues, but in the way they overcome them and maintain unity.
The 1992 compromise I mention refers to a rather divisive moment in parish history. One of the parish priests insisted the people stand for the whole Eucharistic Prayer. Another insisted they kneel. If any policy was a very bad way to go, it was that. When one priest was reassigned, a compromise was reached that satisfied the prescription of the old GIRM (section 21) in which the assembly would kneel for the epiclesis and institution narrative, and stand for everything else during the Eucharistic Prayer–basically adopt the posture the deacon has now.
I offer this slice of parish life for your comment. Before we get to those, I will offer a few of my own.
If you were to press me theologically and liturgically, I think standing during the Eucharistic Prayer is more in keeping with the precedent set in just about every prayer in the Roman liturgy. I realize the current GIRM doesn’t provide for that, but Church documents aren’t always without their own problems or even errors.
That said, I don’t see getting into a row over it is well-served at this time in Church history. We do not have a very unified universal body, and raising the issue of an “improvement” on the GIRM is not a thoughtful thing to do. I wouldn’t have chosen this moment to alter liturgical practice, knowing whathas come before and what is to come in the future.
When I was on retreat earlier this month, I stood for the Eucharistic Prayer, in keeping with the monastic community’s tradition. I’m back home now and I kneel. Both postures work because the interior orientation is attended to.
I’m even less convinced this switch for our parish will succeed if all parishioners aren’t encouraged to go deeper into the Eucharistic Prayer as both an act of prayer and as a source of spiritual and intellectual curiosity. Otherwise, this could easily be boiled down to a matter of adherence to Church law, and while that is, in itself, a good, there are higher values in play. Faith seeking understanding is part of what we do as a university faith community.