The Armchair Liturgist: Kneeling Communicants

Here’s one that came up recently in my parish. What to do when a non-parishioner family or two who worship at one daily Mass insist on kneeling to receive Communion after the pastor has requested they not do so?

If it were your call, would it be worth the fuss to press the issue further? Or would you let it slide?


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Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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18 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Kneeling Communicants

  1. David D. says:

    I think it would be worth the fuss to point out that the pastor had acted incorrectly in asking them not to kneel. Hasn’t this matter been clearly settled for some time? See, e.g.,

  2. Todd says:

    David, the link refers to people denied Communion. The pastor didn’t deny anyone Communion. He asked them to receive standing, and they refused. How do you take it from there?

  3. Andy says:

    I don’t think you can take it from there at all. It is the communicant’s right to receive kneeling. I understand if the priest or others don’t like it, but there’s really nothing you can do.

  4. Anne says:

    David, Where is Todd saying that the family is being refused communion over this?

    My opinion is that it is a safety issue more than anything (assuming there is no altar rail)and should be discouraged. We had an elderly woman who insisted on kneeling. One time she lost her balance while attempting to stand causing the priest to react. They both fell and both sustained injuries. If the people are insisting on kneeling ask them to sit in the first pew and bring communion to them there.

  5. David D. says:

    The CDW letters make clear that kneeling for communion is not only licit but also, in some ways, a commendable practice. I suppose a very legalistic interpretation of these letters leaves room to discourage but not deny communion based on posture but why should the pastor have any say in the matter? What if instead, your pastor “requested” that communicants exclusively receive under one species and on the tongue?

  6. Todd says:

    I might use that premise in a future column. For now, I’m asking what you would do, David, and others reading, if you asked a family to conform to the parish practice, and they declined? Would you press for obedience? If so, how far? If not, why not. And what implications would either stance have for other liturgical matters in the future?

    I’m not at liberty to reveal more real-world details in this matter, but I will say it has been an interesting exchange.

  7. Mollie says:

    I met a young priest once who told me how he dealt with a similar situation: after he’d asked them to stand and they continued to kneel, he also knelt and then offered them the host. He said they opted to stand after that.

  8. Todd,
    I sort it thusly:
    Besides the licit issue, kneeling to receive can only be regarded as an act of humility. How should a servant of the servants respond to an act of humility? Correspondingly or authoritatively?
    Now, about the obedience thingy- I don’t think it appropriate to speculate on that aspect of the issue per the over-riding issue of licitness. We shouldn’t presume to take an inventory of the faithfuls’ fealty to obedience if we are not provided any evidence of any pastor’s obedience to his own ordinary, ecclesial legislation or papal pronouncements.
    Anne, really? Safety issues? Call OSHA.

    • Harry says:

      “Besides the licit issue, kneeling to receive can only be regarded as an act of humility.”

      “Only”? I might consider it an act of utter arrogance, implying quite strongly that you, and only you, are receiving communion the “right” way.

      Standing during the Eucharistic prayer is also a licit practice — if everyone else is doing it too. But if you are standing while everyone is kneeling, or kneeling while everyone is standing, it becomes an act pretty close to defiance.

      As for what to do — Counsel them after Mass. If they continue to do so, then it is definitely an act of defiance and arrogance, rather than of reverance. Then you act accordingly, perhaps directing them to a parish with a communion rail where kneeling is a common practice.

      • I might consider it an act of utter arrogance, implying quite strongly that you, and only you, are receiving communion the “right” way.”

        Yeah, Harry, you just might be the seer of all within the hearts of the faithful, the arbiter of their deepest intent, and a pantocrator to be feared for your unwavering justice. Thanks for straightening me out; sometimes I just can’t seem to tell the players without a scorecard! I bow in humility and deference. Oh, and in unity.
        Please, nothing to see here, move on, move on.

      • Harry says:

        Gee, Charles. I fail to see how I have peered into the minds of all the faithful.

        I am only commenting that there are other ways to “regard” a posture far outside the norm (at this particular parish) at the moment when the congregation should be expressing it’s deepest unity as an “act of humility.”

        To me, an act of humility would be to abandon your personal preference (whether it be standing or kneeling at communion, receiving in the hand or on the tongue) as a sign of communion with the rest of the congregation.

        In other words, if that’s the way you do it in your house, and I am a guest in your house, then that is the way I will do it.

  9. Jimmy Mac says:

    Is this really worth making a fuss about? More damage is done by highlighting this than to simply give them communion and move on. After all, they are not regular parishioners but visitors, right?

  10. Liam says:

    I think to try to press conformity on this point would be the kind of poorly-thought-through rubricism that progressives should strain to avoid. I would say absolutely nothing further on this point to the communicants, except “The Body of Christ/The Blood of Christ.”

  11. Anne says:

    I would agree with Jimmy and Liam if it were something random..leave it alone. It’s a different situation when the same people keep returning and continue to act differently than the parishioners. It’s like they are trying to make a statement by their actions to this particular community.
    Posture of the assembly should be a sign
    of unity. The sign of unity is absent when individuals decide not to conform with the rest of the people. Wouldn’t it be weird if individuals knelt during the Gospel reading as a sign of reverence to Christ’s presence? So why is it appropriate at communion to do something other than the norm?
    Re Charles’ comment to me…I absolutely do believe it can be a safety issue. As an EM I have been a witness to falls and near falls more than once. Those who are elderly, handicapped, unsteady or just believe their way is the right way should not risk injuring themselves or others because of their overly pious beliefs. (Not to mention that they are disrupting the flow of the communion line)
    Refusing communion would be wrong and speaking to them during the communion procession would be the wrong approach. They have already brought enough attention to themselves by their action. If their actions continue,my opinion is that there is nothing wrong with speaking to them after mass explaining the reasons that they should conform. If they don’t,maybe make a make a general sort announcement before communion. Remind everyone that the proper way we receive is to stand and make a simple bow as a gesture of reverence. Reminders now and then are good IMO. I sometimes see genuflecting before receiving and bows to the altar after receiving(I find that gesture very odd). Ask that all in the assembly unite in in expressing reverence in the same way.
    I’m not saying my suggestions will work. Sometimes,after doing your best for the good of the liturgy you just have to give it all up to God.

    • David D. says:

      “So why is it appropriate at communion to do something other than the norm?”

      According to the CDW at least, kneeling is only an exception to the local norm of standing which, in turn, is an exception to the universal norm of kneeling. Kneeling and standing are thus both the norm and the exception at the same time. If the pastor explains is this way I’m sure all problems will be resolved.

  12. FrMichael says:

    Stand by for a major earthquake in California and freezing temperatures down below– I actually agree with Jimmy Mac on something (cf. comment #9).

  13. FrMichael says:

    BTW there is nothing for the pastor to “insist” upon. Rome has ruled that communicants have the right to receive Holy Communion in this matter. Doesn’t your pastor have other real problems to deal with? This is truly a tempest in a tea cup.

  14. Pingback: How To Interpret Kneeling, Or Not « Catholic Sensibility

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