How To Interpret Kneeling, Or Not

Thanks for the several comments on yesterday’s kneeling communicants thread.

One of the points made by our weekly visitors to Wednesday Mass is their view that kneeling is more reverent than our parish practice of standing. I saw that reiterated in the comments here. But is kneeling really more reverent?

Some of our visitors are parishioners at another faith community and in that setting, kneeling seems to be the norm. Everybody does it, so the gesture blends into the background. Everybody but queens do it with Pope Benedict, so again, a consistent gesture of the body. An appropriate uniformity.

It would be wrong of anyone to make a negative assumption that a person who is kneeling when everyone else is standing is just a show-off. Sure the parable of the pharisee and the publican comes to mind. And sure, when somebody does something different in a public gathering, it can attract attention. It would be normal for an observer to notice. Many people like to call attention to themselves. It’s always a possibility that getting attention is part of the scene. But it could also be an alternate personal custom, inattentiveness, or even a stumble.

What I would say would be different than what I would think. I could make the following factual observations out loud to a visitor who knelt to receive Communion:

– You knelt to receive.

– You act differently from other communicants here.

– You are the only person (or people) acting in this way.

The following would not be factual observations:

– You are more reverent.

– You are a show-off.

If kneeling visitors came to my parish, they could make the following factual observations:

– You receive standing.

– There is a variety of people receiving in the hand or on the tongue.

– There is a good level of outward decorum.

They could not say the following was factual:

– You are less reverent than Basilica parishioners or the pope’s communicants or others of us who choose to kneel.

It would seem wrong to assume that people who don’t kneel are less reverent. It’s an unfounded insult similar to an assumption of narcissism.

Is reverence determined by outward actions? Soccer players kneel after scoring a goal. Kneeling is also a posture of play with a small child. It is also a yoga position. A working position. A gardening position. Many of these are mindful practices–part of a ritual of attention, joy, or accessibility.

It can also be part of a mindless practice. When I kneel thousands of times to receive Communion, and everybody else does it, does it remain reverent? I would hope it remains as reverent as standing for the thousandth time.

Reverence is more a matter, I think, of an interior mindfulness. It is not just one gesture at one moment of the Mass. It is an embrace of the spoken and sung texts, and the willingness to be part of a dialogue with God and other people. It includes all the gestures of the body, starting even before Mass. It is a spread of outward gestures to an inner regard for God and others.

The most reverent people I know extend reverence into their whole lives. One individual who comes to mind is a student who receives on the tongue. But the reverence is made evident in her love and regard for others, and the way reverence is extended to the presence of Christ more than in just the one way.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to How To Interpret Kneeling, Or Not

  1. Liam says:

    Basic commonsense rule of rhetorical thumb: if you want to do something different from everyone else and not be judged for it, you would be well advised shut your own trap when it comes to judging everyone else (you’re free to think what you want, but you better “man up” when you venture into sharing your judgments).

  2. Dude!
    We “borrowed” the same photo for each of our blogs in the same week.(This is My Body)
    Fr. Michael’s prognostication may eerily come to pass….
    Have a good one, TF.

  3. Todd says:

    Brandi Chastain. Mia didn’t get the winner that day.

    • Charles in CenCA says:

      That’s why you’re the Todd, and I just rent space!

    • Anne says:

      Yes it was Brandi who will be forever remembered for ripping off her jersey…great game.

      • Charles in CenCA says:

        Hey Anne, will you rip off yer jersey at the perfect FCAP Mass?
        It would be a moment in Liturgicam Authenticam history!
        Just OF (not Ordinary Form) whimsy. Gotta teach the youngbloods to laugh now and then.

      • Anne says:

        Hmmm…wish Jane Curtin were here.. “Charles you….” Just commenting on the pic, that’s all. My bad.

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    “Everybody but queens do it with Pope Benedict” I have had to bite my tongue a lot to keep from commenting —- no, not at all.

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