Author: Gerald Hofman

SACRED MUSIC Volume 118, Number 4, Winter 1991


The serious problem with unnecessary committees and commissions is that they feel they must do something to justify their existence. As a result they can find problems that do not exist and prescribe remedies that are not needed.

The current compulsion to eliminate kneeling at Mass seems to me a case in point. Kneelers are being torn out. Churches are built without pews or kneelers--only chairs. In more and more churches (and also in a cathedral I know about) where the kneelers have not as yet been vandalized, the people are instructed (ordered?) to remain standing, even during the consecration. What is going on?

Pardon my cynicism, but liturgical "experts" are at work. They cannot leave things be. They have managed to destroy much of the beauty and reverence of the Mass, and they have to continue to come up with something to show they are still in business, and still "needed."

What is the significance of kneeling? I maintain it is not something trivial, to be tossed out as though it had no value. Kneeling is the ultimate posture of submission and surrender. In the Catholic Church we genuflect and kneel to indicate, by bodily attitude, a total submission of our minds and hearts to the true Presence of Christ. It is an exterior manifestation of the reverence inspired by His Presence. But now the campaign is on to eliminate it.

Some truly silly and obtuse reasons have been given. One "expert" bemoaned the fact that some people slouch when they kneel, giving him cause to wish to remove such an unsightly spectacle. I wonder what will be done with those who slouch when they stand!

I suspect that one reason is related to what has driven so much of the liturgical anarchy in the Church: the aggrandizement of "self." We are now so important! So grown up! So wonderful! We need no longer grovel! Kneeling is so demeaning! Stand up and be proud! Such an attitude is probably part of it, although official declarations would not present it in so graphic a manner.

Even from a very practical viewpoint, kneeling is useful. The tedium, rigidity and stiffness that long periods of standing cause, especially in older people, are alleviated by a variety of postures: standing, sitting and kneeling. Kneeling is often a welcome relief after a long period of standing or sitting.

Another aspect is also difficult to probe. It is an attitude which prefers to remove what distinguishes Catholicity. It is what has been called false ecumenism. If something is unique in belief or practice in the Catholic Church, making compromise with other churches difficult, then it is Catholic practice which should be modified. That is the posture which stands out in observing those who are constantly agitating for change, not only in the accidentals, but even in the essentials of the Catholic faith. We should not be "different." The fact that the Catholic Church is the one true Church does not seem to be the overriding factor it should be.

It need hardly be noted that kneeling is not a matter of faith or morals. It is, however, the subject of clear ruling by the universal Church as well as our American bishops. Both the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal" (paragraphs 20 and 21) and the "Appendix to the General Instruction for the Dioceses of the United States of America" (parapgraph 21) refer to the postures of the congregation during Mass. The universal Church is told to "kneel at the consecration unless prevented by lack of space, large numbers, or other reasonable cause." Our bishops have exercised the right given them in the general instruction and have ordered that "the people kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the "Sanctus" until after the "Amen" of the eucharistic prayer, that is, before the Lord's Prayer."

It is true that kneeling during the eucharistic prayer could be discarded as something no longer useful, but my heart as well as my mind cries out that it is useful and that discarding it would be a sad mistake. We would be the poorer for it, because kneeling is an integral part of Catholic spirituality.

How instinctive it now is to enter a Catholic church, to genuflect, and then to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, acknowledging His true Presence in the tabernacle. How many times have we entered a beautiful little Catholic church in the quiet of the afternoon and knelt there for a few minutes in submission and reverence and prayer. But now, we face the campaign to eliminate kneeling, even at the moment when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

The "experts" are at work. Kneeling has been targeted. Liturgical "experts" are tenacious creatures. They will probably not rest until those kneelers have been torn out of as many churches as they can get their hands on.

It would be a pity. Another part of our spiritual heritage would be lost. Maybe it is not too late if we make our voices heard.