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
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
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
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
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
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.