Liturgy & Priesthood

Genuflecting a No-No?

by Steve Ray on May 5, 2019

Several years ago my wife and visited a new parish (new for us). I genuflected before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Believe it or not, I was reprimanded by the Extraordinary Minister while he handed me the host. After Mass I spoke with the priest about it and he reprimanded me as well. I told them Quite explicitly they were both wrong and the letter I wrote them below explained why.

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Dear Father:

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending Mass at your parish for the first time Saturday evening, May 15. I found the Mass very reverent and your homily delightful and instructive. I appreciated the explanations about the Council of Jerusalem and the authority of Peter and the need for flexibility within the bounds of the Catholic Church’s teaching. I told you afterwards that I enjoyed your homily very much.

Having said that, I would like to comment on one other matter—namely, being confronted in a rather brusque way about genuflecting while approaching to receive the Eucharist on our first visit to your parish. In addition, I was inappropriately “corrected” by an Extraordinary Minister while receiving communion. The GIRM 160 indicates that even priests should not argue with communicants about posture when they are receiving Communion, saying that they should provide ‘proper catechesis’ (no doubt when the communicant is not in the Communion line). Consequently, it is certainly inappropriate for an extraordinary minister to do so.[i]

First, I am not ignorant of the GIRM’s latest instruction about bowing in reverence before receiving as the norm. The GIRM establishes the norm but in doing so does not forbid other appropriate signs of reverence, including genuflecting or receiving while kneeling. If the GIRM specifically mentions that kneeling is allowed, as it does, it must certainly not forbid the lesser action of genuflecting, especially if it is done in the line prior to actually stepping up to receive. In fact, the GIRM gives specific instructions that even if one kneels they are not to be denied the Eucharist.

Colin B. Donovan, STL (degree received from Angelicum in Rome) commented on the matter by saying:

“The bishops have set the bow as the norm. They have not forbidden kneeling or genuflecting. They cannot, as the Roman interpretations of the norms have made clear. Genuflection is a one knee kneel. It is contained within the statements permitting kneeling, since it is a lesser reverence than kneeling, though stronger than bowing. Standing and bowing replaces kneeling, as the original legislation authorizing bishops’ conferences to choose standing over kneeling makes clear. . . . Indeed, the real issue is not whether genuflecting is allowed but whether the USCCB having chosen standing and bowing as the norm criminalizes or makes disobedient those who desire to do something else. To that question Rome has answered an emphatic no, with respect to kneeling and implicitly genuflecting, and warned the clergy about making it seem so.”

It does not necessarily follow that since bowing is the norm that genuflecting is therefore criminalized.[ii] Though this can potentially be confusing for Catholics, I would suggest that the recent Redemptionis Sacramentum[iii] was promulgated to clarify matters. In no. 90 it says: “The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the Conference of Bishops will have determined”, with its acts having received the recognitio of the Apostolic See. ‘However, if they receive Communion standing, it is recommended that they give due reverence before the reception of the Sacrament, as set forth in the same norms’” (176). Also, “Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing” (no. 92).

As I understand it, even though the American norms specify that the sign of respect before receiving is a bow of the head, when the Sacred Congregation for Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was queried about whether continuing to genuflect was forbidden, they responded in the negative. Consequently, if genuflecting is not specifically forbidden by Rome, the burden of proof to the contrary certainly falls on the one trying to enforce such a non-existent prohibition.

“The way Americans read law; the norms would be interpreted strictly. But that interpretation is misleading. The law has to be understood in the sense in which it is intended by Rome (which approved the law and whose interpretation of the law is definitive), and Romans do not read law the same way Americans do. Americans tend to take a much stricter interpretation of law that admits of no exceptions unless they are stated in the text itself. Vatican officials, however, often understand laws in a more permissive way that allows for unwritten exceptions” (Jimmy Akin). There are a number of examples I could cite that refer specifically to posture during Mass (e.g., See attachment #2).

Again, genuflecting is a lesser act than kneeling and kneeling is specifically mentioned as an allowed and acceptable posture for receiving Holy Communion. I know I was not denied the Eucharist on Saturday, but even being reprimanded during reception and after Mass for something not disallowed—but even approved of—could prove to be a problem. But the real matter is that if the Holy See has allowed reception by standing or kneeling, genuflecting ahead of time is certainly not a violation of Church law.

I am a ten-year convert to the Catholic Church and have always genuflected out of my great reverence and love for the Eucharist and the Church.[iv] I have always been encouraged to do so. For me it is a personal way of demonstrating my love and utter reverence for the Eucharist, the liturgy, and the Church. I have genuflected while receiving before our own presiding bishop many times (as lately as last week), twice with the Pope in a private Mass; with Cardinal Ratzinger, Cardinal Schonborn, Cardinal Wamala, Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Foley and Bertoni in Rome, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, the archbishop of Smyrna (St. John’s successor), two Papal Nuncios, and many other knowledgeable and holy priests, bishops and archbishops, including bishops in the United States. Never before have I been reprimanded for expressing my reverence to Our Lord in the Eucharist.

Sometimes I think the reprimand should be for those who refuse to show any reverence toward the Eucharist, but then again that is just my humble opinion.

I understand that you are trying to instruct your community on the norms for worship and I appreciate your efforts and commend you for it. I would suggest though, that tact is a virtue when instructing the faithful and that the postural leniency allowed and protected by Rome should be also allowed and protected in the parishes.

Other than that, as I commented before, I found you very impressive and knowledgeable, celebrating a very reverent liturgy. I plan on visiting your parish again since it is so close to our new home. I look forward to more excellent homilies.

Thanks for being a priest and serving Our Lord and the Church in such a marvelous capacity. I hope this is letter is not taken in an offensive or challenging way. It is simply an honest communication and with the hope we can be friends in the future. I pray for all of God’s blessings on you and your ministry.

Respectfully yours in Christ and in His Church,

Steve Ray

PS. Later this week I will be writing to the CDW to get further clarification on this point and will pass the response on to you and the bishop.

Attachments:

Congregation de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum
Prot. n. 1322/02/L
Rome, 1 July 2002

“The Congregation in fact is concerned at the number of similar complaints that it has received in recent months from various places, and considers any refusal of Holy Communion to a member of the faithful on the basis of his or her kneeling posture to be a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful, namely that of being assisted by their Pastors by means of the Sacraments (Codex Iuris Canonici, canon 213). In view of the law that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them” (canon 843 ¶ 1), there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for Holy Communion at Mass, except in cases presenting a danger of grave scandal to other believers arising out of the person’s unrepented public sin or obstinate heresy or schism, publicly professed or declared. Even where the Congregation has approved of legislation denoting standing as the posture for Holy Communion, in accordance with the adaptations permitted to the Conferences of Bishops by the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani n. 160, paragraph 2, it has done so with the stipulation that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds.”

Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez
Prefect
+Francesco Pio Tamburrino
Archbishop Secretary

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“[That] the Roman Curia, and in Europe in general, they take a much more relaxed view of posture than we do . . . This is something that people with a sound formation in liturgical law have known for a long time, however it recently became possible to document it. In a response issued June 5, 2003, the CDW issued a response which stated:

Dubium: In many places, the faithful are accustomed to kneeling or sitting in personal prayer upon returning to their places after having individually received Holy Communion during Mass. Is it the intention of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, to forbid this practice?

Responsum: Negative, et ad mensum [and for this reason]. The mens [reasoning] is that the prescription of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, no. 43, is intended, on the one hand, to ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of Holy Mass, and on the other, to not regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free.

This response deals specifically with the question of kneeling after receiving Communion, but it also states Rome’s general interpretation of the posture provisions of the GIRM for the laity, which is that the provisions are “to ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of Holy Mass, and on the other, to not regulate posture rigidly” (Jimmy Akin).


Endnotes:

[i] If we are to hold strictly and legalistically to the instructions about distribution of the Eucharist, the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion should not have spoken words to me other than those prescribed. Note the USCCB’s Committee on the Liturgy instruction in its Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass where it is specifically forbidden to add any words other than “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ”.

[ii] Also, on a practical matter, I genuflect prior to stepping up to receive – while the person in front of me is still receiving. This way I do not hold up the line. By the time the person in front of me has moved aside, I am standing and stepping up to bow and receive. In this way I full follow even the norm if strictly interpreted.

[iii] This Instruction, prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II in collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was approved by the same Pontiff on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, 19 March 2004, and he ordered it to be published and to be observed immediately by all concerned. From the offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Rome, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, 25 March 2004. Francis Card. Arinze, Prefect. Domenico Sorrentino, Archbishop Secretary .

[iv] Early on I read St. Augustine’s words which follow. They touched me deeply and based on encouragement from very good priests, we have always genuflected prior to stepping up to receive. St. Augustine wrote, “He took flesh from the flesh of Mary.  He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation.  But no one eats that flesh unless first he adores it . . . we do sin by not adoring.”

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We went to Mass a while ago and wanted to share it again. We could not understand a word during Mass since it was all in French.

We are celebrating Mass with a church FULL of French-speaking Africans with a white French bishop with an Italian parish priest in a church built by Italians in the heart of Istanbul which is 99.9% Muslim. We are all loyal to the Pope on the Chair of Jewish Peter in Rome.

Yet, we had the same Mass and the same readings as everyone else back home! We followed along with the iMissal on our iPhones. We were home. This was OUR church! The Lord is present in the Eucharist. This is our universal Catholic Church.

We have celebrated Mass around the world in many foreign languages with many nationalities and cultures. But it is the same Mass! We love being Catholic!

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The_Ressurrection_of_ChristI am doing a show on Catholic Answers Live tonight (Wed., 1/16/19). The topic is OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS. Tune in at 6:00 PM Eastern at www.Catholic.com. You can listen to the podcast later too.

Adam and Eve have liturgical feast days, so do Isaiah, Jeremiah, King David and many others.

The Roman Martyrology (1600) lists saints recognized up to that point including many saints not in the Church’s general calendar. Some that it remembers are Habakkuk (Jan. 15); Isaiah (July 6); Daniel and Elias/Elijah (July 20 and 21); the seven Maccabees and their mother (Aug. 17); Abraham (Oct. 9); and King David (Dec. 29).

We in the West have not discussed it much, but the Eastern Churches remembers them every year.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

“The patriarchs, prophets, and certain other Old Testament figures have been and always will be honored as saints in all the Church’s liturgical traditions” (CCC 61).

48340dc324c6ca26bea274dc480c6789Here is an interesting article in the newsletter of the Association of Hebrew Catholics.

It not only explains the “sainthood” of Old Testament heroes, but gives a list of the dates for various prophets, kings, and virtuous men and women before Christ.

For the article and the calendar, click here.

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In answer to the question on air about the redemption of Adam and Eve, I promised a bit of information. The Catechism 489 states, “Throughout the Old Covenant the mission of many holy women prepared for that of Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve; despite her disobedience, she receives the promise of a posterity that will be victorious over the evil one, as well as the promise that she will be the mother of all the living.

Another quote CCC 635 “Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.… He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him—He who is both their God and the son of Eve.… “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.… I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

Soshestvie-vo-ad(Picture to right: Jesus raises Adam and Eve from their graves. Notice they are wearing halos. Notice a similar picture at the top of the post.)

One Journal I own states it well, though I don’t agree with the article overall:

“In this first dispensation, there is a clear illustration that the only way of salvation is by the grace and personal provision of God. After the judgment section of Chapter 3, the literal translation states that the Lord God himself “made garments of skin for Adam and for his wife, and He caused to clothe them.” The Lord God initiated and was the causative agent (Hiphil stem—“cause to”) of the personal redemption of Adam and Eve by providing a method of restoring the personal relationship with Him. Some conclude that the personal faith of Adam was expressed by naming his wife, Eve (living or life-giver), and believing that (strong textual emphasis) “she, she will be (the) mother of all living.” This act would have verified that he believed in the future promise of God (3:15) and in the prospect of continued life after judgment (3:20). In a similar way, having acknowledged that the Lord was the source of her first born son, Eve confirmed her personal faith in the Lord and His previous promises of children (3:15–16; 4:1).

“Considering that this was a possible theophany of God, the full impact of the statement may be realized. This would be Christ himself who had performed this sovereign act of divine grace for Adam and Eve, another Old Testament verification that Christ was involved providentially in the affairs of mankind from the beginning!”

Conservative Theological Journal Volume 2 2, no. 7 (1998): 455–456.

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