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Howdy. We've moved from Cayce, but St. Elizabeth of South Rose Hill or Lizette de Waccamaw de Sud just don't do it for me.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Kneeling as Mortal Sin

Imagine telling these people not to kneel during Mass:

Photo taken on the day the previous priest retired. One can certainly see why they are upset...

There's been lots of discussion in St. Blog's this week after this article appeared in the LA Times. (requires registration, so I'll post just a bit here.)

Among the many issues are:

  • uniformity of posture during Mass--when is this important vs. mandatory?
  • obedience to Bishops & Priests
  • authority to designate an action as mortal sin (Pope? Bishop? Local Ordinary?)
  • incomplete implementation of the GIRM in the US while the Sacramentaries are being revised
  • what is licit vs. required vs. forbidden, etc.

A bit from A Ban on Kneeling? Some Catholics Won't Stand for It (emphasis added)

Kneeling "is clearly rebellion, grave disobedience and mortal sin," Father Martin Tran, pastor at St. Mary's by the Sea, told his flock in a recent church bulletin.

Brief digression: Sadly, there is no official website given for St. Mary's in the Diocese of Orange's Website. There are unofficial websites, mostly disgruntled former parishioners.

a. Mad about no more Latin.

b. Upset about liturgical changes.

So, no chance to verify the Bulletin reference. Church listing shows an administrator, not pastor...hmmm...

Though told by the pastor and the archdiocese to stand during certain parts of the liturgy, a third of the congregation still gets on its knees every Sunday.

"Kneeling is an act of adoration," said Judith M. Clark, 68, one of at least 55 parishioners who have received letters from church leaders urging them to get off their knees or quit St. Mary's and the Diocese of Orange. "You almost automatically kneel because you're so used to it. Now the priest says we should stand, but we all just ignore him."

...Since at least the 7th century, Catholics have been kneeling after the Agnus Dei, the point during Mass when the priest holds up the chalice and consecrated bread and says, "Behold the lamb of God." But four years ago, the Vatican revised its instructions, allowing bishops to decide at some points in the Mass whether their flocks should get on their knees. "The faithful kneel"; unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise," says Rome's book of instructions. Since then, some churches have been built without kneelers.

...One flashpoint involves the Agnus Dei. Traditionalists say the faithful must then fall to their knees in awe for several minutes, believing that the bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Christ. Lesa Truxaw, the Orange Diocese director of worship, said Bishop Tod D. Brown banned kneeling because standing "reflects our human dignity. It's not that we think we're equal to God, but we recognize that we are made in the image and likeness of God."

Orange County parishioners are still allowed to kneel at other points in the Mass, including the Eucharistic prayers. Kneeling is optional as worshippers receive communion.

...The controversy at St. Mary's by the Sea began to intensify late last year after [Bp.] Brown appointed [Fr.] Tran to lead the 1,500-family parish. Tran took over following the retirement of the church's longtime pastor, who had offered a popular traditional Latin Mass.

Tran's Mass [actually, the Novus Ordo, not something this priest invented] reverted to the more modern English form practiced in most American churches, and hundreds of parishioners signed a petition in protest. Then, to pull the church into the modern era, the priest told members, they were not to kneel after the Agnus Dei.

Many refused to comply.

... Mary Tripoli, 54, a former member of the parish council, was dismissed for her insistence on kneeling: "Standing may be reverence, but kneeling is adoration. It's the one thing that means Catholicism throughout the world. It's what sets us apart."

At least two altar boys, the parish altar servers coordinator and three members of the parish council have been dismissed from their duties for kneeling at the wrong time, according to parishioners.

...Tran responded in the church bulletin [to protests] with a series of strident weekly statements condemning what he called "despising the authority of the local bishop" by refusing his orders to stand, and calling the disobedience a mortal sin, considered the worst kind of offense, usually reserved for acts such as murder.

Tran sent letters to 55 kneeling parishioners "inviting" them to leave the parish and the diocese for, among other things, "creating misleading confusion, division and chaos in the parish by intentional disobedience and opposition to the current liturgical norms."

Father Joe Fenton, spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, said the diocese supports Tran's view that disobeying the anti-kneeling edict is a mortal sin. "That's Father Tran's interpretation, and he's the pastor," he said. "We stand behind Father Tran."

Recipients of Tran's banishment letter said they have declined his "invitation" to depart.

...During a recent Saturday afternoon Mass, dozens of worshippers defiantly knelt after the Agnus Dei. One who didn't was Winifred Mentzer, 84. "I've been standing lately," she later said, "because I'm all the way up front, and I know that the priest is watching. But I'm kneeling in my heart."

Doubtless this will go one for awhile. On the one hand, I'm inclined to say "when in Rome..." and say folks should go along with the teaching of their Bishops. On the other hand, Thomas Howard's Evangelical is Not Enough has resonated with so many of us who understood intuitively that what we do with our bodies during worship matters.

I'll be watching this one with the perspective of someone whose family was given "the left foot of fellowship" from a Baptist church in the early 1970's.


UltraCrepidarian said...

Hmm. I have a strongly Eastern bent in me. The Eastern liturgy has changed less often in the 20 centuries since Jesus left his Apostles behind. Standing all through the Mass is the most ancient posture. So attachment to kneeling, while understandable, is attachment to an innovation, and it doesn't give one old-school-catholic credibility to refuse to stand on the grounds that it's new fangled. It's actually very old-fangled. And Catholics believe that we follow our local bishop's authority. I would definitely stand, in that diocese, and encourage others too, as well.

Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for those who like things "just as they were". I wish the diocese wasn't encouraging the priest to act in such a hard-edged manner,and to try to use gentle means rather than rebuke and rebuff, to encourage his flock.

I like to kneel myself, and would be sad if they stopped it, but I would rather be a faithful catholic, kneeling or not, than make a stink and go against my Bishop.

As far as it being a mortal sin, mortal sin must be grave matter, be committed with full consent, and with complete knowledge. Ignorance of the teaching of the Church might lessen culpability, and as for it being grave matter, if the diocesan bishop concurs that it is grave matter (as it may scandalize the faithful, for instance) then I'd take that rebuke seriously, as it is for the good of those to whom it is offered. Just my $0.02.

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Pretty insightful, UC.

I think that my point was a that it seemed harsh to tell these folks, folks who've hung onto Latin & veils & older Masses that, seemingly out of the blue and not actually required by the GIRM, they had to stop kneeling.

Let's not diagram that last sentence.

The priest's letters to parishioners, esp those on the parish council and the altar servers did seem a bit harsh.

Kneeling seems right when interacting with God, but I approach the sacrament standing. Maybe I've never seem it done otherwise.

Regarding obedience, that was an issue for Izzy and me before our reception/confirmation. We just weren't sure about some things, but decided we could not enter as Cafeteria Catholics. It's made things lots smoother.

I have a feeling we're not the only converts to approach things that way--maybe it's mainly the cradle Catholics who feel OK in dissent.

FYI: I feel I should note that Izzy also has a bit of an Eastern bent. Just another interesting coincidence.