Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WHY I KNEEL

Genuflect: late Latin genuflectere, from Latin genu, knee, and flectere, to bend. Date: 1630. 1.a. to bend the knee. b. to touch the knee to the floor or ground especially in worship.

FRANCISCO DE ZURBURÁN
ST. FRANCIS KNEELING
The first time I went to Mass, in trembling and fear, I was shocked to see people kneeling. In the middle of Los Angeles, in the middle of the day. I felt like I’d stumbled upon a group of folks sitting on the toilet, or having sex. Right out there in the open, for anyone who wandered in to see, they were asking for help. They were admitting that they didn’t know. They were saying “I adore you.”

I have a theory that prayer is the answer to itself. The very fact that we’re praying means we’re already receiving what our hearts long for. To open ourselves to reality. To move away from isolation and toward communion. To die to self-reliance and come alive in wonder and mystery. Acknowledging our vulnerability, we’re in solidarity with every other sick, suffering, broken person in the world. With our heads bowed, our ears are closer to our hearts. On our knees, we’re the same height as children.

I once stayed at a Catholic retreat house where something seemed off. Why was there no body on the cross?  Why had the Penitential Rite, the Intercessionary Prayers, the Responsorial Psalm—the Psalms!!!— been excised? The Mass had been sanitized and euthanized. The Mass had been emasculated. After awhile it dawned on me that at no time during Mass did the members of the community kneel: nary a genuflection before or after Mass; not during the Eucharistic Prayer or Agnus Dei (the chapel had no kneelers, so none of us could kneel except on the floor).

One afternoon I crept into the chapel, peered beneath the pews and spied the tiny holes on either end that had once held screws. Just as I’d suspected, they had taken out the kneelers.
They had taken out the kneelers. This resistance to kneeling, in conjunction with the whole liturgically-diluted, inert atmosphere of the place, struck me as disturbing and even dangerous. What were we there for but to worship, to give thanks, to kneel before Someone greater than ourselves? What lover of Christ, before a re-presentation of the Crucifixion, would not instinctively be moved to assume a posture of grief, sorrow, awe, praise, trembling supplication? Where was the blood, the anxiety, the majesty, the sublime paradox, the resurrectional joy?

I’m the first to admit I sometimes over-react but I think this is a serious point. I’m weak but I'm not so delicate that I can’t understand that Christ, in agony on the cross, is a reflection of the human condition. I don't need to be shielded from the knowledge that before the Resurrection comes a long, painful journey. I kneel because someone else consented to tell, live and die the truth. I kneel because for a long time I knelt before nothing but my own desperate self-centered desires and I lived in the fires of hell. I kneel to ask for help because I want to be able to welcome the next shipwrecked soul who stumbles, dazed and bleeding, onto shore.

I kneel because I know that someday—maybe today—I’m going to die.


FRANCISCO DE ZURBURÁN
 THE LAMB OF GOD

54 comments:

  1. Heather,
    In Europe they don't kneel--and there are even places around the US where people don't. The US has a special dispensation from the Vatican to continue the practice in the Mass. Kneeling's origin is medieval, based on feudal respect. The earliest Christians prayed in the priest's stance, standing, arms out w/hands held up to heaven--which was the Jewish prayer position at the time...all this according to my priest friend, Richard.... But I prefer kneeling just as you do!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This confirms my LONG-held belief that I would have felt much more at home in the Middle Ages! I'm not meaning, as you know, to adhere to some arbitrarily rigid OCD tic. What bothered me was the seeming lack of an INNER orientation toward kneeling, surrender, adoration...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Heather, thank you for the profound insights to something I totally agree with but couldn't express so well.

    Not to start an argument w/Linda, but there ARE references to kneeling and/or prostration in the new testament. Christ himself knelt or prostrated during his agony in the garden. It might have become more common to kneel during medieval times, but remember, that period ran from about the 5th to the 15th cent. which is a LONG time. I would take that as a strong ecclesiastical preference for kneeling.

    It seems I recall several persons kneeling before Jesus, either petitioning him for help, or afterward in thanksgiving for help. Seems, they recognized something Divine in him, and naturally saw the propriety of kneeling before him.

    Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, Robert, I'm thinking, too, of the Invitatory Psalm (95) to the Divine Office that we pray every morning:

    Come, then, let us bow down and worship,
    Bending the knee before the Lord our maker.
    For he is our God and we are his people,
    the flock he shepherds...

    And I must say whatever was good for St. Francis is way good enough for me...

    ReplyDelete
  5. When I meditated in years past, there was a RIGHT way to sit, and a WRONG way to sit. I found meditation came more easily if I sat my own wrong way~but I often tried to do it "right."
    Now I sit the way I sit. That works best for me.
    ~Mary

    ReplyDelete
  6. Exactly, Mary. I'm not at all saying you should HAVE to kneel, but this place had made it so you COULDN'T kneel except in a showy, draw-attention-to-yourself, I'm-going-to-insist-upon-being-different way. And if I can't kneel in church, before Christ, there's nowhere I CAN kneel...of course I had to let it all go, and had a totally fruitful time (in a completely different way than I'd hoped or expected)on my retreat. But it did generate this reflection...

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love this:

    On our knees, we’re the same height as children.

    When I moved back to L.A., the recently-introduced archdiocesan convention of standing after receiving the Eucharist seemed wrong, wrong, wrong, to me - far more than just a violation of muscle memory. At its heart, it bespeaks a lack of faith in the Real Presence (All the blather about 'community' notwithstanding).

    How can you NOT kneel after receiving Christ's body and blood?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I was raised in a liberal Protestant congregation and initially looked askance at kneeling as representing a misguided "high Christology". However, the older I get the more I can appreciate the need to fall on my knees as a sign of my own brokeness. My first attraction to Catholicism was listening to the Agnus Dei. The simple plea for mercy and peace struck me as an expression of the fundamental plea from every human heart. Thanks for your essay.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Linda

    Sorry but this is way off.

    The early Christians used a few different postures for praying. Some used to prostrate themselves and perhaps you need to visit an eastern rite church where they prostrate themselves the way the arabs do.

    Secondly the priest ignores the whole idea that the meditation of the church on these things would produce this great desire to follow exactly what that Psalm says.

    As a Brother I say or hear it every morning

    Let us kneel before the God who made us.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @ Linda, Your priest friend is mis-informed. Kneeling is not a medieval invention, Christ Himself prayed on his knees in Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41). Further, in the Book of Revelation, which has to do with worship and Liturgy, kneeling is mentioned several times. Cardinal Ratzinger has written well on the fact that kneeling is a Christian posture, not some feudal submission. You can read about it in his "Spirit of the Liturgy". He also mentions that in many depictions of satan, he is shown without knees, because the inability to kneel was considered diabolical.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well, I don't know about history and all the facts. But I would agree that it is through our bodies that we often show what we are feeling, the interior of our hearts. I grew up with very little attention being paid to such things, and in time, came to yearn for ways to show, through my body, my respect for the Lord who created me. It just felt natural to show my humility, love, respect and awe in this way, to express what I was feeling internally in an external form. And it seems the more I am intentional about kneeling, bowing and such, and more in love I feel with Christ. I think there is definitely something to this Heather, but I haven't expressed it nearly as eloquently as you have here. Thank you for sharing so deeply.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "In Europe they don't kneel." Yes, we do.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Woo-hoo! I love that this has generated such a lively conversation--thank you, all. I love that people kneel in Europe--of course they do! To me, the instinct to kneel--especially, as Bill pointed out, after receiving the Eucharist--Christ's Body and Blood! --seems so hard-wired, so utterly natural, so not a matter of feudal submission but of surrender, of love, of awe, that it couldn't possibly be an arbitrary innovation peculiar to a particular era...

    I'm remembering another instance where I "knelt": when my doctor told me, over the phone, that the biopsy was malignant. I literally sank to my knees, instinctively realizing I might faint, and that if so, I wouldn't have so far to fall... There's a deep reflection here about the way kneeling puts us closer to the earth: from whence we came, to whence we shall return. Humility, human, humus...and in the middle of it, Christ, who came to earth and pitched his tent among us...

    ReplyDelete
  14. Actually, kneeling is and isn't standard in Europe, depending on where you are. Many churches don't even have pews or chairs for sitting. Travel helps to broaden one's perspective a bit.

    Except for the citation of the book of Revelation, all the other Secriptural references you have made are about INDIVIDUALS kneeling, not a group of people in a worship setting. The Mass is a time of communal worship. STANDING after one has received communion is a sign of respect for both the sacrament and the Body of Christ who is still in procession, waiting to receive.

    Of all times we should be acting in concert with one another, surely communion is one of those times. It is NOT a "me and Jesus" moment until everyone has had the opportunity to receive communion and return to their seats.

    We all stand for the Gospel, right? And we sit down together. Why not do this for communion as well? If your parish does not include time for silence after communion (and I mean after everyone has received communion and the ministers have returned hosts to the tabernacle, if needed) then your parish needs to look at how it celebrates the liturgy.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Oh I'm not so sure travel necessarily broadens one's perspective. And if you'll read my post, you'll see I wasn't talking about a parish. Nor was I remotely suggesting taking matters into my own hands and kneeling whenever the spirit moved me during Mass. Nor was I discussing or arguing with the idea that standing after Communion until everyone has received is a sign of respect, an idea I happen to disagree with but also willingly, more or less happily, abide by in parishes that observe it, which happens to be all of L.A., the city in which I live.

    I was talking about a retreat house where, because the kneelers had been removed, we could NOT kneel, either in private prayer before or after Mass--surely you wouldn't begrudge anyone a "me and Jesus" moment then--or as a group, as is traditional, during the Eucharistic prayer. I was talking about a community that had gutted the liturgy, that approached the altar with at most a curt nod of the head, that seemed to view genuflecting as an unseemly, distasteful show.

    But way more than that, I was celebrating, marveling at, and reflecting upon the instinctive urge of the human heart to bow down before God and before Christ. I'm sorry you missed that.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Love this! For those who believe that standing is the proper posture for adoration before God, I offer this: kneeling is half-standing. I suppose that could be considered a politically correct statement to make everybody happy!

    What really got to me about this post was your statement that the Psalms had been excised. The associate Pastor at my parish doesn't allow us to pray the Psalms at daily Mass because he believes they should only be sung or else omitted. It breaks my heart every day that we omit the psalms, the beautifully poetic words that reveal the moods of the human heart and then offers them to God. It feels like snobbery-my way is the ONLY way regardless of whether or not it pleases God.

    So sorry that your retreat was not all that you had hoped it would be. I'm sure your next retreat will be somewhere lovely where your heart can sing in unison with God's love for you.

    Glad to have found this post via the Deacon's Bench!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don't know where this "in Europe they don't kneel" comes from. My in-laws are Slovak; I've lived in Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, and attended Catholic masses in all those countries, and in all the countries I ever toured -Italy, Germany, France, Croatia, Turkey- and we knelt in every one of them!! Don't believe what they write in the media, that in Europe, Catholics don't kneel. That's baloney. It's true they don't kneel for the ENTIRE Eucharistic prayer -that's a special US custom- but they DO kneel for the consecration. If they don't, it's for the same reason they don't here in the US, the are bucking tradition and the GIRM.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Ms. King,

    Have you had the opportunity to experience worphip with the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church? According to Eastern theological teachings, kneeling is sorrowful and penitential (with kneeling and prostrations very common during Lenten services) but standing is the proper posture for reverential worship in rememberance of the Resurrection.

    We in the Byzantine Rite do not kneel from Easter to Pentecost and prior to our latinization we did not kneel on Sundays. Thankfully, the most recent Byzantine Recension has removed references to kneeling in the Divine Liturgy. (There are some of us Eastern reactionaries that would remove pews entirely.)

    A good overview on kneeling and Eastern thought can be found here: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/kneeling.aspx

    ReplyDelete
  19. Philippians 2:10 "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth."

    ReplyDelete
  20. Heather, well, you've inspired me to write about this on my blog this week. I'm writing up the post now. I hope you don't mind if I reference you (and quote a line or two). My reflection won't be anywhere near as eloquent, but I'll do my best.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I'd be honored, Roxane. All best wishes for your own post and thank you...

    ReplyDelete
  22. Yes, any church that omits the penitential rite should be fled from as one might flee a house afire. And skipping the responsorial psalm? What in the world? I just don't get that at all.

    One could almost excuse the lack of kneelers -- on the grounds that maybe they were emulating our brethren in the Eastern churches -- but those liturgical tinkerings *combined* with the notion that kneeling is too, what?, passé? -- is just too much.

    Excellent post, and excellent blog!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Not to belabor the point, but:

    In 1937 I had two marvelous days at Assisi. There, alone in the little twelfth-century Romanesque chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, an incomparable marvel of purity where St. Francis often used to pray, something stronger than I was compelled me for the first time in my life to go down on my knees.

    - Simone Weil, in a letter to Father Perrin

    ReplyDelete
  24. Yes.

    Marmeladov, the drunk in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, imagines a Day of Judgment where Christ forgives everyone--the good and the evil, the wise and the meek--before he summons the last, the truly worthless ones (that would of course be us):

    "Then Christ will say to us, ‘Come you as well, come drunkards, come weaklings, come forth ye children of shame...’ And the wise men and those of understanding will say: ‘O Lord, why do you receive these men?’ And he will say, ‘This is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And he will hold out his hands to us and we shall fall down before him...and we shall weep...and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all things!...Lord, thy kingdom come."

    ReplyDelete
  25. Heather, you're right. I owe you an apology. I don't know the cause of my snippiness, but it was there for all to see. I'm sorry.

    I promise to read more carefully in the future and to wait before I post.

    ReplyDelete
  26. This was beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes (and I'm not a crier). I just want to run up to the chuch and kneel my little heart out!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Shannon, SO glad to have you aboard and that you checked back in. I had thought of you, and hoped you would...let the conversation on this, and I hope many future subjects, continue!...

    ReplyDelete
  28. The 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which provides guidelines for the celebration of Mass, said the faithful "should kneel at the consecration, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration."

    The instruction, however, went on to say that it is up to a nation's conference of bishops "to adapt the gestures and postures described in the Order of Mass to the culture and reasonable traditions of the people."

    The U.S. bishops' adaptation of that section of the instruction reads: "In the dioceses of the United States of America, they (the faithful) should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the amen of the eucharistic prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise."

    --This is from the Catholic News Service

    Like many things, it sounds like the Church at the retreat house took a possible exception and made it the rule...a common problem.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love this picture so much -- I know it has nothing to do with kneeling or standing (but maybe it does!) I just wanted to pass it along. The writing by Ralph Martin is good too.

    ReplyDelete
  30. @Alexis: "I just want to run up to the church and kneel my little heart out!"

    This is the best comment I've read on any blog in weeks. :D

    ReplyDelete
  31. Heh. In Zen Buddhism, lots of Americans have a resistance to bowing, which is a humble acknowledgement of ourselves and everything else as being Buddha. And not a few Asians: Shunryu Suzuki (of San Francisco Zen Center) used to say that his teacher felt himself to be so stubborn that he did endless bowing practiced, so much that he developed a callous on his forehead. =)

    ReplyDelete
  32. Just backing up on the European kneeling thing. Scandinavian Catholics also kneel during the consecration.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I attend an unfashionably straitlaced Lutheran church and one of the aspects of worship of which I am most fond is that we use the kneelers at several points in our traditional liturgy. It's hard to explain the sense of reverence, of awe and of joyful submission, to people who seem to think that kneeling is just terribly uncool....as seems to be the case with the vast majority of my fellow Protestants : (

    ReplyDelete
  34. This post was well worth reading -- as were the comments. The post certainly brought out a host of feelings. Personally, I prefer to kneel and find the Catholic tradition in this way appealing, a way of expressing the range of emotions and relationships that you have suggested in your post. I have, however, learned to do in Rome as the Romans do, as they say, from my travels through and work in 24 countries. Each tradition, if based on spirituality and deference toward God, has, for me, anyway, emotional valence: prostration, standing (as in the Orthodox services that have no pews), bowing, outstretched arms, and kneeling (in one church I attended on several occasions in Lithuania nearly the entire Mass was spent in kneeling). I attend Mass at noon during the week at a small chapel near my office that serves multiple denominations. There are no kneelers, but everyone kneels, anyway. The bottom line, I think, is the depth and strength and purity of our relationship with God, not the manner in which we express it. (I just personally choose to express it through kneeling -- with or without kneelers.) Thank you for getting us all thinking and talking about this.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Wow! Absolutely beautiful! It brought tears to my eyes.

    Regarding you theory on prayer: I am attending a spiritual study through my parish (Familia). We study the catechism and church documents. It is a 4 year series and this year is titled, "Called to Prayer".

    Did you know that God initiates all prayer? I was floored b/c I thought it was me. WE only respond to Him.

    "God Calls man first. Many may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, God initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. AS God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole of salvation." 2567 Catechism of the Catholic Church

    Thank you!!!

    ReplyDelete
  36. Wow: who knew there was so much feeling on the subject? Wonder if our feelings about kneeling are much related to what we're accustomed to. I always go to the Newman Ctr. at SIU in Carbondale IL when I'm there, and they don't have pews or kneelers, so people sit while communion is distributed, and don't kneel at all during the Mass, and it seems totally off to me even though the Mass itself, and the community seem to me very lovely and holy etc. I'm used to the tradition of, as someone once said, aerobic Catholicism b/c that's what we do at Holy Name--and I like it best. That said, I often pray sitting down at home, or standing, or lying in bed. Does God care? I'd be surprised!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Beautifully written and heartfelt. My life is richer for the reading.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Im not Catholic anymore but do love to kneel and sometimes even lay down before Him. David did so when he had sinned with Bathsheba and didnt want his son to die.

    2 Samuel 12:16-22
    16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused...

    Honestly I left the Catholic church years ago because of the dry meaningless rituals, but you sound like someone who genuinely loves Jesus Christ. Hes worthy isnt He?

    ReplyDelete
  39. Yes, He is worthy. And I think because I am so keenly aware of my own unworthiness, the rituals to me are anything but dry and meaningless. They are rich, meaty, pulsing with blood, complexity, paradox and life. That's of course on a good day. Not every day is a good day for me, in the sense of feeling hopeful and on an even keel. But as the novelist Walker Percy replied when asked why he was a Catholic: "What else is there?" "To whom else should we go?" asked the disciples. "You have the words of eternal life." Not in the sense of having "the answer"--for there is no answer other than Christ himself. But in the sense of being the deepest possible repository of the Mystery. The truth that to fully live we have to die first. And that love will reign, and reigns now...

    This helps me that you sometimes lie down before God...because again, and really, what other possible response is there?...

    ReplyDelete
  40. Dear Heather,
    I just found your blog a few weeks ago and have been reading a little bit at a time. I've never been a blog reader because I have many books to reads. But your writing includes people and topics that interest me. I will describe myself in your terms as an ex-drunk, ex-teacher, cradle Catholic priest. The first post of yours I read was this one about kneeling and I quoted you in a homily. The reason I write is this: I like to collect coincidences which are more than coincidences, sparks of mystery and the Holy Spirit. The homily I quoted you in was on our recent Feast of Christ the King. For some reason it didn't occur to me until I was actually giving the homily that your surname and the feast matched. I had to insert this realization saying something like, "huh, I just realized this writer I quoted is named King and today if the Feast of Christ the King." It was likely more interesting to me than the congregation! But that's the way coincidences are, personal in meaning. I quoted the part about how our ears are closer to our hearts when our heads are bowed and we're the same height as children when we kneel - wonderful stuff, thanks! I haven't read today's post about your brother and his band but I'm on to that now. I've heard of his band but not heard them. I grew up in the 80's and listen to it all. God bless you and anoint your writing.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Fr. Patrick, how lovely, thank you--this is unbelievable for the likes of me to be quoted in a homily, ever, but especially on the Feast of Christ the King...I am really trying to get at Catholic with both a big and a small c...brother's punk bands, childhood wounds, the stories and music we love, birds, food, missed connections, stabbing moments of joy...they are all part of it...they ARE "it"...Christ. Life. Meaning--or as much meaning as we are ever going to get this side...thanks for reading my blog and for your stupendous support over the years, and all best on your own ministry/work...now I get to start reflecting on Advent...

    ReplyDelete
  42. I'm a Catholic Convert who also spent some time in K'town in LA.
    I am still in LA and fighting the fight of kneeling before and after communion. To me, the new convert, it seemed only natural that when the priest held up Jesus saying, "This is the LAMB OF GOD!" that one should kneel, right?
    Wrong. I was told that I must "stand in unity" both before and after.

    Thank you for your piece on this very important matter. Is it just me or have you noticed too that the churches where they kneel tend to be fuller in both numbers and spirit as opposed to the ones who "stand in unity?"

    ReplyDelete
  43. Heather, thank you for this post.

    ReplyDelete
  44. I have several times prostrated myself on the sand banks upon climbing out of my kayak, in reverence to my God. It is the most beautiful feeling in the world- me and God as One Spirit. I have found that to be the best way to pray to God- amongst all the beauty of God's natural ceiling- the sky- and God's natural surroundings, instead of indoors.

    To create an arbitrary tradition to be upheld simply because it was once used in the past can be indeed seen as a form of conformity- rather than of real worship. There must not be one ritual that is followed by everyone; each of us has our own way of experiencing and worshipping our Lord.

    ReplyDelete
  45. "I kneel because for a long time I knelt before nothing but my own desperate self-centered desires and I lived in the fires of hell. I kneel to ask for help because I want to be able to welcome the next shipwrecked soul who stumbles, dazed and bleeding, onto shore."

    A beautifully written post. Kneeling I believe is a fundamental way of showing reverence to our Lord. It is a recognition of our rightful littleness in front of the king of the universe. God never forces us to kneel, actually you probably would find countless passages in the New Testament where Jesus condemns the overly pious actions of the Pharisees. Jesus was concerned with "spirit of the law" rather then the "letter of the law"

    But there is something within us that compels us to kneel and I am pretty sure that this inherent tendency has little to do with a tradition handed down from the Middle Ages. To kneel is to recognize our broken greatness, that without God we are nothing. To kneel is to accept our littleness realizing that out of our littleness lies our greatness.

    Heather I am big fan of your blog I was wondering would you be interested in being a guest blogger on my blog. My blog is called, The Marco Minute. (Just type "Marco Minute" into google and it should take you to my blog.)

    Thanks,

    God Bless!

    ReplyDelete
  46. " . . . the rituals to me are anything but dry and meaningless. They are rich, meaty, pulsing with blood, complexity, paradox and life." --Catch the suggestive and not accidental physical language here identifying the Mass with the Incarnation.

    " . . . in the sense of being the deepest possible repository of the Mystery." --A lovely image to add to our constellation of images which communicate what the Church is.

    Keep fighting from your knees, Miss. King. As many in this thread demonstrate, it often takes a convert to understand just how important, and proper, and wonderful something like kneeling is. How were we ever able to worship without it? How could I revere God in the splendour of His holiness otherwise? Or how else could I accomplish on my feet the contrition and the devotion that I need and long to offer unto Him? Indeed, why would I want to stand? Please, let me fall down at Thine feet O Lord! What else would I do?!

    (Much like Percy's and St. Peter's "To where, to whom else, would I go?)

    Thomas Howard argues all over the place, but specifically, to my memory, in the opening few chapters of his If Your Mind Wanders at Mass, in defense of bodily acts like kneeling, not merely as outward expressions of an inward piety, but as acts of worship in themselves, human beings being thoroughly bodily, the body 'the expression of the person,' as it were, in the lingo of the late PJPII.

    Therefore let the ghosts worship God in the air, as for man, it's our privilege to worship God from the ground, and indeed, with our very kneecaps as well as our vocal chords, to say nothing of the adoration of our hearts. For how well can the soul worship without the help of the body, finally, when the two are inextricably bound up together in the singularity of our person? Kneeling is yet another species of the Incarnation - however small, it testifies to the fact that God created knees, assumed knees, redeemed knees, and made them to worship Him. If that sounds silly to you, then you might be a Gnostic in Christian clothing.

    To kneel before God is to worship Him as fully God in the fullness of your humanity, just as much as David's dancing was. To worship God with our bodies, living, dancing, kneeling, sacrifices of adoration, is to enact an affirmation of the Gospel. For the Incarnate God, even now, is with the Father. Jesus has knees. And perhaps He bends them too, in humility, as He intercedes for us. These are why kneeling is so exquisite and precious, and why the reverent heart rightly balks at kneelingless masses and kneelingless Masses alike -- for they are less than fully human, and somehow less than adequate to the Mystery of God and God Incarnate for kneecapped sinners such as ourselves.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Thanks for this beautiful comment, Foster--would that we INSTINCTIVELY fall to our knees before Him!!...

    ReplyDelete
  48. Dear Heather:

    Beautiful post. I've been talking to a convert friend about kneeling and she sent me the following from Pope BXVI:

    "There is a story that comes from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, according to which the devil was compelled by God to show himself to a certain Abba Apollo. He looked black and ugly, with frighteningly thin limbs, but, most strikingly, he had no knees. The inability to kneel is seen as the very essence of the diabolical....The expression used by St. Luke to describe the kneeling of Christians (thei ta gonata) is unknown in classical greek. We are dealing here with a specifically Christian world....It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture--insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ Himself.

    -The Spirit of Liturgy, pp. 193-194

    Our German Shepherd continues to amaze. Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights with us. I will pray (on my knees) that God will continue to bless your work.

    Elizabeth

    ReplyDelete
  49. Elizabeth, so beautiful from the Pope, this reflection on kneeling. He captured what I was trying to say perfectly...thank you for this and Happy Thanksgiving....

    ReplyDelete
  50. Heather, your blog is the very best! I just found you via Word on Fire (for a different post; visited Mundelein just a month before you did)--and have so much common ground with you! Am 23 years sober, divorced/annulled woman near your age, Catholic 'revert' in wholehearted love with our wounded, resplendent Church. Am off work for 3 months to heal a foot surgery and it is your blogs that are keeping me emotionally above water, while I have 24/7 to survey the if-only's and now-what's of my life. God bless you, dear one! Thank you for your love! You must try San Secondo Catholic Church, Guasti CA 91743 (but some GPSs can't display; it's near Ontario Airport) where kneeling is practiced and Catholic is humbly spoken aloud.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Oh this is very exciting, Bird, San Secondo with Latin Mass and the rose gardens. I've bookmarked it and hope to check it out in the not too distant future. Please know I use no such abomination as a GPS! :)Glad, too, to know we have so much in common--thank you for your readership!...

    ReplyDelete
  52. Hello Heather
    This is simply... BEAUTIFUL
    Thank you

    ReplyDelete

I WELCOME your comments!!!