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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Friday, September 27, 2002 Kneeling at Holy Communion
Joos van Wassenhove, The Institution of the Eucharist, c.1474
Catholic Light reports an allegation of a politician denied the Sacrament at the Arlington, Va., cathedral because he kneeled for Communion. Rev. James Tucker, a priest of the Arlington diocese, registers dismay.
The kneeling-at-Communion question has been getting an airing at HMS Blog, where Emily Stimpson writes: "[W]hile I believe we must remain obedient to our bishops, I can't help but feel frustrated by the continual efforts of some to strip away the simple acts of reverence and piety, which hurt no one and help many to grasp the mystery of the faith."
The tradition in the Catholic Church is to take Communion kneeling. That's why altar rails were also called communion rails. (Note these magnificent images from the old St. Albertus Polish Catholic Church in Detroit, here and here.)
Go to an Episcopal parish and you'll see worshipers still taking Communion that way. It has been only in the past 30 years that Catholic liturgical engineers decided standing for Communion was somehow preferable. There was no great demand from the pews for standing for the Sacrament. Indeed, kneeling has stubbornly hung-on following the Sanctus, and in many parishes, the Agnus Dei, despite the efforts of the liturgists to discourage it.
Kneeling at a rail for Communion doesn't harm the faith but enhances it. When standing is the general rule, one can see where a great show of kneeling while others are trying to proceed to the altar could be disruptive, but a quick genuflection before the Sacrament wouldn't hurt anyone.
Remember, when you genuflect or kneel before the Sacrament, you are appealing to longstanding Church tradition, much more so than the modern-day Roundheads who hide tabernacles, remove kneelers and gut sanctuaries.
Martin Luther King wrote: "I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all." When clerical Cromwells actively seek to undermine age-old devotions that do no harm but instead great good, civil disobedience may be in order.