Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Genuflection Reflection

UPDATE: The LA Times editorial on this situation is a good summary of the way this makes most sane people feel. (With obeisance to Jimmy Akin.)

Much has been said about the happenings in the Diocese of Orange. The debate raging across the web seems to have left a few stones unturned, however, and that is why I'm throwing in my own two cents.

Most people seem to have taken issue with the pastoral approach (or lack thereof) taken by the administrator of St. Mary's by the Sea. The questions have been of liturgical guidelines, or prudential judgement (on the part of the Bishop), or of canonical obligation (on the part of the faithful to follow the edict to stand after the Agnus Dei). One other point has often come up, but seemed in context to be a red herring. Many outraged by the affair have sought to defend the posture of kneeling itself. But that hasn't been under attack, has it? As I read the comments scattered accross various weblogs, I've wondered: "Aren't they missing the point? There hasn't been an all-out attack on kneeling qua kneeling here. This is a specific issue regarding a particular moment in the Mass, and the decision of one Bishop to impliment an allowable norm in accordance with the GIRM, with that decision's practical and pastoral implications."

So why defend kneeling itself? Isn't that missing the point?

But perhaps it was I who have been missing the point...
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." [SOURCE]
Now, one can hope that this is an example of poor journalism here. But it's irrelevant in the final assessment. Let's take another look at the situation. Bishop Brown has "banned" kneeling (or at least, that is the popular rhetoric in use, and its valence is indicative of the sense in which many people have interpreted his decision). People have refused to stand. They've been told that to do so is "mortal sin." Then they've been told that that was a mistatement. Some have been "offered" the opportunity to leave the Diocese. People have been dismissed from positions of service in the parish.

That's the situation. Now, I think, in light of the situation, that the Diocese owes some sort of explanation to the people. Whether one agrees with the decision of Bishop Brown or not, I think we could all agree that the pastoral thing to do in this situation is to offer the people an explanation of the rationale behind the decision. To the average laymen, who thinks a GIRM is something you wipe away with Lysol, an explanation is in order here. And as of yet, that explanation has been lacking.

So, as it stands, the only information coming out of the Diocese is the above quote (or possibly, misquote). More recently, the Diocese has issued a clarification of the mortal sin issue on its webpage. In this statement, there is a hint of explanation as there is a link established between the Diocese of Orange's liturgical practice and the entire province of USCCB Region XI. This is hardly an explanation, though, and, as Jimmy Akin points out, it might not even be true.

So, let's go with the only legitimate statement coming out of the Diocese representing a pastoral explanation of rationale, and let's try to see why people might be upset. People want to know why they're being asked NOT to kneel after the Agnus Dei. The answer? From a Diocesan official: because "standing 'reflects our human dignity.'"

Now, this downright infuriates me. First of all, this statement has nothing to do with a particular part of the Mass. It is a statement about the posture of kneeling in general. So where are the parameters? When the GIRM leaves an allowance for a Bishop to impliment a pastoral norm in regard to kneeling after the Agnus Dei, it sadly does not give an example of the rationale that would merit such a decision. But I'm pretty damn sure that this doesn't qualify. How, when we kneel at various other points throughout the Mass, does kneeling at this point represent a stooping of our human dignity? Have we come to be more in the "image and likeness of God" through our exchange of the sign of peace? What gives?

Furthermore, my understanding of the way the GIRM operates is that exceptions are granted out of pastoral considerations for cultural differences or practical necessities. If the Church has no room to kneel, for example, then an exception might be in order. Or, if somehow the posture of kneeling is regarded by a particular culture in a different way than the traditional understanding, a way that is at odds with our theological interpretation. Certainly, the Church doesn't want people thinking they're sub-human when they fall on their knees to adore God - not sub-human, just human. And some cultures might legitimately interpret kneeling in a much more pejorative sense. But, can this really be said of the "culture" of the Diocese of Orange? How is it that kneeling means something on the Left Coast that it doesn't mean throughout the rest of the nation? How is it that people are fighting tooth and nail, and writing letters to the Nuncio in order to be allowed to use this posture, if they see it as degrading?

The logic doesn't hold. It is too broad of a statement, and one founded upon a shaky view of a time-honored posture for prayer. (See here, for example.) So, the longer this explanation holds as the only official word on the matter coming out of the Diocese, the less sympathetic I will be to the administration of the Parish and the Diocese in the protests that they encounter. The people's "human dignity" deserves a clearly explained, rational answer on this matter. Now, let's see how long it takes to get one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm a cradle/practicing/committed Roman Catholic, born and raised on the "right coast" (Archdiocese of Boston), and I guess I'm a bit amazed that this kind of controversy is roiling the Church folks in Southern California!
In my own experience, kneeling is a sign of our acknowledging before the Trinity that we are, indeed, made in God's image and, as such, have inherent dignity, but that, as His creations, we are still subservient and willing to show our reverence and respect.
In fact, I'm still genuflecting in church, because, as we are taught, we are in the real presence of our Redeemer. What more reason for showing reverence and respect? In my own parish, the pastor is trying earnestly to get people to maintain quiet and decorum in the presence of the Eucharist and to bow or genuflect to show respect when entering or leaving church.
Seems to me that some of you good folks might be too caught up in the nuances of rubric and ritual. Rather, stick to the philosophical, or even common-sense, arguments for why/when to kneel. and, while we're at it, let's all get back to genuflecting!
Pax Christi!

7/30/06, 2:10 PM  

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