Liturgy: On Bended Knee

The king, disguised as a beggar, sits in the great hall of his house. He has been gone for twenty years. He is handling a mighty bow, apparently for a game. Who can string that bow and shoot an arrow straight through a row of ax-handles, hitting the mark exactly?

No one else in that house has the strength or the skill. The house has been infested with suitors for his wife’s hand in marriage, 108 of them. They have been drinking his wines, devouring his herds, corrupting his housemaids, and plotting the murder of his son. They have spent the last day sometimes dealing bread and meat to the beggar, and sometimes abusing him, cursing him, throwing things at him, and threatening to ship him off to a barbarian who castrates his prisoners. It’s not going to be a good day for the suitors.

Odysseus strings the bow in one graceful and powerful movement, then strikes the string with his thumb, making it sing like a bird. It is the perfect gesture. He utters a prayer to the archer god, Apollo, and sends an arrow flying – straight through the targets, a perfect shot. The suitors are stunned, but they remain blind to their fate, roaring with laughter and song. They continue to guzzle.

Then Odysseus says, “I’ve another arrow here, and I pray that Apollo will assist me, for I aim at a target never struck before.” He bends that bow and shoots the feathered death through the throat of the ringleader, Antinous, right as he raises a cup of wine to his lips. Perfect target, perfect moment.

Later that afternoon, when the suitors lie strewn in death, Odysseus comes upon a man cowering in a corner. It is the blind singer, Phemius. He kneels before the king and catches him by the knees, pleading for his life, because he had been compelled to sing for the suitors, though he hated their evil ways.

“Spare the good singer, father,” says Telemachus, son of Odysseus. “He tells the truth.”

Phemius adopts the pose of the supplicant, literally: he falls to his knees. When we “supplicate” our Lord, we kneel. It’s as natural as smiling, or taking someone by the hand. We make ourselves small. We acknowledge our powerlessness. “Unless you accept the kingdom of God as a little child,” says Jesus, “you shall not enter.” The lintel to that kingdom is low. We must be emptied of ourselves to be filled with God.

The language of our bodies is not wholly arbitrary. We cannot say, “We’ll stand on one foot and hold a forefinger to the nose, and that will signify that we long for the fragrance of grace.” No one will understand that. We ourselves will not believe it. We cannot say, “We will adore God by slouching in the pew, arms and legs spread-eagled.” It can’t work.

Odysseus Slays the Suitors by Bela Čikoš Sesija, c. 1920
Odysseus Slays the Suitors by Bela Čikoš Sesija, c. 1920 [Click to expand]
We cannot say, “We will emphasize the holiness of the Eucharist we are about to receive, by milling about the aisles to pass small talk with friends.” Our bodies will contradict our purported intention. The “emphasis” will be at best notional. We will not feel it in our pulses.

In the diocese where we spend our summers, the faithful at Mass have been instructed to kneel only during the first part of the consecration. When they return from Communion, they’re to remain standing until every communicant is back in his seat. Then they invariably sit down. So there’s no kneeling in silent prayer. That standing is supposed to stress the “community” of believers.

I’ve been struggling to put into words an insight I’ve derived from Father Aidan Nichols’ Looking at the Liturgy. What kind of priest or prelate thought it was good to cover paintings of the saints with whitewash? To remove great altars? To throw statues into the dump? To reduce communion rails to rubble? To swear off the cassock? To expunge hieratic language? To send ancient prayers written by Ambrose and Aquinas down the memory hole? To rip out pews decorated with flowers and birds, carved by the men who built the church?

It is all of a piece. Let’s give the wreckers the benefit of the doubt. Grant that they actually believed that blank walls do not a warehouse make. Grant that the bishops of Canada believe that people, many of them aged, standing around and watching other people standing around, will think of community, and not the blessed moment when they finally get to sit down. What can I conclude, other than they have been like color-blind people before a Monet, or tone-deaf people at a Bach chorale, or boors wearing sneakers to a wedding, or klutzes in a china shop?

These are natural defects. It’s no sin to be color-blind. But is that all? Over-schooled people, long sheltered from the physical necessities of life, from plowing, sowing, digging, sawing, stitching, bleaching, ironing, mowing – they are most prone to lifeless abstractions, and most dismissive of the bodily gestures that people who work with hands and shoulders and backs understand. That whole scene in Homer’s poem, each action in just the right place, would be for them one arbitrary thing after another.

The suitors were wicked, but they still liked good food and wine and song. They left Odysseus’ house standing. Our ruiners may have been saints or devils, but as far as our churches and liturgies are concerned, we’d have done better with drunken sailors.

It’s a fight we still must fight. It’s easy to whitewash; hard to restore what was whitewashed away. It is easy to shred prayers; hard to return them to their place of honor. It is easy to stand, as in line at the delicatessen; hard to learn again the bodily habits of humility. One age can ruin what centuries built. It will take more than one age to build again on the ruins.

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.

  • Many centuries later another warrior king inspired a different poet to sing:

    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
    And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
    Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
    But he’ll remember with advantages
    What feats he did that day…

    Notice that Christ Resurrected has always shown His wounds. Those wounds may have been considered shameful on earth but they are glorious in Heaven, like so many war medals on a hero’s chest. Like the wounds earned by some common men made noble brothers of the last English king, those wounds turned out to be proof of a battle fought well. Perhaps one of the most mysterious passages of Scripture is that description of the “little horn” allowed “to wage war against the saints and defeat them” (Daniel 7:21) Why should the Almighty allow such defeat of His saints? Perhaps we are allowed to see how far we can get on our own strength. We will be wounded in this uneven battle but the wounds will heal and we will have those scars as proof of having been here.

    The kneelers and rails rebuilt will no longer be ordinary parts of any Church. No, they will be precious symbols of a fatherland regained from a wretched enemy. We will look at our trespassed God and it will mean something to us. We are the Church of the Resurrection but we must remember that there is no Glory Sunday without the Cross of Good Friday. One day, one first morning, the Hebrews rose to a day of freedom when they did not have to bake bricks for the Egyptians but they still had to look at their rough brickmakers’ hands when gathering the manna. They remembered, and we will remember the days of our pilgrimage in our wounds and we will laugh and sing as choirs crown each Sunday with sounds of “Gloria, gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo.”

  • James S.

    Your arrows, professor, Ulysses-like, hit the mark, but fly only so far as the archer can see. Standing after communion is common in the Maronite rite, and few would shoot barbs of liturgical looseness in that direction. Standing, not kneeling, is also the position during the consecration. Just before the consecration, worshippers are seated, responding to the prayers of the faithful, which are placed here rather than after the homily as in the Roman rite. The consecration begins after the last intercessory prayer, the priest bending over the bread and wine, the worshippers, seated, slowly gathering voice in a sung prayer, typically without music. One by one they rise until all are standing at the moment when the priest himself is erect holding the host fully elevated. That bit of liturgical choreography strikes me as powerfully symbolic and spiritual as kneeling. Does not Christ’s presence gather its fullness gradually in the consecration as though on a continuum until He is truly present at the elevation? Is that not how he entered into history and how He enters into the individual life, not in a binary flash of grace but gradually? Most worshippers remain standing until communion is over and the priest publicly and consumes the remaining bread and wine (as opposed to quietly and privately in the Roman rite). At that point the worshippers take their seats until the prayer of dismissal. But standing is the norm between the moment Christ is fully present at the elevation until the priest consumes the crumbs and dregs.

    • Tony

      James — But you see, you are describing an entire and integrated rite, one in which other natural symbols are in play, for other reasons. You can’t say, “We can stand in the Roman rite, because they stand in the Maronite rite,” just as you can’t say, “We should alliterate on every line of our poetry, because that is what they do in Anglo Saxon.” This was one of the errors of the liturgical innovators in the sixties. They would say, “We should do X, because the first Christians did X,” removing X from its living context, and, half of the time, getting X wrong at that.

      I am not sure about your adverb “gradually.” When Mary said, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” at that moment the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. When the priest elevates the Host, at that moment it has become the Body of Christ. In any case, the intense prayer and ritual that you describe is not characteristic of the Novus Ordo as it is celebrated in most churches. If we all went over to the Maronite rite, you would not hear any complaints from me, though I would still wish for some significant time for true supplication — on the knees.

  • Joan Moore

    This is so true! Our archbishop has mandated that we stand from The Mystery of Faith. It seems that he was advised that while we have been kneeling for centuries, kneeling represents penance and we are “resurrection people” and should stand to show respect. What about adoration? Where is that in standing?? While I obey my bishop, it feels just wrong to be standing during any part of the Eucharistic prayer.

    • Patti Day

      If the archbishop encountered the Risen Christ would he stand before Him as His equal? My guess is that he would be on his knees, if not prostrate before Him.

  • rtjl

    I recently came across an old photo of my parish church before it suffered reckovation, It was full of beautiful paintings, patterned mosaic tile work and fine filigree woodwork. Now it is painted white and cream, the tile mosaics are gone and most of the woodwork removed. I shake my head and wonder just what on God’s good earth was that generation was thinking. In the past seven or so years, I have discovered and been exploring the Church’s rich tradition of sacred music. I shake my head and wonder I shake my head and wonder just what on God’s good earth was that generation was thinking. Why did that generation attempt to destroy so much of what was truly and authentically beautiful in the heritage given them and why did they think it was acceptable to rob my generation of that heritage. I have to admit that, for a while I was lost in anger and resentment over this. I have gotten over that now (for the most part) and I have set myself about the task of doing what I can to help in the recovery of that abandoned heritage – although I don’t really have the skill for it. Still, I do what I can because I am here and the task is before me.

    • I have often wondered that myself. It is perhaps for the same reason that God let the Israelites wander for 40 years in the desert. (We’re at 45 years now.)

  • Chris in Maryland

    I have lived through our contemporary “stripping of the altars,” from my own beginnings as an altar boy who served at the “Extra-Ordinary” Mass, and watched the utter destruction wrought in homage to the zeitgeist.
    I am struck to the heart when I observe that Jewish people who love their faith and culture send their children to Hebrew School, where they learn, among other things, to read Hebrew. I am struck by the protestant musician who once lamented to me about how the Catholic Church had abandoned its musical endowment for the impoverished “Gather” hymnal. And on…and on…
    Today we have often heard the refrain that the Church is “counter-cultural.” It is spoken as if believing that “culture” flows from Hollywood, 5th Avenue and Washington, and that our identity is somehow signaled by being in some way “counter” to that.
    I want to reclaim my endowment. I want us as the Church to reclaim our endowment. A few years ago, my sister-in-law, a portrait artist, attended an art conference and met one of her former professors from her deconstructionist “college of art” in New England. She told him: “You stole my education, I want my money back.”
    Being counter-cultural is just negating something else. It isn’t something in-and-of-itself. I want something positive. I want my Roman Catholic culture.
    Thank you for teaching me about Dante Professor Esolen. At 58, I am still happy to learn my culture, and delighted that it enriches my life now. I am going to do my best to pass it on to my children.

  • DeaconEdPeitler

    When I am not serving at the altar but visiting another parish, say on vacation, I make it a practice to kneel throughout the entire Eucharistic prayer and what is called the Communion Rite. That means I kneel for the Our Father, do my best to avoid the clamor of hand-shaking at the Sign of Peace, and kneel during the Agnus Dei. I cannot get over the idea of standing and reciting the Agnus Dei because if you truly believed that you are in the presence of the Lamb of God, you must get down on your knees in reverent adoration because who, in himself, is truly worthy to be in His presence? I remain kneeling until the Eucharist is reposed and I have completed my thanksgiving.

    • James W

      I too believe it would be best to kneel at the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (though not the Pater Noster), as is the case in the ancient form of the Roman Rite. But shouldn’t we also stick to the rubrics the Church has given us, even if they are inadequate and lacking in much?

  • Joyfully

    Perhaps a writer with persuasive talent should address the bishop of that diocese and ask him to reconsider the practice. In love, he could be helped to understand the difference between kneeling and standing. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger explained quite thoroughly the significance in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy”. Your summer bishop sounds like one of those happy to see my beloved BXVI retired so I probably wouldn’t quote him specifically, but if that writer reviewed BXVI’s explanation that writer would have some wonderful assistance in persuading the bishop to reconsider.

    Catechesis is lifelong, for laymen and bishops. If presented well, the talented writer might even be able to get the bishop to go an extra step and teach his sheep why they kneel.

    We must remember to take our offense first to the one offending us, then if it is unaddressed, to the authority above and so on until a happy resolution. Good luck.

    • Tom Brennan

      When the practice of standing before and after communion was inflicted on our diocese, with the stated purpose of “uniting” us (there had been peaceful unity of practice BEFORE this change, but painful and chaotic disunity AFTER, and communion time became a cause of resentment – at least for me), our bishop at the time was apparently *surprised* at the vehemence and depth of the reaction he received. So he half-relented and made it “optional” (giving complete lie to the stated goal of unity).
      At the time, having lived through the 60s and 70s, it was obvious to predict its epitath as “this, too, shall pass”. New JPII bishop now, and only vestiges of standing remain (I feel for those folks – I could never summon the obedience to the old bishop for such an obviously wrong-headed practice).

  • Mack

    Well and truly said. We must pray for a restoration of beauty, both on the Altar and in our hearts, and try in our poor, small ways to be worthy of beauty (or Beauty) in our churches.

  • Stanley Anderson

    Dr Esolen wrote, “These are natural defects. It’s no sin to be color-blind. But is that all?” I am reminded of the movie “Memento”. It is a very disturbing film that in good faith I can’t recommend for that reason if you haven’t seen it, but I have long considered it one of the perfect analogies of our complicity in our own corruption (CS Lewis’ horrific ending scenes at the NICE as they destroy themselves in “That Hideous Strength” gets this across in a different way. Pink Floyd’s song “Comfortably Numb” is another).

    I am going to give very strong spoilers to Memento for my comment here, so if you or any readers think they might see it (and it IS a masterfully done story), please don’t read this paragraph. The main character suffers from long-term memory loss, sustained by an injury that apparently occurred when his wife was murdered, so he sets out to find and kill the murderer. But since he forgets anything longer than a certain amount of time, he tattoos signs and leaves messages to himself to remind him of his mission. The story is told “backwards” so that we start at the “end” and work back toward the actual murder. Very ingeniously worked out, but the main point for my comments here (and this is the big spoiler — again don’t read this next bit if you want to see the movie) is that the viewer discovers at the end that the main character IS the murderer and knew he would forget about it and set the situation up so that it would look as if someone else did and that he would then be led “in good faith”, as far as his memory went, to kill the person he had set up. To me, this aligns with our own fallen status where we gradually numb ourselves to our own culpability so that eventually we are not even “aware” of the sinful things we are embedded in (rather, that we have embedded ourselves in — I am suddenly imagining a kind of self-imposed Mafia style execution on ourselves by willingly sticking our feet into a tub of wet cement perilously balanced on the end of a long pier).

    One final comment. I love your line near the end, “Our ruiners may have been saints or devils, but as far as our churches and liturgies are concerned, we’d have done better with drunken sailors.” It deliciously demands the question “What then shall we do with them…earlie in the morning?”

  • Howard Kainz

    Our parish asked for and received a dispensation from the archdiocese of Milwaukee from kneeling after the Sanctus. So standing is de rigueur until after communion. I think many “spirit of Vatican II” pastors think that making our churches more Protestantized in ritual and music and message will somehow incite Protestants to reunite — since we are “just like them.”

    • Tony

      Howard — that is incredible. We sit and stand all week long. We stand in line at the deli. We stand in line at the bus stop. We stand at the grocery. We sit and stand at ballgames. We NEVER kneel unless at church. So why should we not kneel? Will we break out in hives?

  • Dan Kennedy

    Great, great piece. We have been instructed to stand until all have received communion. Many kneel anyway. The faithful will not be deprived of that sacred intimacy with our Lord.

    • Tony

      We can “get away” with kneeling after receiving Communion, because we are from the States and can’t be assumed to know any better.

      The result I’ve witnessed in some of the churches in Cape Breton is chaotic. Some people stand, some people sit, and some people kneel. The net impression is a sort of nonchalance.

      • I once received this simple instruction from a simple country priest: “At the sight of the Consecrated Host, fall to your knees and behold your Maker, Lord and King who will decide your eternal fate.”

  • DJK

    Tony (pace tua dixerim), you have a wonderful gift for writing and for insight into the truth of things. Here’s to hoping you don’t stop contributing your columns any time soon!

  • DS

    The professor does his own whitewashing of liturgical practice and history. Kneeling in the early Church was primarily an act of penitence. It developed later into a posture of adoration. Genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament, a form of kneeling, is a relatively recent innovation in Catholic history (500 years or so). By contrast, standing during prayer has an ancient tradition in the Temple in Jerusalem (see Chronicles), is referenced by Jesus in the New Testament (Mark 11:25) and is encouraged by the Church Fathers. The Orthodox do not kneel, and I would never accuse them of “milling about the aisles.”

    • ron a.

      DS–Do you believe that this is GOD? Do you see yourself on equal footing with God? ( Is Jesus your buddy?) There was a time when the Jew would not mention God’s name. That is awe, that is adoration.

      The time is well past when THE chasm between God and man (indeed, the reality) should be recognized. We live in an Age of Arrogance. In fact, HUMILITY should be our natural—and supernatural—disposition to things Divine.

      The reception of the Eucharist, as a Sacrament, is a highly personal thing; and, its partaking should reflect that. To quote a great theologian (in another context): “the category of the individual is higher than fellowship”. —Unless, I guess, you’re just celebrating a communal meal, as a sort of memorial service to an event (which one may or may not really believe, according to his or her conscience) that happened a long time ago.

    • Tony

      You miss my point. You can’t simply import a gesture from one place and insert it into another, without consideration of the whole rite from which it comes, and the culture. If kneeling in the early church was “primarily” an act of penitence, why should that mean that it has no place then in our Mass? And we DO stand during prayer at Mass. The question is not whether we should stand, but whether we should NEVER kneel, or when we should kneel, and why. The Orthodox do not kneel. They show their reverence in other ways. If you are arguing that we in the Roman rite should adopt the practices of the Orthodox — ALL of them — you won’t get any argument from me.

      But cf. Philippians: At the name of Jesus …

  • ScottG

    Folks I’d like to ask all of you if you think it is worthwhile to debate such trivial matters as when to sit, stand or kneel during the mass, which “rite” gets it right, which is wrong, etc. Is true worship about striking that perfect pious pose, or might we be more fruitful when we humbly seek the heart of God through genuine prayer and supplication? Sure tradition matters, but only in the sense that such traditions illuminate and elevate the gospel message above the physical acts of worship alone. Are we to act like the Pharisees or sons and daughters of the risen Lord?

    So Tony I ask you as well, is this really “a fight we still must fight?” You wax very poetic indeed, however, I’m not sure your emphasis is appropriate if we truly seek a unified church as Christ has admonished us to do. Perhaps I have misunderstood your point but seems to me this type of “debate” serves more as a distraction vis a vis those truly seeking communion with God.

    • Tony

      No, Scott, I do not believe that it is trivial. Nothing that we do with the body is trivial. If you show up at a wedding in a T-shirt and sneakers, you are not doing something trivial. Jesus celebrated the feasts of his people with solemnity and ceremony. I don’t demand that we do precisely this or precisely that. But surely for once in a week we can do together what otherwise we never do at all.

      • ScottG

        All I will say is that the spirit of the law is far more important than the letter of the law… in EVERY situation, including our dress and mannerisms during our time of worship. To deny this is to deny the indwelling spirit of Christ among and within each of us. I cringe when I read articles like yours, albeit very well written it just strikes me as “missing the mark” in both its tone and sentiment. But that’s just me, I guess, I’m much more a follower of Christ than prescribed Roman law and tradition any day of the week!

    • Isn’t supplication what is precisely at issue?

    • charlesrwilliams

      You simply cannot pray lying on the couch sipping a cup of hot chocolate. We are embodied creatures. We relate to others with our bodies. This behavior would simply contradict the words that we might push through our minds. Traditional practices of prayer emerge from hundreds of years of experience on the part of holy men and women.

      We need common prayer and common prayer has common gestures. We need this because otherwise we worship a creation of our imaginations. In our private prayers we need to take advantage of the experience and teaching of the saints. How we pray privately and what we pray privately is vitally important because prayer is our relationship to Christ.

  • Robbie J

    Apologies first. I am not a person of high learning, so please my (simplistic) reasoning.
    I believe that what we do in, and with our bodies, is of great importance. This is because first; we are made in the image and likeness of God, Secondly, Jesus, our Saviour took on flesh (and bone) to become one like us – in all things (but sin).

    I’ve often heard people argue that it’s not important how we dress for Sunday mass; that Jesus looks at the “heart” and not the externals. Really? I argue that the way we dress (for mass) shows just where our heart lies.

    Thank you,Mr. Esolen for another fine article.

    • Tony

      Robbie — I’ve made the point again and again. You would not show up at your brother’s wedding in a T shirt and torn jeans. I have nothing against T shirts and torn jeans. I wear them pretty frequently. Not at weddings, and not at Mass.

      • Tony, let us make an exception for the poor. Where I am from some do not have but one or two changes of clothing and they tend to be quite similar but it is quite moving to see how they try their best to be as neat as possible even with pieces of clothing that in more fortunate countries would be considered rags. Some wear shoes if they own a pair. I think in those cases the Lord looks — and delights — in their hearts.

  • michael ortiz

    Amen. Thank you for a wonderful, cogent, heart-felt article.

  • michael ortiz

    I had a similar feeling after reading Nichol’s book. Sadly, the more one knows about liturgy, the heavier the heart in this environment.

  • ScottG

    In the passage you cite from Matthew 5, you notice that Christ is speaking of far weightier matters than which is the proper posture to hold during worship. To equate the laws which Jesus speaks of in this scripture passage to the trivial matters presented in this article as “fight” worthy (as the author implies), now that’s creating a false dichotomy. Continue reading in Matthew and it becomes abundantly clear the types of laws/commands to which Jesus so eloquently refers–killing, adultery, lying… sound familiar? Indeed it should, the law that Christ came to fulfill was the OT Law of Moses, not the trivial laws professed by the Pharisees. He further goes on (in Ch. 6) to rebuke some other hypocritically-prone practices of the day, such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc. In His own words (now that we have the proper context):

    “But take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” (6:1)

    Keep on reading. Jesus’ tone and sentiment remain consistent throughout Matthew and the other gospels as well. Ask any well-seasoned priest about this interpretation, chances are pretty good that he will confirm my above assertions. For that matter just ask Pope Francis (hypothetically of course), we all know what he said about small-minded rules! Ah yes, but some of us are just so afraid of drinking the new wine when there is still plenty of stale old wine laying around!

    • Strife

      What? There are “far weightier matters” than the Liturgical Rubrics of the Consecration of the Body Blood Soul and divinity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass?

      How so?

      And sacred adherence to the details of those rubrics are now Pharisaic “hypocritically-prone practices”?

      Are you serious? How is that even possible?

      Newsflash: The Pharisees did NOT have the Real Presence of God (Body Blood Soul and Divinity) in their worship rituals….did they?

      Well no. No they did NOT.

      So HOW exactly did reverence for the Sacredness of Christ’s Real Presence become tantamount to the purely ritualistic ceremonial laws professed by the Pharisees for the sake of their own personal empowerment? How is that even possible? Especially since the reverence for the Holy Eucharist is entirely an act of sacrificial surrender of humility on our part?

      Riddle that for me. Explain to me how Sacred Reverrence for Christ’s Real Prescence can ever be Pharisaic in any sense of the word.

      After all, we are required to BRING our OWN sacrifice to the table too, you know. Or did you even know that?

      Well, no. You obviously didn’t know that.

      You obviously must think that the premise of this complaint had some moral merit:

      “Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.” Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me. In pouring this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her.” – Matthew 26:6-13

      Oh but wait. Does our treatment of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass really even matter at all when there are “weightier matters” in the world?

      By your small standards – why should we show ANY reverence for it at all?

      Why shouldn’t we just mumble some words (if any), give some high-fives to one another, slap each other on the back, and then let everyone (Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, Druid, Sun-Worshiper, Satanist, whatever) pass around a plate of Ritz Crackers and Cheese for the sake of “weightier matters”? Because, all that really matters is that we care about “weightier matters” ….right?

      Yeah, why not that?

      Well Paul certainly has some thoughts on it:

      “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” – 1 Corinthians 11:27-32

      See how pharisaic Paul is?

      Now, can you name one thing for me that is more important (or “weightier”) than the Real Presence (Body Blood Soul and Divinity) of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist?

      Name one. And explain exactly HOW it is “weightier” than the Source and the Summit of The Bride of Christ.

      Again, you are definitely creating a false dichotomy here when you make the flawed distinction between “far weightier matters” and the the Most Important Matter of All (The Real Presence of Christ). Because ALL of those Laws are Embodied in the Living Word of the New and Everlasting Covenant of the Real Presence of The Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Living Savior, The Lord Jesus Christ.

      Now either you believe that immutable Moral Priority – or you do not.

      And if you do not – then why are you even in the Catholic Church in the first place?

      • ScottG

        Yes Strife I am very serious. There are “far weightier matters” than the Liturgical Rubrics of the Consecration of the Body Blood Soul and divinity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. You don’t have to take my word for it, simply read and mediate on the sacred scriptures and it is plain to see how/where/why our Blessed Lord and Savior would like us to expend our time and effort. Do you really think He is pleased to know that you and I are bickering about when to kneel or stand during mass? (In my defense, I’m not bickering about which is the correct posture… I’m simply saying it is not our place to judge the hearts of our Christian brethren, nor is it fruitful for us to “fight” about it.)

        See my longer comment below to get a better flavor about what I’m saying. The devotion to the law letter, as you and others proposed, is to stay mired in “fleshly” OT law when Christ clearly came to liberate us from this type of worldly bondage. He gave us new “spiritual” wine to drink! John 18:36 provides ample evidence to support this:

        Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

        The liturgical format to which we are accustomed is a man-made construct in our quest to honor and worship the risen Lord, in essence, to commune with him. I’m not saying it’s a bad construct, on the contrary I’m sure it was done with intentions both noble and reverent. But clearly the meaning is lost when we elevate the strict adherence to man-made constructs (to the point we judge and condemn others who favor a more spiritual approach), equal to or ABOVE (seemingly??) Christ’s two greatest commands.

        I used to think and behave in a fashion similar to that which you profess, equivocating and judging the actions of others, but in doing so something always seemed amiss. It is clear to me now that “ALL of those [flesh-laden] Laws” are NOT what the “New and Everlasting Covenant” is about. As I said, the “fullness of the law” that Jesus spoke about stressed the immutable need for us to keep HIS commands (not our own or those of Rome), including the paramount ones about “not judging” and “loving thy neighbor” that some of us find so difficult, if not impossible. That’s all I will say on this topic for now.

        May His peace be with you this most wonderful time of the year!

        • Strife

          The devotion to the law letter, as you and others proposed, is to stay mired in “fleshly” OT law when Christ clearly came to liberate us from this type of worldly bondage. He gave us new “spiritual” wine to drink!

          John 18:36 provides ample evidence to support this

          Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

          Again you’re missing the point. Christ Himself IS the Letter of the Law.. IN THE FLESH.

          That is the salient point that you are missing here. ALL of the Law is absolutely meaningless if it is not embodied fully in the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of the Holy Eucharist.

          We are NOT talking about this world. We are talking about Christ Himself IN THE FLESH. He IS the Kingdom of Heaven.

          But clearly the meaning is lost when we elevate the strict adherence to man-made constructs (to the point we judge and condemn others who favor a more spiritual approach), equal to or ABOVE (seemingly??) Christ’s two
          greatest commands

          Then why stop there? Why have ANY rubrics or even any Liturgy at all?

          Please, explain that for me. And then explain why we shouldn’t simply eliminate the entire premise of Liturgy.

          And Christ (and the Scriptures in whole) never command us to simply “not judge”. Quite the contrary, in fact.

          Christ commanded proper judgement: ie we should not judge the heart of another. We should not condemn someone’s ultimate fate. And we should not judge from a hypocritical heart. But we MUST judge immoral actions. THAT is what Scripture actually says. That is the true spiritual nature of Fraternal Correction. Our Lord says that we must first remove the hypocrisy from our own heart…. and then we must “help our brother remove the speck from his eye”. But tell me, how do you help your brother remove sin from his life, unless you’re using your God-Given discernment to JUDGE sinful behavior in the first place?

          Riddle that contradiction for me.

          But just stop and look at your words here. YOU are passing judgement on other peoples’ hearts and motives when they defend the rubrics of the Mass….no?

          Well of course you are.

          So you see, your spiritual premise is deeply flawed because it is hypocritically self-defeating.

          The act of reprimanding someone to “not pass judgement” IS a judgement in and of itself.

          Do you not see the profound self-defeating contradiction in you flawed reasoning?

          “An open mind, like an open mouth, is meant to be closed on something solid. Otherwise it is akin to an open sewer; taking in all things equally.” – G.K.Chesterton

          Behold the depths of the Judgement we are required to discern for Our Lord:

          “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” – Matthew 10:32-33

          “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’” – Matthew 10:34-36

          • ScottG

            Strife, let’s just agree to disagree here. I believe I have clearly demonstrated the danger of your legalistic (and egotistic) form of worship. I have repeatedly emphasized the life-giving spirit that our Blessed Savior offers us in the new covenant, but you continue to insist that I miss the mark because I won’t swill down the stale old wine.

            I say egotistical because it seems you want to play the role of Christ by judging the “immoral actions,” even while you sit (or stand or kneel) in your pew alongside your fellow brethren. Do you really want to brand the hearty backslappers as immoral? That is the danger of a theological mindset that is steeped in legalism. It subverts the primacy of the gospel message and serves as a distraction to the plain and simple folks (like myself) who might be truly seeking the heart of Christ but have great difficulty navigating through the myriad of SELF-imposed rules and pious postures.

            I will repeat what I said above concerning the “fullness of the law” about which Jesus spoke. The weightier matters to which He refers in Matthew are clearly spelled out. He redirects our attention on the OT commandments and then goes on to add a couple more New Covenant laws with UNMISTAKABLE emphasis on love of God and neighbor. We should not take these new commands lightly, nor should we alter or subvert them to other laws or for self righteousness sake. His fulfillment of the OT law now accomplished, we can (and should) focus on the new covenant love of God and neighbor and leave the judging to God. It is completely liberating to do this and it frees our minds and hearts to carry out His mission during our short time in this life. Praise our wonderful Lord and Savior for His sacrifice!

            As Pope Francis has said, “who am I to judge?” I have mentioned the Pope’s openness to “new” dialogue a couple of times but you have not addressed this. Do you think he is sipping that dreaded new wine? And do you believe his penchant for emphasizing love and forgiveness is somehow in error?

            Finally, and regrettably, I notice that nowhere in your many posts do you invoke the supreme love of Christ or His Holy Spirit. Your posts however are rife with insistence on liturgical rules and pious postures. I’m not saying these things don’t matter or have no place, but shouldn’t the outpouring of our faith be a reflection of the indwelling love of Christ? Once again, what was Jesus’ emphasis, and how do we display this in a broken world in desperate need of Christ’s redemptive qualities?

          • Strife

            Do you not see the hypocrisy in your own judgement here?

            I’m judging irreverent actions. That is completely Scriptural. Physical actions display a certain amount of their own morality. We know certain actions in and of themselves are sinful, or intrinsically evil. For instance, abortion, and homosexual acts are always wrong. Always. No exceptions. Period. End of story. If we love someone, we would warn them of their sinful actions. That’s Fraternal Correction.

            However, you’re judging other peoples hearts and ultimate motives. That is actually condemned by Scripture. You assume that my criticisms (and others) of these irreverent actions are from our own personal feelings of egotistical superiority. They are not. Do you presume to know my heart and motives better than me?

            How can worship and adoration of the Living Law be too legalistic?

            And none of your so-called “weightier matters” have Spritual significance over the absolutely Real Presence of the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord ….. do they?

            Do they?

            You mention love of God and neighbor, but how can you truly love your neighbor unless you truly love God first?

            And how can you truly love God when you are unwilling to demonstrate full reverence for him in your actions?

            But more to the point: Why in the world do you see any conflict to Eucharistic reverence and the love of God and neighbor? That’s an amazingly unreasonable dichotomy you’ve created.

            And you go back to the Pope’s reckless and misconstrued statement of “Who am I to judge?”

            But tell me the context of that statement. He clearly stated that he was referring to people with same-sex attraction who were seeking a devout and chaste life of Christianity. He has also stated numerous times in his life that an active homosexual life is completely immoral and wrong. But then, no pope can ever change that immutable Truth of Natural Law. No man has that power. Not even the pope. And Scripture itself gives no such exception. We are called to love the sinner, and hate the sin. This is a timeless truth of Christ Himself. When Christ talks about “new wine-skins”, He’s referring to our New Life of contrition and redemption when we *turn away from our sins*. After all, The Lord came to save us. But save us from what? Well, to save us from OURSELVES of course. To save us from OUR SINS. Because our SINS are the very things that can condemn us to h#ll.

            On last thing, when you cite rigorous practices you’re missing the distinction in Christ’s meaning. He is referring to the purely *ceremonial rituals* that enabled the Pharisees to garnish status. But the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass IS NOT merely a ceremonial ritual. It is a REAL Sacrifice that results in the most extraordinary thing ever imaginable in all of human creation: THE REAL physical presence of God Himself. So again, how is it even possible to be too reverent and devout in worshiping God’s physical presence before us?

            Tell me, do you actually believe that Christ is Truly physically Present in the Eucharist? Body Blood Soul and Divinity?

            And again, without that realization – what do all those other so-called “weightier” issues even matter?

            As a theoretical argument: If you HAD to choose between the Eucharist and social justice issues – which would you choose?

  • ScottG

    I’m not sure I get your point but I will pose a question that I’m sure will illuminate your intended meaning: Are you judging the spirit of the hearty backslappers because this posture does not line up with your (self) righteous rules? Please read Matthew 5 and 6 and see my comments above.

    • chiari dy-liacco

      Scott, I suspect that what you are not able to truly understand about the article is the point about the need for humility, as in this quote: ‘“Unless you accept the kingdom of God as a little child,” says Jesus, “you shall not enter.” The lintel to that kingdom is low. We must be emptied of ourselves to be filled with God.’

      If we are intending to worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, there are postures we must take which conform to this intention. Hearty backslapping while awaiting communion does not show any such intent. I suspect that this point about taking the posture of humility before the True Presence is what you don’t understand mostly because of your boast: ‘I’m much more a follower of Christ than prescribed Roman law and tradition any day of the week!’ Which is striking, because when you boast in this way, are you not violating what you yourself quote from Matthew? You do not do these things in order to display your own righteousness before others, and yet you are doing just that… on top of that, you call others with whom you are in discussion as self-righteous.

      The issue with the way the liturgy is celebrated is the pervading sense of self-congratulation (as for instance, in what new guy observes), and profound self-satisfaction. Whereas the sense at mass really should be the realization that we are not worthy to be before God, and having intense gratitude that he comes to us anyway! And so we receive Christ humbly, seeking to die to ourselves and to become transformed into his likeness. I did not get these insights while at back-slapping, self-congratulatory masses, but only in the reverent ones which are so hard to come by lately. We are not judging the back-slappers as you are so ready to accuse, rather, we are judging the way the mass is said. If the mass were said with emphasis on reverence and sanctity, I suspect the back-slappers may yet receive a more profound experience of Christ at mass. This is my prayer. Good day to you.

      • ScottG

        Your choice of pronouns speaks volumes about your “insights.” Who is this “we” you speak of? I make a point to be reverent during Eucharist but I have no problem with the hearty backslappers either. The new covenant is all about loving thy neighbor, that is irrefutable providing one has a proper understanding of the true gospel message. In that sense the HBs (I think we coined a new term here:) are following Jesus’ command, to the very letter of the law I might add provided said greeting is done with genuine love and compassion for his fellow man.

        Nonetheless you and yours continue to place a greater emphasis on the type of public piety that Jesus repeatedly condemns, and you add further insult to injury by judging those who take the Almighty Father’s greatest command to heart. It’s fine to defend a position you agree with, but in doing so you reveal a strong bias to the old school, legalistic tradition that has plagued the RCC since Constantine married church with state and forever altered the basic “rule of faith” to which the early church fathers unanimously adhered. But that is a discussion for another time, perhaps.

        In what sense do you consider my statement about calling myself “more a follower of Christ than prescribed Roman tradition” a boast? I call it a fact and it serves as a testament to my catholic faith which is modeled after Christ, handed down through the apostles and early church fathers. Not the power hungry empire that Constantine and his successors sought to preserve. The grave mistake the Romans made was to “add” to the catholic and apostolic rule of faith, and that is how we ended up with doctrine and dogma steeped in legalism yet short on love, compassion and forgiveness. The former is spirit killing (old covenant, old wine), the latter spirit giving (new covenant, new wine).

        I will admit that my comment was a little snarky, due to the fact that I sincerely lament the church’s right-wing resistance to drink of the new wine as Christ has admonished us to do. Instead, the “traditionalists” appear hopelessly fixated on the same egocentric self righteousness that does more harm in Christ’s name than good. I am humble but I am not afraid to proclaim the gospel and point out hypocrisy, as Christ did so Himself. So yes, I did imply that Newguy’s remark was self righteous, but only because I believe his statement was contrary to Christ’s commands to “judge not” and to “not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so others may see them.” (Matthew 6:5)

        The gospels are full of parables that support my above-noted interpretation and I grow weary when others can’t see what is so obvious to me, that which has proven so fruitful and transformative in my own life. I want others to know and experience the unfailing love of Christ, not one that is filtered through the shady lens of a distant church with an even shadier past. As before, I’m not boasting of this revelation, rather it is reflective of my efforts to honor the teachings of Christ above the ever-evolving teachings of Rome. (Let’s be honest here, they certainly have evolved over the centuries, and not as a result of the Holy Spirit, unfortunately. When it comes to the catholic rule of faith, remember, to add is to err.)

        You will likely not agree with much that I have to say, but clearly this is the direction in which the catholic church is headed. It will take some time and it won’t be easy, but it is the only way she will survive. You can choose to ignore what Pope Francis is saying, and you can ignore your church elders and elder priests. But to do so is to risk a deeper division in the body of Christ, the real potential for another schism is on the horizon.

        If you have taken the time to read this and care to reflect on it, I ask you why not drink the holy, sweet, blessed new wine and “err” on the side of Christ and His universal gospel teachings? Does the old wine really taste that much better to you? A better question, perhaps, which Is more reflective of His life and the example He left for us to follow?

    • Strife

      If you truly believe that Christ is PHYSICALLY PRESENT in the Eucharist (and I don’t know that you do) then why on earth would you NOT display as much Reverence as possible?

      If it were practically possible – would you not fall prostrate on your face?

      What other than your own personal pride would keep you from doing so before Our Blessed Lord God?

    • newguy40

      Is there so little value to holy sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence that attention, posture, dress and respect for the King of King’s is acceptable?

      Christ deserves our best in everything. Otherwise, wouldn’t he be satisfied with the precious blood in a paper or plastic cup? Or, his precious body kept in a shoe box instead of a tabernacle made of precious metal?

  • Jim Mara

    How do we lovers of the destroyed liturgy fight back? We need a pope with the insight of Anthony Esolen.



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