Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Part 4: US Bishops on GIRM 160; Vatican Reiterates "no denial of Communion"

It has been some time since I wrote the last post in this series - Part 3 (link at bottom). With the release of Summorum Pontificum, along with far less time to write of late, I had an unintended suspension of this series.

In part 3 we examined a letter from the CDW's prefect at the time, Cardinal Medina Estevez, in which he accepted a provision submitted by the diocese of the United States which made standing for Holy Communion the norm. It was accepted on condition that Communion not be denied and that a clause be added, "to protect those faithful who will inevitably be led by their own sensibilities to kneel from imprudent action by priests, deacons or lay ministers in particular, or from being refused Holy Communion for such a reason as happens on occasion."

The USCCB in it's July 2002 newsletter published the following:


It should be noted that the General Instruction o the Roman Missal assigns to Conferences of Bishops the decision as to whether the faithful should stand or kneel at the time of reception of Holy Communion. (no. 43 §2) The Bishops of the United States have decided that the normative posture for receiving Holy Communion should be standing.

Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States of America unless the bishop of a particular diocese has derogated from this norm in an individual and extraordinary circumstance.

The provision which follows this section is provided for those extraordinary circumstances when a communicant acts in contradiction to the decision of the bishops. Under no circumstances may a person be denied Holy Communion merely because he or she has refused to stand to receive Holy Communion. Rather, in such instances, the priest is obliged to provide additional catechesis so that the communicant might better understand the reason for the Bishops' decision to choose standing as the normative posture for receiving Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States of America.

What is interesting here is that a clause is added as Cardinal Estevez wanted, but left priests in a rather precarious position: What to do after that "additional catechesis" if the communicant persists in kneeling. We will get to that in the second of two protocols issued by the Holy See (below).

Furthermore, prudence would suggest that a priest not try to catechize someone in such a way as to make a scene. Rather, whenever "instruction" takes place, prudence dictates that it be done in private so that the dignity of the individual may be retained.

In this link at Our Lady's Warriors, is a string of four letters out of the Holy See - essentially the heart of communications on this whole issue.

First comes Prot. n. 1322/02/L on July 1, 2002

You can get the whole thing by clicking that link above - I'll summarize and extract below:

In the first paragraph:

  • Cardinal Estevez expresses alarm over receipt of many letters within a particular diocese indicating people are being refused Holy Communion because they kneel.
  • The Cardinal asks the bishop to investigate.

The second through fourth paragraphs are worth posting in full (my emphases in bold, and comments in red):

The Congregation in fact is concerned at the number of similar complaints that it has received in recent months from various places, and considers any refusal of Holy Communion to a member of the faithful on the basis of his or her kneeling posture to be a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful, namely that of being assisted by their Pastors by means of the Sacraments (Codex Iuris Canonici, canon 213). In view of the law that "sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them" (canon 843 ß 1), there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for Holy Communion at Mass, except in cases presenting a danger of grave scandal to other believers arising out of the person's unrepented public sin or obstinate heresy or schism, publicly professed or declared [While politicians who openly advocate or support abortion freely receive Communion in most cases, some who kneel were being denied on that basis - go figure!]. Even where the Congregation has approved of legislation denoting standing as the posture for Holy Communion, in accordance with the adaptations permitted to the Conferences of Bishops by the Institution Generalis Missalis Romani n. 160, paragraph 2, it has done so with the stipulation that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds.

In fact, as His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [now, Pope Benedict XVI] has recently emphasized, the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species.

Given the importance of this matter, the Congregation would request that Your Excellency inquire specifically whether this priest in fact has a regular practice of refusing Holy Communion to any member of the faithful in the circumstances described above and - if the complaint is verified - that you also firmly instruct him and any other priests who may have had such a practice to refrain from acting thus in the future. Priests should understand that the Congregation will regard future complaints of this nature with great seriousness, and if they are verified, it intends to seek disciplinary action consonant with the gravity of the pastoral abuse.

It doesn't get much stronger than that. Not only should priests not deny Holy Communion to someone who kneels, but if they do, they will be disciplined.

At the same time, and with the same protocol number, a letter was sent to the individual whose letter served as the straw which broke the camel's back (recall the Vatican was receiving many such letters). Here, and this is important, Msgr Mario Marini explains that it is not only a right, but in some cases a duty, to take things up the chain.

It is troubling that you seem to express some reservations about both the propriety and the usefulness of addressing the Holy See regarding this matter. Canon 212 ß 2 of the Code of Canon Law states that "Christ's faithful are totally free to make known their needs, especially their spiritual ones, and their desire: to the Pastor of the Church". The canon then continues in ß 3: "According to their own knowledge competence and position, they have the right, and indeed sometimes the duty, to present to the sacred Pastor; their opinions regarding those things that pertain to the good of the Church".... Accordingly, in consideration of the nature of the problem and the relative likelihood that it might or might not be resolved on the local level, every member of the faithful has the right of recourse to the Roman Pontiff either personally or by means of the Dicasteries or Tribunals of the Roman Curia.

Then, Msgr Marini reiterates the heart of what was said to the bishop who received the letter from Cardinal Medina Estevez.

Are Kneeling Communicants in the US Disobedient?
Now comes the most confusing and hotly debated point I've encountered. Knowing full well how the more traditional and orthodox Catholics look upon obedience, some try to paint those who kneel as "disobedient" when they persist in kneeling following Catechesis. This is addressed in Prot. n. 47/03/L dated February 26, 2003 in the same link:

As the authority by virtue of whose recognitio the norm in question has attained the force of law, this Dicastery is competent to specify the manner in which the norm is to be understood for the sake of a proper application. Having received more than a few letters regarding this matter from different locations in the United States of America, the Congregation wishes to ensure that its position on the matter is clear.

To this end, it is perhaps useful to respond to your inquiry by repeating the content of a letter that the Congregation recently addressed to a Bishop in the United States of America from whose Diocese a number of pertinent letters had been received. The letter states: "... while this Congregation gave the recognitio to the norm desired by the Bishops' Conference of your country that people stand for Holy Communion, this was done on the condition that communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. Indeed, the faithful should not be imposed upon nor accused of disobedience and of acting illicitly when they kneel to receive Holy Communion".
Hence, even after providing the so-called "catechesis" on kneeling, those who persist in kneeling cannot be considered disobedient. If there is any disobedience going on it is on the part of those who persist in making an issue of kneeling communicants.

It is also interesting to note that in the BCL Newsletter of 2002 first provided in this post, it calls kneeling an "illicit" posture. Yet, the Holy See, who at the end of the day has jurisdiction to interpret it's own documents for the Church when conflict arises, says communicants are not "acting illicitly" when they kneel.

It has been my experience in debating this extensively in Catholic forums that there are some who simply do not understand that the USCCB does not have the final word. Rather, it is the other way around. The USCCB must submit to the authority of the Church on such matters, including cases like this where at least in the minds of some bishops and priests, wording was unclear. The Vatican clarified it many, many times and it appeared that word was not getting out, or some were choosing to stand by their own interpretation - always wrong and dangerous.

This series is nearing it's end, but it is not done. We will explore some writings by some resources on kneeling, and we will explore whether there are times that even the most steadfast of kneeling people should consider standing for Communion.

Part 1: GIRM 160 (Introductory Post)
Part 2: Holy See clarifies GIRM 160 in November of 2000
Part 2.5: US Adapations to GIRM Approved for Submission
Part 3: Holy See Responds to US Adapations with Suggestions

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