Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bow, bow to the GIRM-Oz

Where's John L. Allen Jnr when you need him, eh? While the Yanks got a blow by blow account on the net of the goings on at the USCBC meeting in October complete with interviews, background discussion and general gossip, we had to wait for a rather less than inspiring three page roundup of the November 2007 Plenary Meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, completely sans any interesting commentary.

For instance, I would have liked to have been in the press gallery when "that petition" was tabled. I know that at least one Australian bishop had threatened to walk out if that happened. I wonder if he did? And if anyone else joined him in this protest? Alas, until we get something akin to a press gallery at the plenaries, we will never know such juicy details.

But in any case, the report does have some interesting details.

For eg., at Pentecost, the new GIRM (General Instruction on the Roman Missal)--Australian version--will come into force. We are told that this will result in a mere two changes for the Australian layman (and woman etc):
The first change relates to posture. At present when the priest invites the people to pray at the Preparation of the Gifts the congregation remains seated until...the Prayer over the Gifts.

From Pentecost Sunday next year the congregation will be asked to STAND when the priest invites the congregation to pray, “Pray brethren...”.

The second change relates to a Gesture. The Australian edition of the GIRM says: “When approaching to receive Holy Communion, the faithful bow in reverence of the Mystery that they are to receive” (GIRM 160).

The communicant might [might?? Do you mean there is a choice on how we interpret this instruction?] bow just before receiving Holy Communion or perhaps while the person in front of them is receiving Holy Communion. Such a bow can be done simply, without disrupting the flow of the Communion Procession which is a most important ritual act in the celebration of the Mass.
The first change is uncontroversial, but I can see an absolute mine-field of problems involved in the second "change". That "might" in the commentary says it all. Exactly how "might" one observe the bow and how might one not?

For instance, the US version of GIRM has at this point the following:
When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister.
From the comment above, it appears that the Australian bishops envisage something more in line with a "profound bow", ie. stopping still, and bending at the waist toward the Eucharist. A mere "bow of the head" could not be expected to "disrupt the flow of the Communion procession."

I can just see Elizabeth Harrington having a field day with this one. What about those who "might" decide to genuflect to the sacrament? Is this forbidden? or is it a licit interpretation of how one "might" observe the instruction to "bow"? Or what if one actually "might" want to kneel to receive communion. Will they be chastised for "disrupting the flow of the Communion procession"?

The US version of GIRM actually includes a note to the effect that:
The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.
Hmm. While on the one hand, this protects the right of the kneelers to receive communion, it actually seems to deny them the right to kneel. I don't know what Papa Benny would think of this. A little too reminiscent of the "Black Rubric", me thinks. And I don't know if I would like to be on the receiving end of that "pastoral catechesis" solution. Seems like a job for Elizabeth...

Nevertheless, the Australian version of this paragraph is perhaps even a little more worrying, as it goes to the bother of including the "pastoral catechesis" in the GIRM-Oz itself:
In Australia standing is the most common posture for receiving Holy Communion. The customary manner of reception is recommended to be followed by all, [and here comes the "pastoral catechesis":] so that Communion may truly be a sign of unity among those who share in the same table of the Lord. When approaching to receive Holy Communion, the faithful bow in reverence of the Mystery that they are to receive.
One could point out that communion is "a sign of unity among those who share in the same table of the Lord" precisely because they ARE all sharing in the same table of the Lord, and NOT because they all do the same thing in the communion line like a bunch of robots. That little addition has the fingerprints of Dr Erlich and co. all over it. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that standing is simply acknowledged as "the most common posture" for reception and that the GIRM simply recommends this be followed by all. Well, we are happy with that. Let it be a recommendation, and not a law for the Liturgy Police to get their knickers in a knot over (sometimes I wonder who the real ritualists are in this arguement).

But why all this hoo-hah? The simple thing is to take a look at the original Latin of the GIRM which should clear the whole matter up. Paragraph 160 carries the simple instruction:
Fideles communicant genuflexi vel stantes, prout Conferentia Episcoporum statuerit. Cum autem stantes communicant, commendatur ut debitam reverentiam, ab iisdem normis statuendam, ante susceptionem Sacramenti faciant.
I make that to mean that the Holy See approves either standing or kneeling to receive communion, according to the statutes determined by the Bishops Conference, but if communion is received standing a "debitum reverentiam" (a "reverance which is due to the sacrament by right") is made before the reception according to the same norms.

Note that no "debitum reverentiam" is required of those who receive communion kneeling--for the simply reason that kneeling to receive is precisely such an act of reverance. So in fact, the "bow" that is required in the new Australian norms should be interpreted as something that is required of those who receive the Eucharist standing (since without such an act of reverence, standing would be an unacceptable posture for reception of communion). Precisely because their action IS a "debitum reverentiam", those whose practice it is to make a a genuflection before reception or to receive the Eucharist kneeling should not be regarded as failing to observe the instruction of the GIRM-Oz.


At Thursday, December 20, 2007 7:08:00 am , Blogger John said...

We bow, and our pastor earnestly requests we bow just before we get to the head of the line, not after. Lest collisions of various appalling sorts occur...

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 8:44:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Something in me asks the question of whether we will see situations here in Australia where people who genefulect or kneel are forbidden communion (as happened on occasion in some US dioceses) because they are not following the "norm".

And why is this easier to imagine than a situation in which a priest or bishop refused communion to those who don't make the "bow" before reception, despite the fact that the "bow" is also mandated in the norms?

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 10:14:00 am , Blogger Peter said...

I and all my family genuflect, usually as the person in front of us is receiving.

It doesn't hold anyone up, it's simple and easy. It would probably be harder for older people to manae, but it seems to be more popular among the young Catholics I know

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 11:10:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have repeatedly felt discouraged to kneel to receive Holy Communion: priests invariably say (aloud for all the others to hear) "C'mon people, let's not kneel, to keep this moving". How would Christ feel?

I would suggest priests encourage all to kneel "as if" there were an altar rail: a much more efficient, let alone, reverant way to do it.

And by the way, when will reception on the toungue again be recommended as the norm?

Maybe we have to wait for the influence of the Extraordinary Form to work its magic...

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 1:00:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

There is an inherant problem with writing liturgical norms for the actions/gestures/postures of the laity.

If you mandate the optimum option (ie. kneeling), there will be those who think you are being excessive--and you run the risk of it being a rule more often broken than kept.

So you lower the bar and mandate something easier (like a bow or a nod of the head), in the hope that more people will follow the rule.

But then in effect you end up outlawing those who are quite happy to go about observing the full optimum option.

Sometimes I think it would be better to simply say what is inappropriate (ie. receiving the Eucharist without offering the debitum reverentiam or "reverance which belongs to it by right"), making some suggestions about how this could be done (eg. kneeling, genuflection, bow etc), and leaving it at that.

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 2:28:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...


A good reflection, but I've always had problems with the notion that any reverence for the Blessed Sacrament could possibly be "excessive".

The question is:

Do I believe My Lord and My God, is present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, or not?

If I do believe, then no act of reverence to Him, Creator of the World and to whom I owe every breath and everything we are, could ever be "excessive".

If I don't believe, then I don't have Catholic faith in the mystery of the Real Presence: so why pretend to?

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 2:32:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

At the Anglican church which I attend with my wife, communion is received, under both species, while kneeling.

This is reverent, but it makes the administration of communion a fairly long-drawn-out process, even though the congregation is typically very small. In my judgment it would simply not be practical in the Catholic church which my wife attends with me, which has reasonable congregations and a typical schedule of masses.

What will work in some situations, therefore, will be impractical in others, or will cause other stresses, e.g. accelerating other parts of the liturgy so that there will be “enough time” to distribute communion.

Consequently some degree of flexibility in the interpretation and application of this norm is desirable.

The same flexibility should accommodate those who wish to kneel, or to genuflect, instead of bowing. They will usually not cause material delays or other problems (and, if there [i]is[/i] a problem, refusing communion should be absolutely the last resort for dealing with it).

I think the “recommendation” language of the Australian GIRM is probably intended to accommodate precisely that flexibility.

I think we should also accept that both kneeling and standing-and-bowing can be attitudes of respect and reverence. After all, we stand for the gospel and, in a non-liturgical context, we stand for the flag, we stand for processions and, gentlemen, do we not all stand when a lady enters the room? (OK, OK, [i]should[/i] we not all stand?) Kneeling is not, I think, a more respectful gesture; just a more old-fashioned gesture of respect.

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 2:45:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I suggest the the "standing can be as reverent as kneeling argument, because I mean it to be" is an overly subjective assessment that is not borne out by the church tradition and the evolution of liturgy from Jewish to Catholic.

I suggest you read Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy on this.

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 2:51:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Now there's progress for you -- instead of synod votes, no common idea of even how to go to Communion, something that among many other things in the Catholic Church everyone knew from his first communion on. Must be some sort of deepening of understanding thing I guess.

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 2:52:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 6:17:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

[i]I suggest the the "standing can be as reverent as kneeling argument, because I mean it to be" is an overly subjective assessment that is not borne out by the church tradition and the evolution of liturgy from Jewish to Catholic.[/i]

That’s not really my argument.

A posture will only indicate reverence if those towards whom the posture is directed, or those who observe the posture, understand that it indicates reverence. There is nothing intrinsic in the posture itself. Thus Jews cover their heads in a holy place, but Christian men uncover their heads. Although the postures are diametrically opposed, they both indicate reverence. And this is not because of the intention or belief of the individual Jew or the individual Christian but because of the conventions of the community. I am a Christian, but when I go into a synagogue, I cover my head, and when I go into a mosque I remove my shoes.

Thus standing will be a reverent posture if the community determines that it is a reverent posture. And, as the examples cited in my previous post show, as both a civil and ecclesiastical community, we have made that determination.

So I think it’s a mistake to think that the GIRM recommends a “less reverent” posture over a “more reverent” one for pragmatic reasons. The reverence or otherwise of the posture is not intrinsic; it is the result of community convention. And the community convention, set by the GIRM, and consistent with other communal standards, is that standing-and-bowing expresses the reverence due to the Eucharistic elements at the moment of reception, which is a pretty high degree of reverence, wouldn’t you say?

[i]I suggest you read Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy on this.[/i]

Thank you. I will.

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 6:30:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Gee, and I though the individual Jew covered his head, as a slave would do, out of his belief that he attempts to live in full submission to the Law of God, whereas the individual Christian does not cover his head, as a free man would do, out of his belief than in Christ he has the freedom of the Gospel, being saved from the condemnation of the Law none can fulfil by the merit of the Death and Resurrection of the One who did.

My bad. Nothing intrinsic here, just community convention. Welcome to the Revolution.

At Thursday, December 20, 2007 7:19:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

There [i]is[/i] nothing intrinsic there. Why should covering one's head be a mark of submission, and uncovering it be a mark of freedom?

Why, for that matter, should a Christian woman, equally freed by the sacrifice of Christ, cover her head?

And, even if we explore and understand these historic rationales, do the gestures concerned indicate reverence because of the rationales?

What, then, is the position of the Jew or the Christian who is ignorant of why a particular posture came to be considered reverent, but who neverheless knows that it is so considered, and who adopts that posture for that reason?

Yes, in so far as any posture signifies reverence, that signficance is invested in it by teh community - the community which is, remember, the Body of Christ, so a Christian had better pay some attention to it.

At Friday, December 21, 2007 3:03:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Well said, Wanderer!

You are a true son of the church. This is the thinking I was taught since the 1960s myself, wherein an institution can say and/or do one thing at one time, and another, even its opposite, at another, and have it be the same thing because all truth is derived from the community.

John Paul II, Jean Paul Sartre: community precedes essence.

The Roman Catholic Church believes in nothing but itself.

Welcome to the Revolution.

At Friday, December 21, 2007 4:14:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Do not distort what I am saying. I have not said that all truth derives from the community; merely that this particular truth (whether any given posture signifies reverence) does. And that seems incontrovertible to me.

At Friday, December 21, 2007 5:20:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

For the cat's sake.

I do not say you said all truth derives from the community. I said your take on this particular issue takes its place well in the context of the thinking the Catholic Church taught me beginning in the 1960s regarding everything. The Sartre paraphrase "community precedes essence" is aimed at that mindset, not your take.

Came the Revolution, and it was explained to us in our local parish that while we could continue to genuflect if we wanted to, the gesture actually derives from the obedience shown by a mediaeval subject to his lord -- which it does -- and as such is irrelevant to the modern world, in which a bow is more appropriate as an expression of the same reverence. And emphasises the presence in the host at the expense of his presence in the community and in ourselves.

Functionally, the bow became a sign of those who get it and are with it as opposed to those who don't and aren't.

Derive is not originate.

The best solution? Don't go to a Catholic church.


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