Online Edition – Vol. IX, No. 5: July-August 2003
Holy See: People May Kneel After They Receive Holy Communion
GIRM rules on posture of the faithful should not be "regulated so rigidly"
As the Adoremus mailbags and inboxes show, implementation of the new US General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is proceeding with difficulty in a number of dioceses. Of particular concern to many has been the following passage, which was amended in the "American Adaptations" to the GIRM:
43. The faithful should stand from the beginning of the Entrance chant, or while the priest approaches the altar, until the end of the Collect; for the Alleluia chant before the Gospel; while the Gospel itself is proclaimed; during the Profession of Faith and the Prayer of the Faithful; from the invitation, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren), before the prayer over the offerings until the end of Mass, except at the places indicated below….
[T]hey may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed.
In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.
With a view to a uniformity in gestures and postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow the directions which the deacon, lay minister, or priest gives according to whatever is indicated in the Missal.
Bishops’ Discussion of the Posture Amendment
In March 2003, the Adoremus Bulletin published a transcript of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) discussion on the amendment during their June 2001 meeting that concerned the customary period of kneeling right after receiving Communion. A review of this section of the transcript shows that the bishops’ understanding of what they were voting for was not rigidly restricting people from kneeling.
Archbishop Charles Chaput (Denver) asked for clarification on an amendment proposed by Bishop Edward Clark (Aux. Los Angeles) that after reception of Communion all are to remain standing until the last person has received.
Archbishop Chaput: It’s not my amendment, it’s Bishop Clark’s. The Committee says it has been accepted, or subsumed into amendment 2, but I don’t think it has been. Because number 2 says, "The faithful may kneel or sit during the period of religious silence after Communion".
And Bishop Clark is suggesting that no one sit or kneel till everyone receives, so it really isn’t — I mean it’s kind of ignoring the question, and for clarity I would just ask, why does the Committee think it really is answering his question with the wording of number 2?
Archbishop Lipscomb: Well, I [reads] "They may kneel or sit following the reception of Holy Communion", and instead say: "They should sit during the readings before the Gospel", and so forth, "and if this seems helpful, they may sit or kneel during the period of religious silence after Communion".
Archbishop Chaput: And what Bishop Clark is suggesting is that nobody sit or kneel until everybody receives; and then they can. So they’re not really the same issue it seems.
Archbishop Lipscomb: Well, again, if that was the bishop’s intention I don’t think we would accept that as practice for the United States — until everybody goes to Communion then you either sit or kneel, that everybody remains standing until then. I just don’t think that follows the practice of most of our churches in the United States.
Archbishop Chaput: See, I agree with you, but I thought this was confusing so I was just asking for a clarification. So the period of silence can begin as soon as you receive, if you want to go back and sit down, or kneel.
Archbishop Lipscomb: You can sit down, or you can kneel — or you can stand. That’s included previously.
We thought the bishop’s point was about standing: that they be permitted to stand. And the standing is permitted in the preceding paragraph where it deals with posture, and standing is the general rule for the universal Church.
Confusion Persists, Deepens
The bishops’ conversation reveals the intention to continue to allow the traditional posture (i.e., kneeling) for the period following Communion. But this did not dispel the confusion.
We have received letters, phone calls and e-mails from dioceses throughout the country, where the faithful have been firmly instructed that they are required to stand after receiving Communion until after all communicants have received. Only then may they kneel or sit.
This confusion has been intensified by some influential writers, for example, Father Lawrence Mick, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and columnist on topics related to the Liturgy.
In an article for a widely circulated leaflet, Catholic Update, "Changes in the Mass: The New General Instruction" (St. Anthony Messenger Press), Father Mick wrote:
Another dimension of the Communion rite is not new to the General Instruction, but it has often been ignored in practice. The ritual indicates that the assembly is to remain standing throughout the Communion procession. Once everyone has received, then all sit (or kneel, if that is parish policy) together for the time of silence….
Maintaining a common posture while the whole assembly shares in Communion expresses with our bodies the unity that Communion creates among us…. These changes in the Communion rite provide a balance in our awareness of the Body of Christ. (Emphasis added.)
The July 2003 Newsletter of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) noted the "controversy … over the proper posture of the faithful at Mass after receiving Holy Communion.
"In several dioceses people have been instructed that they must stand until the last person has received Communion, despite the long-standing custom that people knelt during the distribution of Communion".
"Numerous inquiries" received by the BCL led Cardinal Francis George, chairman of the BCL, to submit a dubium (doubt, question) to the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) on May 26, 2003:
Dubium: In many places, the faithful are accustomed to kneeling or sitting in personal prayer upon returning to their places after having individually received Holy Communion during Mass. Is it the intention of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, to forbid this practice?
Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the CDW, responded to the question on June 5, 2003 (Prot. N. 855/03/L):
Responsum: Negative, et ad mensum [No, for this reason]. The mens [reasoning] is that the prescription of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, no. 43, is intended, on the one hand, to ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of Holy Mass, and on the other, to not regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free.
The BCL Newsletter continues: "In the implementation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore, posture should not be regulated so rigidly as to forbid individual communicants from kneeling or sitting when returning from having received Holy Communion" (p. 26. emphasis added.)
Earlier, the CDW had reaffirmed kneeling after the Ecce Agnus Dei [Behold, the Lamb of God] when it amended the relevant paragraph (no. 43) of the GIRM for the universal Church by adding the following clarifying sentence:
Where it is the custom that the people remain kneeling from the end of the Sanctus until the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, and before Communion when the priest says Ecce Agnus Dei, this is laudably retained. [See AB March 2003, p. 4 sidebar.]
This sentence does not appear in the GIRM as adapted for the United States, however, since this period of kneeling is explicitly affirmed in the US version of no. 43, that is, "unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise".