KNEELING WITH THE MAGI
Falling down they adored Him. What else could they do? Three earthly kings resplendent in their finery confronted by the King of Kings in this crude shack, face to face with their Creator stripped of all and cradled in His mother’s arms, suffering to share their human condition - what could they do but drop to their knees in adoration, thanksgiving and love for such a God as this! And falling down they adored Him. It was fitting and just.
Yet how different it all would have been if the American bishops had imposed their perfidious will on that first Christmas night. The July 2002 issue of their Committee on the Liturgy newsletter, you see, states that kneeling is "not a licit posture for receiving holy Communion." Instead, standing to receive has been foistered on the American faithful as the official norm, with a bow of the head to suffice for recognition of Our Lord and Saviour really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. A quintessentially Modernist ruling – faithless, functional, sterile - it effectively reduces St. Matthew’s account to this: "… they found the child with Mary his mother, and they nodded to him."
John Paul II has famously apologised to the laity for just this sort of scandalous episcopal disregard for the Holy Eucharist and the decidedly unholy damage it has caused. "I would like to ask forgiveness," he wrote in his 1980 Apostolic Letter Dominicae Cenae, "in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers of the Episcopate, for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience, or negligence, and also through the at times partial and one-sided application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament." And he added: "I pray the Lord Jesus that in the future we may avoid in our manner of dealing with this sacred mystery anything which would weaken or disorient in any way the sense of reverence and love that exists in our faithful people."
It was always a forlorn hope; one more papal plea to be treated with contempt like all the others before and since. And so twenty years on we find the same impiety still animating the US episcopate, causing more "scandal and disturbance" through yet another "partial and one-sided" directive destined to further "weaken" and "disorient" the faithful’s "sense of reverence and love" for the Eucharist. A declaration of intent in this regard was flagged a few years ago when Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, a former high-ranking clerocrat in the US bishops’ conference, spoke out against "excessive" devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and issued a directive stamping on Perpetual Adoration because, allegedly, "the focus on the Real Presence in the Eucharist overshadows the presence of Christ in the minister, the Word proclaimed, other sacraments, and the participation of the faithful." More recently, Bishop William Higi has upped the ante, specifying that in his diocese of Lafayette "a person is not to genuflect before receiving." The message is clear: no compromise. Every flickering trace of adoration before the Real Presence is to be snuffed out. As episcopal functionaries from the Committee on the Liturgy proclaim that people ought to "accommodate themselves to the new norms," real shepherds like Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, are now required to issue formal derogations (applicable "in an individual and extraordinary circumstance") just so their faithful can kneel if they prefer.
Meanwhile, despite trite assurances from officialdom that nobody will be denied Communion if they kneel, parishioners across the U.S. are being forced to stand. The routine humiliation of the faithful by priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers is typified by the situation in Southern California where, according to the editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, there are numerous reports of "people being interfered with, told they must stand during the distribution of Communion, stand until everyone has received and refused Communion if they knelt." In the cathedral parish of Fort Worth, Texas, where some parishioners who have never stopped receiving at the altar rail are now press-ganged into standing before they are given Communion, the president of the parish council has complained of what he calls the "posture police, who want to prohibit the faithful from dropping on their knees before God." Just so. A laywoman writes that despite the tiny numbers of faithful who still practice this ancient piety in Arlington, for instance, the priests of that diocese "have been instructed by Bishop Loverde to use the four weeks of Advent to catechize the laity so that kneeling for Communion will finally be stamped out. The bishops' document on standing for Communion is to be force fed to Catholics during our preparation for the coming of Our Lord and Savior at Christmas." Never mind St. Paul’s dictum that "At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow." In Arlington, as elsewhere, there will be no knee-bending before Jesus Himself.
On the one hand, our shepherds routinely disregard the exhortations of the Vicar of Christ, ignore Humanae Vitae and other Church documents, turn a blind eye to flagrant liturgical abuses and encourage, tacitly or actively, all manner of clerical disobedience, sacrilege and blasphemy. On the other they outlaw the commonest Catholic sign of adoration of Almighty God and determine to enforce it. Yet if such monstrous hypocrisy screams to heaven for vengeance, the aforementioned Bishop Higi’s Pharisaical coup de grace will make you want to scream, period. Rubbing handfuls of salt into this gaping, episcopally-inflicted wound, he concluded: "Should a person insist on kneeling for the reception of holy Communion, they clearly will be demonstrating dissent from the mind of the Church." I demur, and respond in kind: "Should any person insist on instituting an award for the most obnoxious, faithless, erroneous and idiotic episcopal comment of the year, I hereby nominate Bishop Higi."
This unconscionable development, increasingly mirrored throughout the West, merely serves to compound unprecedented levels of unbelief in the Real Presence. It underscores the magnitude of the crisis we face and confirms the need to speak out against the smiley-faced hirelings who still dominate our Western episcopates. Truly, they make the worldly ‘prince bishops’ of yore look like theological giants and masters of the spiritual life in comparison. An essential part of our role in ensuring that they and their accomplices do not get away scot-free with their deconstruction of our glorious Faith is to name and shame them, exposing their wickedness to the light of day while allaying the confusion and distress they provoke through clear expositions of Catholic faith and practice (cf. "Standing up for Kneeling" from our December 1998 edition, a superb historical, liturgical and doctrinal refutation of the specious arguments adduced to justify standing). We continue this baptismal duty in the ensuing critiques of the diabolical handiwork of England’s Bishop Declan Lang, Australia’s Bishop Noel Daly and several other prelates.
Amidst all this strife and unavoidable confrontation, however, Christopher Ferrara’s moving testimony which follows is essential reading. Like the parish crib, it humbles us, stripping away the sinful accretions that can obscure our ultimate purpose - to bear witness to the Truth for the salvation of souls. It was for this that the Child "they adored" came into the world. It is for this that Christian Order exists. And it is why, despite episcopal directives to the contrary, we should stand against the Posture Police and kneel with the Magi.