From a reader:
I know this may seem a bit odd, but I was hoping to get your perspective on the U.S. GIRM 160, which states: "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."
There are people, including the popular and much visited website, Catholic Answers who have spoken that kneeling for communion is inappropriate as it goes against the norm in the United States, and that one is disobedient if one still chooses to kneel even after having been "pastorally" corrected as to the proper norm in the country.
Can you provide further clarification according to your knowledge as to whether or not it is "licit" for one to kneel in the U.S. even though it may not be the U.S. norm, and whether or not one is disobedient after being "pastorally" corrected according to U.S. GIRM 160.
Since this veered into the technical, I consulted a canon lawyer before answering. I will adapt his response with my own.
Part of a response must involve what "norm" means. I admit that I use the term "norm" rather loosely when writing and talking, and often morph it into "laws", and vice versa.
A norm is not the same as a law.
The "norm" for the U.S., in accordance with GIRM 160, is that communicants stand when receiving Holy Communion.
One thing we have learned from post-modernists, is also to read a text for what it doesn’t say. GIRM 160 doesn’t say, "In the United States, Holy Communion must be received while standing." That would be a disciplinary liturgical law. It would require a dispensation to do something different (i.e., to kneel).
Rather, GIRM 160 in the USA is a norm. That is to say it points to a normative thing, the usual practice, the custom. In 25 years we can have a discussion on what legal force this custom has, but now is not the time.
What the U.S. bishops did in including this norm, with the approval of the Holy See, is state that the normal manner of receiving Holy Communion, in the United States, is standing. The usual way… it is customary now.
The addition of the second statement (communicants "should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel") shows that the norm is not some sort of enforceable law.
The situation is to be addressed "pastorally", with explanations, catechesis, etc. Once people have been provided with this, if they chose to continue to kneel they are not being disobedient. They do not do something illicit. They have chosen to follow a practice that differs from the norm. That does not violate a law.
Moreover, whereas a Fr. M might go to lengths to explain that the "reasons for the norm" are excellent because, after all, we members of the Resurrection people (whose name is Alleluia) are all grown up now as modern men and women and, no longer cling to out-dated oppressive hierarchical and patriarchal, Eurocentric feudal habits we therefore must stand in self-affirmation, a Fr. Z might describe the "reasons for the norm" otherwise, and add that we miserable sinners know that we are unworthy to approach the ineffable gift won for us in the bloody Sacrifice of Calvary, and, humbly recognizing the need for a Savior, therefore appropriately kneel in the presence of the Almighty GOD.
It’s all a matter of pastoral nuance.
It is not proper to accuse someone who kneels of being disobedient.
One could go into various digressions about whether people who kneel when everyone else is standing are really just drawing attention to themselves. Are they perhaps creating a traffic problem?
My favorite objection, by the way, is "Someone might trip over their legs!"
I will turn this around and argue that, for insurance purposes, there should not be a dangerous chow line approach with the potential of hazardous legs unexpectedly thrown in front of the unsuspecting. Far better, and safer for insurance purposes – as well as charity and common sense – would be to spread out the communicants in a line, say parallel to the edge of the sanctuary, perhaps even where the nave and sanctuary come together. There people could kneel and not be obstacles. Furthermore, again for insurance purposes and charity and common sense, perhaps there could be a low supporting structure along that line across the sanctuary where people might kneel. This low supporting structure could at once have a theological purpose pointing to the area of the nave where the baptized – according to their own dignity – have a place that the priest will not often confuse with his own place, but it could also have a practical purpose, giving older people an aid for kneeling and rising with greater ease.
I don’t know… maybe someone could figure out how that might work, what that low supporting structure might look like, etc. It might need, come to think of it, some sort of gate to permit entrance to the sanctuary.
We have to be practical.