From the gentlemanly Sandro Magister.
I love the opening salvo.
This splendid article reminds me of a story told by a priest friend about a very high American prelate. On visiting his seminary, the prelate noted that no one was kneeling at the appropriate times. He told the rector that he wanted the seminarians to kneel. The rector expostulated that they had just spent a whole bunch of money to redo the chapel. Putting kneelers in would be very expensive. The prelate replied: "Who said anything about kneelers?"
My emphases and comments:
Why Kneel for Communion
Benedict XVI wants it that way, at the Masses he celebrates. But very few bishops and priests are imitating him. Yet this is one reason why churches were given ornate floors. [Interesting.] A guide to the discovery of their significance
by Sandro Magister
ROME, September 13, 2010 – The image [right] is a partial panorama of the immense mosaic that covers the floor of the cathedral of Otranto, on the southeast coast of Italy.
Walking across it from the entrance to the sanctuary, the faithful have as a guide the tree of salvation history, a history that is sacred and profane at once, with episodes from the Old Testament, from the Gospels, from the chronicle of Alexander the Great and the cycle of King Arthur.
The mosaic is from the twelfth century, an era in which the churches had no chairs or pews, and the faithful were able to see the entire floor. Even when they were not adorned with figurative art, the floors of churches incorporated expensive materials and elaborate designs. They were walked upon. Prayed upon. Knelt upon in adoration.
Today kneeling – especially on a bare floor – has fallen into disuse. So much so that Benedict XVI’s desire to give communion to the faithful on the tongue, and kneeling, is cause for amazement. [horribile dictu]
Kneeling for communion is one of the innovations that pope Joseph Ratzinger has introduced when he celebrates the Eucharist.
But rather than an innovation, this is a return to tradition. The others are placing the crucifix at the center of the altar, "so that at the Mass we are all looking at Christ, and not at each other," and the frequent use of Latin "to emphasize the universality of the faith and the continuity of the Church."
In an interview with the English weekly "The Catholic Herald," master of pontifical ceremonies Guido Marini has confirmed that the pope will stick with this style of celebration during his upcoming trip to the United Kingdom.
In particular, Marini has announced that Benedict XVI will recite the entire preface and canon in Latin, while for the other texts of the Mass he will adopt the new English translation that will enter into use in the entire English-speaking world on the first Sunday of Advent in 2011: this because the new translation "is more faithful to the original Latin and of a more elevated style" compared with the current one.
The attraction that the Church of Rome exercised over many illustrious English converts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – from Newman to Chesterton to Benson – was in part the universalism of the Latin liturgy. An attraction to a solid and ancient faith that today is moving many Anglican communities to ask for admission to Catholicism.
The "reform of the reform" attributed to pope Ratzinger in the liturgical field is taking place partly in this way: simply, and with the example given by him when he celebrates.
But among the standard-setting practices of Benedict XVI, the one least understood – so far – is perhaps that of having the faithful kneel for communion.
This is almost never done, in any of the churches all over the world. In part because the communion rails at which one knelt to receive communion have been abandoned or dismantled almost everywhere.
But the sense of church flooring has also been lost. Traditionally, the floors were very ornate precisely in order to act as a foundation and guide to the greatness and profundity of the mysteries celebrated. [Every element of a church should be considered for its potential content. We must avoid merely utilitarian choices.]
Few today realize that these beautiful and expensive floors were also made for the knees of the faithful: a carpet of stones on which to prostrate oneself before the splendor of the divine epiphany.
The following text was written precisely to reawaken this sensibility.
Its author is Monsignor Marco Agostini, an official in the second section of the secretariat of state, assistant master of pontifical ceremonies and a scholar of liturgy and sacred art, already known to the readers of www.chiesa for his enlightening commentary on the "Transfiguration" by Raphael.
The article was published in "L’Osservatore Romano" on August 20, 2010.
KNEELERS OF STONE
by Marco Agostini
It is striking how much care ancient and modern architecture, until the middle of the twentieth century, devoted to the floors in churches. Not only mosaics and frescoes for the walls, but painting in stone, inlaid, marble tapestries for the floors as well.
I am reminded of the variegated "tessellatum" of the basilica of Saint Zeno, or of the floor of Santa Maria in Stelle in Verona, or of the vast, elaborate floors of the basilica of Theodorus in Aquileia, of Saint Mary in Grado, of Saint Mark in Venice, or the mysterious floor in the cathedral of Otranto. The shining, golden cosmatesque "opus tessulare" in the Roman basilicas of Saint Mary Major, Saint John Lateran, Saint Clement, Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, in Cosmedin, in Trastevere, or of the episcopal complex of Tuscania or of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
And then there is the inlaid marble in Santo Stefano Rotondo, San Giorgio al Velabro, Santa Costanza, and Saint Agnes in Rome, and of the basilica of Saint Mark in Venice, of the baptistry of Saint John and of the church of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, or the incomparable "opus sectile" of the cathedral in Siena, or the white, black, and red shield designs in Sant’Anastasia in Verona, or the floor of the grand chapel of Bishop Giberti or of the eighteenth-century chapels of the Madonna del Popolo and of the Sacrament, also in the cathedral of Verona, and, above all, the astonishing and sumptuous stone carpet of the Vatican basilica of Saint Peter.
[Does your church have carpet?]
In reality, careful attention to the floor is not only a Christian concern: there are striking mosaic pavements in the Greek villas of Olynthus or Pella in Macedonia, or in the imperial Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina in Sicily, or those of the villas of Ostia or of the Casa del Fauno in Pompei, or the ornate Nile mosaic of the shrine of Fortuna Primigenia in Palestrina. But also the pavement in "opus sectile" of the senatorial curia in the Roman Forum, the fragments from the basilica of Giunio Basso, also in Rome, or the marble inlays of the "domus" of Cupid and Psyche in Ostia.
Greek and Roman attention to flooring was not evident in the temples, but in the villas, the baths, and the other public places where the family or civil society gathered. The mosaic of Palestrina was also not in a place of worship in the strict sense. The cell of the pagan temple was inhabited only by the statue of the god, and worship took place outside, in front of the temple, around the sacrificial altar. For this reason, the interiors were almost never decorated.
Christian worship is, on the other hand, an interior worship. Instituted in the upper room of the cenacle, decorated with rugs on the second floor of the home of friends, and propagated at first in the intimacy of the domestic hearth, in the "domus ecclesiae," when Christian worship took on a public dimension it turned the home into a church. The basilica of San Martino ai Monti was built on top of a "domus ecclesiae," and it’s not the only one. The churches were never the place of a simulacrum, but the house of God among men, the tabernacle of the real presence of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament, the common home of the Christian family. Even the most humble of Christians, the most poor, as member of the mystical body of Christ which is the Church, in church was at home and was master: he walked on sumptuous flooring, enjoyed the mosaics and frescoes on the walls, the paintings around the altars, smelled the perfume of the incense, heard the joyful music and singing, saw the splendor of the vestments worn for the glory of God, savored the ineffable gift of the Eucharist that was administered to him from golden vessels, moved in procession and felt part of the order that is the soul of the world. [Ineffable!]
The floors of the churches, far from being an ostentatious luxury, in addition to constituting the walking surface had other functions as well. They were certainly not made to be covered up by pews, which were introduced relatively recently with the intention of making the naves of the churches suitable for listening comfortably to long sermons. The floors of the churches were supposed to be fully visible: in their depictions, their geometrical designs, the symbolism of their colors they preserve Christian mystagogy, the processional directions of the liturgy. They are a monument to the foundation, to the roots.
These floors are primarily for those who live and move in the liturgy, they are for those who kneel before the epiphany of Christ. Kneeling is the response to the epiphany given by grace to a single person. The one who has been struck by the brilliance of the vision falls prostrate to the ground, and from there sees more than all around him who have remained standing. They, worshiping, or acknowledging that they are sinners, see reflected in the precious stones, in the golden tiles that were sometimes used in ancient floors, the light of the mystery that shines from the altar, and the greatness of the divine mercy.
To consider that those beautiful floors were made for the knees of the faithful is emotionally moving: a perennial carpet of stones for Christian prayer, for humility; a carpet for rich and poor without distinction, a carpet for pharisees and publicans, but which the latter can appreciate above all.
Today the kneelers have disappeared from many churches, and there is a tendency to remove the communion rails at which one could receive communion while kneeling. And yet in the New Testament, the act of kneeling is present every time the divinity of Christ appears to a man: one thinks of the Magi, of the man born blind, of the anointing in Bethany, of the Magdalene in the garden on the morning of Easter. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]
Jesus himself said to Satan, who wanted to make him kneel wrongfully, that it is only to God that one’s knees must bend. Satan is still forcing the choice between God and power, God and wealth, and is tempting even more profoundly. But in this way glory will not be given to God at all; knees will bend to those whom power has favored, to those to whom the heart has been bound through an act.
A good training exercise to overcome idolatry in life is to return to kneeling at Mass, [OORAH!] which is moreover one of the ways of "actuosa participatio" spoken of by the last council. The practice is also useful to realize the beauty of the floors (at least the older ones) in our churches. Some of them might even bring the urge to remove one’s shoes, as Moses did before God when he spoke to him from the burning bush.