QUAERITUR: An EMHC told us not to kneel and shook her head at us

From a reader:

I have something that has really been bothering me that maybe you could help me with if you find the time.I am not trying to “tattle” or nit pick anything, but I am very uncomfortable with this and not sure if I did the right thing(I am a fairly recent convert). I attended Christmas Eve Mass with my family at the church they usually go to and we had to sit in the front pew as there were quite a few people attending. We knelt during communion, but were told by the EMHC [Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion] to “get up off the floor and sit down because we were in the way“.

Granted there were a lot of people there, but we were very careful to be extremely close to the pew on the floor so as not to be in the way (lest you think we were in the middle of the aisle). We didn’t want to make a scene so we did sit, but once everyone was done walking through the aisle we knelt again because Jesus was not in the tabernacle yet.

The EMHC sighed at us and shook her head. Then after church she told us if she told us to sit we did not have to kneel again after communion. I tried to explain why we had knelt again but she shook her head and walked away.

I am not worried about what the EMCH thinks about it, but if I was disrespectful to the Lord by sitting. What is the right thing to do in that situation?

You were within your right to kneel.   A quick reading of Redemptionis Sacramentum 90 and following confirms this.

Also, it is necessary to be sensitive to your surroundings.  Don’t get in the way if people need to walk where you are.  So, be careful of that.

Still, that EMHC was wayyyyy out of line.  That is not her role.  Her role, which may or may not be truly needed (cf. Ecclesia de mysterio) is to distribute Communion according to the Church’s directives.  Beyond that she can keep her mouth shut and nose out of other people’s prayers.

For the time being, don’t make a scene.

On the other hand, this is not the sort of thing that ought simply to be ignored.

I would write a note to the pastor of the parish, sending a copy to the bishop.

It seems to me that the pastor, if he is sensitive to the gravity of an EMHC doing this, will desire to deal with it quietly.  That is fine.  If you get some note back saying that he agrees with the EMHC, send the note to the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome for their “opportune knowledge”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. S Petersen says:

    This same thing happened to me, except it was the Priest who scolded me and insisted, that as a “canonist” he KNEW that I had no right to kneel in his Church and that he had an unimpeded right to forbid me not only communion, but the Church itself if I persisted. I went to the trouble of writing to Bishop Hurley of Grand Rapids, who replied: “thank-you for your interest” or words to that effect. I then spent $60 sending a packet to the (proper) Congregation in Rome (I can’t keep the name of it in my head–the Congregation had specifically ruled on the point already and I had sent a copy of that “opinion” to the Bishop) and since that time, now over a year ago, have heard nothing. I’m angry about this. It’s lawless and mean-spirited. [Note: This will NOT becoming a discussion of your experience. That said, I suggest you review my tips for writing to Church authorities.]

  2. Seraphic Spouse says:

    I’m so sorry these things happen! Father Andrew Greeley, no traditionalist, observed in one of his many books that a problem has developed where lay people in “ministerial” roles boss other lay people around, to the extent of making up arbitrary rules unbeknownst to their pastor.

  3. Brad says:

    Ten minutes prior to my baptism I was told by my lay RCIA team to not bow at the waist (only to incline my head), to not genuflect, let alone kneel, and to not receive on the tongue.

  4. templariidvm says:

    It’s rather unfortunate that even if the EMHC was truly convinced our writer was “in the way” that they could not have been more charitable about communicating it. It may be that the EMHC had some other “position” in the parish and considers herself to be one of the people who “run” the parish and thus had some type of authority over how things are done. Her comment that said the writer basically ignored her command makes it sound that way. I have seen people like this in parishes, before. They start with a “position” within the parish, then assume authority – unbeknownst to the pastor – and believe themselves to be some type of foreman. Obviously this one is a little confused as to what the real role of an EMHC is.

  5. A couple years back, we had a priest who seemed hellbent to snuff out any individuality in gestures and expressions of reverences at Mass. According to his orders, we were to stand after communion until the celebrant sat. Of course, I and my family will not cause a scene at Mass over something like this – but that doesn’t stop the priest from making a scene. And of course, there were a flock of various church ladies of both genders and various ‘ministries’ to enforce his will.

    You would think a priest should encourage any personal reverences and gestures that aren’t a traffic hazard, especially ones with centuries of tradition behind them.

    A favorite idea from the VII docs – that we’re not in favor of ‘senseless uniformity’ – seems to only cut one way.

  6. A relative of mine once reminded me of a good truth that bears remembering in parish ministry and volunteer work: Adding extra (spelled, personal) rules to the Church’s laws is just as bad as ignoring the one’s she already has.

    Say the black, do the red and let folks go from there. It makes life pretty simple for everybody!

  7. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    From what I can gather, this was not a matter of kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion, but rather kneeling in the pews during the communion rite.

    I believe the reader sat in a front pew without a front “wall” with kneelers. That being said, isn’t there no official posture for the faithful during the communion rite? If you’re in the way, you’re in the way. But we have a right to assume whichever posture best help us focus on those mysteries we just experienced.

    Nevertheless, as Father said, the EMHC was out of line, and not charitable.

  8. cyejbv says:

    Ah kneeling. Our parish is 100% NO & kneeling before receiving Holy Communion is common, but prolonged kneeling after is not done by most, and often when it is done, it’s sign-of-the-cross-now-sit-back-down-in-the-pew.

    I have never seen anyone kneel to RECEIVE Communion, and mea culpa but until this blog, I didn’t even know you were supposed to- or that many prefer it, let me say.

    We (us, our family) kneel until Our Lord is back in the tabernacle, which invariably puts our faces an inch or so away from the back of the head of a parishioner who sits down the second s/he comes back from receiving Holy Communion. I haven’t had any eye rolls from EMHCs, but we’ve come to expect a few irritated chuffs & quick head checks from said parishioners to see who the idiots are breathing down the back of their necks . I wonder what will happen when I take the plunge and kneel for Communion… while wearing a mantilla? :-)

    I sympathize with the reader, I imagine one might feel unintentionally antagonistic to persist, yet disobedient and weird NOT to kneel. This is why I haven’t knelt FOR Holy Communion incidentally. Well, that and I’m chicken. :-(

  9. Maxiemom says:

    Definitely not cool of the EMHC. One thing I was taught was to refer issues to the priest and let him make the decision. That being said, they could have been nicely asked to be seated until the walk was clear to prevent either them or those walking back from Communion from being hurt as it sounds as if extra chairs were provided to allow seating for the C & E’s who take up seats from those of us who attend Mass weekly. But for the EMHC to voice an opinion was just wrong.

    Question Fr. Z – you often suggest that people write their Bishop – in my experience in my parish this is pretty much a waste of time – the letter is never acknowledged with even a form letter, let alone a personal letter or phone call, with the exception of one time. I’d be curious to know what others who have written to the Bishop have received in the the way of a response. [Do it anyway.]

  10. cyejbv says:

    Father Maurer says:
    5 January 2011 at 3:11 pm
    //A relative of mine once reminded me of a good truth that bears remembering in parish ministry and volunteer work: Adding extra (spelled, personal) rules to the Church’s laws is just as bad as ignoring the one’s she already has.//

    This is good! I love it & have never heard it put that way before. Thank you for posting it.

  11. Tom Ryan says:

    Why make a stink? Just stop going to EMHC
    I know Fr. Groeschel likes to castigate line jumpers on his show, but after weeks a standing around for nothing, people like this would get the message..

  12. Bona says:

    It suspect it varies greatly depending upon the Bishop. I am among the many (hundreds, at least) who received a personalized thank-you email for my very brief email note of appreciation to Bishop Slattery of Tulsa for celebrating the anniversary Mass in the Extraordinary Form for Pope Benedict at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last year.

    It would boggle my mind to imagine that he, for instance, would not provide a courteous response to a reasonable and respectful inquiry or even complaint. Self-evidently, each bishop (or those he appoints) call the plays in his Diocese. What sort of action to take is a prudential judgment and even if a constructive conversation were held, the correspondent might never know. So, try to presume good will.

    Pray for our bishops: it is a hard job. Pray especially for the ones who seem weary or ineffective.

  13. TJerome says:

    I think the pastor would be embarrassed by the EMHC treating a non-parishioner (or parishioner) like that, particularly at Christmas. She really displayed the Christmas spirit, all right. I agree that the pastor should be told because he may not know about the highhandedness of “little Miss Bossy.” If she had done that to me, I would have let her have it, after the Mass was over. She’s a bully and if you push back on bullies they generally cave.

  14. Gail F says:

    Re, writing a bishop: I once received a personal email from a bishop in another diocese after I emailed him a note of support for something he said. It was obviously a personal note because he replied to something specific I said. But I also once worked in an office at which the company president’s secretary read everything that came in the mail and only gave the president what he had to respond to. I wonder if some bishops have people who open their mail and throw away all the complaints.

    Sounds like the EMHC was out of line and was in her own way trying to make everything “right.” When my daughter had her first communion, the DRE told all the children that they weren’t to make the sign of the cross afterward, but to keep their hands at their sides and to go back to their pews. I thought this was out of line — what business of hers was it if they made the sign of the cross? You can’t even think that it would get in anyone’s way. Most people around here make the sign of the cross after communion — I have always done so, and I don’t remember who (if anyone) told me to do it. But I guess this is just a local custom because I’ve heard several employees of the Archdiocese talk wonderingly about why anyone would do that. Still, if I want to make the sign of the cross as a gesture of thanksgiving, it seems pretty darn Catholic to me — I don’t see that as being aggressive or over-the-top, which is the only other reason I can think of for opposing it. Anyway, I don’t know if she had any right to say that or whether she just wanted everyone to do it the same way, but I never took it to heart! These people shouldn’t take it to heart either. Just let it go.

  15. patrick_f says:

    This is indicative of a much larger problem. I am willing to bet the laity run that parish, the priest is along for the ride; [You have psychic powers.] if a EMHC had the gual to do something like that – More and more some laity have taken to going past simply doing a service to the church, and to the point of thinking they have some how been psuedo ordained with authority, simply because they get a title…or a cross to wear or are on some board!!! Pray for the strength of priests!

  16. patrick_f says:

    And Line jumping ISNT the answer – There are good and holy people that are EMHCs…wheather they are needed or not is a whole other discussion.

  17. benedetta says:

    I have witnessed places that have only one to three EMHCs but this is not the typical situation in the suburban mega-parish type configuration. But sometimes there is something about the sheer numbers that engenders more distraction. And if the EMHCs are sort of free-ranging and with power in numbers there is more probability I think that this sort of thing occurs. When you have the priest as the one who is clearly celebrating the Mass (not the troop celebrating their special moment behind the altar with the priest) you also have the concentration of accountability in his very presence for what is going on during that time (and also the pastor is the one who can make the case that his flock ought to come to confession and receive worthily and the message is sent thereby that the sacrament is not meaningless).
    I think this is a clear example of a situation where the EMHC is not aware of her role and its legitimate limitations.
    Her readiness to jump in and then amplify her instructions kind of makes me wonder what the training does entail. When I got the smiling routine in response to wanting to receive on the tongue, I would think, and what is so funny exactly? Why not let us all in on the little joke? Lately I have come to see it as part of a continuum of efforts, from the little smile to the more officious EMHC here, all perhaps designed behind the scenes to discourage people generally. And what is the big threat anyway? The EMHC’s, or clergy for that matter, ought not by their body language, gestures, omissions or actual words be transmitting any judgement about people’s choices to kneel especially given the experimentation that has gone on.

  18. MJ says:

    Assuming “line jumping” is moving out of the EMHC’s line into the priest’s communion line, I’m all for “line jumping”. :)

  19. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    I don’t care whether I look like a sore thumb or what an EMHC does or has been trained. Jesus deserves my thoughts and actions at Communion, not everyone around me. Thanks to my newfound knowledge of Inaestiamable Donum, 99% of the time (save the 1% I forget) when I go up to get communion from anyone, I do a 45 degree waist bow before I receive CITH.

    I would say the next time this happens to the pour soul she should also give the EMHC, the pastor, and a bishop a photocopy of that document (1980, approved by JPII) which can be found at Papal Encycicals dot net, with Paragraph 11 highlighted. Basically, you do something reverent even if it’s not kneeling + COTT.

  20. justMe says:

    “Make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. In this way, you will draw peace upon your country.”

    Those are the words from the Angel who visited the children at Fatima, they received Holy Communion on the tongue in the kneeling position. Keep doing what you are doing ( reader ) and when you are kneeling say a prayer for those who are not, one for people who don’t observe a proper fast ( no not an hour, longer, much longer), one for those who don’t believe in the Real Presence, one for those who receive in the hand and finally one for people who distributed the Eucharist whose hands are not consecrated .

    Holy Mother Church has paid dearly for the abuses of the Eucharist instituted by Vat. II, for anyone not familiar with the vision of Pope Leo XIII I urge you to look it up.
    We need a lot more like you in the Church ( reader ). I’m Blessed with having an F.S.S.P. parish within walking distance thanks be to GOD.

  21. MJ says:

    justMe, just a point of clarification: I’m not aware of Vatican II having instituted any “Eucharistic abuses”. If you mean communion in the hand and the removal of the communion rail, those both happened after the Second Vatican Council. Communion in the hand, for instance, began in Holland in the 70’s — 1977 — if I’m not mistaken.

  22. MJ says:

    Also for the record, justMe, the current Church rule for a “proper fast” is one hour (excluding water). Laity may observe a longer fast if they so wish, but it cannot be called “improper” to merely observe the one-hour fast.

    For the record, I’m 10 minutes from our FSSP parish. Deo Gratias!

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    Because of the very profound confusion in the Church, there are plenty of self-deputized laypeople who take it upon themselves to boss people around, even in Mass. And the rules these laypeople try to enforce aren’t even right about 80% of the time. It’s really silly.

    But you can always ignore it. So, they glare. Big deal. What are they going to do about it? Hit you? No. They won’t hit you in public, so ignore them. They’ll get over it, they’ll have to.

  24. justMe says:


    You are right, I stand ( kneel) corrected.

    P.S. Love your blog!

  25. vivaldi says:

    I never recieve Holy Communion from an EMHC. I have never been at a Church where they were necessary and in fact I am disgusted by the practice. I am sure most people wouldn’t mind waiting 5 or 10 extra minutes in prayer while the Priest distrubutes Holy Communion. Or if he really did need help due to the number of people I am sure people wouldn’t mind if he only distributed the Body of our Lord instead.

  26. Charivari Rob says:

    Christo et Ecclesiae: “From what I can gather, this was not a matter of kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion, but rather kneeling in the pews during the communion rite.

    I believe the reader sat in a front pew without a front “wall” with kneelers. “

    I think so as well. That, or extra chairs in front of the first pew, as somebody else said.

    I also think it’s likely that the EMHC was stationed in the cross aisle, as opposed to on the bottom step of the sanctuary. People not receiving from her thread their way around her.

    Rude and not her place to say anything, nonetheless.

  27. patrick_f says:

    I dont have psychic powers..:P that would me “masonic” right ? haha

    and it may seem my assessment is prejudice, but, I come from a diocese that has atleast 2 examples of what happens when people arent reigned in, so I see the tell tale signs. Person has title…person thinks they are the ends all says all, but maybe thats life in general?

    And To clarify – I am not necessarily Pro EMHC…I just think making a production out of it at mass, ie going out of ones way to not go to one, is out of sorts too. I myself have “line jumped”, but I make sure to do it as far back and discretely as possible. Do I prefer the priest? You betcha…. but, if I cannot easily get to the priest or deacon or as the case might be bishop… then I submit to the fact that the EMHC is there. Somewhere along the line, the bishop DID approve the use of that EMHC…even though the numbers that are at a mass arent there.

    I guess my biggest thing is I just wouldnt want to see someone parade it. Traditionalists sometimes tend to get a holier then the pope attitude, and that doesnt help things either.

  28. Christopher Gainey says:

    I was forbidden by my Pastor to receive while kneeling and wrote my bishop who sided with the pastor for reasons of uniformity. We left the parish. I asked the bishop to explain and justify his choice and he did not respond. Last week, after waiting 4 months for a reply from the bishop, I wrote Cardinal Llovera in Rome. Such a silly matter to have to bother about for them. We need to pray for our leaders.

  29. nanetteclaret says:

    Gail F –

    “I wonder if some bishops have people who open their mail and throw away all the complaints.”

    That’s why I made sure to include “I look forward to your reply” in the last sentence of my letter to my Bishop. And I’ll know he got my letter when I see from my bank statement that my check for the Bishop’s Appeal was cashed. :)

  30. nanetteclaret says:

    Christopher Gainey –

    “I was forbidden by my Pastor to receive while kneeling and wrote my bishop who sided with the pastor for reasons of uniformity. ”

    Isn’t it funny that the U.S. bishops are so concerned about “uniformity” when discouraging acts of piety, but are totally unconcerned about “uniformity” with the rest of the world when celebrating one of the oldest Holy Days in the Church? Epiphany is today and the rest of the Catholic world is celebrating it, but are we in the U.S.? No. How many children even know that today is the actual day?

  31. Katherine says:

    I wonder if this was my parish. It almost exactly matches a situation this Christmas Eve.

    The Christmas Eve Mass is packed, pushing the limits of what the church can hold, with folding chairs set up in parts of the church. The front row of pews empties directly into a narrow aisle. A parishioner-firefighter has advised us in the past that while the FD would be reluctant to close a church on Christmas Eve, we need to remember we are a pro-life church and not allow a situation than endangers others. We have lit candles and incense burning and a more than full church including many visitors unfamiliar with fire exits, etc. Kneeling in the front row and blocking the aisle is not allowed. Father is not going to rise out of his chair in the middle of Mass to inform someone of this and he is not going to send some poor 8 year old server. This year when people were doing what the FD told us should not be done, he had a lector/EMHC quietly inform those in the front of our practice.

    If this is the incident the reader writes about, I am sorry she feels our parish was not hospitalble. But as I said, this is a pro-life issue. Our other option is simply after a certain point to tell people at the door that the church is full and to go home. That, of course, would bring its own set of complaints.

  32. AnAmericanMother says:


    If that were the case, surely the EMHC would have said something like, “I’m so sorry, the Fire Marshal doesn’t want anybody kneeling in the front row – it blocks the aisle” just to make sure that nobody thought she was fussing at them for the fact of kneeling. And I doubt she would have sighed, offered no explanation when the correspondent spoke to her later, or walked away during an attempt to explain.

    I’m a busybody lady of a certain age with no nerves at all, so one of my jobs at Easter and Christmas is to shoo people out of the middle of the choir loft when they just walk in and plop down. But there’s shooing and there’s shooing — I’m always very apologetic and offer a neutral explanation – “I’m so sorry, but we can’t hear each other/see the director/all fit in here if there are folks in the middle of the choir” – if they don’t look too harried or upset I’ll joke with them a little, “It’ll be really noisy in here too” just to put them at ease. When they apologize (they almost always do) I assure them that there was no way for them to know, and we really ought to put ropes up or something to give them a way to know (we have velvet ropes for weddings but they’re always downstairs . . . )

    If I were instructed by the pastor to tell folks not to kneel in a fire aisle I would make very sure that I did so courteously, kindly, and with an explanation. And I would listen courteously to anything they wanted to tell me afterwards. You know that any time you have to correct somebody in the middle of Mass it is going to upset and embarrass them.

  33. Katherine says:

    If that were the case, surely …

    And surely, people are always going to have different views as to how sensitive a particular action was. You can treat some people with kid gloves and they are still going to insist that they were rudely approached. Personally, I would hope someone would not be standing in the front of the church having an extended conversation with a front row visitor, taking the time to have a perfectly nuanced dialogue while Mass is taking place. I would expect the person to minimize the amount of time even if it does not allow a detailed and complete explantion of every iota and motivation behind the request. Not when the rest of us are trying to be attentive to Mass.

    And please, even though I myself often use hand gestures to more effectively communicate, DO NOT start waving your arms in order to be more expressive to the poor soul (“Well, Mrs. Flanagan, it might be better if you sit over there [point to the left] or I think there is a free seat over there [extend arm fully out to the right and wave hand] but for safety reasons you can’t kneel here.” [waves arms and hands back and forth in front of you]).

  34. rsalie says:

    Katherine- I am the person who wrote this, and I do not think it was your parish the way you described it. There was no extra seating added, we were sitting in the front existing pew and to be clear we were not blocking the aisle (there are very large front aisles in this church since it was renovated and all 5 of us were kneeling with our legs under the pew and our backs against the wood seat, not in the actual walkway). I know you do not know me, so you will have to take my word for this, but I am not one of those people who thinks someone is being rude because they told me to do something or has to be handled with kid gloves. This was honestly a very uncomfortable and strange situation for me and my family and I was not sure what I should have done. We were not the ones who approached her after mass, she stopped us on our way out to the car which made it doubly odd. I probably wouldn’t have even asked Father Z about it if she hadn’t followed us after mass, which made me wonder if I had done something wrong. I just wanted to set the record straight, because I know there are people that will get upset over the least little thing, but my family and I really are pretty easygoing.

  35. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    rsalie, you’ve got a lot of posts here with good advice and some documents for evidence that you are correct (see mine, Inaestimable Donum is what made me more reverent at NO masses at communion time). Keep doing what you and your family know is the proper way to give respect to Our Blessed Lord, when so many grave injustices have been done to His Sacred Body and Heart, including improper catechesis of EMHCs who do these things. And please if this continues do not let a layperson get in your way and take action. They are not the authority of the Church. If the priest and bishop don’t agree provided you have to defend your practice, then don’t hesitate to move to another available parish that does respect the position of EMHC and the Eucharist, but keep record of all communications! that means audio or written/computer documents.

  36. AnAmericanMother says:


    Of course there’s a difference between giving folks directions before Mass up in the choir loft during the usual Christmas and Easter milling about, and trying to give somebody an important safety instruction quickly and quietly during the Mass in the front row. In the former case I might have to use sign language because what with all the people trying to find seats and waving and calling to folks they haven’t seen since LAST Christmas or Easter, you can’t hear yourself think.

    In the latter case, I would kneel or crouch down beside the individuals so as not to be too obvious, and quickly whisper to the parent or responsible adult – “I’m sorry, you can’t kneel here. Fire marshal won’t let us.” (note the “us” – inclusive and friendly and all that). If they take offense after that, too bad, I’ve done what I can to be polite. Any more extensive discussion can wait til after Mass.

    As rsalie pointed out, the extended conversation didn’t happen during Mass. In fact, as she noted later, the EMHC followed her out to the parking lot.

    That is just $*%(^&@ weird, and somebody who went to that length to try to hassle a visitor who obviously intended no harm or disrespect is way out of line. In fact, I would suspect them of downright ill will.

    I’ve asked this question before — why do so many of our . . . ‘spirit of VCII’ brethren feel the need to go out of their way to be spiteful to anyone who is more traditional than they are? I may cringe a little when I go into a really way-out modern parish (and I’ve been in a lot of them, traveling) but I strictly keep my thoughts to myself and offer them up. And if visitors show up in our rather traditional NO parish and do the Holy Field Goal at the Sursum Corda and all hold hands and hold them way up in the air at the Our Father, I don’t give them dirty looks whatever I may be thinking. I try to be friendly and welcoming (without being too effusive, as you note that can be counterproductive) because I don’t want to give our parish a bad name.

Comments are closed.