Bp. Thomas Doran (D. Rockford) on kneeling for Holy Communion… heh heh…

In this last week’s edition of The Wanderer, we read a reprint of a column by Most Rev. Thomas Doran, Bishop of Rockford.  I believe it was originally on the site of the diocese on 2 September 2011.

My emphases and comments.

Reverence and Respect of The Blessed Sacrament

From time to time people make inquiries of the Bishop’s office that demand more than a private answer. One of the things that disturbs practicing Catholics more and more is the seeming lack of reverence and respect for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in our liturgy and in our devotions.

As I go about in the various parishes and observe people, a surprising number of people do not genuflect toward the Tabernacle on entering or leaving church and many more do not know how to do it (it is the right knee, not the left that touches the ground when genuflecting). Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament has almost completely disappeared because neither clergy nor laity know how to perform it, and the beautiful hymns that we used to sing on that occasion, all of them replete with deep meaning about the Holy Eucharist, are largely forgotten.

One lady recently wrote me that she had just been informed by a deacon that to receive the Holy Eucharist while kneeling was in disobedience to the Bishops’ Conference and to me as bishop directly. I am grateful for this reminder that this is a subject that we all should take to heart.  [In other words, this dopey statement by that deacon was the last straw?]

First of all, bear in mind that many people have difficulty genuflecting and would have difficulty kneeling for Holy Communion. Obviously, if doing so imperils health or wellbeing, one is not obliged to do it. Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament starts in the heart. Whether it is reflected in our posture depends on many things. [In other words, we use common sense.  If you can’t genuflect, don’t genuflect.]

One thing that matters much to me is the practice of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, when he gives Holy Communion. His practice is to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue of recipients who kneel as they receive communion. That should say something to all of us. [NB] I would make this personal observation that I usually do not distribute Holy Communion when I say Mass in the parishes because every parish has its own peculiar way of ordering Holy Communion and I am confused by such a variety of practices, [“Peculiar!”  ROFL!  We see Bp. Doran’s excellent sense of humor.  For those of you not in Rio Linda, but in, perhaps, Eden Prairie, “peculiar” can mean both “strange” and also “belonging exclusively to some person, group, or thing”.] and so since discretion is the better part of valor, I do not get involved in it.  [Imagine your Bishop coming to your parish and then he doesn’t distribute because of the strange things you do there… and then hearing about it later.]

Then there is the fact that many of us identify unity with uniformity. The two are distinct. We are bound to unity in faith, not necessarily to uniformity and how we receive Holy Communion. Now, the Third General Instruction of the Roman Missal now in force, at n. 160, permits receiving Holy Communion kneeling or standing, on the tongue or in the hand. [And let us not forget Redemptionis Sacramentum.] That same instruction allows the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to establish norms for this practice. This was done by Archbishop Wilton Gregory when he was President of the Conference in 2002. The bishops decided that standing was the normative posture. [I recall some discussion about that norm being more descriptive than prescriptive.]

It is, therefore, permitted to Catholics to receive Holy Communion standing, receiving the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue or in the hand, depending on their choice, and this is the usual way in which Holy Communion is to be distributed in our churches. [NB: That was a description rather than a prescription.] Cardinal George asked about this in 2003 and the Holy See responded that posture at Holy Communion is not to be so rigidly regulated as to interfere with the freedom of people receiving Holy Communion. If you have to read this two or three times to understand what is being said, that is alright. The whole matter is somewhat confusing. [Read it again and again not only to understanding it, but to remember it.  Repetita iuvant.]

I am old enough to remember when, in a flurry of “me-too-ism,” communion rails were ripped out of our churches, something that was never advised, commanded or imposed. Most churches had suitable communion rails with padded cushions upon which communicants could kneel. And it seems to me looking back on the early days of my priesthood, that communion was distributed more reverently and was received more reverently when people knelt for Holy Communion. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] A few found it difficult and even then those who had difficulty kneeling could stand. Few did, but it was allowed. It would seem that if anyone who wanted to go back to this method of receiving Holy Communion, they would find that communion would be received more reverently, in a more orderly fashion and in less time than it now takes. [Do I hear another “Amen!”?] But time is not the most important thing and order is not a virtue, but rather a convenience. [ROFL!  And with this Bp. Doran also reminds us that most of the time we don’t need EMHCs either.  Is that what he was referring to with the “peculiar” way in which Communion is distributed in some parishes?]

[And now…] One thing that should be clear is that at present, to receive Holy Communion kneeling is not a sign of disrespect to all the bishops or to anyone. I would add, however, that practicing Catholics generally like to follow the reasonable requests of their pastors so that Holy Communion may be distributed reverently and in a dignified fashion. It is also true that among those in Holy Orders, bishops and priests are our teachers. [And… and…. are you waiting for the other shoe to drop here?  And…]

WDTPRS kudos to Bp. Doran.

“But Father!  But Father!”, some of you are saying even as you pound with your witto fists on the table.  “Don’t keep us in suspense!  What ‘other shoe’?  Telllll us!”

Bp. Doran said: “It is also true that among those in Holy Orders, bishops and priests are our teachers.”

And the Holy Father is their teacher as well as our teacher.  And the Holy Father distributes to people who kneel.  He is teaching by example, just as Bp. Doran is teaching by clarity, innuendo, and humor.

Are you left at the end of the article doubting what he prefers concerning the Blessed Sacrament?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. iudicame says:

    I am submitting the good bishop’s article to Reader’s Digest….

    Now, in the meantime, Let’s have a clear directive, LAW if you will, from his office stating THE norm in HIS diocese!


  2. ContraMundum says:

    There’s something about this story that reminds me of the Far Side cartoon that shows the Big Bad Wolf driving back after being away somewhere. The pigs have made an entire city out of straw. “Man, I’ve been away too long!” thinks the wolf.

    Most of our bishops have likewise been away too long.

  3. BigTin says:

    I would like to see the Tabernacle returned to its proper place along with the Altar rails. Too often, the Tabernacle, if it can even be identified as such, is in some weird “where’s waldo” location in the church.

    Speaking of which, if the Tabernacle is visible and off to the side should we reverence the Altar or the Tabernacle? I mean, I try to do whatever the ministers at Mass do, but I’m not too sure, especially given that Tabernacles are in the weirdest locations; e.g. set into the wall on the side of the church like a safe.

  4. everett says:

    Before or after mass, reverence the Tabernacle. During mass, if appropriate (say you are an EMHC), reverence the altar.

  5. rroan says:

    Allow me to add another “shoe” here.

    His Excellency remarks:

    It is also true that among those in Holy Orders, (let’s see, that would include, at the diocesan level, bishops, priests, and deacons) bishops and priests are our teachers. (bishops, priests – wait, what’s left out of that list?)

    Shall we go back and read the first sentence of the third paragraph cited?

  6. CatholicDRE says:

    I heard a priest say recently that a good bishop is one “who doesn’t recognize him and who he doesn’t recognize”. In other words, a good bishop let’s him do whatever he wants. We need to pray that the Holy Fathers message falls on fertile ground.

  7. Tom Esteban says:

    God Bless His Excellency. I would have liked a more definitive statement; it seemed as if his column was cut short. I was waiting for the extra little bit at the end which would wrap everything up and make me say “yup, things are starting to turn around, brick by brick!”. But then again, it does seem as if this column is heading in the right direction anyway.

    If I understand correctly, this is not a letter or instruction from the good Bishop and merely a column for a newspaper, in which case it is near perfect. Hopefully he sends out a letter to the Diocese with a bit of a harder tone. Perhaps he can restore communion rails?

  8. al007italia says:

    That Bishop Doran would write this column originally for the Observer (The Rockford diocesan newspaper) doesn’t surprize me. In fact, I would call it vintage Bishop Doran. I may be wrong, but I suspect that deacon is one that has been around for quite a while since my experience has shown that the priests & deacons ordained over the past few years for the Rockford Diocese are more in line with what he said in this column.
    A few years ago the pastor @ St. Mary’s in E DBQ put the communion rail back in the Church. Everyone, except for those who can’t kneel. Some do still receive it in the hand. But a good majority of us receive it on the tongue. & except on Sundays when they need a 3rd person for the balcony, only the priest & (if there) 1 of the deacons distributes the Eucharist.
    Last June Bishop Doran gave a small talk about the importance of Eucharistic Adoration @ the groundbreaking for a Adoration Chapel being built @ St. Mary’s.
    Unfortunately, he is 75 & will soon be replaced. We are praying for Papa Benedetto to appoint someone in the same mold.

  9. Gail F says:

    “But time is not the most important thing and order is not a virtue, but rather a convenience.” Love it! Don’t we all need that reminder in many different ways?

    It seems to me that +Doran is making a very nice distinction, without putting it in so many words, between wanting to kneel out of reverence and wanting to kneel to make some kind of “statement.” He points out rightly that most people do like to follow what everyone else is doing, and thus (again without saying so) even if they prefer to kneel, they are not doing anything wrong if they go along with everyone else and stand because that is the current norm. That is not a “statement,” that is just being a regular person. Likewise, if you do really want to kneel (if you are “so moved,” as our Quaker friends say) that is not at all the same as insisting on kneeling so that you can show how wrong everyone else is for not kneeling. It is better all the way around if the priests and bishops lead the way but, if not, individual Catholics should feel free to kneel but only if they are not trying to correct their priests or their fellow Catholics. That’s what I take him to mean.

  10. johnnys says:

    If you rebuild them (altar rails) will they come? I think so!

  11. marlab says:

    This is exciting! This is my bishop! Thanks for running this.

  12. teomatteo says:

    Our bishops… slowly they turn, step by step, brick by brick….

  13. Andy Milam says:

    No disrespect for His Excellency, but….

    What exactly was he trying to say? Because from my reading he said absolutely nothing. I mean literally nothing.

    Normally, I don’t get confused, but in this instance….I just don’t get the point of this article.

    Are we to change our attitude? I don’t know. Are we not to? I don’t know. I mean at one point he says, “look at the Pope.” Then in the very same breath he says, “Don’t worry about me though….”

    Peculiar is right…

    For as liberal as my Ordinary is, at least I know where he’s at. If +Doran writes like this all the time, I’d go batty…

    This is another example of what happens when liturgical law and canon law lose the force of law. It disintegrates into this.

    Unless I’m missing something…am I?

  14. HenZeppelin says:

    Unfortunately, the Holy Father’s example has been undermined by our pastor explaining to the congregation, more than once, that the main purpose of this practice is to prevent people from taking the Holy Eucharist home as a memento rather than a demostration of the Pope’s preferred method for reception of the sacrament.

  15. HenZeppelin says:

    Sorry, demonstration.

  16. MargaretC says:

    I’m one of those who can’t genuflect — well, not without something sturdy to hang on to. I do a profound bow instead.

    At my parish, most receive standing, although I’ve seen a few people kneel without any problem or disruption in the distribution of communion. Likewise, some people receive on the tongue, others in the hand. Our clergy and EMHCs all seem to be able to cope.

  17. leonugent2005 says:

    It would take a mere 3 sentences. 1) Install Communion rails. 2) Communion will be receive kneeling and on the tongue. 3) Communion will not be received standing and in the hand. So far no one has written those 3 sentences but me however no one listens to me!

  18. Scott W. says:

    individual Catholics should feel free to kneel but only if they are not trying to correct their priests or their fellow Catholics.

    Isn’t that making a rule that someone contemplating kneeling who has not done it before must have 100% pure motives? Frankly, this reminds me of the discussions about obtaining a plenary indulgence and the requirement of “no attachment to sin”. They way some tell it, only about six people in the entire history of the world have managed to obtain a plenary indulgence. Not to be argumentative, but one would expect someone wanting to change his habit of standing to go through alot of self-questioning about it. “Am I doing this for reverence, or just grandstanding, etc.?” I would propose something a little less torturous: Pray and ask Our Lord if it is the right thing to do. If the answer comes back yes, just do it and tell the chatting in the brain to put a sock in it.

  19. Sam Schmitt says:

    @Andy Milam,

    I think he said a lot. Perhaps it’s all old hat to readers of this blog, but it’s quite significant when coming from a bishop. True, he does not lay down the law (“Kneel or else!”) but you have to wonder how effective this would be anyway. Laws which go against current practice can do more harm than good unless prepared by teaching. In my mind – at least for issues that don’t involve a question of sin – it’s better to have people move toward better praxis by understanding why it’s better, rather than by being imposed upon, which can breed resentment and ill will. Brick by brick is more effective than dropping a ton of bricks on people.

  20. ghp95134 says:

    teomatteo says, “…Our bishops… slowly they turn, step by step, brick by brick….…”

    Niagra Falls?
    3 Stooges: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yJBhzMWJCc
    Lou Costello: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pQii1L8fGk
    Lucile Ball: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yJBhzMWJCc


  21. Robert_H says:

    @ Sam Schmit:

    You’re right that this is old hat to readers of this blog, but the problem is that the vast majority of Catholics in America don’t read this blog. I’m afraid that Andy is right: Bp. Doran does not make a clear, definitive statement about how he’d like his flock to behave. Therefore the usual suspects will point to Bp. Doran’s column and say, “See, he didn’t out & out say to kneel. He didn’t say don’t use EMHCs.” And carry on, they shall.

    I don’t think +Doran needs to declare kneeling to be the law (Kneel or else!)- I’d just like him to clearly state that he would prefer his flock to kneel, and he would prefer that his priests teach the same. Please, no more hints, beating around the bush, attempts to be too clever by half. Just state for the record so no one has any doubt.

  22. Mitchell NY says:

    To be a Bishop and be so shocked or confused by what goes on in each parish that he will not get involved in officiating at Mass would seem to indicate that he has a responsibility to do something about that. Is it correct for a Bishop to wander in a state of confusion from parish to parish? Shouldn’t all who attend Mass in different Churches in that Diocease be able to expect a reasonable conformity that would make them comfortable in each Church? I don’t know but the admissions in the letter seem to dictate that some sort of definitive actions must be taken to unify parishes and practice.

  23. The Egyptian says:

    Before or after mass, reverence the Tabernacle. During mass, if appropriate (say you are an EMHC), reverence the altar.

    All so much easier when the Altar and the Tabernacle were one and the same, never a problem discerning which one

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