ASK FATHER: I’m 80 and I can’t kneel for Communion at a Traditional Mass

The other day Bp. Morlino told the priests of the Diocese of Madison that they should encourage their congregations to kneel to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.

This is a wonderful development which will make a great difference in parishes where it is applied.

altar communion railToday I received from a reader…


As a young man I knelt at the communion rail to receive Jesus on my tongue. Now being 80 with knee operations, how would I present myself for Communion at a Latin Mass, knowing that I would not be able to get back up? Thank you Father

Commonsense must be applied here.

If you cannot kneel physically, without real problems, then don’t kneel physically.  Make a reverent bow and stand.

Perhaps you might tell the Lord on your way forward, “I’d kneel if I could … my spirit is willing, but my knees are weak.” and then, if you can muster such a thing, kneel in your heart.

And do receive directly on the tongue.

At the same time, it is important to be supportive of everyone else who kneels and genuflects.  Don’t just say, “Well, I can’t!” and leave it at that.  You should say, “I can’t but I sure wish that I could!  I’m glad that you can.  Kneel a lot while you are able!”

We must bring back postures of humility in worship in order to recover humility in worship.

Finally, the way you worded this suggests to me that you might not go to the traditional for of Mass because you can’t kneel.  Don’t let difficulties with kneeling or genuflecting keep you away.   Nobody will think twice about an 80 year old standing to receive Communion.  Now, if you were 20 and clearly good shape , you might get a couple glances.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    There’s a younger gentleman I’ve seen at traditional events around the DC/NOVA area who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. No one even takes a second glance when he wheels himself up to the altar to receive Our Lord. Jesus ain’t turning him away.

  2. Nicholas says:

    Thank you for posting this, Father. My grandmother recently asked me a very similar question.

  3. I’d like to confirm your reply, Fr. Z… as you know, I can’t kneel or even genuflect these days. I do, however, try to kneel “in my heart” and find that wearing a mantilla is a great way to show humility before Our Lord. (I realise that it isn’t an option for this particular chap, but I’d really encourage this outward sign of devotion for any women in this position!) Anyway, Fr. Z, keep up the great work, and I hope you pop over to Margate some time soon!

  4. Gabriel Syme says:

    Of course the Church must accommodate those who, due to age or infirmity, cannot kneel.

    At the sunday mass I go to, sometimes a lady comes who cannot kneel. She goes to the altar rail as normal, but stands – everything else proceeds as normal.

    She has obviously informed the priests of her situation beforehand – this is probably worth doing, so that the priest is aware of the situation and doesn’t “get the wrong idea” when he is distributing communion.

    Similarly, at traditional masses, I have seen elderly people make a bow, rather than a full genuflection, when passing the tabernacle.

    Every congregation, sadly, has its nosey people and gossips who may well notice such a slight difference and be anxious that they have not been informed of the full details of the situation. But no-one should concern themselves about such people – it’s none of their business.

  5. My mother, greatly debilitated in her old age, would wobble up to the rail – usually with a cane to keep steady, and would receive standing. Mother typically only went to the Tridentine Mass and definitely knew that the norm to receive is kneeling. No qualms – no issues. Its about illness and reduced mobility.

    Walking with a cane can clue in the priest for those not so obviously debilitated, if he hasn’t been forewarned.

    Mother would also be quick to tell us that being an old lady gave her a lot more power to speak her mind, as she figured out that folks wouldn’t argue with an old lady who was already “out of her mind” with age. See? So sometimes there are privileges with old age LOL.

  6. YorkshireStudent says:

    Every Sunday at our EF Mass the Priest, before the Homily, reads the following:

    “For those unfamiliar with this Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the liturgical law of the Church requires that Communion be received on the tongue and, if physically possible, kneeling.”

    It has been a great help in explaining to parishioners and guests a few of the changes which have been made, and I would commend this (or a similar notice) to any Parish introducing the EF.

  7. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    I’d like to add mine to the voices of encouragement here. It’s really very common for the infirm to stand (not just the elderly: where I normally assist at mass we’ve had a couple of regular communicants recently who’ve had leg injuries and were unable to kneel for several weeks). It’s sad to think that people might be put off by such considerations – it really doesn’t matter.

  8. hwriggles4 says:

    There are some elderly people who will sit in the front pews during Mass. After the Agnus Dei, the reception of Holy Communion begins. Oftentimes, the priest or deacon will walk down to the front pews to distribute Holy Communion to some of the elderly. The priest or deacon will distribute Holy Communion to them before the remainder of the congregation.

  9. lmgilbert says:

    Perhaps it never occurred to you, but for many people the photo of the children at the altar rail may be tantamount to instruction about what an altar rail is.

    I can think of a fairly young Abbot from the Midwest who on visiting a friend at a Dominican parish was asked to distribute communion at an altar rail. Not only had he never done anything of the kind, he had never in his life ever seen anyone receiving communion at an altar rail. For that matter, I am not altogether sure that he had ever seen an altar rail in his life. Nothing goes without saying anymore.

  10. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    A number of years ago, I was one of the ones kneeling even when I was visiting parishes without kneelers in the pews. Although nowadays I don’t *appear* all that old or infirm, (thanks be to God), and would still *prefer* to kneel, kneeling for a duration of more than five seconds is out, because we’d have to call 911 and get a couple of strong fellows to get me back up on my feet and walking again. (Sometimes my husband and I watch “Cops” on television, and I’ve wondered what people like me would do if, during a mistaken altercation with the police, we were ordered at gunpoint to put our hands in the air and kneel on the pavement. Officer: “I didn’t tell you to fall face down on the ground . . .!” Me: “I hear you, Officer, but sorry! Nowadays, the knee and ankle joints kind of decide these kinds of things for me.”)

    Yet, again, to most people, I probably look more or less “OK.” Is it too much to hope that at the sacred time when Our Lord is giving us the very gift of His body, soul, humanity, and divinity to become our food, that we would be able to place our entire attention upon welcoming Him into our souls with devotion and gratitude, and not be thinking about ourselves and our posture and whether other people are noticing what posture we are or are not assuming, or what postures other people are or aren’t assuming?

    Can’t we all just get along?

  11. un-ionized says:

    Marion, I’m falling down (collapsing) in (accidental) adoration along with you. We can go halvsies on an ambulance.

  12. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Thank you, un-ionized, for understanding.

    Just before the procession at my niece’s wedding a few years ago, I was doing my usual kneel-sitting in the pew. My uncle, whom I hadn’t seen in some years, came by and murmured, “is that (posture) the best you can do?” I nodded to him in greeting, and pretended to ignore his question.

    It was necessary quickly to offer up to God the effort needed to stifle words of explanation. And the effort needed to set aside resentment.

    On the opposite side of judgementalism: I wear the veil. (A smallish-sized, less noticeable one, because almost NO ONE wears them in our N.O. parishes. I call mine a “stealth veil”). My sister, who lives in another part of the country, was visiting, and we were attending Mass together. She and I were approaching the entrance to the church, and I spoke of covering my head. She announced, “if you put anything on your head, we’ll sit in different parts of the church. I won’t be seen with you.”

    To be honest, I’m not unacquainted with harboring judgmental thoughts toward others. In the grocery, the unspoken observations might be: “If only *she* could see what she looks like wearing those shorts with her hip-size. Yikes! . . . Wouldn’t you think *he* would keep better control of his child? . . . Why does *she* have to block the entire aisle with her cart, for Heaven’s sakes? Get a clue, lady!” So, I suppose this needs to stop, too. Even though one doesn’t *speak* such musings aloud, deliberately to indulge such thoughts may nevertheless displease our most kind, gentle, and Merciful Savior. Charity! . . . even in inner thoughts. Something to pray for!

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