Recently, some of my parishioners approached me and suggested that I start blogging again. I didn't really have the courage to say what a total failure I am at blogging, being sporadic at best. It's not that I don't have anything to say--anyone who knows me understands that that's far from accurate. I suppose I've just never thought that I had anything to say that's worth reading. Well, multiple parishioners (read: more than one) disagree, and so I have elected to try, yet again, to grace the internet world with my presence. I begin by offering various reflections that I have been composing for my own parish bulletin, "The Lewis County Catholic Times."
These "Liturgical Musings," as they are known, were never intended for distribution beyond my parish. Some of the content is rather parish-specific, and many of them, due to a lack of space and time, lack academic citations and are not nearly as well-researched as they might otherwise be. Nevertheless, I present here the first of my "Liturgical Musings" which was a note on the Common Postures at Mass.
By way of a little context, several years ago the Bishop of our Diocese decreed that the Faithful should remain standing after the Agnus Dei as a means of establishing a common posture for this part of the Mass. Recently there has been much discussion in the Diocese about whether the current Bishop should rescind this decree in order to conform to all of the dioceses which surround ours--and from which we receive many confused visitors. Having fielded several questions, I elected to write the following to my parishioners:
A Note on Common PostureTo kneel or not to kneel: that is the question. Several have made known their observation that a number of our parishioners are no longer standing following the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). I offer here a brief clarification. In 2003, Bishop Schmitt issued a directive establishing for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston specific common postures within the Mass. This came as a result of the publication of the latest version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) attached to the Third Edition of the Roman Missal (the one which was fully implemented in 2011). The GIRM instructs that “[t]he faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise” (no. 43). The GIRM further states that to be avoided is any imposition of “private inclination or arbitrary choice.” As the posture of standing was established that in our Diocese the faithful are to remain standing, that is what ought to happen.
All things being equal, however, there is no shortage of variation of this norm in our nation and even within our own diocese. Ultimately, a priest or bishop may give instruction, but it is up to the faithful to determine for themselves that which most effectively “expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants” (GIRM no. 42). As an act of conscience, an individual may always adopt a posture most conducive to his or her own spiritual well-being, and no ecclesial authority may infringe upon that right. This applies not merely to the sit/stand/kneel of participation at Mass, but applies rather to all aspects of our worship of God, including whether one receives Holy Communion standing or kneeling, in the hand or on the tongue, etc. The GIRM claims that the Church assigns common postures as a means of seeking to demonstrate the unity of Faith in a visible manner. However, our Catholic liturgical tradition, which spans 2,000 years and a variety of liturgical rites in the West and the East, hinges on a unity of Faith that exists in spite of variations in worship, not because of it. Thus, any individual who freely deviates from the norms of posture (which are not a matter of theology but of discipline) as a matter of conscience can no more be seen to be rejecting the Church’s authority than if he or she were to dare to kneel and silently pray during the Entrance Hymn or Offertory!
In summation, as the parish priest, I am obliged to inform the faithful of Diocesan norms, but I remain without authority to enforce anything which might impinge upon an individual’s conscience or personal piety.