by JULIA DU FRESNE
A Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger story depicts the devil, ordered by God to reveal himself to one of the desert fathers, as “black and ugly, with frightening thin limbs but, most strikingly, he had no knees”.
You get the picture? If not, ponder the cardinal’s comment, that “the inability to kneel is seen as the essence of the diabolical”. Now, wait on. He wasn’t saying people who can’t kneel are agents of Satan, or I’d be looking sideways at ’im indoors, who, like many others, has had a knee replacement. But he did say modern culture (has) “turned away from the faith and
no longer knows the One before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary, gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered.”
You may be thinking thank God for Pope Francis, who’s more down to earth. Not literally, maybe (hisknee’s dodgy) but metaphorically: earthiness translates as humility, the foundation of all virtue, most eloquently expressed in the liturgy by kneeling — and now many churches, including my own, have no kneelers.
In a former life, as parish council chairperson, I presided over their removal, along with the altar rails.
After Vatican II, changes were made that now seem manifestations of a subdued mass hysteria, changes many regret, as I regret the kneelers; changes not mandated but post factum reluctantly allowed, like the even more regrettable practice of communion in the hand.
Someone once told me that when he dies and goes before Christ for the Particular Judgment he’ll stand “in respect”. A Christian teen’s response to that might be “LOL”. Mine is, “Yeah, right”: Standing, as he might if a woman enters a room, on entering the presence of the Supreme Judge he immediately fully realises for the first time the awfulness of sin generally, and his specifically.
As the subtext or meaning of a play is revealed by actors’ techniques, so do our liturgical actions betray our level of awareness of the Real Presence. When unconsecrated hands give or take the host, when we help ourselves to communion, when Communion’s given to those not “in communion”, our actions do not ring true.
When non-Catholics see us at Mass queueing like we’re at the supermarket checkout and being served as if in a cafe, how can they believe we believe what we say we believe? If they can’t believe us, are they likely to believe the mystery of transubstantiation, or desire that conversion that confers the awesome privilege of daily Communion?
Our church now has kneeling pads, painstakingly handmade by a parishioner. Perhaps they symbolise a Spirit-driven momentum to restore due reverence by kneeling and by Communion on the tongue.
Lex orandi, lex credendi — we pray as we believe. To believe we have to know; to know we have to pray.