This will be my "Desktop" item for this coming weekend's parish bulletin for the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
“Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” (Mt 2:11 - RSV)
This is a very striking phrase from Matthew’s Gospel. These wise men fell to the ground when they encountered “the child”.
Many would consider kneeling, or prostration, beneath man’s dignity. We should not be humbled before anyone, not even our God. We should not demean ourselves by falling down. We should stand face to face before our God. This is folly! The Magi - pagans! - of today’s feast teach us true wisdom.
Bishop Sample gave all the priests of the diocese a Christmas present: a book by the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, entitled The Spirit of the Liturgy. Our bishop clearly desires that we priests study the Pope’s book and apply it to our liturgy today. I first read this book soon after it came out in 2000 and consider it a charter for renewal of our Catholic worship.
Pope Benedict writes about the gesture of prostration or kneeling. He says that kneeling, of its very nature, “does not come from any culture.” In other words, those who protest that kneeling does not belong to their culture do not understand that kneeling “comes from the Bible and from knowledge of God.” “We now kneel before that humility” of Christ “which went as far as the Cross”. “The kneeling of Christians is not a form of inculturation into existing customs. It is quite the opposite, an expression of Christian culture, which transforms the existing culture through a new and deeper knowledge and experience of God.”
Pope Benedict stresses the importance of the unity of our spiritual dispositions and our bodily postures. “The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is precisely that of worship. Without the worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act must of its very nature … express itself in the bodily gesture… When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless. On the other hand, when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man. Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man. That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.”
Pope Benedict concludes his consideration of kneeling as follows:
“The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick to the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ himself.”
O come, let us adore him!