Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel

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  gives Holy Communion to  communicants
kneeling and on the tongue.
“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…”
(Pope Benedict, Spirit of the Liturgy)
Sadly, this gesture of bending the knee has been abandoned by many who either simply ignore the presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle, or who bow rather than genuflect. Obviously one understands those whose knees are weakened by ill health or old age and for whom kneeling/genuflecting would be painful. But for the rest, Pope Benedict says that “the Hebrews regarded the knees as a symbol of strength; to bend the knee is, therefore, to bend our strength before the living God.” He relates a story that comes from the Desert Fathers according to which the devil showed himself to a certain Abba Apollo. “He looked black and ugly, with frighteningly thin limbs, but, most strikingly, he had no knees. The inability to kneel is seen as the very essence of the diabolical.”

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!


  1. Wow! Really uncanny how similar the topics we both posted about are!

    Yours is, of course, much better. :)

  2. Tomas from now on we are going to try even harder to make sure we never forget to genuflect.
    This is amazing ! We Love it!
    It doesnt even hurt to kneel like it's not like Lent and givin up sweets!
    Thank you Father this is a great blog!
    9A ALL THE WAY!!


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