The Journey (part 1)

A priest once made the suggestion in his Ash Wednesday homily: as a preparation for Lent, he suggested, “try praying that God open your heart and your mind especially to those Truths that you really don’t want to hear.”

It was only recently that I had found my way back to active Catholicism, and I was eager to do it right this time. It was a time of turmoil — my marriage was falling apart, and what I’d hoped would be a good and promising career in broadcasting was becoming a dry, dead-end chore with little to no opportunity for advancement. I needed my faith, I needed the absolutes and the structure of Catholicism to keep me grounded.

So I prayed, exactly as the priest suggested. Then I sat back and waited for the overwhelming flood of painful revelation that would have me clutching at my head, screaming in agony (yes, I know I watch too much science fiction). But it never came — not like that, anyway. Not in any way I could have expected.

For regular Sunday mass I had ended up at the church nearest my apartment, and found it a wonderful fit. The parishioners welcomed me immediately and brought me into the social justice committee. My lifelong social liberalism had been ingrained within my Catholic upbringing, so I was perfectly at home here. For the first time since my return to the faith, I felt like a useful member of the Mystical Body of Christ, and not just the appendix hanging uselessly from the Mystical Lower Intestine. There was only one thing that irked me — at this parish, everyone remained standing during the Consecration.

Nobody really seemed to mind that I was the only one kneeling — nobody, that is, but myself. It troubled me that proper respect was not being paid to Christ in our midst. Now that I had found a true spiritual home — a community that actively honored and served Christ in the poor of the community and the world — why couldn’t they honor Him in this way as well? Why couldn’t they all make this one little change for me?

I took to rehearsing in my mind how the discussion would go, when at last the matter might be brought up. I would begin by explaining how important this small gesture of reverence is to sacred worship. But, the anonymous responder would reply, there are other masses you could go to. Every other mass in town includes that gesture. Yes, I say, but this is where I feel God most present; this is where I see God’s people coming together in a true spirit of community. The still, small voice then asks, where do you suppose that spirit of community comes from? And that I could not answer.

Some time later, the pastor offers a homily about the communal nature of the liturgy. The reason we gather is to worship, to unite ourselves as one. This is what makes a disparate gathering into a cohesive Church, into that living Body of Christ. We honor Christ’s presence in the Sacrament by honoring Christ’s presence within the assembly. And finally, I got the message.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but it was the beginning of a deeper spiritual relationship. At some point the rules, regulations, dogma, and traditions designed to help us in the journey can start to get in the way. God wants a relationship with us — a real relationship, not dictated by third parties but conducted one-on-one. Talk, listen, grow, adjust, always look to the needs and desires of the other … these are the marks of a good relationship. It’s what God wants from us, and it’s the least we can offer.

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2 thoughts on “The Journey (part 1)

  1. Great reflection! The issue/question I see here too is about uniformity and whether or not that creates unity. Does it matter for everyone to be uniform in either standing or kneeling to have that communal nature of the liturgy? How influential is your physical stance in your investment or connection with the liturgy? The assumption is that it does make a significant difference to stand at certain times, sit, or kneel at others. I tend to agree; I think it helps us be in the moment if you will.

    Some think standing is more theologically correct. If you emphasize the celebration aspect of the Eucharistic prayer, then standing is most appropriate. If you are more focused on the sacrifice of the Eucharist, then kneeling (which is a penitential stance, for our sins) makes more sense.

    However, isnt this relative sometimes? Did you think your fellow church goers felt less respectful of the Eucharist because they were standing? It might make YOU feel less reverent to stand, but is that true for everyone? I don’t think it would be. Someone who thinks its most important to celebrate what the Eucharist represents would be hard pressed to feel referent by kneeling. But then again, what would my natural ‘stance’ be if I were celebrating? How was it decided that standing would signify celebration (or respect, as in standing when someone enters the room, standing ovation, etc)? Or kneeling would signify being pentitent (down on my knees begging)?

    I think about how Jesus said he freely gives the Eucharist to us. So we are aware of our sinfulness in that moment because, in spite of it, Jesus still gives himself to us. Kneeling makes me think I’m focusing on me, and my sinfulness, rather than on Christ and the gift he is giving us. And maybe, there are some days when I need to think about my sinfulness more than celebrating the gift I am to receive. But some days maybe I need to think about my (or our) sinfulness more, and other times I know God wants me to freely accept the gift offered to me, be receptive of its graces, and to do that in that moment I might need to think about celebration.

  2. It’s a good question and one I continue to struggle with. Of course all my parishes since then have been kneelers, so now it’s mostly an academic question. But I would say that, at Sacred Heart at least, the comunal standing indicated a difference of emphasis — instead of placing the emphasis on the Sacrament and the elements of the sacrifice, they put the emphasis on Christ’s presence within the community. Both the Church community and the neighborhood we served.

    And I’ve seen instances where people’s devotion to the Eucharistic Sacrament can overshadow the importance of service to the human element of Christ’s presence among us (which is, scripture tells us, what we’ll ultimately be judged by!). So it can be a delicate balance.

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