27 January 2016

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi: Kneeling and the Eucharist

What we do informs what we believe. What we believe informs what we know. What we know informs what we care about.*

While we were in Rome, one of the biggest cultural shocks was not the language, the money (coins are a much bigger deal in Europe than in the US), or the number of times I heard "prego" in one conversation. The biggest cultural shock, rather, came on the eleventh day of our trip, Christmas day, at Mass. We heard Mass at Maria Maggiore (Mary Major), which is one of the four papal basilicas. Though the smallest of the basilicas, it is a grand church, ornately covered in Marian art. Beautiful and historic spaces, however, do not necessarily align with similar practices in said spaces.

We found seats in some of the plastic chairs provided, the occurrence of which is not uncommon in these great old churches. Pews, after all, were not a common feature of churches for over a thousand years. No, the chairs were not the strange part. The strange part was the posture of the congregation during the Mass. Everyone sat during the readings, save the Gospel, for which people stood as usual. However, as the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) concluded, I saw only one older gentleman join me and C in kneeling. Everyone else remained standing through the Pater Noster (Our Father) [we stood], standing more at the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) [we knelt] and still standing during the Consecration.** (For anyone unfamiliar, "consecration" describes when the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.)

The same scene played out at the Mass we heard at San Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran, another papal basilica), where there again one other man joined us in kneeling. I have replayed these scenes in my mind several times since their occurrences, both in confusion and frustration. Could I attribute these changes to a difference in culture? Is it less likely for Romans/Italians/Europeans to kneel? I remember kneeing at both Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur in Paris.

Since then, it has been pointed out to me that these churches did not have kneelers. Upon reflection, most of the churches that I have attended have had kneelers, including the churches in France. On the occasion that I have been in a church without kneelers (or without kneelers at my particular seat), I have still knelt. Still, why dissect the posture of the congregation during Mass? Why do I care if people stand during the consecration? Does it really affect me so much whether the people around me are standing, sitting or kneeling? Yes. Yes it does. In fact, it affects the whole Church Militant.

What we do informs what we believe.

If you look into your friend's fridge and see only fair trade chocolate, you might conclude that they value just commerce (or maybe that chocolate is delicious; two birds, one stone). If you see someone recycle, you might conclude that they care about their impact on the environment. If you see someone give money to a homeless person, you might conclude that they have compassion for all people, not just those who can give them something in return. We draw these little conclusions, perhaps subconsciously, but we draw them.

We know also that what we do can sway others. "Actions speak louder than words," goes the saying. One of my step-father's favorite lines was: "Do as I say, not as I do." because he understood that his actions were an example (in this case, one he didn't want me to follow). The example of our actions is a stronger testament to who we are at times than the example of our words. People remember our actions more than what we say. Think of job interviews, guides for which so greatly emphasize the non-verbal aspects. Have a good hand shake, maintain eye contact, nod and smile. Is someone attracted to you? See if they cross their legs in your direction, play with their hair or lean in. You can take classes on body language and physical cues. We file away this information, picking up such cues and interpreting them as confidence, shyness, aloofness...

Similarly, what happens around us informs our actions. From infancy, we imitate the actions of others. For example, babies learn to play peek-a-boo, pick up on mannerisms, and copy the accents of their parents when they begin to speak. It is apparent also when it comes to something like Mass. If you are a convert like me, or even a revert, you spend many of your first Masses glancing around at what other people are doing to make sure you are following the steps correctly. In time, you recognize why there are different postures, a sort of Catholic calisthenics, as some have joked. Sit in order to listen to the Old Testament and Epistle. Stand as if at attention during the reading of the Gospel, the words of Christ. Stand to raise prayers to God. Kneel at the words of consecration, the moment Heaven and Earth meet, when Jesus Christ is in our midst in an amazing way, in a way which defines Catholics. The Eucharist "is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life." (Lumen Gentium 11)

If I believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul and divinity, I am going to kneel. If "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow," why not at the consecration [Philippians 2:10]? We kneel in prayer. We kneel when we genuflect (literally, bend the knee) before entering the pew. We kneel during Adoration. We kneel before the Pope and Bishops (with the left knee).

Or we used to.

We used to kneel at all of these things. We used to kneel much more during the Mass when it was the old form. We used to fast from midnight to Mass instead of only an hour before Mass. We used to take on harsher penances, deny ourselves of more than just chocolate during Lent, and observe the seasons of the liturgical year with more rigor. I will perhaps be taken as too conservative or traditional in my take on such things, especially on kneeling. "That's something people used to do. It isn't important anymore," some might say. Why? Is Jesus any less present at Mass than He was one hundred years ago? No.

So why is this happening? Ignorance and apathy.

What we believe informs what we know.

We once understood that the material and the spiritual are intertwined, until they were divorced with the rise of dualism, the turning point of modern philosophy. In a way, we are at the mercy of the point in history in which we exist. In a way, we are not entirely at fault. Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni Laterano are not entirely at fault. Remember that I said our actions can sway others. So others' actions have brought us, by the culmination of a few popular ideas, to this point in history. As a consequence, the Church faces a universal problem.

When we divorce the material and the spiritual, we run into one of two problems as far as the Eucharist goes. We can admit the spiritual and deny the material and, in so doing, say the Eucharist doesn't really matter. God, then, is not in the Eucharist in any more special a way than He is in any part the world. Most Protestant groups would take this side, which contributes to the rise of such slogans as "I am spiritual, not religious," for religion hinges on practices, and practices hinge on actions, and actions hinge on the material. On the other hand, we can admit the material and deny the spiritual and, in so doing, say the Eucharist is nothing more than a piece of bread (or any of the other more...deplorable...descriptions).

The Sacraments simply dissolve under either of these views, for the Sacraments require material and spiritual dimension, matter and form, power and will (for more information, read Lang's Why Matter Matters). What else dissolves under these views? Our understanding of who Jesus Christ is. How can we say Jesus Christ is true God and true Man if we deny either the material or spiritual dimension? Well, I can tell you, because the Church has faced such heresies. In the fourth century, Arianism arose, a belief which denied the divinity of Christ (and St. Nicholas punched Arias at the Council of Nicaea, so you can see how that went). Docetism, the belief that Jesus only appeared to be a man but really was pure spirit, accepted by and definitive of Gnostics, is denied by the Nicene Creed: "[Jesus Christ] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man."

shared from St. Peter's List

What we know informs what we care about.

If you don't know about these things, you can claim ignorance. However, careless ignorance does not excuse you. Now you do know these things (because at the very least, I have told you). If you know, you either care or you don't. When you don't care, you become apathetic. Remember those who say, "That's something people used to do. It isn't important anymore." But again I ask: who has changed? God has not changed. Jesus Christ in the Eucharist has not changed. We have changed. Jesus calls us to more. We are to take up our cross and follow Him [Matthew 16:24], not take it up like a January exercise regime and drop it after a couple of weeks. We have become lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, and Jesus will spit us out [Revelation 3:16]. The apathetic do not hear "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

What is the solution?

The solution to ignorance is conscious religion:

We need to study the Mass, the Scriptures, the texts of the Church Fathers and understand why they say what they do.
We need to examine our actions and understand why we carry them out.
We need to invest in our Catholic schools and parishes if we don't want them to close and combine with other schools and parishes, as many in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are doing, for example.
We need to hold Catholic universities to a Catholic standard when they begin firing Catholic professors and handing out contraception.
Parents need to bring up their children in the Faith and take on the responsibility that is theirs to catechize them (catechesis is not only the responsibility of a parish or a school).
Parents need to remind their children that marriage is not the only vocation: encourage them to look into the priesthood and religious life.
We need to seriously examine ourselves and return to Confession. Has it been years? Go! The grace that awaits you is more powerful than any sins which seem to ensnare you. (We pray to St. Michael to defend us against the snares of the Devil. Do not despair: snares can be undone.)
We need to pray for priests, for the persecuted, for the souls in Purgatory, and for the whole Church Militant.
We need to understand that Jesus Christ is present body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, and that the Eucharist is an incomparable gift, worthy of adoration and bent knees.

Are we going to be defined by the age or are we going to define it?

Quotations by early Church Fathers about the Eucharist:
"Come together in common, one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man, and the Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break one Bread which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ." 
-St. Ignatius of Antioch [Letter to the Ephesians, 80-110 AD]

"This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God's Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus." 
-St. Justin Martyr [First Apology, 148-155 AD]

"The Blood of the Lord, indeed, is twofold. There is His corporeal Blood, by which we are redeemed from corruption; and His spiritual Blood, that with which we are anointed. That is to say, to drink the Blood of Jesus is to share in His immortality. The strength of the Word is the Spirit just as the blood is the strength of the body. Similarly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. The one, the Watered Wine, nourishes in faith, while the other, the Spirit, leads us on to immortality. The union of both, however, - of the drink and of the Word, - is called the Eucharist, a praiseworthy and excellent gift. Those who partake of it in faith are sanctified in body and in soul. By the will of the Father, the divine mixture, man, is mystically united to the Spirit and to the Word."
-St. Clement of Alexandria [The Instructor of the Children, 198 AD]

*Thank you to my husband, C, as well as two priests, Fr. W and Fr. Z, whose conversations and posts have helped me in the drafting of this post. I should also thank the Saints, whose examples and writings have edified the Church. Ss. Nicholas, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, pray for us!
**If you have some sort of physical ailment  (injury, old age, late stage of pregnancy, nursing, and the like) which prevents you from kneeling, that is quite a different thing. I would suggest sitting with bowed head when genuflections occur.

11 January 2016

Why Conversion is Like Marriage

Ever since I announced that I was converting in the Summer of 2012, I have received questions (and sometimes, incredulous comments).

"Why are you converting?"

"How did you know the Catholic Church was the right one for you?"

"But what about [insert doctrine here]?"

"But...you've been Protestant your whole life!"

My simple, reader's digest, keep it simple stupid response was: "Because I believe the Catholic Church holds the truth." Only recently have I realized that one of the best analogies I can give is this: conversion is like marriage.

Now, what could that possibly mean? Imagine people asking you these questions instead:

"Why are you getting married?"

"How did you know he was The One?"

"But what if he puts the toilet paper roll on backwards?" (He does.)

"But...you've been single your whole life!"

In a way, going through the conversion process is like going through the dating process. (I should admit that my dating experience is limited: my husband was only my second boyfriend.) You get to know someone/something you thought at first glance you might not be interested in. Or maybe something catches your eye at first sight and you dive in. You want to understand, and so you ask questions, you learn about their past, you try to see the world as they see it.

In our world of casual dating, many a convert approaches the Church in this way. "Oh, I'm just curious," I would tell myself. "I just wanted to know more. I just wanted to understand." There was no immediate commitment. I was not binding myself to the Church after the first Mass, just as I would not have married someone after knowing them for a week.

But there is something about the Church which prevents the convert from being too casual in his relationship with Her. The Church is mysterious, strong, constant and beautiful. Are we (those of us called to marriage, at least) not attracted to those qualities in our spouse? The Church is, after all, the bride of Christ.

This comparison, then, shouldn't be too surprising. It isn't that joining the Catholic Church is like finding the spouse God planned for you and marrying that person. It's that marriage reflects the relationship of Christ and the Church.

At our Nuptial Mass, our celebrant (a really awesome priest, by the way) had some very good things to say in his homily. Some excerpts:

"[You] now await in this Mass those precious moments which will make your union not merely a contract or a convenient arrangement, but a reflection of heavenly realities."

"Even though they make their vows to each other in the presence of the Church and Her minister, they quickly turn, taking their own love and offering it on the altar of God. In a sense, the vows of these two people are similar to the bread and wine which will be placed on the altar. They offer up their human love to the Source of all love."

"What better place is there, then, for an earthly marriage to take place than in Mass, the image of the marriage of Christ to His Church, the image of Heaven itself?"

The Sacrament of Marriage is understood to be lasting, faithful and fruitful. These words describe the Catholic Church as well. When one finds his spouse, he falls in love, and he commits to her in the presence of God. When one finds his spouse, he stops looking for another. It is likewise with the Catholic Church. When I found the Church, I fell in love, and I committed to Her in the presence of God. When I found the Church, I stopped looking for another, because the Catholic Church held everything that I desired, and more importantly, everything that I needed.

I am reminded of a quotation (on which I have commented previously) by G.K. Chesterton:

"It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair."