Thursday 30 June 2011

The Devil has no knees...

I was fascinated by a point made on Fr. Simon Henry's blog: that the Devil is often depicted in art as having no knees. Digging a little further I discovered that
According to Abba Apollo, a desert father who lived about 1,700 years ago, the devil has no knees; he cannot kneel; he cannot adore; he cannot pray; he can only look down his nose in contempt. Being unwilling to bend the knee at the name of Jesus is the essence of evil. (Cf. Is 45:23, Rom 14:11) But when we kneel at Jesus' name, when we bow down in service of others, and when we bend the knee in adoration, we are following in the footsteps of the Magi, we are imitating Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and all the saints and angels in heaven.(from Adoramus.Org)

In France, where we are at the moment, kneeling during Mass, including during the consecration, is far less common than in the UK. Indeed, it is a rare church that even has any sort of provision for kneeling: with rows of chairs, tightly ranged together, a worshipper has to be fairly determined in order to kneel, and it is an uncomfortable choice to make. The norm is to stand (and I have to ask myself whether or not this is supposed to be "reverent standing" in the same way that the shuffling queue up to communion is considered by the CBCEW to be how the "faithful make their sign of reverence in preparation for receiving Communion."). Obviously in the Extraordinary Form there is more kneeling, but there's still less of it than I'm used to in the UK, with "kneeling bits" being truncated and becoming standing or sitting bits at several points in the Mass. It's confusing. It's as though the OF norms in France have permeated the Traditional Rite of the Mass. Of tangential interest: there's not a mantilla to be seen at either form of the Mass.

Over the years I've had to balance a desire not to draw attention to myself in Mass with a growing sense of the importance of Doing The Right Thing (cf. BaraBrith's thoughts on kneeling). In a previous parish in England maintaining this balance meant genuflection before receiving Holy Communion (on the tongue, which was unusual but not contentious in the parish) rather than kneeling: I was specifically asked by the Parish Priest not to kneel to receive the Blessed Sacrament. I did not wear a mantilla either, despite wanting to and feeling that it was the Right Thing to do for many years, because I felt that it would be taken as a sign of "ooooh, look how holy I am" and would arouse hostility. Thus it was a huge relief to move to a parish where the EF was celebrated regularly, and feel able to do the Right Thing without feeling that I was coming across as a beacon of false piety. 

But being in an "EF parish" has strengthened me to some extent. I'm no longer willing to enter a church or chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved without my veil. I'm not willing to stand during the consecration, and wherever possible I receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on my knees. Yes the mantilla may make me stand out in many parishes, but it's also like a bit of a force-field shielding me from everything but what really matters on the altar. Or perhaps it's a bit more like blinkers on a horse. Either way, it works for me.

I remember talking to a lovely family several years ago who lived in a rural parish in the UK and who had been asked by the local priest to not to genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament at Communion; it had been made clear that kneeling to receive Our Lord was not an option. They ignored the request and continued to genuflect unobtrusively, but were accused of "showing off". In a similar vein, I was dismayed to read a reader's comment on Fr. Finigan's blog about a recent sermon at Westminster Cathedral in which the priest admonished worshippers who knelt for communion as "making a show of [their] piety ... and... making the communion queue too long". There's too much of this about at the moment. 

In response I offer this heartening anecdote: this morning at Mass (in France: Ordinary Form) I was praying before Communion when the priest, on his way down from the sanctuary to distribute Holy Communion, nipped over to where I was kneeling and gave me the Blessed Sacrament there and then on my knees before heading back to distribute communion in the centre aisle. That's the second time it's happened with this particular priest in this church; the first time it really shocked me, it was so unexpected (and we were sitting way off to one side, a couple of rows back, so hardly front and centre). We know him quite well -  he's enthusiastic about the Benedictine reforms - and I'm guessing that he may be making his own point to his congregation in a quieter, more dignified way than whomever's Westminster sermon was referred to above. I'm also willing to bet that our priest here is less than two-thirds the age of the one quoted. 

The future is bright. The future kneels willingly, gratefully, lovingly before Our Lord. 


  1. What a good priest you have there! Do please pass on my warmest good wishes to him.

  2. He is, and I will. We seem to be rather fortunate with our priests at the moment! :-)