Can Priests Chance the Church’s Practice on Kneeling?

Q: Our parish has no kneelers and does not kneel during Mass. I contacted my priest about this, and after a lot of tap dancing around the issue he stated, “We don’t want to emphasize our unworthiness.” I questioned further about why our missalettes instruct us to kneel and why shouldn’t we be promoting this. My question is: Does a parish priest have the authority to change the practice of kneeling during Mass, seemingly in conflict with the official position of our Church?

A: The short answer is, your priest has no authority whatsoever to disobey the liturgical laws of the Church. His job is to enforce the liturgical laws of the Church in your parish — that is part of what he is paid by the Church to do — not to reject and disobey them.

He does have the authority, on special occasions, to suspend the practice of kneeling (e.g., when the sanctuary is so overcrowded that there is no room to kneel), but he has no authority whatsoever to jettison the Church’s liturgical law concerning kneeling on a regular or permanent basis.

Not even the bishop has the authority to do this. Only the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, subject to ratification by the Vatican, can do this, and the U.S. bishops and Vatican have not done that here. What you are reading in the missalettes concerning kneeling through (not just up to the beginning of) the Great Amen is the liturgical law for the United States and is the policy of the U.S. NCCB and the Vatican.

Concerning his statement that “we don’t want to emphasize our unworthiness,” two points need to be made: First, there is a difference between unworthiness and reverence. One may kneel before a king (like King Jesus) out of reverence, and second, we do want to emphasize our unworthiness before the all-holy God-King, Jesus Christ, which is why we say during the Mass, “Lord, I am unworthy to receive you,” to which we add the acclamation of God’s power to cleanse us spiritually, “but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

For further assistance in combating this flagrant liturgical abuse, I suggest you contact the St. Joseph Foundation of San Antonio, Texas at 210-697-0717 or email them. They are experts in ensuring Catholic are guaranteed their canonical and liturgical rights, including the right to have the Church’s liturgy celebrated properly.

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