In Omnibus Caritas — By Fr. Reginald, O.P.
In my relatively short time at Newman, I have been edified by the kind and welcoming spirit that I have observed here. There seems to be an understanding that people come from all different cultures and walks of life, bringing a variety of experiences and customs to the Church. This variety expresses itself in many ways, including the music we are used to, the way we dress in church, and in some of our practices in worship. Indeed, the Church allows for a wide range of practices in these areas, as long as we are united in Faith and obedient to Church authority.
Today, I would like to address a disparity that anyone who has been to Mass at Newman can observe: some (students and younger people, for the most part) choose to kneel for the Eucharistic prayer, while others remain standing during this time. I’m glad to be able to say that I have not observed contention or hard feelings over this issue, but still I am aware that some questions have arisen about it, and I think we can strive for greater understanding and charity for each other’s preferred way to express their reverence for the mystery of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Therefore, I would like to offer a few observations and advice for those who kneel, as well as for those who stand:
If you are troubled by the lack of kneeling at Newman, please don’t assume that this indicates a lack of belief in or reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist. In the history of the Church, there have been, and still are, some cultures that express their reverence with a bow instead of kneeling. While it is true that the Church in our country asks us to kneel if possible, the Church’s official instructions for celebrating Mass indicates this: there is also an exception if kneeling is not practical because of bad knees, lack of space, or similar reasons (GIRM 43). The fact is that our church (with the permission of the bishop at the time) was built without kneelers on the pews, and our parishioners are simply following the practice they have learned here.
Similarly, if somehow you are bothered by seeing others kneel, please don’t assume that those who kneel are making some kind of statement, accusing you of doing something wrong, or attempting to change things here. The students who come to Newman, with very few exceptions, grew up kneeling in church at home and will move on to churches where everybody kneels if they are able. They are simply speaking the bodily language of adoration that is familiar to them.
It may well be that Newman will have kneelers on the pews at sometime in the future. True, it would be an expense and we would lose some seats, but the Church also values unity of gesture in a particular local context, and it may be that our Diocese will eventually want us to make it easier for those who wish to practice the custom typical in our country. (At the same time, I don’t expect that anyone will ask you to change your current practice.) In any case, and especially as we enter more deeply into Lent this year, let us practice the charity and understanding that is characteristic of St. Thomas More Newman Center. Remember an old saying that was quoted with approval by Pope Saint John XXIII about what our attitude should be toward the diversity of practices that we see in the Church: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas — “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”