Friday, May 1, 2015

Pope Francis Comes Out in Favor of Genuflecting

Pope Francis Praying

The issue of when to genuflect is a simmering mini-controversy among Catholics. I know that will bring a smile to the lips of non-Catholics and non-Christians alike. But there it is. The caricature is that Catholic liberals are generally against genuflecting, while Catholic traditionalists are generally for it.

Pope Francis just commented on the issue. In a recent "video message" to the actors and audience in a performance for charity, the Pope said,
How I wish...that Christians could kneel in veneration when a poor person enters the church.
Okay, so he wasn't talking about genuflecting to Christ.

Or was he?

Did he mean Christians should kneel to and venerate the poor? Or did he mean Christians should kneel to and venerate Christ through kneeling to and venerating the poor? Or did he mean, at that very moment (when a poor person enters the church) they should kneel and venerate Christ in the tabernacle?
"Hey man, this is a cool place. Why are those guys suddenly kneeling? Wait, let me walk backwards and repeat. Whoa! They did it again. I could get used to this!"
I have no idea. And, frankly, I suspect the Pope doesn't either.

So, I don't have answers here. But I want to set forward a number of somewhat random points and questions that I think are interesting. How these are sorted out (if they can be) is up to the reader:
  • As far as I know the Pope has never explicitly recommended genuflecting to God, or to Christ at Mass.
  • The Pope has been accused (with abundant evidence) of NOT kneeling at the expected times at Mass, unlike all of his modern predecessors.
  • This has been explained by the claim that he has bad knees.
  • The Pope HAS kneeled at other expected and appropriate times.
  • He has also kneeled at inappropriate times--such as to holy roller preachers.
  • Some non-tradititionalists--such as the Pope? (see above)--appear to think that kneeling is more appropriate at independent prayer or, say, at confession, than during Mass.
  • Does this make sense?
  • As far as I know, the Pope has never kneeled and venerated a poor person.
  • Why not?
  • If you have really bad knees or are in a wheelchair, etc., you don't have to kneel.
  • Tradition tells us the Devil has no knees.
  • I have bad knees and sometimes I carry a baby in a sling. I try to perform a rough bow.
  • If my son slinks out of the pew and starts sprinting up the aisle, I do a nod before pursuing him.
  • Does that make me a poser?
  • They tell me that modern churches have no kneelers. I have never seen this. Maybe it's in Belgium.
  • In the Bible, Jesus says the poor are blessed. He makes kindness to the poor a virtue. He also prescribes poverty for many--including at least one would-be follower, his apostles and (by extension) many priests.
  • But excessive worship of the poor or of poverty (intrinsically or in general) has been designated a heresy by the Church.
  • Once, Mary Magdelen poured an entire jug of expensive perfume over Jesus' head. She was rebuked by, of all people, Judas, who said she should have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. Judas was in turn rebuked by Jesus who famously said, "The poor will always be with you, but I will not always be with you."
  • What relevance does that have for today's Christian?
  • Liberals think you should receive communion standing.
  • Traditionalists think you should receive communion kneeling.
  • Some traditionalists would say that even though you should receive it kneeling, if everyone else is doing it standing, you shouldn't call attention to yourself.
  • Others disagree.
  • A young girl once genuflected before taking communion from Bishop X. He snarled, "Don't ever do that in my church again."
  • Is he a bishop of mercy?
  • During a certain era in the early Church, it was decreed that communion shouldn't be taken standing.
  • This was because there had been an an epidemic of kneeling that at that time signified a particular status that some people were faking.
  • Nevertheless, some contemporaries point to this as an early Church practice that we should go back to.
  • Oddly, they don't want want to go back to the early Church practice of permanently expelling adulterers from the Christian community.
  • People are inconsistent.
  • Many sincere and faithful Protestants think this is all silly.
  • With respect to them, what I like about Catholicism is the acknowledgment that we are spiritual and physical creatures. Physical gestures aren't everything, but they also aren't nothing.
  • Since we are both physical and spiritual, the physical often complements the spiritual.
  • If and when you meet God and truly see His face, what will you do?

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