Bow, bow to the GIRM-Oz

Where’s John L. Allen Jnr when you need him, eh? While the Yanks got a blow by blow account on the net of the goings on at the USCBC meeting in October complete with interviews, background discussion and general gossip, we had to wait for a rather less than inspiring three page roundup of the November 2007 Plenary Meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, completely sans any interesting commentary.

For instance, I would have liked to have been in the press gallery when “that petition” was tabled. I know that at least one Australian bishop had threatened to walk out if that happened. I wonder if he did? And if anyone else joined him in this protest? Alas, until we get something akin to a press gallery at the plenaries, we will never know such juicy details.

But in any case, the report does have some interesting details.

For eg., at Pentecost, the new GIRM (General Instruction on the Roman Missal)–Australian version–will come into force. We are told that this will result in a mere two changes for the Australian layman (and woman etc):

The first change relates to posture. At present when the priest invites the people to pray at the Preparation of the Gifts the congregation remains seated until…the Prayer over the Gifts.

From Pentecost Sunday next year the congregation will be asked to STAND when the priest invites the congregation to pray, “Pray brethren…”.

The second change relates to a Gesture. The Australian edition of the GIRM says: “When approaching to receive Holy Communion, the faithful bow in reverence of the Mystery that they are to receive” (GIRM 160).

The communicant might [might?? Do you mean there is a choice on how we interpret this instruction?] bow just before receiving Holy Communion or perhaps while the person in front of them is receiving Holy Communion. Such a bow can be done simply, without disrupting the flow of the Communion Procession which is a most important ritual act in the celebration of the Mass.

The first change is uncontroversial, but I can see an absolute mine-field of problems involved in the second “change”. That “might” in the commentary says it all. Exactly how “might” one observe the bow and how might one not?

For instance, the US version of GIRM has at this point the following:

When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister.

From the comment above, it appears that the Australian bishops envisage something more in line with a “profound bow”, ie. stopping still, and bending at the waist toward the Eucharist. A mere “bow of the head” could not be expected to “disrupt the flow of the Communion procession.”

I can just see Elizabeth Harrington having a field day with this one. What about those who “might” decide to genuflect to the sacrament? Is this forbidden? or is it a licit interpretation of how one “might” observe the instruction to “bow”? Or what if one actually “might” want to kneel to receive communion. Will they be chastised for “disrupting the flow of the Communion procession”?

The US version of GIRM actually includes a note to the effect that:

The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.

Hmm. While on the one hand, this protects the right of the kneelers to receive communion, it actually seems to deny them the right to kneel. I don’t know what Papa Benny would think of this. A little too reminiscent of the “Black Rubric”, me thinks. And I don’t know if I would like to be on the receiving end of that “pastoral catechesis” solution. Seems like a job for Elizabeth…

Nevertheless, the Australian version of this paragraph is perhaps even a little more worrying, as it goes to the bother of including the “pastoral catechesis” in the GIRM-Oz itself:

In Australia standing is the most common posture for receiving Holy Communion. The customary manner of reception is recommended to be followed by all, [and here comes the “pastoral catechesis”:] so that Communion may truly be a sign of unity among those who share in the same table of the Lord. When approaching to receive Holy Communion, the faithful bow in reverence of the Mystery that they are to receive.

One could point out that communion is “a sign of unity among those who share in the same table of the Lord” precisely because they ARE all sharing in the same table of the Lord, and NOT because they all do the same thing in the communion line like a bunch of robots. That little addition has the fingerprints of Dr Erlich and co. all over it. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that standing is simply acknowledged as “the most common posture” for reception and that the GIRM simply recommends this be followed by all. Well, we are happy with that. Let it be a recommendation, and not a law for the Liturgy Police to get their knickers in a knot over (sometimes I wonder who the real ritualists are in this arguement).

But why all this hoo-hah? The simple thing is to take a look at the original Latin of the GIRM which should clear the whole matter up. Paragraph 160 carries the simple instruction:

Fideles communicant genuflexi vel stantes, prout Conferentia Episcoporum statuerit. Cum autem stantes communicant, commendatur ut debitam reverentiam, ab iisdem normis statuendam, ante susceptionem Sacramenti faciant.

I make that to mean that the Holy See approves either standing or kneeling to receive communion, according to the statutes determined by the Bishops Conference, but if communion is received standing a “debitum reverentiam” (a “reverance which is due to the sacrament by right”) is made before the reception according to the same norms.

Note that no “debitum reverentiam” is required of those who receive communion kneeling–for the simply reason that kneeling to receive is precisely such an act of reverance. So in fact, the “bow” that is required in the new Australian norms should be interpreted as something that is required of those who receive the Eucharist standing (since without such an act of reverence, standing would be an unacceptable posture for reception of communion). Precisely because their action IS a “debitum reverentiam”, those whose practice it is to make a a genuflection before reception or to receive the Eucharist kneeling should not be regarded as failing to observe the instruction of the GIRM-Oz.

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