Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the President and Chief Operating Officer of EWTN News, Inc. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
I have been disturbed in Mass by folks who don’t kneel or who half-kneel (“rear-end” still on the seat).
This might sound petty but I am crippled and wish desperately that I myself could kneel. What a profound privilege it is to kneel before our God and King. He has given everything for me and I can give so little in return. I physically can’t kneel, but I long to. Why don’t those who can appreciate that they should? It is very frustrating to watch.
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I am deeply sorry that you desire to kneel but cannot. You should know that your desire to kneel is sufficient for a good disposition to receive the graces that come from this humble act. You are already kneeling in your heart, so please rest in the knowledge that God sees your heart and that you are in fact kneeling before Him because you desire it.
The timing of your question is a bit ironic, because I am recovering from a broken leg. I was just in Mass working hard to kneel, but it was painful. I am finally now able to kneel after many months, but getting up is tough without help. Today I knelt and watched as an able-bodied person stayed seated a few chairs down from me. It was sad to me and I suspect it would have been troubling to you.
Why does this happen? First, we shouldn’t presume or judge others. Many are ignorant of the teachings of the Church on these matter. They are not aware that these gestures are not optional for those who are able (unlike you). They are not aware of Church teaching regarding how they should (as a few examples):
Kneel as they enter their pew before Mass
Kneel if they cross the altar before Mass
Make an act of reverence before they receive the Eucharist
Unfortunately, in our time, another reason people give for avoiding kneeling or half-kneeling is that kneeling or whatever action required in Mass makes them uncomfortable. I don’t doubt their suffering. In your case this is a very difficult and absolute limitation of your expression of bodily worship. However, there are many like me who have legitimately experienced a great deal of pain kneeling, standing, sitting, or any action involving my knees, but who still do it anyway.
Those in my category have a choice to make. For me, I cannot worship the King of all Kings in Mass and allow even a good bit of pain to keep me from kneeling or following any form of worship inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is God’s just due and that is rightly honoring to Him. If I can kneel to get ready in the morning or to pick something off the floor, or if I can go to the gym to work out, however rickety I am, then I can surely give myself to God has He has asked me to through the teachings of the Church in worship. It would be shameful to go easy on myself when Christ embraced profound suffering on my behalf as He gave Himself over to be scourged, beaten, mocked, and crucified in order to save my soul.
As well, as I suffer, I often give my suffering up to those who have asked me to pray for them. There is no more powerful place to offer up these prayers and join our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ than in the Mass. In my opinion, if I hurt but am not damaging my body by following the Holy Spirit’s prescriptions regarding how we should worship, I must follow them. God is worthy.
However, if someone is in the category like you, or who would be tangibly damaged by worshiping God in this way, then neither God or the priest or anyone in the Church expects you to do so.
Finally, the enemy would love nothing more than to distract you at Mass because of this issue. Please work hard to ignore what others are doing and pour your heart out to God as you kneel in your heart and worship him in the best way that you are able.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Here’s a link to something I wrote a while back about kneeling and genuflection, for even more perspective on this topic.