St. Stephen's Cathedral in Metz.
I came across this picture tonight. It is an interior photo of the very tall nave in the Metz Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Metz). The nave it shows is over 40 meters high! That’s impressive, but that fact is not why I am posting this photo.
As I was admiring the beauty of the cathedral, I noted that it has chairs instead of pews. My very first thought was about how hard it would be to set out all of those chairs. My next thought was, boy, I sure bet it’s difficult to keep all them straightly aligned, they must be knocked about pretty constantly….My next thought (stick with me, my thought process is rather tangential) was remembering that all the great churches of Europe lacked pews and chairs, and I immediately went into my next thought about how many thousands millions of Catholics through the centuries got down on their knees on the cold stone floor to pray and worship our Lord. Not for timed “one hour masses.” No, these were full on liturgical, Gregorian chanted, only the ordained priests touched the sacrament, loooong affairs. Several times a day. Everyday. When it was time to kneel, our predecessors got down on the stone…or tile…or bare floor. On. Their. Knees. And NOW we come to the reason why I posted the picture of the beautiful Metz Cathedral. Seeing this picture reminded me….
I remembered something my mom told me when I was a little girl. It was a moment that will stay with me all of my life. We were getting ready to go to church for Good Friday. My mom told me that when she herself was a girl, she was moved to see, every Good Friday, all the faithful Polish men of her parish approaching the Wood of the Cross on their knees, and weeping profusely. She told me, “Crying, they were crying. Gruff men, men like Grandpa!” And she repeated, shaking her head in awe, “They went the whole way on their knees! on the hard floor!” Though decades had passed, I could still hear the awe and emotion in my mom’s voice.
I remark this kind of faith and adoration, to approach our Lord in humility, in suffering, in sacrifice, in total gratitude. Would that today we see such faith!
I don’t know when I became aware that Protestants don’t kneel. I do not know when I noticed a lack of kneelers in their churches. But Catholics kneel. I have always thought of our kneeling-ness. And that reminds me of another family story. Whenever we would see my mom’s extended family, my dad would tell the story of attending Mass early in my parents’ marriage with my mom’s cousin, the nun. She stood next to my dad (then a Lutheran) and throughout the Mass “barked orders under her breath like a drill sergeant –‘Sit!…Kneel!…Stand!’” I still think of that story at odd times and hear in my head, “Sit! Kneel! Stand!” It makes me smile. I love the kneeling. I love the Church for kneeling. It makes us special because it makes us submissive. But over the decades, I have noticed a sad trend away from kneeling during Mass, even before and after Eucharist.
Because of that story my mom told me when I was a kid, my attitude about kneeling during the Mass is completely different than most modern Catholics. For instance, at my parish we have a few pew sections where there are no kneelers. So, I make sure that my family is the one which gets one of the ‘no kneeler pews’. We are kneelers in my family, and I would just as soon that it be my kids and me on our knees on the uncomfortable floor, than another family which most likely would then feel permitted to sit all through the Mass. I tell my kids, “With all Christ suffered for us, we can kneel on the carpet for 15 minutes.” When our knees hurt, we know to think, “Thank you, Lord, for letting us share in your suffering.” (When we first started doing this, the kids weren’t too happy but now they never complain.) I have found that our example sometimes seems to affect others in ‘no kneeler pews’, although that is not why we are doing it. We do it because we can choose to do it, we do it as a love offering to our fellow parishioners so that they don’t have to, and even more importantly, we do it so that they will not be tempted to ‘sit out’ the worship. We are helping them avoid this near occasion of …ingratitude and complacency.
In our modern society, we might think it is undignified to kneel. We might feel like it is uncomfortable and unnecessary. But kneeling has never been comfortable or dignified. The whole point, in fact the very reason why kneeling is NECESSARY, is because it demonstrates physically that we honor God, and submit to His Will. When we worship God, a necessary part of the worship is to acknowledge that He is great, and we are…not. If we cannot prostrate ourselves before our Lord, I fear our faith is shallow and our self-importance deep.
We are not doing God a favor by being in church on Sunday. We are not working our way into God’s good graces. We are allowed, through God’s infinite mercy, to be filled with all the blessings that the Mass imparts, to witness a miracle every Eucharist, to join in Christ’s divinity through it. We are honored and we are humbled and we say, “For you alone are the Holy One! You alone are the Lord! You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ!”
The LORD’S fire came down and consumed the holocaust, wood, stones, and dust, and it lapped up the water in the trench. Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said, “The LORD is God! The LORD is God!” — 1 Kings 18:39
Prayer: Jesus, You graciously and mercifully bore our sins upon Your back, suffering not only torture and death, but humiliation and scorn. Thank you! Lord, I beg You to work in me a miracle–convert my heart to love You with a fullness that drives out selfish thoughts for myself. Do not permit that my pride keep me from worshipping You in true love, as You deserve. Lord, You bring all sinners who seek You to forgiveness and grace. Fill me with grace now, I humbly ask. Amen.
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