Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 78, “Adoration”

Dear friend,

I was raised in the Congregational Church until age 10, when my family moved east and into an Episcopal Church. To me the only difference was the kneelers and the more elaborate choreography of devotion that went with them.

I had to learn how and when to kneel, though I wasn’t sure why. Why do Catholics and most* Episcopalians kneel? Why didn’t we kneel in the Congregational Church? What is the meaning of kneeling?

In this chapter about the Book of Revelation, Romano Guardini has a simple explanation:

“The act of standing is a timeless human gesture. It says: I am. Here I stand, strong and determined to defend my rights—if necessary, by force. He who adores [on bended knee], sacrifices this independent attitude. Originally, prostration was the vassal’s expression of self-obliteration before the power of his lord. Here the same idea is transposed to the spiritual plane. The worshipper’s whole person says: Thine the power, not mine!”

RG adds that “The act of adoration has something infinitely genuine, beneficent, constructive about it—something salutary.” This is my experience.

In the Catholic Church, of course, there are additional “choreographies” to be learned for the convert like me. One of these is the practice in some parishes of “Eucharistic Adoration.” I don’t think the Episcopal Church (yours, formerly mine) has such a thing. In Adoration, one kneels before the consecrated Host, the Holy Eucharist, displayed behind glass at the center of a large sun-shaped “monstrance.”

Other Christian denominations may find this practice strange, superstitious, even idiotic. But for me it is, as RG notes, “salutary.”

Because whether I am kneeling before an altar or a statue of the Blessed Virgin or the Tabernacle, the verb remains to kneel. Doing so, I put myself, my ego aside. “Better to follow the will of a cat than your own will,” the Sufis say. I’m not sure about a cat, or the Sufis for that matter, but I am sure that following my own will alone has seldom led me to happiness.

Your old classmate,

* In recent years, I have attended an Episcopal chapel during a few weeks each summer—not instead of Catholic Mass but as a sort of social supplement. On my first visit I used a kneeler, and afterwards a friend approached me to warn that doing so might be gauche or naive. “No one uses those here,” he said.

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 79.

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