Sunday, January 09, 2011

On Bended Knee

This morning, I went with Brother Boynton and Father Kiser to celebrate the Eucharist at a local parish. The liturgy was very nice and I noticed quite a few of my students in the congregation, so I tried to be on my best behavior. The sprinkling rite was sufficiently wet (Father Kiser, the celebrant, has deadly accuracy with his aim) and the music and homily were spot-on. The only trouble, though, was with the kneelers.

I grew up in a parish without kneelers. For this reason, perhaps, I am extraordinarily conscientious about kneeling protocol. For instance, if I am sitting next to a person who is slower to kneel than I am, I linger in a half-seated, half-standing pose until such time the person has sits down, pulls the kneeler down, and assumes position. I call this the two-stage approach: stage one (sit) followed by stage two (release kneeler and slide into place). I let these people take the lead, usually out of deference to their age.

A second type of protocol is called for when dealing with persons with children. The small child playing on the floor poses a unique challenge to the lowering of the kneeler, as you can't be expected to shove a toddler with your foot to make room for the cushioned kneeler (although I am often tempted to shove toddlers during the liturgy). Just recently, in fact, I had the awkward experience of putting a kneeler down on a child's blankie, eliciting cries of protest and forcing me from my angelic contemplation to do a half-seated rise (almost a Yoga pose) so the blanket could be released.

Then there is the peremptory dropper. These are the folks who make a big show of lowering the kneeler WAY before it's time to do so and does so to make sure that everyone else knows that we're going to be doing it soon. They release the kneeler and seem to savor the loud noise it makes when it hits the floor.  These are the people who LOVE to kneel and seem to treat kneeling as an endurance contest. More on this later.

A fourth sort is a bit ambiguous, sort of like the duck-billed platypus of the liturgy. These are the people who will lower the kneeler and then rest on the edge of the pew, their knees hovering above the cushion. I suspect that this is more comfortable than kneeling, although I can't imagine resting on my tailbone to be very inviting.

Finally, there is my sort of kneeler. At the appropriate time, my eyes do a lateral sweep to make sure there are no children/blankets/purses/etc. underfoot. I then use the toe of my shoe to hook under the kneeler, lower it to the top of my foot, and then gently bring it to the floor without any noise. When it is time to kneel, I lower myself down carefully and try to sit erect (no halving it for me: I think there is something lost by leaning your butt against the pew while your arms rest on the pew in front of you). When it is time for the Our Father, I stand and put the kneeler up...and then lower it again for Communion.

The kneelers add, to my mind, a whole dimension to the liturgy I missed as a kid. I feel a certain sense of stewardship for my fellow seat mates as I have no inhibitions and sort of assume the position of "Kneeler Captain" at Mass. I think I observe good space (thigh-to-thigh is too close) and I find kneeling to help in putting me into a more prayerful space. The kneelers, though, bring out my darker side. Sometimes I find myself getting into kneel-offs with the peremptory droppers, those who think they can outdo others with a grand show of endurance. I take some delight in the fact that I have strong quads and good posture and can kneel for a very long time without fidgeting. I score a venial victory each time I find that I can outlast one of them.

Today, though, I found a new development. When we were queuing up to receive Communion, several segments of my pew had the kneelers down, meaning that one had to walk delicately around them (very narrow space) or put it down for the forgetful person. I feel bad doing this, as though I'm trespassing on someone's property. This is especially true if, as I found today, someone had put her purse on the kneeler before getting into the Communion line, meaning that I risked dumping a purse (bad), tripping over the kneeler (not good), or touching someone else's property (a misdemeanor). What's someone to do? The purse-on-kneeler, though, is not nearly as troublesome as the person who does not go up to Communion but insists on kneeling while others do. In itself, not a problem. Yet, it's hard to navigate around such a person on the return. Twice in the last six months I've had to tap a person who, so enraptured in prayer that he forgot that he had become a traffic violation, was blocking the return-to-pew flow.

It's things like this that make me love being Catholic: Mass, for the vigilant soul, is seldom dull!

After Mass, though, a crazed mother virtually accosted me over the fact that I had assigned a paper that was due on Christmas Eve. Now it didn't matter that I had given the students well over a week to do the assignment, or that I wanted them to reflect on the readings for the Christmas Mass BEFORE Christmas, or that her son isn't even in my class; indeed, I thought that Jesus' crucifixion would be a kinder alternative to what she seemed to have in store for me.

Fortunately, I was not executed. She showed mercy and invited my Jesuit companions to join her and her family for breakfast. It was a delightful treat and I enjoyed spending time them...even though I kept an eye on her the entire time, lest she make an attempt on my life as we ate.

Thanks MB!! (I warned you that I'd write something)

In other news, we're now in Finals week. I have to read the Senior Philosophy finals tonight/tomorrow and then on Tuesday I will administer "The Final Exam...of Doom" to the sophomores. This exam was forged and crafted over the course of six hours, four atrocious 80's horror movies, and a pot of coffee yesterday afternoon. This translates into: it's a pretty funny exam, not too taxing, and should leave most of them smiling.
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