Obey Pastor or Conscience?

Fr. Bloom,

I am an attendee of ________ parish. Prior to coming to the Seattle area, I attended St. Catherine of Sienna parish in Great Falls, VA. The pastor there was Fr. Jerome Fasano, a man you may have heard of or possibly even know. Fr. Fasano very much impressed me with his love of God through his homilies and his treatment of the mass. While attending his parish, he pointed out that we were receiving the body of Christ Himself and that our showing an outward sign of reverence for that fact should be encouraged. He suggested genuflection, a bow, or even to receive Christ while kneeling, harkening back to the days of kneeling at the Communion rail. I chose genuflection and it 'felt' very appropriate to the moment - to what I was about to do. In truth, I prefer to receive Communion while at a rail, kneeling, but that option is almost universally absent (or difficult to accomodate).

I moved to the Seattle area and continued my practice of genuflection. After several years, the pastor included in one of his sermons that the members of the parish were a bit confused on whether they should be genuflecting as well. A number of people seemed to have adopted the practice. The pastor's comment was that genuflection and bowing was NOT proscribed by the rubrics of the mass and was inappropriate. He suggested that after receiving Communion, we should step to the side and bow or show some sign of reverence then. He did not give the impression that genuflection was appropriate even then.

For the life of me, it strikes me as odd to bow AFTER receiving communion. My genuflection is an outward sign of acknowledging what is about to be given to me. This was distilled quite wonderfully for me once when I received communion at the back of the mass, facing away from the altar. I genuflected towards the body of Christ - again, away from the altar. It felt right and I felt very good for having shown that outward sign.

Before I go farther, I should state that this is not a crisis of conscience for me, but it does give me pause for thought, as this email undoubtedly suggests...

The question that sits in my mind is whether obedience to my pastor outweighs the force of my own conscience and intellect. The Catholic church is somewhat in tumult today, with priests telling us many different things. When walking into any given church, it's always an unknown as to the form the mass will take. Personal interpretation has caused all sorts of problems throughout the history of the Catholic church, but with different priests presenting the form of the mass in so many different ways, it gets a bit confusing.

I kneel during the great amen at the end of the consecration, as I did while growing up. The congregation does not. Many parishes no longer kneel at any point, using standing as an indication of reverence. A corollary question then is whether unity of the congregation outweighs the force of my own conscience and intellect. Am I being arrogant in insisting that it is 'better' to be kneeling here or there, doing this or that, etc?

I'm sure this is something that puzzles a number of people in the United States, and I'd appreciate any comments that you might have on the general topic.




Dear John,

St. Thomas asked the question: "In indifferent matters is conscience more binding than the command of a bishop?" He answered in favor of conscience. (Disputed Question on Truth, Question 17, Article 5)

Even an erroneous conscience binds (Article 4). Of course, what you have is a somewhat uncertain conscience. My own tendency would be to split the difference, that is, to remain kneeling thru the Great Amen, if it can be done w/o being too distracting to others, but to follow what the pastor says about not genuflecting. It would too easily be misinterpreted as a sign of defiance. Make a bow while the person ahead is receiving communion - and reverence the Lord deeply in your heart.

Meanwhile you need to pray for your pastor. He's really one of the finest in the Archdiocese. The most effective thing you can do is spend as much time as your schedule permits in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. And to pray for the Archbishop. He will be gathering all the priests together early next year to discuss the implementation of the recent liturgical guidelines from Rome. Perhaps Jesus will show in prayer something you can do or say which would have a positive effect on your pastor or the Archbishop.

My prayers. God bless,

Fr. Phil Bloom


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