Monday, April 4, 2011

The Gospel: Sitting and Standing

Monday greetings to all.

It was 72 degrees here in Chicago late last night. And tonight's temperature will be 32 degrees. Ah, the Midwest in the Spring.

I wanted to ask a question of the readers of Gotta Sing Gotta Pray.

I was quite surprised at Mass yesterday. When the time came for the proclamation of the Gospel (The long section from John that proclaimed the story of the Man Born Blind), the deacon announced that we were invited to be seated because of the length of the Gospel and so that we could meditate on the Gospel. Maybe I am just getting to be liturgically crotchety, but I found this to be disconcerting. I left my seat and stood against the back wall, trying not to look like I was making any kind of statement of protest. I just felt strongly that I needed to honor this great Gospel story by remaining standing.

The "please be seated" instructions I have heard over the years when the Passion was proclaimed on Palm Sunday and Good Friday has always irked me as well. I remember standing for these long Gospels when I was a kid and it was something that helped form my own "Catholic DNA." I have since been in too many places where we are all invited to be seated for these Gospels. I firmly believe that, perhaps of any Gospel proclamation, the proclamation of the Passion necessitates our standing in honor and praise for what is being proclaimed.

I realize that the invitation to be seated is made primarily as a gesture of hospitality and kindness to those (the elderly and those with disabilities) who would find standing for such a long time a real burden. But I also honestly feel that when people find it difficult to stand for a long period, they will simply choose to be seated. And I know that this might be embarrassing for them, or make them feel quite self-conscious. While I completely understand this, I think that perhaps an announcement before Mass begins or perhaps a mention in the worship program might alleviate their discomfort. Something like: "The proclamation of the Gospel at today's Mass is quite a bit longer than usual. For those who find standing for a long period of time to be quite difficult, please feel free to be seated during today's Gospel."

I guess that this all points to the fact that it might be a good idea to do some general catechesis with parishioners regarding the postures we use at Mass. I wonder how many people even realize why we stand at some points, kneel at others, bow at times, and kneel at other times.

So, please feel free to weigh in on this. What is your opinion?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


John Black said...

Amen, Brother. How do I comment even somewhat concisely while attempting to stand on several soapboxes at the same time (diminishment of both self-discipline & self-sacrifice, oversensitivity to avoiding offending anyone, fervent attempts to appease the masses, etc.)?

I was raised to believe that a component of our standing during the passion gospel was in deference and respect of Jesus' suffering. If He could endure what we were about to hear, we could certainly stand while hearing it.

During a recent Triduum planning meeting, our pastor--very sensitive to the needs of the elderly--called for the seating of all during the Good Friday reading. Ugh.

I agree with you, Jerry. Announce to those with health concerns that being seated is completely understandable and acceptable. (There are certainly relaxations of Lenten regulations for those with health concerns.)

Commentators over the years have pontificated that the watering-down of our Catholic rituals has, perhaps, contributed to the falling away of some. As children need structure and discipline, so also do members of the church. Without it our Catholic identity and sense of belonging weakens. While this "standing" issue is small potatoes, I think it decreases the reverent posture of the liturgy. And, with the coming the Third Edition, isn't increasing reverence one of our focus points?

And thanks for the food for thought. At tonight's staff meeting, I'll ask for just such a "personal needs" announcement preceding this year's passion readings.

Anonymous said...

Jerry, I completely agree. A little discomfort from standing for a lengthy Gospel, especially during Lent, is good for the soul.

How is it that so many of the disciplines which once helped define us have been discarded? The reduced Eucharistic fast of one hour is practically meaningless. The Lent-only Friday abstention from meat leaves us effectively mortification-free the rest of the year.

Let us pray that no well-meaning deacons or priests allow those of us who are able-bodied to sit during the reading of the Passion.

Fr. Jan Larson said...

You got to be kidding. I read this gospel, out loud, as if telling the story to a child. It took four and a half minutes. If deacons and priests want to be "compassionate" to people, let them preach an engaging homily. Four and a half minutes? How long do the tortured people in these congregations spend on their feet in shopping malls or in their own kitchens? As for the elderly and infirm, I'll bet they have the common sense to sit if they must. But four and a half minutes?

Anonymous said...

Invite those who need to sit to feel free to do so. The Church never requires the impossible. But the rest of us should keep standing.

Alan Hommerding said...

Does that gospel last even 5 minutes?
I sometimes feel like making the announcement "If you have never stood in line for more than 5 minutes to see a movie or concert, get into a sport event, or check out while Christmas shopping, go ahead and be seated during the gospel. If you've stood longer than 5 minutes for ANYTHING, stand for the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ."
At the last Mass I played yesterday, a couple of people in the congregation did not stand for the proclamation of the Gospel. We did not make any sort of announcement about its length, etc. I'm assuming that, in both cases, the individuals had looked ahead, saw the length of the gospel reading, and made their own determination to remain seated.
I am all for hospitality and sensitivity, but I'm also in favor of respect - respecting folks' ability to make their own decisions regarding their capabilities to stand or not. And if somebody needs to sit down in the middle of the Gospel, let them. Especially in the case of the elderly or those with some sort of physical limitation, I'm sure we can count on those in the congregation near them to understand.

Maureen Grisanti Larison said...

Preach it, Jerry! If you are "liturgically crotchety" (gotta love that expression) out of respect for the Gospel of the Lord, then I pray that we may all follow your example.

Scott Pluff said...

May I ask a related question? Is the long form of these readings always preferable to the short form?

For years, I advocated for always using the long form. Longer = fuller, richer, more is more. Short form might be OK in a nursing home, but not in a parish.

But I'm having second thoughts. The kernel of the passage is found in the shorter form. If the shorter form is proclaimed with sensitivity and leads into a good homily, that can be quite effective. Perhaps less can = more in some cases.


David Bonofiglio said...

@Scott, great question. Sometimes I think we are a little to in love with to concept of "fullness" at the expense of comprehension, practicality or patience. The ritual exists for the church, not the church for the ritual. If brevity is the soul of wit, can it not also be the soul of reverent contemation?

Anonymous said...

I understand that it is part of our discipline to stand unless elderly or disabled during the gospel,yes.
But if the priest requests that we sit even though we weren't raised that way, it is also discipline do as we are told by the residing priest .
He is our leasder at mass.
It is a discipline to follow his direction. I think we are showing disobedience if we do otherwise. So whatever the priest wants-that's what we should do at the time. Play it by ear I say. Rebellion is not the message we want to set as an example to the youth at the masses. Amen

Diana Macalintal said...

Thanks, Jerry. I posted an "amen" over at our diocesan blog.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Postures and gestures are part of the sacred symbols at the Liturgy. Does this congregation bow during the creed or its it too much of a burden ?

Linda Reid said...

I have experienced both the "please be seated" and standing throughout (2 different pastors). Our current pastor relies on the common sense of those who may be physically impaired and this seems like the best route to me. My two herniated discs put me in the category of physically impaired, but I stand as long as I can!
Scott, i have always liked the long form of the readings and I missed the wonderful details when the short form was read yesterday. But I do see your point and concede that the shorter form could convey the kernel on which the homilist will speak.

Luke said...

I see and agree with your stance on this, Jerry. I am physically disabled and use a wheelchair, so I cannot stand even for the shortest of Gospel passages. There's nothing wrong with sitting if one needs to.

However, I'd like to point out that I believe our close liturgical "relative" in the US, the Episcopal Church, provides a provision for the assembly to remain seated for most of the Passion. They rise at the mention of the arrival at Golgotha and remain standing, except at the mention of Jesus's death (kneel). This strikes me as a very good compromise.

Richard said...

Geneneral catechesis on postures is something most parishes could benefit from. This will give insight in how to handle this situation.

Anonymous said...

Wow! This started quite a conversation. To echo what many said, if someone wants to sit, they will sit. At my church, there is no announcement made. We are quite sensitive to those with disabilities and everyone understands, if you need to sit, sit. Cathechesis is needed. So true about standing in line at a concert or shopping etc. If you can't stand in praise and honor to the Good News, oy vey!

Jeff Rexhausen said...

Jerry, while I like the idea of standing, the combination of some people standing and others sitting puts those who sit at a visual disadvantage, unless they are in the front row/pew. So having everyone adopt the same posture has communal value, leaving me uncertain how to balance the competing values of different arrangements. Thoughts?

Jeff Rexhausen said...

Jerry, while I like the idea of standing, the combination of some people standing and others sitting puts those who sit at a visual disadvantage, unless they are in the front row/pew. So having everyone adopt the same posture has communal value, leaving me uncertain how to balance the competing values of different arrangements. Thoughts?

Chironomo said...

As the average age of parishioners in our parish is upwards of 60 (that's the AVERAGE age), this is always an issue.

But for the Man Born Blind? This isn't a long Gospel, even using the "long form" (which is, get this, about a minute and 20 seconds longer than the 'short form").

We use worship aids in our parish, and for Palm Sunday and Good Friday we put a brief statement in that those who are physically unable to stand may be seated. Hardly any ever take us up on this invitation... even our 102 year old former Choir Director stands!

I find this as sensible as having the assembly sit throughout the Intercessions on Good Friday...I've known that to be the case at more than a few parishes because, supposedly, it's "ridiculous" to make people stand, kneel and stand again for 10petitions. Um...can we say "hang on a cross for a few hours on Friday" anyone?

Chironomo said...

And regarding the short form... In the case of Lent IV in Year A (Man Born Blind) the short form leaves out the real message... Spoken to the Pharisees by Jesus. It portrays a very harsh and judgmental Christ... Not the "Jesus loves and accepts everyone no matter what" message that is so often favored. Unfortunately, these "short forms" seem to be edited more for content than simply for time... Taking out those passages where the words of Jesus become hard to hear...

Anonymous said...

Jerry, I appreciate your concern about things being done correctly liturgically. As a young adult, I remember growing up with the instructions to be seated for long gospel readings such as that of Palm Sunday (I also grew up used to it being read, almost as a play). I think that because of this, it has never bothered me (in fact, it has always seemed legitimate because of this).

One question regarding this--is there anything in the GIRM, or any other church document, allowing this type of change to be made to the posture, or is it something that came about in an informal manner?

I know many young adult Catholics from different dioceses, parishes, and countries. I often find that regarding posture, people tend to like it to be the way it was when they grew up. For example, people who grew up at a parish with kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer generally seem to think that this should be the default posture. However, people who have grown up standing during the Eucharistic Prayer, prefer this posture instead.

Jennifer said...

Am I the only one who finds the theology of "Jesus hung on a cross for three hours, so the least I can do is stand up for the Passion Reading" sort of problematic?

That's not to say that I disagree with Jerry's original premise (though my chief memory of being a child on Palm Sunday was passing out one hot year somewhere halfway through the story); this line of reasoning just makes the little hairs on my neck stand up.

FTR, the parishes in which I've worshiped (since my grandma's church where I went--and fainted--as a kid) have always invited the assembly to sit for the Passion, including the one where I currently minister. It has never bothered me. My DNA still appears to be fairly Catholic as well, and I do not feel less so for spending the past 25 years in places which observe this particular custom.

I also have to express my uncertainty with your statement "when people find it difficult to stand for a long period, they will simply choose to be seated"...yes, perhaps, but without the invitation there I'd suspect the possibility of some discomfort and--dare I say it?--guilt, especially if the idea of standing during the Passion really IS something we are brought up to believe is a measure of our Catholic identity. Are the people who sit for the passion, when MAYBE they could stick it out and suffer a little (since after all Jesus suffered so much more), somehow less Catholic than those who remain standing? Obviously these are rhetorical and somewhat silly questions...but I suspect that they, in some form, are equally coded in many a Catholic double-helix.

Given my druthers, I'd probably not push for the seated Passion. But I do think it's a fairly small thing and not terribly damaging. And I don't think any gesture of "hospitality and kindness" need automatically be viewed with skepticism.
(equally crotchety this week; it's an annual thing.)