The following comes from a July 12 Homilitic & Pastoral Review Magazine article by Father Regis Scanlon, O.F.M.Cap.:
Some religious leaders in the Latin Rite are pressuring Catholics not to kneel at the Consecration, or to genuflect at their reception of the Eucharist. This trend has gained a great deal of traction in recent years, and is causing alarm among those who see it as a restriction of religious freedom.
This restriction of kneeling, which is being fostered by serious religious groups and orders, is being promulgated in both explicit and subtle ways. Whether it’s by making an actual rule, or by merely showing disapproval, participants in these liturgies are no longer free to “fall to their knees” in adoration.
The urge to fall down before Jesus has always been there. This is so, whether it is the Magi “falling down” before the baby Jesus in Mt 2:11; Mary Magdalene in Mt 28:9 “embracing his feet” after the Resurrection; or St. Paul saying in Phil 2:9 that “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend.”
By the time the Christians emerge from the catacombs (c.313), adoration of the Eucharist through bowing down and prostration was already in place. St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) says that we are to adore the Eucharist prior to receiving it: “No one eats of this flesh unless he has first adored … not only do we not sin by adoring, but we would sin by not adoring.” 2 He also says: “Therefore, when you bow and prostrate yourself even down to the earth in whatever way you please, it is not as if you are venerating the earth, but the former Holy (One) whose footstool (i.e., flesh) you adore.”
In our times, from the Second Vatican Council onward, Church norms have supported and encouraged the tradition of “falling down” before the Eucharist. The Council’s direction in this matter must be taken seriously. Those who would deviate from its direction should ponder whether they even have the authority to eliminate a liturgical tradition such as kneeling. That’s because the Council clearly sets the authority for regulating the Sacred Liturgy “solely … on the Apostolic See and as laws may determine on bishops” and “within certain defined limits” on “bishop conferences.”
The New Roman Missal states: “But, unless impeded by lack of space, density of crowd, or other reasonable cause, they (the faithful) should kneel down for the Consecration.”
In no.11 of the Second Vatican Council’s 1980 post-conciliar document, Inaestimabile Donum, the Church says:
When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration. When they receive communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. This should be done at the right time and place, so that the order of people going to, and from, communion should not be disrupted.
But why does the Church only “strongly recommend” this act—why not require it? First of all, not everyone is able to make a genuflection and keep their balance. Some may only be able to give a bow, sign of the cross, or bow of the head. This is acceptable.
But there is a more important reason.
The Church understands the importance of the individual response at this most intimate moment of receiving Holy Communion. Pope Benedict XVI saw the importance of the option to stand or kneel when receiving Holy Communion. Towards the end of his office as pope, he had a kneeler brought out at his communion station to give people an option to kneel when receiving.
There is a time for unity, and a time for diversity. Here the Church wants the communicant to be free to authentically respond from the heart by kneeling, genuflecting, bowing the body, making the sign of the cross, or just bowing their head. This is preferred to the impersonal “herd instinct” where one mechanically does what everyone else is doing just because they are doing it, and to avoid appearing different.
What can we learn from this? That even the most modern, contemporary thinking in the Church is emphasizing the role of the individual at the time of worship! Therefore, it is clearly going against the grain to force individuals to give up the time-honored, natural, and very human impulse to kneel before God, if their conscience so dictates.