This time of year, I am wistfully remembering our summer vacation. The ferry ride to Washington Island. Walleye at the English Inn. The bag of cheese curd next to a bottle of wine in our room’s refrigerator.
I imagine I’m standing on Ephraim’s shore and scanning the hillside across the bay where shops and art studios dot the landscape. I have trouble envisioning a snow-covered bay. I don’t suppose people are running along the shore or riding bikes like they did last June. Seasons change places like Door County, Wisconsin.
And I wonder about St. Rosalia, the Stella Maris parish in Sister Bay where we worshipped Our Lord last summer.
Something unusual happened the day we visited that parish. After genuflecting, we slipped into a row and leaned forward to lower the kneelers. There were no kneelers to lower.
My husband and I wondered for a moment if we had made a mistake. Was this really a Catholic parish? I looked at the inside of the church. Yes, there was Our Lady. It must be Catholic.
It was the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. And we were in a Catholic church, but we wouldn’t be kneeling at the moment of Consecration – the very moment that the Corpus Christi would come to us in the Eucharist.
My heart ached for kneelers. Doesn’t that sound strange coming from a former Protestant who spent forty years in churches that didn’t have kneelers?
I wondered as I sat there. Why had they left out kneelers when they built this church? I guessed that the decision had been made in an attempt to welcome visitors. This area of Wisconsin had its share of tourists. I suspected that the parishioners had hoped to welcome anyone and everyone.
I visited a few Catholic churches as a child. On those rare occasions, I did think the kneelers were a strange addition to a sanctuary. Kneelers were part of the list of Catholic oddities that included incense, bells, and statues.
So why was my heart heavy on that Solemnity of Corpus Christi? If I could live without kneelers for forty years, surely I could worship without them during this one Mass.
But there’s one thing that changes everything for me. That one thing is Jesus Christ, Our Eucharistic Lord.
I came to the Catholic Church with a love for Christ, and when I grasped the Truth – that this same Christ was truly present in the Eucharist - everything changed.
I thought of St. Paul’s letters. To the Romans, he writes, “As I live, every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” To the Philippians, St. Paul writes, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth.”
That day in Door County, I knew that this same Lord would come to all of us. And there was no kneeler upon which to bend our knees.
At the end of Mass, the priest made an announcement. “There are envelopes in the pews if you wish to make a donation for kneelers. We want to comply fully with our Bishop’s mandate for every parish in the diocese to have kneelers,” he said.
I blinked back tears. This bishop was a shepherd after St. Paul’s own heart! And I pulled out my checkbook and wrote a check.
I understand the desire to make all people feel welcome. And I remember all too well what it was like to see the kneelers and not understand. To watch the incense going up, to hear the bells and not know that Jesus Christ had just arrived.
Just bells for no reason. Incense to be different. Kneelers to pray when I could pray while standing or sitting, whether indoors or outside.
But if you had asked me what I would do if Jesus Christ walked through the door, if Jesus came to me in the Flesh and stood before me – even back then I would have smiled and answered without hesitation.
I’d hit my knees.
There is one thing in the Mass that changes everything. Jesus Christ comes to us really and truly- Corpus Christi. All praise, glory, honor, and power belong to Our Lord.
God bless the bishops for reminding us: We have the Body of Christ.