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ROME, September 13, 2010 – The image below is a partial panorama of the immense mosaic that covers the floor of the cathedral of Otranto, on the southeast coast of Italy.

Floor mosaic

Walking across it from the entrance to the sanctuary, the faithful have as a guide the tree of salvation history, a history that is sacred and profane at once, with episodes from the Old Testament, from the Gospels, from the chronicle of Alexander the Great and the cycle of King Arthur.

The mosaic is from the twelfth century, an era in which the churches had no chairs or pews, and the faithful were able to see the entire floor. Even when they were not adorned with figurative art, the floors of churches incorporated expensive materials and elaborate designs. They were walked upon. Prayed upon. Knelt upon in adoration.

Today kneeling – especially on a bare floor – has fallen into disuse. So much so that Benedict XVI’s desire to give communion to the faithful on the tongue, and kneeling, is cause for amazement.

Kneeling for communion is one of the innovations that pope Benedict XVI has introduced when he celebrates the Eucharist.

But rather than an innovation, this is a return to tradition. The others are placing the crucifix at the center of the altar, “so that at the Mass we are all looking at Christ, and not at each other,” and the frequent use of Latin “to emphasize the universality of the faith and the continuity of the Church.”

In an interview with the English weekly “The Catholic Herald,” master of pontifical ceremonies Guido Marini has confirmed that the pope will stick with this style of celebration during his upcoming trip to the United Kingdom.

In particular, Marini has announced that Benedict XVI will recite the entire preface and canon in Latin, while for the other texts of the Mass he will adopt the new English translation that will enter into use in the entire English-speaking world on the first Sunday of Advent in 2011: this because the new translation “is more faithful to the original Latin and of a more elevated style” compared with the current one.

The attraction that the Church of Rome exercised over many illustrious English converts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – from Newman to Chesterton to Benson – was in part the universalism of the Latin liturgy. An attraction to a solid and ancient faith that today is moving many Anglican communities to ask for admission to Catholicism.

The “reform of the reform” attributed to pope  Benedict in the liturgical field is taking place partly in this way: simply, and with the example given by him when he celebrates.

But among the standard-setting practices of Benedict XVI, the one least understood – so far – is perhaps that of having the faithful kneel for communion.

This is almost never done, in any of the churches all over the world. In part because the communion rails at which one knelt to receive communion have been abandoned or dismantled almost everywhere.

But the sense of church flooring has also been lost. Traditionally, the floors were very ornate precisely in order to act as a foundation and guide to the greatness and profundity of the mysteries celebrated.

Few today realize that these beautiful and expensive floors were also made for the knees of the faithful: a carpet of stones on which to prostrate oneself before the splendor of the divine epiphany.

The following text was written precisely to reawaken this sensibility.

Its author is Monsignor Marco Agostini, an official in the second section of the secretariat of state, assistant master of pontifical ceremonies and a scholar of liturgy and sacred art, already known to the readers of http://www.chiesa for his enlightening commentary on the “Transfiguration” by Raphael.

The article was published in “L’Osservatore Romano” on August 20, 2010.

KNEELERS OF STONE

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