Standing To Kneeling

Early this semester, one of my staff colleagues noted some confusion in our parish, especially at the mostly student-populated evening Masses on Sunday and Thursday. It was surfaced at a staff meeting last month. The decision from there was to engage the parishioners in a dialogue, and arrive at a recommendation. The Worship & Spiritual Growth Commission was asked to discern, then submit their input to the parish council. This was the front page bulletin piece I was asked to produce, edited slightly for context:

Last month, the Worship & Spiritual Growth (WSG) Commission examined the STA practice of standing for the second half of the Eucharistic Prayer. Our present practice varies from most of the rest of the US—from practically every parish from which our students and new resident parishioners come.

Was this practice, we discussed, a significant obstacle to unity, to prayer, and to focus for so many of our worshippers? We were instructed to discern a recommendation, and forward this to the parish council. Among the most convincing testimony we considered was this section from the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM), the document that describes how to celebrate Mass:

Therefore, attention should be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.

A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.(Section #42)The Church permits variance from kneeling for reasons of health or practicality (a Mass outside of a church setting, for example). However, those exceptions would not seem to apply to our parish’s 1992 compromise. Though well-intentioned, was our compromise arbitrary?

After considerable discussion, the recommendation was to kneel as Catholics in other American parishes do. The parish council agreed, and this weekend, Fr Jon will offer more on this during his homily, and we will implement as indicated. The GIRM also instruct the assembly to kneel after the Lamb of God, and we will now follow as well.

It should be pointed out that this unity of posture applies to other times of the Mass. For example, we stand and bow when receiving Holy Communion, we do not genuflect or kneel.

In the weeks ahead, we will have more information and suggestions to assist in a deepening awareness of the Eucharistic Prayer—how to perceive its parts, how to pray it more deeply, and how to cultivate the interior posture that will reflect our unity as a faith community.

In my work with the commission, this was a good process. Parishioners and commissioners–students and residents alike–contributed well and thoughtfully. All angles were considered, and there was a willingness to listen to varied points of view and consider them. I have received some word from a few upset parishioners. Not all good discernments or decisions will be smooth orwithout conflict or strong feelings. Good faith communities are not know for their avoidance of difficult issues, but in the way they overcome them and maintain unity.

The 1992 compromise I mention refers to a rather divisive moment in parish history. One of the parish priests insisted the people stand for the whole Eucharistic Prayer. Another insisted they kneel. If any policy was a very bad way to go, it was that. When one priest was reassigned, a compromise was reached that satisfied the prescription of the old GIRM (section 21) in which the assembly would kneel for the epiclesis and institution narrative, and stand for everything else during the Eucharistic Prayer–basically adopt the posture the deacon has now.

I offer this slice of parish life for your comment. Before we get to those, I will offer a few of my own.

If you were to press me theologically and liturgically, I think standing during the Eucharistic Prayer is more in keeping with the precedent set in just about every prayer in the Roman liturgy. I realize the current GIRM doesn’t provide for that, but Church documents aren’t always without their own problems or even errors.

That said, I don’t see getting into a row over it is well-served at this time in Church history. We do not have a very unified universal body, and raising the issue of an “improvement” on the GIRM is not a thoughtful thing to do. I wouldn’t have chosen this moment to alter liturgical practice, knowing whathas come before and what is to come in the future.

When I was on retreat earlier this month, I stood for the Eucharistic Prayer, in keeping with the monastic community’s tradition. I’m back home now and I kneel. Both postures work because the interior orientation is attended to.

I’m even less convinced this switch for our parish will succeed if all parishioners aren’t encouraged to go deeper into the Eucharistic Prayer as both an act of prayer and as a source of spiritual and intellectual curiosity. Otherwise, this could easily be boiled down to a matter of adherence to Church law, and while that is, in itself, a good, there are higher values in play. Faith seeking understanding is part of what we do as a university faith community.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Standing To Kneeling

  1. Given the Jewish roots of Christian worship, it would be more appropriate to stand — which is the traditional sign of respect. I was very fortunate to come into the Catholic church via a parish whose priest knew and was able to teach this history to parishioners.

  2. Chase says:

    Some excellent thoughts and observations, Todd. I completely agree with you on the idea of standing throughout the Eucharistic Prayer. This seems to be standard practice in nearly every monastic community I’ve visited.

    Also, I find it interesting that the proponents of ‘ad orientem” will wax eloquent on the sublimity of facing common direction, yet laugh off the idea of a common posture.

  3. Jim McK says:

    Todd, the “compromise” is what the GIRM actually says; kneeling throughout the Eucharistic prayer is an adaptation for the US.

    The translation of the GIRM from the Bishops of England and Wales repeats what the original has, without adaptation:

    “as circumstances allow, they may
    sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed.
    But they should kneel at the consecration, except when prevented on occasion
    by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some
    other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow
    when the priest genuflects after the consecration.
    Nevertheless, it is up to the Conference of Bishops to adapt the gestures and
    postures described in the Order of Mass to the culture and reasonable traditions
    of the people.”

    Since you are in the US, following the adaptations of the US bishops seems appropriate. But kneeling during the consecration, & standing after the mystery of faith, is in Rome’s GIRM if I understand it correctly.

  4. Todd says:

    Jim, we looked at all that. Given the vast majority of students (really, all of them) coming from kneeling parishes, it was viewed, bottom line as a potential obstacle we didn’t need to present to them.

  5. Fran says:

    I worship in a parish where there are no kneelers, so that takes care of that. There are occasional issues at communion when someone decides to kneel or genuflect and while it might look comedic when people crash into one another as a result, it is anything but.

    I work at a parish where the assembly stands after receiving communion. There are some who go ahead and kneel anyway.

    You have written a thoughtful and thought provoking post here and it reminds me of why I truly miss reading this blog more frequently.

    And ultimately I agree with what Meredith said. Then again, I so often do!

  6. Tony says:

    , and stand for everything else during the Eucharistic Prayer–basically adopt the posture the deacon has now.

    Why are the laity adopting the posture of ordained clergy?

    Also, whenever you celebrate Mass, you are celebrating it with every other church in every part of the world and with the communion of saints at exactly the same time.

    Keeping a certain “different” posture in your own “community” is a bit tribal, don’t you think?

  7. Todd says:

    Well, Tony, there is not worldwide uniformity on the posture. It wasn’t until 2002 that kneeling became … urged … in the US.

    It’s a dangerous thing to assume that one’s own experience somehow translates to a universal orthodoxy.

    The deacon posture wasn’t adopted until 2002, so one might say that deacons were the ones adopting the posture of the laity. The reference I made was observational, not causal.

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