There are many different arguments among the faithful about the issue of kneeling. In fact, this argument has been around since the time of the Greeks and Romans, and it has been described as barbaric, demeaning, and enslaving. Most often it is said that we are past that and that it no longer suits the culture of our modern people. Although, if this this is true, to which culture does it belong?
“Kneeling does not come from any culture – it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God.”
Cardinal Ratzinger (Now Pope Benedict XVI) – The Spirit of the Liturgy
Many times in scripture, from Moses to Revelations, the posture of kneeling or ever prostration is the most common reactions to interactions with those who recognize God before them. Even more important still, the Gospels tell us that Jesus Himself prayed on His knees. One of the most notable times is during the agony in the Garden.
Our interior understanding of the greatness of God should not help but manifest itself physically as kneeling before our Lord just as the humanity of Jesus knelt before the Father. It is hard to compete with the perfect example of Jesus, but we must also take into consideration that it is not the only form of showing reverence to the Lord.
There are various situations when kneeling is not possible, especially for those with in injuries or limitations. Still, why should we not want to kneel before Our Lord if we truly believe that He is God and that He is fully present before us in His body, blood, soul, and divinity.
“If we believe, if we truly believe that it is Jesus, the Son of God, then why don’t we kneel, why don’t we crawl.”
Cardinal Francis Arinze
Now let’s look at the more practical implementation of this posture. Reinforcing what has been started in previous releases of the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), the new release specifically states that we are to kneel during the Eucharistic prayer.
In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, 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. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.
Sadly, there are still many parishes and communities that do not do this on a regular basis. Some Catholic churches do not even have kneelers or provide some padding for the faithful to kneel. While it is understandable that sometimes there are temporary settings for mass, I have seen a few parishes provide cushions or inexpensive gardening kneelers.
One of the stranger reasons I’ve heard about standing instead of kneeling focuses on the fact that kneeling has not always been practiced in the Church and that it is considered new. Ironically, this argument is often made by those that do not celebrate the much older Traditional Latin Mass, but instead by those that embrace much more radical changes like the use of contemporary music and in the vernacular. While it is true that there have been regions and periods in our history that have not practiced it for practical reasons, it is undeniable that the posture of kneeling has a strong tradition since biblical times in the Church.
For those of us that are in good health and able, the setting or lack of kneelers should still not be enough to stop us. Sometimes when a whole community does not kneel, people don’t want to stand out or seem showy in their piety. This is weak excuse – what others think of us is far less important than the real presence of God before us in the Eucharist.
I know from personal experience that this is not always easy. I remember very vividly, people going out of their way to give me looks that implied “we don’t do that here,” when I dared to kneel during the Eucharistic prayer in certain communities in the USA and even more commonly in Europe.
Even in cases where a priest or bishop asks the community to refrain from kneeling, they have no personal authority to override the Church’s mandate that allows everyone that wishes to kneel is free to do so.
All Catholics are also free to receive the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling. Catholic News Agency released an article about this subject a few weeks ago, but that deserves a discussion that does not fit in this post. I highly recommend listening to Jimmy Akin’s very detailed and articulate podcast on the issue.
Seeing all the discussion recently reminded me of the relevance of this subject. Some confusion still exists on what the Church teaches. We are all the Church, and we are all called to spread the Truth with love. Together we can increase the reverence that rightly belongs to Our Lord that humbly gave His life for us, and that even more humbly waits for us in the veil of the Eucharist.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2: 8-11
For further reading, I highly recommend the contemporary classic, The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).