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stand up for your rites

orans position - Catacombs of Priscilla, 3rd century AD
orans posture - Catacombs of Priscilla, 3rd century AD
“New Zealand’s [Roman Catholic] bishops are no longer seeking approval that kneeling be the posture for the faithful during the Eucharistic Prayer at Masses, reversing an earlier decision,” Michael Otto reports on front-page news of the fortnightly NZ Catholic (#317). Last November the bishops had voted, not unanimously, to kneel from the end of the Sanctus/Benedictus until after the Great Amen. Luckily, now that the bishops have changed their minds, that request was lost in the Vatican’s in-trays. The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship has apologised for losing it. The article is unclear if kneeling will be required for what it terms the “consecration” (presumably the Last Supper story found in all of New Zealand’s RC Eucharistic Prayers). Or if standing throughout will be an option. Or if people can choose individually when to kneel or stand (I can already visualise the video of of the – how many variations can you think of, Mathematicians? – people bobbing up and down at different points within the same shared prayer… :-( )

[Aside: Not all Roman Catholic Eucharistic Prayers have a "consecration" (in the sense of Last Supper story). The Roman Catholic Church recognises the Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari as a valid, consecrating eucharistic prayer even though it does not even contain the Last Supper story, nor the words “this is my body”, nor "this is my blood." These last two quotes from the Last Supper at that event were words, not of consecration, but of administration/distribution.]

The article NZ Catholic highlights the Vatican’s General Instruction of the Roman Missal has “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.” Even there, however, this appears in the Errata of that document. The article goes on to point to Cardinal Ratzinger’s (aka Pope Benedict XVI) writing on kneeling in The Spirit of the Liturgy.

The bishops at the first ecumenical council of Nicaea (325) were horrified to discover that Christians were kneeling on Sundays and in the Great Easter Season of 50 days (which they termed Pentecost) and ruled in canon 20:

Since there are some who kneel on Sunday and during the season of Pentecost, this holy synod decrees that, so that the same observances may be maintained in every diocese, one should offer one’s prayers to the Lord standing.

Bishop Cullinane in the NZ Catholic article highlights that “the ancient tradition regarded standing as the posture of the Easter people.”

Other denominations may not have a moment-of-consecration theology, and wonder what the rationale for the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer is if its purpose is effected by a small section within it. These may see the whole Eucharistic Prayer as consecrating – or in fact the whole eucharistic action (from taking bread and wine, giving thanks, breaking bread and distributing bread and wine) as consecrating. Anglican eucharistic theology was sent off on a tangent after the discontinuity of the Commonwealth Period when the 1662 Book of Common Prayer added an “Amen” after the Last Supper story, put the fraction (breaking of the bread) as an action into the Last Supper story, and referred to what followed the Sanctus as the “consecration” – implying that the preface was not part of the “consecration”.

As with the NZ Catholic article, in which the new National Liturgy Advisory Group are reported as asking the bishops to review their decision and be stronger for standing, so the NZ Prayer Book commission presented to the Anglican General Synod (1987) a rubric at the start of the Eucharistic Prayer:

It is recommended that the people stand throughout the following prayer.

This not only preserves the unity of the Eucharistic Prayer, but also has the same posture for the presiding priest as well as all others participating. I well remember the debate about this in General Synod as some misunderstood the meaning of the word “recommend” and argued that the “traditional” posture of kneeling be added, so that the rubric now reads “It is recommended that the people stand or kneel throughout the following prayer.” (Note the posture does not change from “The Lord is here…” to the Great Amen). There was much muttering of “what about people in a hospital bed… wheelchair…” I note that the Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ precedes every rubric with “All who are able may…” Each of their Eucharistic Prayers (called there “Communion Prayer”) has the rubric, “All who are able may stand.

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7 Responses to stand up for your rites

  1. I’ve been to Catholic churches throughout the United States and elsewhere, and almost without exception in US churches, the congregation kneels from the Sanctus to the Great Amen. It is the exception to find a church where the faithful remain standing.

    I happen to prefer kneeling, and appreciate the reverence involved with the gesture in the places it still finds in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. My general custom, and my observation of others, however, is that most follow the custom of the local parish when visiting, so if the faithful remain standing, those generally accustomed to kneeling observe that, and there isn’t the ‘mathematical bobbing’ you describe.

    Your comment regarding the Eucharistic prayers is interesting; I am unaware of any of the four Eucharistic prayers in the mass not containing the Last Supper story. To my review they do.

    I am personally partial to these words from Eucharistic Prayer I: “Lord, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven.”

    It is not to me whether one stands or kneels, but what about the Eucharist motivates the sense of the reverent. If indeed the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ are truly present, kneeling would not be an inappropriate or insincere response.

    Thanks as always for covering interesting topics.

  2. Thanks Kathy, it’s helpful to get this first-hand USA perspective.
    You are correct, the four Eucharistic Prayers you refer to all include the Last Supper story. They, however, are not the only ones authorised for use, even within your Rite. The Eucharistic Prayer titled “Addai and Mari” and linked from the post is accepted by the Vatican and does not have the Last Supper story as I explained. Hope that clarifies any confusion.

  3. Not aware of anyone in the US using any but the four Eucharistic prayers (Eucharistic Prayers I-IV). It’s more correct to say that the “Addai and Mari” are accepted as valid, rather than to say they are “authorised for use.” In the main body of the Church it would be unusual to see them. The reasoning for considering them valid, however, seems sound.

    To my own reasoning, what matters most in the Eucharist is whether or not it is what it purports to be. I grew up in a faith where communion/sacrament was entirely memorial, and not Eucharistic, and my own spiritual journey led me to a place where the Eucharist is the greatest treasure in my life. It would be difficult for me to ever relinquish that or diminish it, having found it.

  4. That’s really a fascinating difference between USA & NZ as you describe it, Kathy. Here there are a number of other Eucharistic Prayers (with children, for Reconciliation, etc.) that are used as well as 1-4. Also it is interesting you do not have Chaldean Catholics in USA using Addai & Mari. For a small country with maybe around half a million RCs here, we do have Chaldean Catholics here in NZ.

    As to your second paragraph: Amen to all that. The central focus of this site and of my book Celebrating Eucharist (available free on this site – top left buttons) is the helping of individuals and communities to celebrate Eucharist ever more deeply, reverently, and enrichingly.

  5. I really prefer kneeling during the consecration. I do miss kneeling after the Agnus Dei, as well. For me, it’s a nice quiet time before receiving Communion.

  6. I have no doubt there are Chaldean, Maronite and other Eastern Rite churches in the U.S. using various liturgical forms, but as their worldwide population is less than one-tenth of one percent of total Roman Catholic population, they are a distinct minority, and not frequently encountered or well known. I’ve only met one Maronite priest in my lifetime, someone from Ohio, attending a Marian conference several years ago.

    The most recent data I can find shows only 13,000 such Catholics living in the United States, with ten priests, in 2004. Since I attend a parish that has in its membership 3000 families, this is less than the total Roman Catholic population within a few square miles of my home.

    Very nice illustration of the Orans posture in your photograph above, by the way.

  7. When I practiced (until recently) in the RC Church we did indeed kneel from the Sanctus till the Great Amen. In the CofE our Rector says at points, “sit or kneel”.

    Have you seen the Exorcist? The priest (RC in the book and film) breaks the bread during the Last Supper story. Somebody didn’t do their research…

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.