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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