Kneeling at the Consecration

Whether one kneels or stands for the Eucharistic Prayer is a matter of ecclesiastical tradition. Human customs of paying respect, or in this case worship, determined the development of the practices of the Eastern and Western Churches in this, as in other matters.

In the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches standing is the norm during the Eucharistic Prayer. At the Consecration is added the customary sign of adoration in these Churches, a profound bow. In the Latin Church, however, kneeling is the sign of adoration for Christ who has just become present on the altar. This came about through the dogmatic development of Eucharistic theology in the West. To go back to the earlier practice in the West would be a sign of devolution of doctrine, and in fact, that is the way the devout faithful perceive efforts to change Latin practice, as a counter-sign of faith. For Eastern Catholics this is not a problem, since they have never inculturated the Latin way of expressing adoration.

Finally, the Magisterium desires each Church to preserve what is peculiar to it, thus manifesting in the unity of the universal Church a legitimate diversity of Rites. Therefore, on many grounds efforts to require Latin Catholics to stand at the Consecration are wrong-headed, as well as disobedient.

The Latin Norm. In the Latin Rite adoration of Christ in the Eucharist calls for either kneeling or genuflection. In the Liturgy the people are obliged to kneel for the Consecration and the main celebrant to genuflect (both after Consecrating each element and before receiving Holy Communion). Concelebrants are to bow profoundly. Deacons and the laity are to be kneeling.

The law on the posture of the people is as follows:

1. Universal Law. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal #43 establishes as the universal norm of the Roman Rite the practice of kneeling for the Consecration. This is understood to mean from the Epiclesis (the prayer calling for the sending down of the Holy Spirit) to the Mysterium Fidei (The Mystery of Faith).

2. American Particular Law. The U.S. Bishops adapted the universal norm with Roman approval, retaining the practice of kneeling from after the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) to the Doxology (Through Him, with Him, in Him), in other words for the entire Eucharistic Prayer. Thus, while in Italy and many other places they stand until the Consecration, at which time they kneel down for the Consecration, in the US we have knelt for the Canon in the past and continue to do so.

The U.S. version of the General Instruction n. 43 therefore reads,

43 ...  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.

Local norms. Since the law governing adapting the norms to a particular church (diocese) or nation are spelled out in the General Instruction, and require obtaining Roman approval before implementation, the existence of an adaptation departing from the norm for the US, such as standing for the Consecration, is easily verified: a Roman document granting approval.

Circumstances. The law itself foresees the possibility that the celebrant could grant an exception, or the person excuse himself from kneeling, "on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason" (GIRM 43). The keys are good reasons and occasions. If Mass must be held in a gym or outdoors, or it's a crowded Midnight Mass, or you are sick and don't feel you can kneel, or similar just causes, then there is a good reason for not kneeling. Occasions means particular circumstances that apply once, or periodically, or even for a period of time, such as during a church's construction, as opposed to being the norm.

No kneelers. The liturgical law says we are to kneel, it does not require kneelers. There can only be one of two reasons a Catholic church would be built without kneelers or would remove them. Either the pastor is faithful and wants his people to do some penance by kneeling on the floor, in which case they should oblige him, or, he intends to disobey the liturgical law of the Roman Rite, in which case they should obey the Church. Naturally, if it is too hard for them to kneel then they are excused by n.43.

Unity argument. The General Instruction (nn.42-43) does call for a unified posture of the people. These are important norms, since the outward sign of being the Mystical Body is in part manifested by the one posture of all, just as the sign of Christ the Head, and sign of His members, is manifested by the different postures and actions of the ordained versus the people. BUT, unity is also manifested, and more importantly, by the unity of rite with the Bishop and with the Pope. The life of every parish is dependant upon communion with the successor of the Apostles who is Bishop in that place. And, the life of the particular Church (the canonical term for a diocese) is the communion of its Bishop with the Successor of Peter, the Pope. Of what value is a common posture that acts as a sign of disunity with the particular and universal Church? None! It is a liturgical sign of Congregationalism, not Catholicism.

Roman churches don't have kneelers. This is simply not true. I've lived in Rome and been to Mass in many different churches. Parishes churches have kneelers, just as ours do. The reason the basilicas, like St. Peter's, don't have kneelers is the size of the nave. The floor is left open most of the time and chairs are set up by the thousands in various configurations, according to need, when there is a large celebration. In the reservation chapel, where adoration is held daily, there are pews with kneelers. In the left arm of the Basilica, the Chapel of St. Joseph, where the scheduled daily Masses are celebrated each morning until noon, there are pews and kneelers. At the many side altars where visiting priests celebrate Mass, with or without a congregation, there are communion rails, where people kneel. Others kneel on the floor. Kneeling is alive and well in Rome, even if not in your parish!

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Second Vatican Council:

22. 1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.

2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.

3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

1983 Code of Canon Law:

Can. 837
1. Liturgical actions are not private actions but celebrations of the Church itself, which is "the sacrament of unity," namely, a holy people assembled and
ordered under the bishops; therefore liturgical actions pertain to the whole body of the Church and manifest and affect it, but they affect the individual members of the Church in different ways according to the diversity of orders, functions and actual participation.
2. Liturgical actions, to the extent that by their proper nature they involve a common celebration, are to be celebrated where possible with the presence and active participation of the Christian faithful.

Can. 838
1. The supervision of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church which resides in the Apostolic See and, in accord with the law, the diocesan bishop.
2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the entire Church (universa ecclesia), to publish the liturgical books, to review their translations into the vernacular languages and to see that liturgical ordinances
are faithfully observed everywhere.
3. It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare translations of the liturgical books into the vernacular languages, with the appropriate adaptations within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves, and to publish them with the prior review by the Holy See.
4. It pertains to the diocesan bishop in the church entrusted to him, within the limits of his competence, to issue liturgical norms by which all are bound.

Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

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