To stand or not to stand. 'When?' is the Question
To stand or not to stand When? is the Question.
by Charles Wilson In response to the growing number of inquiries about liturgical rites and rubrics, the column Light of the Liturgy has been developed to try and answer the most commonly asked questions. The first subject addressed in Light of the Liturgy is the appropriate posture of the congregation during mass. We would like to express our sincere thanks to Charles Wilson and the Saint Joseph Foundation for allowing the readers of Thy Kingdom Come to benefit from their expertise and years of experience with Liturgical and Canonical matters. ACTIONS AND POSTURES. The following quote is from Appendix I to the General Instruction for the Dioceses of the United States of America (para 21): At its meeting in November, 1969, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in general, the directives of the Roman Missal concerning the posture of the congregation at Mass should be left unchanged, but that no. 21 of the General Instruction should be adapted so that the people kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic prayer, that is, before the Lord's Prayer. The GIRM has not changed the norms for kneeling, nor have the bishops changed the policy. Granted there is apathy (or worse) among some bishops in adhering to and enforcing the norms of the GIRM, but this does not allow for the personal whims of a priest to make arbitrary changes to the norms. As you read in the quotation, standing (before, during and after the consecration) even if "mandated" by a pastor is wrong. From , Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Ignatius Press, 1986): ....My second observation concerns the significance of gestures. Standing, kneeling, sitting, bowing, beating one's breast, the sign of the cross - all these have an irreplaceable anthropological significance as the way the Spirit is expressed in the body. J. Pieper has shown convincingly that such gestures bring together the "outside" and the "inside" in a reciprocal relationship which is equally important for both. Here I would like to refer to the gesture which is central to worship, and one which is threatening to disappear, namely the practice of kneeling. We know that the Lord knelt to pray (Lk 22:41), that Stephen (Acts 7:60), Peter (Acts 9:40), and Paul (Acts 20:36) did so too. The hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:6- 11 speaks of the cosmic liturgy as a bending of the knee at the name of Jesus, seeing in it a fulfillment of the Isaian prophecy (Is 45:23) of the sovereignty of the God of Israel. In bending the knee at the name of Jesus, the Church is acting in all truth; she is entering into the cosmic gesture, paying homage to the Victor and thereby going over to the Victor's side. For in bending the knee we signify that we are imitating and adopting the attitude of him who, though he was "in the form of God", yet "humbled himself unto death". In this way, by combining the prophetic word of the Old Covenant and the manner of life of Jesus Christ, the Letter to the Philippians has taken up the sign of kneeling, which it regards as the appropriate posture for Christians to adopt at the name of Jesus, and has given it a cosmic significance in salvation history. Here, the bodily gesture attains the status of a confession of faith in Christ: words could not replace such a confession. .. There has been a liturgical variance gaining more popularity in the last couple of years regarding the issue of kneeling or standing during the Canon of the Mass and for the reception of Communion. Succinctly, the Church has not abrogated the practice of kneeling for Communion or during the Canon. The Church document , Item number 11 states: "The Church has always required from the faithful respect and reverence for the Eucharist at the moment of receiving it. "With regard to the manner of going to Communion, the faithful can receive it either kneeling or standing, in accordance with the norms laid down by the episcopal conference...". The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) (the appropriate episcopal conference here) has not promulgated any policy on this issue. Since the Vatican document noted above does not allow for individual diocesan bishops or parish priests to modify Item number 11 it is logical and juridically permissible to continue kneeling to receive Communion. Canon 214 supports this: The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church, and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the teaching of the Church. The 'legitimate pastors', in this case (those to enact or abrogate ritual prescriptions) would be the Holy See or the NCCB, and they have not modified therefore kneeling remains a legitimate posture at Communion. From SC Rites, Instruction , 25 May 1967: 34. a. In accordance with the custom of the Church, the faithful may receive communion either kneeling or standing. One or the other practice is to be chosen according to the norms laid down by the conference of bishops and in view of the various circumstances, above all the arrangement of the churches and the number of the communicants. The faithful should willingly follow the manner of reception indicated by the pastors () so that communion may truly be a sign of familial union among all those who share in the same table of the Lord. b. When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence toward the most holy sacrament is required, because the kneeling itself expresses adoration. When they receive communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, approaching in line, they make a sign of reverence before receiving the sacrament. This should be done at a designated moment and place, so as not to interfere with the coming and going of the other communicants." Given the preceding, one must also consider practical aspects of the issue - facilities, traffic patterns, safety, et cetera when electing to exercise one's right to kneel for Communion and the possible impact or consequences on fellow parishioners. Postures at Mass The posture of congregants at Mass has developed in various practices around the world, fostered as a result of an historical awareness, some due to cultural adaptations, others due to practical considerations such as lack of furnishings to use for sitting and kneeling. Quite often these variations conflict with the current legislation which regulates these matters. The Second Vatican Council established principles to guide the reform of the Liturgy and the promulgation of norms to which all, whether clerical or lay, are bound. This is the legislation: "30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bearing. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence." (Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Liturgy , 4 December 1963) "20. The uniformity in standing, kneeling, or sitting to be observed by all taking part is a sign of the community and the unity of the assembly; it both expresses and fosters the spiritual attitude of those taking part." (SC Divine Worship, General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 4th ed. 27 March 1975, Hereafter GIRM) "21. For the sake of uniformity in movement and posture, the people should follow the directions given during the celebration by the deacon, the priest, or another minister. Unless other provision is made, at every Mass the people should stand from the beginning of the entrance song or when the priest enters until the end of the opening prayer or collect; for the singing of the before the gospel; while the gospel is proclaimed; during the profession of faith and the general intercessions; from the prayer over the gifts to the end of Mass, except at the places indicated later in this paragraph. They should sit during the readings before the gospel and during the responsorial psalm, for the homily and the presentation of the gifts, and, if this seems helpful, during the period of silence after communion. They should kneel at the consecration unless prevented by lack of space, the number of the people present, or some other good reason. But it is up to the conference of bishops to adapt the actions and postures described in the Order of the Roman Mass to the customs of the people. But the conference must make sure that such adaptations correspond to the meaning and character of each part of the celebration." (GIRM) Regarding posture of the congregation this question was posed and a reply given in : "After communion should the faithful be seated or not? Reply: After communion they may either kneel, stand or sit. Accordingly the GIRM no. 21 gives this rule: 'The people sit . . . if this seems useful during the period of silence after communion.' Thus it is a matter of option, not obligation. The GIRM no. 121, should therefore be interpreted to match no. 21." (Not. 10  407) Germane to this discussion is another principle expressed in the General Instruction: "62. In the celebration of Mass, the faithful . . . give thanks to the Father and offer the victim not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him and learn to offer themselves. They should endeavor to make this clear by their deep sense of reverence for God and their charity toward all who share with them in the celebration. They therefore are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their mind that they have the one Father in heaven and therefore are all brothers and sisters to each other. They should become one body .... There is a beautiful expression of this unity when the faithful maintain uniformity in their actions and in standing, sitting, or kneeling." (GIRM) The responsibility of conferences of bishops to make necessary decisions on matters left to them by the was reiterated. "8.... They are to decide on .... the faithful's movements, standing, kneeling, and sitting during Mass; . . . how the sign of peace is to be given; . . . " (SC Divine Worship, Instruction , 20 Oct 1969). While the most common environment for the celebration of Mass is around the bishop and within the assembly of the parish and the bishop's representative, the pastor, the Church also extends its pastoral care to particular groups of all kinds. Whenever Mass is celebrated for particular groups due respect must be paid to liturgical laws in these circumstances, too. "11. The prescriptions of an ordinary eucharistic celebration apply to the celebrant's gestures and the ceremonies as well as the standing, kneeling, and sitting of those present." (SC Divine Worship, Instruction , 15 May 1969) The Church has recognized that there are two ways of receiving communion.
"34. a. In accordance with the custom of the Church, the faithful may receive communion either kneeling or standing. One or the other practice is to be chosen according to the norms laid down by the conference of bishops and in view of the various circumstances, above all the arrangement of the churches and the number of the communicants. The faithful should willingly follow the manner of reception indicated by the pastors so that communion may truly be a sign of familial union among all those who share in the same table of the Lord. b. When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence toward the most holy sacrament is required, because the kneeling itself expresses adoration. When they receive communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, approaching in line, they make a sign of reverence before receiving the sacrament. This should be done at a designated moment and place, so as not to interfere with the coming and going of the other communicants." (SC Rites, Instruction , 25 May 1967) Reportedly the NCCB laid down some norms (the only norms regarding posture thus far) as the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy printed the following item in its December 1969 newsletter: "At its meeting of Nov. 10-14, 1969, the NCCB made various decisions concerning liturgical matters which had been specified in the new liturgical rites as within the competence of episcopal conferences. . The following decisions were announced at the end of the meeting: 1. Posture of congregation. The directives of the Roman Missal concerning the posture of the congregation should be left unchanged. 2. Kneeling during the eucharistic prayer. No. 21 of the GIRM should be adapted so that people kneel during the celebration of Mass beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the eucharistic prayer, that is, before the Lord's prayer." (BCCL Newsletter, vol. 5 , no. 12) To summarize the current discipline for congregations within the ambit of the conference of bishops for the U.S., the N.C.C.B., the following protocol is in effect: Stand - From beginning of entrance song or when priest enters until the end of the collect Sit- During the readings before the Gospel and the responsorial psalm Stand - For the singing of the Alleluia before the gospel; while the gospel is proclaimed Sit- During the homily Stand - During the profession of faith and the general intercessions Sit- During the presentation of gifts Stand - From the prayer over the gifts until after the Sanctus Kneel - After the Sanctus until the Amen just before the Lord's prayer Stand - After the Amen following the eucharistic prayer until the end of Mass Options: Stand during reception of communion (after making the recommended sign of reverence), or Kneel during reception of communion. Sit, Stand, or Kneel - During period of silence after communion, if this seems helpful. The Saint Joseph Foundation 11107 Wulzhach, Number 404 San Antonio, Texas 78230-2553 210-697-0717 (Telephone) 210-699-9439 (Telefax) This article was taken from the December 1995 issue of "Thy Kingdom Come." Publication cost and mailing expenses are paid from donations. Payable to Miracle of the Rosary Mission, Inc., 1444 C Highway 1, Thibodaux, LA 70301-5748.