Liturgy Matters — Posture part III: Kneeling

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

The third posture that we take during the Mass is the kneeling posture. Although some may kneel for prayer in their homes, kneeling is the most counter-cultural posture we take at Mass.

We rarely kneel outside church. I would guess that even the once-common posture for a marriage proposal is now seldom the stance for this momentous event. Nonetheless, if you ever have the occasion to visit a hospital chapel, you will usually encounter someone there on his or her knees. It seems that the fervor of prayer for someone very ill or near death calls us to our knees, regardless of denomination.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council there was little attention given to what the people did during the Mass. Just being present was the only directive we received. It was the practice to kneel for much of the Mass with little regard for what was actually going on in the sanctuary. With the reforms of the council, the people were understood to be more than just spectators: They were directed to full, conscious and active participation.

Our posture in today’s celebration of the liturgy is much more intentional. The posture we take is connected to the specific part of the Mass, the actual text and the particular ritual action.

The Eucharistic Prayer

Today we are directed to kneel for two parts of the Mass, with the option for a third. The first time is during the Eucharistic Prayer, the high point of the entire celebration. This prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification is voiced by the priest in our name. We stand for the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer: the Preface dialogue; the Preface itself, when the priest names specific things for which we want to give God thanks this day; and the Sanctus or Holy, Holy.

After the Holy, Holy we kneel for the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer. In this prayer, the priest celebrant asks God the Father to send his Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and to change us when we receive these sacred elements, making us one in Christ. Our kneeling posture expresses the intensity of this prayer — our acknowledgement of the awesome rites and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

Invitation to Communion and the people’s response

The second time that we kneel at Mass is for the invitation to holy Communion and our response, “Lord I am not worthy … but only say the word … .” We go to our knees for this prayer in an act of humility; an admission of our sinfulness and need of God’s healing touch. We express the same intent of the centurion when he asked Jesus to heal his sick servant.

Period of private prayer after distribution of holy Communion is completed

The third opportunity we have to kneel during the Mass is after everyone has received holy Communion. This period is set aside in the Mass for private, individual prayer. It begins immediately after the last person receives Communion, lasting one to two minutes. It is not covered with a music selection but is indeed a period of silence. During this time our minds and hearts are open to the grace of Christ’s presence and God’s communication to us. Although we are given the choice to kneel or to sit, if you are having difficulty in focusing, try kneeling for this period of private prayer. This posture seems to help us center our thoughts and diminish the tendency to be distracted by the activity around us.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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