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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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.
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