Should we stand or kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer?

POSTURES ARE FULL OF MEANING. Our postures are acts of prayer, prayers of the heart and body. What does it mean to stand or to kneel in prayer?

People stand up for what they believe. We stand in the presence of dignitaries. We leap to our feet to greet a loved one. Servants stand to wait upon superiors, especially the guest of honor. People kneel in the presence of overpowering mystery. We kneel to adore. We kneel when we are sorry, seeking mercy.

What are we doing when we enter into the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass? Although the priest alone speaks the words, all of us who are baptized are offering ourselves--body and soul, individuals united in community--to God, along with the gifts of bread and wine.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that the faithful stand for the Eucharistic Prayer, kneeling at the words "Take this all of you and eat ... " until "Do this in memory of me" unless health, lack of space, or some other good reason suggests remaining standing. The U.S. bishops asked Rome to allow U.S. Catholics to kneel after the "Holy, Holy" until the end of the prayer. Rome granted this exception. This is the current law.

Beginning 30 years ago, some pastors began asking the people to stand for the whole prayer and to bow at the words of Jesus. They did so because the Second Vatican Council taught that "the full conscious and active participation of all the faithful [in the Mass] was the aim to be considered before all else." Some sensed that while kneeling down, people were watching, adoring Jesus, but not always offering themselves. Until the 12th century, everyone stood and held both hands in the prayer position like the priest does today--the posture of offering one’s self.

Eager to help everyone enter deeply into this mystery where God not only changes the bread and wine but also changes us, some pastors encouraged the people to stand for the whole prayer. Such full participation in the sacrifice can count as the "some other good reason" to stand of which the law speaks.

David Philippart studied liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. He lives in Chicago.

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