ISSUE: Are Catholics in the United States supposed to kneel during the consecration at Mass?
RESPONSE: With Vatican approval, the U.S. Bishops in both 1969 and 1995 decreed as a norm that people are to “kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), no. 43). The only exceptions are when the congregation is “prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason” (GIRM, no. 43).
Where there is doubt concerning whether the conditions described in GIRM, number 43 exist, it is the bishop, as moderator of the liturgical life of his diocese, who should make the determination. As Ceremonial of Bishops, number seven states, “The bishop’s authority regulates the orderly and effective celebrations of the sacraments. . . . He regulates every lawful celebration of the Eucharist, from which the Church continually receives life and growth.”
DISCUSSION: How we conduct ourselves at Mass is a reflection of our attitude toward God and each other as members of the Family of God. At Mass, the most important event in human history is made present for us: Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, through which we were redeemed from sin and can gain the grace to enjoy eternal salvation in heaven. It is this truly awesome sacrifice—Christ’s timeless offering of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—for which we kneel and with which we offer our prayers and our whole selves to our heavenly Father (cf. Rom. 12:1).
This is why our bishops have decided that the faithful must kneel during the consecration. Kneeling or lying prostrate is traditionally associated with the most solemn form of worship. For example, St. Paul writes “that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth. . .” (Phil. 2:10).
But the best example from Scripture is St. John’s description of how heavenly creatures pay tribute to Jesus (the Paschal Lamb who was slain) while participating in the heavenly liturgy, that is, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as experienced in heaven. Whenever glory and honor is given to the Lamb, the elders “fall down. . .and worship Him who lives forever and ever” (Rev. 4:9-11 and 5:11-14). St. John himself fell down as if he were dead upon encountering the risen Christ (Rev. 1:12-18).
There is also the basic issue of instilling in the faithful reverence for our Eucharistic Lord. We stand for many events in life, but kneeling is a distinctively prayerful position, whether for praise or penance. With the aid of God’s grace, following the norm for kneeling and encouraging preaching on the Real Presence would do much to promote a renewal of Eucharistic belief and piety (See also, Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist).
Our bishops have decreed that kneeling is the appropriate posture. Whether it be in doctrinal or disciplinary matters, we should show obedience to legitimate Church authorities (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15; Mt. 16:18-19; Lk. 2:51; Phil. 2:8). Indeed, Jesus is our model of obedience, for it is through His obedient suffering and death that we are able to partake of His one, life-giving sacrifice under the appearances of bread and wine (cf. Heb. 5:7-10; Gen. 14:17-20).
As GIRM, number 43 provides, there can be exceptions to this norm. But an exception that becomes a norm ceases to be an “exception.” And, in various places in the country, standing during the consecration has in practice become the norm. If the U.S. Bishops wanted to modify their norm to standing, they could have done so with the new General Instruction, which was issued in 2003. But they did not. In addition, Vatican II teaches that “no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 22).
Some have asked whether the faithful should kneel or stand after the “Lamb of God” is prayed. GIRM, number 43, says, “The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.” This allows the continuation of the custom of kneeling at this time, which has been practiced throughout the United States since 1969, perhaps continuing a practice that preceded Vatican II.