Dec 31, 2007

Where Do We Stand? Standing or Kneeling: Which is the Innovation?

Adoremus has been receiving reports from around the country about pastors encouraging parishioners to remain standing during the Eucharistic Prayer. In some parishes, standing has been a “tradition” for some years. In other parishes, it is being introduced as the latest liturgical innovation. Standing during the Eucharistic Prayer has been a common practice in seminaries throughout the United States for a decade or more.

But it is a practice that clearly violates the liturgical norms approved by the bishops of the United States and confirmed by the Vatican. Many bishops have apparently turned a blind eye to this innovation in individual parishes and seminaries. Many young priests have been trained in the practice and perhaps are not aware that this “tradition” is contrary to liturgical norms. This may explain the widespread confusion among faithful Catholics.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), before the 1969 American adaptation, permits standing during the Eucharistic Prayer except during the Consecration. The GIRM, the official book of liturgical legislation in the Church, reads that the people “should kneel at the consecration unless prevented by lack of space, large numbers, or other reasonable cause” (no. 21). But the GIRM permits variations to accommodate the traditional sensibilities of Catholics in various regions. So the General Instruction adds that the “conference of bishops may adapt the actions and postures described in the Order of the Roman Mass to the usage of the people, but these adaptations must correspond to the character and meaning of each part of the celebration” (no. 21).

In the 1969 Appendix to the General Instruction for the Diocese of the United States of America, the bishops confirmed the time-honored posture of kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer: “…the people [should] 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” (no. 21). This ruling continues to have the force of liturgical law. It can change only if the American bishops officially approve, and if their decision is confirmed by the Vatican.

At the June 1995 meeting of bishops, the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy accepted (conditionally) an amendment to the “American Adaptations” proposed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin which would permit standing during the consecration. If this amendment had been accepted by the U.S. bishops and confirmed by the Vatican, it would have allowed individual bishops to permit standing during the Eucharistic Prayer. But several bishops voiced strong objections to the proposal, including Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit. Cardinal Law argued that it was irresponsible to burden the people with further uncertainties in the matter of liturgical posture. Cardinal Maida also urged consistency. He argued that there should be one law or the other, but not the confusion of options. Under pressure, the liturgy committee withdrew the amendment and it never came to a vote.

But the 1995 National Meeting of Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC), issued a resolution urging “the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy to provide a mechanism, along with appropriate documentation, by which the National Conference of Catholic Bishops may discuss the issue of posture during the Eucharistic Prayer, for the purpose of reexamination of their 1969 decision or, at the very least, the reintroduction of the text withdrawn by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy in June.”

The FDLC resolution to reopen the “standing/kneeling” question is self-contradictory. On the one hand, it states that the 1969 legislation approved by the U.S. bishops and confirmed by the Vatican “departs from the universal norm” in requiring the faithful to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer. On the other hand, it claims there is a “diversity in the posture of the assembly during the Eucharistic Prayer owing to different interpretations” of the GIRM which it apparently approves.

The FDLC admits that the “universal norm” is standing — except for the Consecration. Yet the FDLC contends that the 1969 legislation “departs from this universal norm” in requiring a uniform practice of kneeling from the Sanctus to the Amen throughout the United States. Thus both the FDLC and its critics recognize that the 1969 legislation requires kneeling.

What is meant by a “diversity” of postures based on “different interpretations” is far less clear. Does the FDLC really believe “diversity” is preferable to uniform practice? If so, why? Why the insistence on making standing during the Consecration an official option for the Church in America? Whose “different interpretations” about what?

Unfortunately, one cannot dismiss this illogical resolution as that of some marginal pressure group. In fact, the FDLC is a highly influential part of the liturgical establishment. At the very least, the FDLC’s vote approving this and several other troublesome resolutions aimed at desacralization of the Mass reveals that a large number of liturgists intend to use every possible means to promote their own agenda for future liturgical legislation.

You can help. Write or fax a brief letter to your bishop today and calmly express your opinion. And keep praying.


Father Jerry Pokorsky

Father Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. Father Pokorsky also serves as a director and treasurer of Human Life International.