QUAERITUR: Should I stand or should I kneel?

From a reader:

I am a bit of an amateur rubricist (God help us all), and know the rules in the Ordinary Form.  The bishops of the United States, under the permission of the Holy See, have mandated kneeling during the Canon and after the Agnus Dei.  This is clear. 

After attending sung and solemn Masses in the EF each Sunday for nearly two years, I have finally seen the rubrics which specify kneeling for the consecration and during the communion of the faithful and standing at other times. (Rubricae Generales Missi 571, if I recall) I have never observed this (but our servers at Mass tend to get confused anyway), but I have read that kneeling for the whole Canon is a long-standing practice in the United States

My question is this:  is there, or was there ever legislation in the United States for kneeling more than the rubrics dictate?  If not, then can it be really proper to ignore the rubrics in such a way?

I know in the EF the people are not bound by the rubrics, but still ought to follow the practice of the servers and those in choir.

I think the best source right now for some clarity may be the newest revised edition of Fortescue/O’Connell, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, done by Alcuin Reid.


In the Missale Romanum there are no directions for the laity.  However, there are some conventions.  Lay people should follow, as closely as is reasonable, the rules for clergy in choir.

So, they kneel during the prayers at the foot of the altar up to the Oremus, but stand for the Introit, Kyrie and Gloria.  The sit when the celebrant sits and stand when he stands.  They stand during orations.  They sit for the offertory preparations and rise to be incensed.  They stand at the words before the Preface per omnia saecula saeculorum and then kneel at the end of the Sanctus and remain kneeling to the end of the Canon.  Unless they go to Communion they basically remain kneeling until the tabernacle door is closed at the end of Communion.  They kneel for the blessing. Etc.

It could be that there is a certain tension between the perception of Mass as a celebratory moment and Mass as either an encounter with mystery or a moment of personal examination.  If in ancient times the faithful stoop more, in an ancient position of prayer, over time people would kneel for the whole of the anaphora in an attitude of penance.  During the penitential times (Ember Days, Lent, the fast times, etc.) even those who were not formally doing public penance would kneel.

After the Novus Ordo came into effect, the universal law was that all are to kneel for the consecration from the epiklesis to the Mysterium fidei

In the USA, the bishops obtained permission from the Holy See for particular law for the USA that all would effectively continue with the older convention, that is, to kneel from the end of the Sanctus to the end of the Doxology.  So, people should be kneeling for the whole Eucharistic Prayer.  Some will point out that the Preface and Sanctus should also be considered part of the Eucharistic Prayer, but the older convention is followed and there is a natural transition point at the Sanctus.

So, yes.  In the USA there was legislation approved by the Holy See to kneel for more than was customary in the rest of the world.

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  1. Fr. Charles says:

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve been trying to learn the TLM by simply attending when I can. As far as posture, goes I have just been following along, and am first of all happy to see that my experience conforms to what is described in the post. But now I have a sense of why and where to learn more. Thanks!

  2. Romulus says:

    They…kneel at the end of the Sanctus and remain kneeling to the end of the Canon.

    Just this week at the request of my pastor, I was reviewing the rubrics for kneeling at Solemn Mass in the EF. As I read it, Fortescue/O’Connell (as well as others) specify that the inferior ministers as well as deacon and subdeacon) all rise after the consecration of the Precious Blood. I haven’t yet checked to see what is said about missa cantata or low mass.

  3. Duarte Valério says:

    Sorry if this comment strays from the topic: is there any clear text saying that in the OF «all are to kneel for the consecration from the epiklesis to the Mysterium fidei»? Very recently, the magazine of the Liturgy committee of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference published an answer to the question «when exactly should we kneel for consecration», saying that the IGMR is not clear (I checked the IGMR references given and tend to agree): it might be for the Epiklesis or for the narration of the institution. So if there is any clear document on this I’d very much like to know. Thank you.

  4. Thomas says:

    From the Chapter XX: The Faithful at Mass, Section 1B (At Solemn or Sung Mass)

    “10. When the celebrant begin to sing ‘Per omnia saecula saeculorum’ before commencing the preface, all rise and remain standing until the consecration (except at ferial penitential Masses celebrated in violet vestments and a requiem Mass, when all kneel at the end of the ‘Sanctus’).
    “11. All kneel for the consecration (in practice when the deacon and subdeacon kneel) and bow down during the consecration. All look up for a moment at the Sacred Host…and at the Chalice, when they are elevated. After the elevation all stand (except at ferial penitential Masses celebrated in violet vestments and a requiem Mass, when they remain kneeling until the end of the canon, when they stand). They bow while the celebrant receives the Sacred Host and drinks the Precious Blood.”

  5. Dan says:

    “Should I stand or should I kneel?

    Isn’t that the name of a “Clash” song.
    I’m sorry.
    I just couldn’t resist.

    It is apropriate that, if that was the name, it should come from their album,the aptly titled: “Combat Rock”.

  6. Cristero says:

    “If I kneel, there will be trouble,
    and if I don’t, there will be trouble…

    So you gotta let me know….”

  7. Dennis says:

    in the ef masses I been to, at least in my neck of the woods – missa cantata and solemn mass all are kneeling for the Kyrie and we stand at the Gloria – the people and severs all kneel at the start of the Sanctus and rise again for the Our Father.

  8. Boston Architect says:

    Dennis et al,

    We all kneel at the start of the Sanctus for the EF Missa Cantata
    (High Mass). We kneel for most of the EF Low Mass, except for the Credo.

    On an interesting, off topic note, Boston has the custom for Low Masses to end Mass with the Divine Praises (in the English) following the Leonine Prayers (also in English). I was told this was an act of reparation for the sacking and burning of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown by the
    anti-Catholic ‘Know Nothings’ in the 1840’s. This practice lasted until about
    1965, when the Leonine Prayers were suppresed in the transitional 1966 missal.
    It was revived in 1990, with the first 1988 Indult at Holy Trinity German Parish in Boston.

    This has been my experience for the EF in Boston and throughout New England as well.

  9. Giles says:

    Having spent a bit of time in Italy, I’ve noticed that people tend to stand for the whole of the consecration in the OF. Some older people kneel from the end of the Sanctus until the mysterium fidei. I was quite affronted by this, but then vaguely remembered someone telling me that there might’ve been a preconciliar practice in some parts of Italy for the laity to stand for some or all of the canon. Can this really be true?

  10. PB says:

    Dennis – yes, that’s been my experience as well. My impression is that many churches in the US which offer the EF have the red Coalition Ecclesia Dei missalettes, and therefore follow the postures for the faithful suggested therein rather than the recommendations of Fortescue/O’Connell.

  11. Thomas says:

    I am now more confused than when I sent the email. All of my questions came as a result of reading Fortesque/O’Connell. I wanted to know in what way this extra kneeling was a long custom that the bishops wished to extend to the new Mass. Part of the thing was that where I go to Mass, there is a standing debate as to whether to stand or kneel for the Pater Noster, and those who say stand defend it on the rubrics, but taking that argument requires standing for all except the consecration (a good delineation in my mind, like to the Byzantine’s continued profound bows), unless there were some approved practice of kneeling at other places.

  12. Rubricarius says:

    The rules regarding kneeling during penitential and Requiem Masses changed with the 1962 rubrics, reducing the kneeling until the beginning of the Pater noster.

    Generally there is more kneeling in the rite celebrated according to the 1970-2002 Missal than in the editions which preceded it. In festive Masses the amount of kneeling was minimal prior to the Council.

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    Thomas: there is a standing debate as to whether to stand or kneel for the Pater Noster, and those who say stand defend it on the rubrics

    They are wrong in that — whether or not the congregation actually should kneel during the Pater Noster — the rubrics of the 1962 Mass are silent on the question of posture of the people at this or any other time during the Mass. The rubrics do specify what should be done by those within the sanctuary, and there are those who say the people should follow suit, and many manuals a la Fortescue offer this opinion, but this is not fully clear in customary practice.

  14. Thomas says:

    I know the rubrics say nothing about the people. They should not. Part of the problem is that the servers don’t seem to quite know exactly what to do (they certainly do not follow the rubrics for standing and kneeling during the canon, but they probably don’t know them), and in the congregation half the people stand and half kneel–it looks a little silly. I am trying, and failing, to figure out what customary practice is, and knowing it, I would gladly follow it. I would also note that there seems to be some reasonable encouragement that the faithful follow, more or less, the posture of those in choir.

  15. michigancatholic says:

    You have to understand that in most of the rest of the world, people are not expected to stand in unison, sit in unison and all this nonsense. That’s an American thing straight out of American education, aka John Dewey at his most inane. It can approach Nazi extremes in some places and it’s ridiculous but it’s part of our culture, unfortunately. {I refer you to the travesty of every single person in a church getting up and marching in neat little lines to receive Holy Communion, *no matter what*. You all have witnessed it. You know this happens, just like I do.}

    The frequent comments about what to do if your bishop (who is miles away) says you must stand for the consecration are brought to mind as another example of this American tendency to march around like lemmings. If you don’t stand during the consecration, what is the bishop going to do–put you in a stanchion like a cow? If he even sees you! And can he do that to everyone? I’d like to see any diocese in the USA invest in that many stanchions. Not going to happen. It’s important in religion to keep a sense of proportion, like in anything else. Stupid is stupid everywhere. Sorry, but it is.

    What really matters is NOT backends in unison, it’s unison in truth. (Something to which most American people are oblivious apparently.) The fact that truth takes a fall on a daily basis, even in many American dioceses and religious houses, is another travesty, and one much more serious than whether Mrs. Whosername stands or sits and thereby scandalizes her screwball buddies on account of their parochial (in the original sense, ie provincial) culture.

  16. michigancatholic says:

    Honestly, I think what I said just previous is exactly the major reason why there aren’t norms for the people. The Church expects that we aren’t total idiots and should have some decency and common sense when it comes to worship, our local proto-tyrants notwithstanding. It’s not a pageant–rather, it’s supposed to have doctrinal meaning and that should be the focus.

    You know, when you think of the passage of history past, present & future, overall (not a familiar thought for Americans, I know), there are times the church finds herself in situations where it can’t line people up in their Sunday best and put up with their little provincial queues and cultural tics. You must realize this. People have received the Eucharist in concentration camps & foxholes, and not in fur coats and lace hats.

    In normal times, all the folderol is fine as long as it stays within the boundaries of common sense and decency, but you know it’s not doctrine or part of the deposit of the faith to wear x kind of clothes or stand exactly x inches apart or stand here, and sit there. It can’t be. Think about it.

    If somebody (aka some priest etc) gets overbearing about all this stuff, you are completely within your traditional role to simply smirk and do what you know is right the minute he stops looking at you–or go somewhere else where you don’t have to put up with this nonsense.

  17. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Does Fortescue/Reid’s “The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described” provide theological and catechetical explanations, or is it more a rubrician’s handbook?

  18. michigancatholic says:

    Thomas, mass is not a choreographed post-modern movie like the Matrix. The fact that some people stand and some people sit and some people kneel says nothing to you because peoples’ souls are opaque at a distance. The fact is that there is a distribution of comfort and position, as well as a distribution of intention and holiness in any crowd of people. You can’t X-ray and diagnose that with a video camera. It’s perfectly OKAY if they don’t lockstep (or goosestep!).

  19. Thomas says:

    Don\’t get me wrong, I do not like conformism (I had my time of that in high school, and it was nasty), and I find something beautiful in people doing slightly different things but in the same spirit and to the same end.

    Still, because this is American culture, it must be worked with or around. Every week I see people stand for the Pater, look around, see half the people not standing, and they get nervous. some continue to stand some kneel immediately, but from my own early experience, there is a sense of ants crawling all over. The resulting distraction from the main point–the Lord\’s Prayer–is a disaster. If American\’s insist on conformity, they should be given norms clearly, and they should be educated about what these norms mean and to what extent they should follow or not follow them, but if the issue is ignored, it can result in great distraction.

    Whatever the people may do, though, I understand well enough that our servers should be better educated in the rubrics that they must follow.

    Jeff: it is more a rubrician’s handbook; it also takes into account local customs

  20. michigancatholic says:

    And of course, in all my comments, I’m speaking for the laypeople in the pews. The priest is required to say the mass correctly or it can cease to be the mass, of course.

    I’ve seen some masses that departed enough from mass typology & law that I wondered if they were still masses. (Do you know the story of Theseus’ ship?) This is a problem (and continues to be in some places).

  21. michigancatholic says:

    It’s OKAY if they look like ants crawling all over. That’s exactly my point! God can tell them apart. Really he can.

  22. Thomas says:

    no, I don’t mean they look like it. I am fine with that. I mean newcomers feel like ants are crawling all over them. It passes, but, well, maybe they need that once in a while.

    I sense that we are in one of those situations where the two sides agree, but they don’t know it.

  23. michigancatholic says:

    Nevertheless, does any of that destroy the meaning of the Lords’ Prayer? Or does it just offend the well-developed sensibilities of an American whose spent a lifetime watching movies? Do you see my point? I guess I’m asking the important question, in a very real way: What is mass really about? What should it be about? Can we have our own local answers for those questions? I think not.

  24. Thomas says:

    I agree, it does not change the meaning. My only concern, and it is only a slight one, is that people are distracted during Mass by silly things such as gesture. The sensibilities themselves do not matter, but they still affect one’s disposition, and this must be helped to a better understanding.

  25. michigancatholic says:

    Well, I agree with you that the fact that so many people are so profoundly interrupted by a few (silly!) gestures is a problem (and a curiosity, not a good one). Perhaps people don’t know their faith very well or care about the religiously pertinent things very much. It would be a fair question to ask them what they think they are doing when things like this happen. Perhaps that’s a question that needs to be asked MUCH MORE OFTEN in the Catholic Church.

    I expect that the Catholic Church in the USA is a giant pain in the backsides for the Vatican.

  26. Boko says:

    I’m with Dan and Cristero: Is “Quaeritur” Latin for “Darling, you got to let me know…”?

  27. Gareth says:

    The odd thing I learnt all those years ago was that the server is the only one to kneel during the creed.

  28. The difficulty in determining what “the people” do is that you need to determine (1) the universal guidelines [Thomas quoted them above], (2) the modifications made by your bishops’ conference, (3) the modifications made by your local bishop, and (4) legitimate customs that have arisen in your parish.

    Remember, since even the universal guidelines for the postures of the laity don’t have the status of actual law, they can be modified by any of these things.

    In the United States, from what I have seen, it appears that kneeling during the entire Eucharistic Prayer is the norm in most dioceses (although individual parishes don’t always do it). But some dioceses (including Los Angeles) stand during the prayer, including the consecration. Seattle tried this, but people were so unhappy they revoked the change. Meanwhile, the Mexican custom of standing during the prayer but kneeling at consecration is growing, since the Hispanic portion of American Catholics is growing.

    However, kneeling after the Agnus Dei (which is not part of the universal rules in the new system) ended in the West after the last set of rule revisions around 2000, but it still is common east of the Mississippi.

  29. Kathleen says:

    Can anyone tell me if there is any such thing as “permission” from the Vatican to stand during the consecration? My daughter will be attending St. Anselm’s College next year and I was told by a current student that they have such permission for this posture.

  30. michigancatholic says:

    More of the same.
    a) How much does it matter? And why?
    b) Does your soul have anything to say about this or is it all about your friends?
    You tell me.

  31. JSK says:

    The more I read about rubrics, and GIRM, and the various interpretations, the more I realize I don’t really “know” what I am supposed to do in Mass.

    I *think* I know. I *WANT* to know. Yet I don’t think I have everything down. Since I grew up outside the Church, and didn’t go through RCIA until a few years ago, I have learned by simple attendance. The problem is that as we all know not all priests are made the same. I have read books when I could (The How to Mass Book, the old GIRM, etc…) but it is still a lot to go through. It would be GREAT if there was a VIDEO. I know it sounds silly, but a visual tool to teach us not only WHAT to do, but why we are doing it. Also, there could be little sections on various “differences” based on culture or tradition. (For example I know that some people cross themselves at different times during Mass while others don’t.)

    I know the idea of a video seems sterile, and maybe I am being naive, but I like knowing not only WHAT I am supposed to do, but WHY I am supposed to be doing it. I want to participate fully, but I also want there to be meaning behind it.

    It frustrates me going to Mass and feeling out of step or confused when I go to a different parish and things are different and I dont know what I should do when I am hit with a “Change”.

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