ASK FATHER: Do I sin if I don’t stand while the tabernacle is open?

From a reader:

Today at mass, our priest told the congregation that the archbishop wanted to emphasize that the people should remain standing after communion until the tabernacle is closed. This is to emphasize the unity of the people. If I choose to kneel after communion, in violation of the archbishop’s instructions, does this disobedience constitute a sin? My pastor says yes.

I don’t think so. Of course a great deal depends on your attitude. If, while you kneel there, you are thinking about what a jerk the priest is, or how irreverent the people around you are, then you’ve gone down the wrong path.

Meanwhile, I don’t get the obsession to have everyone doing exactly the same thing. Moreover, if the imposers were to think this through for a few seconds, they would realize that it has for a very long time been customary for everyone to kneel until the tabernacle is closed. If solidarity is the aim, why not have some solidarity with our forbears who built our churches and handed the Faith down to us?

We need a lot more kneeling in the presence of God.

Who do we think we are?


It seems that more than one person has this question in mind.

From a reader…


Before mass (OF) this morning, our priest spoke about “posture”

during mass. He referenced a decree by the former archbishop calling for everyone to stand at the Agnus Dei so that we can stand united. It is the practice of some (including me and the missus) to kneel at the Agnus Dei. we were also instructed to not kneel after reception of the Eucharist until the priest and deposited any unconsumed hosts into the tabernacle. We have been at other parishes in other dioceses where kneeling at the Agnus Dei is the practice. My hand missal (Midwest Theological Forum) calls for kneeling the Agnus Dei. Is there an historical answer to this?

For the most of the Church’s history, there were few, if any, rubrics governing the posture of the laity at Mass. The whole notion of having to stand or sit or kneel or bow in a united fashion, to symbolize our unity, is something rather new. Certain customs developed over the centuries, based on the sensus fidelium. We stood for the proclamation of the Gospel, for example, and when pews came into common use, most people sat for the homily.

For the most of our history, however, people stood in the Church for the entirety of the Mass, or they knelt on the floor out of devotion. Some probably milled around, visiting devotional shrines, or attended to unruly children by taking them into the vestibule.

The obsession with telling the laity precisely what they should be doing at any particular point in the liturgy is quite recent.

“Genuflect on only one knee when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed!”

“Don’t make the sign of the cross at the prayer after the Confiteor!”

“Bow to the altar as a symbol of Christ, but don’t genuflect to Christ Himself in the tabernacle!”

These are ridiculous novelties dreamed up by “experts” who are also perhaps control freaks.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. David in T.O. says:

    I wonder if this is one of my poor fellow Canadians; the matter has been addressed time and time again. Here is the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada’s take on it:

    [From the Sept/Oct 2003 Notitiae… a dubium submitted by the USCCB to the CDW in Rome…]


    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. The Astronomer says:

    Re: kneeling, casual deportment is the natural result of seeing Our Lord for the past 40 years as a friendly, quasi-hippie ‘drinking buddy’ and not the Lord God of Hosts.

  3. anilwang says:

    It’s my understanding that a Catholic is always allowed to follow universal norms and that local customs are just dispensations.

    So if the local norm is to stand for the whole mass (e.g. you’re a military chaplain at a flooded muddy battle field with no place to kneel) and you decide to kneel anyway you would not be sinning if you followed either norm.

  4. asperges says:

    These specious and silly instructions should not be taken seriously. It is the habit of a few countries to stand throughout Holy Mass – France used to be one of them – but for most of us it would be unnatural. As unnatural, indeed, as standing for Holy Communion administered by a lay person, having Mass celebrated facing the people or not genuflecting during the Consecration would have been to our parents.

  5. mhazell says:

    General principle: if you have to enforce the “unity of the people” during the liturgy, you’re doing it wrong!

  6. Siculum says:

    “This is to emphasize the unity of the people.” Huh? I thought that was what communion was for…. we all run up and take the wafer and say Amen and then glance at our watches on our way back to the pew… or the car….

    Just kidding!

  7. Siculum says:

    Oh wait I don’t mean watches, I mean phones…. I mean iWatches….. no, I mean phones…. Nobody wears watches anymore apparently

  8. Imrahil says:

    The answer to the question is: no. [I already answered the question. o{]:¬) ]

    With clerics, or with abbots w.r.t. their monks, it might be different (and of course with the altar service); but bishops have no business to order their layfolk around meticulously.

    “Make a mess!”

  9. KevinSymonds says:

    Wasn’t there an instruction from the CDW that stated the faithful were free to stand, sit or kneel at their discretion after receiving Holy Communion?

    Adoremus has this link:

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. iamlucky13 says:

    Uh oh. Now my sense of modernism and the “democratic” approach to the liturgy is conflicted.

    Is it all about unity or is it all about individual expression.” I mean, standing might be “what’s right for you,” but what if kneeling is “what’s right for me?”

  11. Sonshine135 says:

    This is silliness. Chapter IX of the GIRM covers this, and it makes no mention of individuals not following being in penalty of sin. I cite the following two paragraphs:

    396. However, before proceeding to new adaptations, especially profounder ones, great care shall be taken to promote due instruction of the clergy and the faithful in a wise and orderly manner, so as to take advantage of the faculties already foreseen and to apply fully the pastoral norms in keeping with the spirit of the celebration.

    397. The principle shall moreover be respected, according to which each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith and sacramental signs, but also as to the usages universally received from apostolic and unbroken tradition. These are to be kept not only so that errors may be avoided, but also so that the faith may be handed on in its integrity, since the Church’s rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to her rule of faith (lex credendi).

    While I agree with Father that we shouldn’t kneel, because we are thinking about how much of a jerk the Priest is, the Priest should also be taking care not to misinform the laity. It is clear that many of shepherds, whether accidentally or on purpose, have misled the sheep and continue to do so. Article 397 above should be carefully considered before, for lack of a better word, these mandates are pushed on people.

  12. Mike says:

    Who do we think we are?
    Why, we think we’re up-to-date Easter People! Regrettably, the date is 1969 — roughly the time that our concern about what God thinks seems to have fallen utterly by the wayside. Let us pray that we get our priorities straight before the date is too late.

  13. Woody79 says:

    Interesting. At adoration, when Father takes our Lord out of the monstrance, everyone kneels until Jesus is placed back into the tabernacle. So, to all the bishops who read this blog, what is the difference between our Lord and Savior present in the monstrance and when He is present during communion? I know of no difference. He is there, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in both instances and places. He is the King of Kings. He is God. Kneel and give Him homage.

  14. Joe in Canada says:

    The 2003 Responsa applies in the US – the ‘new’ GIRM cannot be interpreted as banning kneeling. Unfortunately for Canadians, the Canadian edition of the GIRM didn’t come out until 2011. So bishops in some places have banned kneeling after Communion until the Tabernacle door is close claiming that the 2011 GIRM supersedes the 2003 Responsa. I wrote the CDW and asked if that was true, since the 2003 Responsa was to the universal GIRM, and no particular change with regards to kneeling after Communion was made in the Canadian edition. But I have not heard back.

  15. Katherine says:

    These few posts in a row about postures during Novus Ordo Masses bring to mind something I do on occasion. It comes more from an instinct than anything, and I wonder if it is wrong. I have been at Masses where the priest, during the sign of peace, leaves the sanctuary to shake the hands of the people in the nave. Many years ago, I noticed Jesus was being left alone on the altar, and I began kneeling to Him, while the priest was greeting the people. It just seems to me that someone in the church should be adoring Him, exposed there in the Blessed Sacrament, while the whole congregation is busy with one another. I know it is odd, but I never thought that it might be wrong to kneel then…

  16. GypsyMom says:

    This is the policy in our diocese, instituted by a previous bishop. It was sold, as above, as a way for the congregation to be “united.” Over the years since this started, our diocese is anything but united in this practice. Some priests never instituted it, some did but went back to the universal norm (or a subsequent pastor reversed it), and some follow it wholeheartedly. In the parishes that stand at this time, some people stand, some kneel, some kneel for part of the time, and some sit. When visiting different parishes, one never knows what will happen there, and you can always tell who the visitors are because they are looking around confusedly after receiving Communion. It’s a mess.

  17. This is one of the reasons I miss the TLM. In the TLM, the priest and other ministers at the altar are strictly governed in word and deed by the Missal, while the people are free to leave the heavy lifting to them and kneel or sit quietly and engage interiorly in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the new Mass, the people are driven like cattle through a noisy obstacle course of hymns, postures and responses, which they are expected to carry out in unison, while the priest at the altar pretty much does and says whatever the hell he wants. And this is known as the “golden age” of the laity.

  18. iamlucky13 says:

    “In the TLM, the priest and other ministers at the altar are strictly governed in word and deed by the Missal”

    They are also strictly governed by the Missal in the Novus Ordo. The difference is the people participating in the TLM are generally serious enough about it to abide by the instructions in the Missal on their own accord, a fidelity I see as one of the more obvious fruits of the TLM, while a large proportion of those participating in the NO make no effort to understand or follow the Missal and are allowed or even encouraged in this by errant clergy. We need to enforce and explain the instructions of the Missal, but the NO should be judged based on what it actually instructs, not on illicit “innovations” made to it.

    “while the people are free to leave the heavy lifting to them and kneel or sit quietly and engage interiorly in the Sacrifice of the Mass. “

    That may be the ideal, although to be honest, I’m afraid I’ve found myself having a lot more trouble engaging interiorly in the Mass in the TLM than the NO. I wish I could do better, but I seem to have a long ways to go, and I know I’m not alone. I think a lot of the changes made in the NO have merit in this regards.

    “In the new Mass, the people are driven like cattle through a noisy obstacle course of hymns, postures and responses”

    I have great difficulty abiding by a description of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, whether the prayers of the priest are whispered in the universal language of the Church or spoken aloud and accompanied by vocal responses from the people in either the vernacular or Latin, as driving the faithful “like cattle through a noisy obstacle course.”

    So please refrain from such characterizations. That was unnecessary.

    Also, it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to attend a TLM, but I don’t recall significant differences in the postures.

    “while the priest at the altar pretty much does and says whatever the hell he wants.”

    Again, you’re focusing on the illicit, not the proper form of the NO. I share your frustration at our priests of all people doing whatever they want in the sanctuary, but I’m not going to pretend that defines the Novus Ordo. The Missal is actually rather admonishing in its tone on this point: “However, the Priest will remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.”

    By the way, since I noticed your OP suffix, I had to share that it was the Dominicans who first really demonstrated to me the level of reverence the Novus Ordo should be celebrated with, and that it could be celebrated in Latin as well as English, and gave me my first taste of a (in this case the old Dominican Rite) traditional Latin Mass. I’ve long admired the Order of Preachers as a result.

  19. Sword40 says:

    My wife and I have been blessed to have an EF Mass available for Sunday’s and Holy Days. True its a long drive (80 miles each way) but I no longer have to deal with whether or not I can kneel or shake a hand or do other protestant type gestures. No more guitars or folksy songs or “On Eagle’s Wings”.

    Its straight EF Mass.

  20. nzcatholic says:

    Some church officials these days are obsessed with the notion of unity as in ” the unity of the people”. This belief then manifest itself in stupid silly acts such as, being instructed to turn to your neighbour at the beginning of mass and say “hello”. Being instructed to hold hands during the Our Father. Standing during the consecration and of course being told to chat to the person next to you after mass. Such novelties in my mind show a lack of faith in what the Catholic faith is and what the holy mass is. They preach about unity yet there clearly is no unity in the church today

  21. Mike says:

    “Unity of the people” bears an eerie resemblance to the “general will” at the rotten core of the so-called Enlightenment and its damnable descendents. Sounds like some clerics need a tune-up on the differences between civil religion and the Catholic Church that Christ founded.

  22. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    I kneel.

    I have just consumed the Creator-King of the Universe at his command found in the Gospel of St. John, and as described in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch, as well the earliest Church Fathers like St. Justin Martyr and St. Basil the Great.

    I really believe that that is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity under the appearance of Bread and Wine that I have just put into my mouth, and has turned and is turning me into a living Tabernacle, therefore: I’m going to be on my knees after consuming Him.

    While on my knees, I am going to be silently asking Jesus to have mercy upon me, I’m going to be silently invoking the Blessed Mother, the Angels and the Saints, asking them to pray for me, and all of that will all be done on while on my knees.

    I really don’t care what other people think. I’m not thinking about them at that moment.

    We should just get rid of the pews all together. They are modern innovations brought about by the Protestants. Google images for “medieval mass” and you’ll see that everyone is either standing or kneeling. Also look at the inside of Churches built during the Middle Ages, or earlier like the Hagia Sophia, and you’ll see rows and rows of modern chairs, and no signs of any pews. In the Rubrics of the Middle Ages, there were also parts that called for people to fully prostrate themselves, you can’t do that with a pew in front of you.

    Sorry, I’ve been reading the book “A Sense of the Sacred” about the Mass in the Middle Ages, and I think we’ve lost something by not worshiping God with our full body.

  23. CruceSignati says:

    YoungLatinMassGuy, so does this gal. So does my immediate family, and everyone in my home parish, which is a simple Novus Ordo parish.
    But this past summer I counseled at a Catholic girls camp in Southern Alberta, where they had daily Mass (NO). So for they first few days, I knelt when I normally do (end of the Sanctus to the end of the Amen; end of the Agnus Dei ’til standing up and going to receive Holy Communion; and after Communion until Father says, “Let us pray.”) On day four of the ten days at camp, one of the camp leaders stood up and said, “When we worship at Mass, its very important for us to be in union, and this includes our posture. The norm in this diocese is to stand after the Memorial Acclamation and also to remain standing after the Lamb of God. As well, you must stand and participate in the singing after Communion, since we ought to support the singers who are leading music. If you want to, you can kneel, but only after Father has closed the tabernacle doors.” I (sort of) followed her orders. The rebel in me refused to sing after Communion, as something of a silent protest. ;)
    Quite honestly though, I wanted to cry during that part of Mass for the rest of camp. The longing to kneel and adore the Lord was burning in me, but under the orders of a superior, I was not allowed.

  24. LuxPerpetua says:

    “These are ridiculous novelties dreamed up by “experts” who are also perhaps control freaks.”


  25. RJHighland says:

    They started this at my local parish about 7 yrs. ago. Implementing the demands of our local bishop for unified posture in the dioceses. We started attending a TLM shortly after that and haven’t been to a Novus ordo mass but maybe three times since. So actually I would have to say thank you to that bishop and priest for driving me and my family to a deeper understanding of our faith. It is simply the futher Protestantization of the Holy Sacrifice of the mass. With the change in postures came a different focus of teaching in the homilies and catechisis. What a train wreck but one that is in slow motion, a train wreck that has taken 50 yrs. to see the true carnage. I call it the progressive plague once it has infected your dioceses it is impossible to cure, the best thing is to flee to a cleaner uninfected parish to just wait for it to run it’s course.

  26. Stephen Matthew says:

    The only instance I am aware of that standing is particularly in the mind of the rubric writers during communion, is if the option to sing a hymn of thanksgiving after communion is exercised. In that case it would indeed be proper for all to stand and sing an appropriate Eucharistic hymn together (that is also the only form of post-communion music specifically allowed in the rubrics, common though the practice of post communion choral meditative music may be).

    Also, while I may agree with Fr. Z that the rubric writers get it wrong on certain details, I still try to obey them so far as liturgy is concerned (though my private devotions are thankfully not subject to any sort of liturgical law). Now when local “pastoral practice” differs from the rubrics a bit more prudence is required, but it truth I am often alternate between failing by weakness in the face of pressure and failing by Pharisaical pride in my superior conformity to the law, so sort of damned if I do or damned if I don’t.

  27. yatzer says:

    The prospect of probably ending up feeling that I have failed either by weakness or by pride is why I avoid Sunday NO Masses whenever I can. At a weekday Mass, you can usually pick a corner somewhere and just not deal with it.

  28. Dialogos says:

    I am one of the people who asked Fr. Z about this. The declaration about standing was a bridge too far for my wife and I and we will attend EF whenever possible. In this archdiocese, we have to put up with priests improvising on the words of the mass; rebellious teachers and students at Catholic schools; dilution of Catholic identity at Catholic hospitals; disobedient communities of religious; EMHCs, altar girls, reception in the hand, and lack of altar rails as the norm;bad music; and an archbishop who has never, to my knowledge, spoken out publicly about any of these issues. Oh, but those of us who want to kneel at the Agnus Dei and after communion need to be obedient. We had put up with the many deviations from Catholic practice in hopes that, over time, there would be a return to Tradition. But then we felt attacked for something we did without pretense or any intention of imposing on others, and it felt like a betrayal. We do not want to be disobedient to those in authority, but our conscience has a role to play too. By attending mass in EF we feel we can be true to what we believe without being rebellious. I wonder if these bishops realize they are making it very difficult for those of us who are not hardcore traditionalists but who esteem tradition and traditional piety? Thank you to the other commenters who help provide context and affirmation.

  29. HeatherPA says:

    Our diocese has this policy too. Sigh. We are finding it more and more difficult to just find a parish to confess sins and go to Mass without nonsense.

    Our youngest son is old enough this year to start going to the FSSP boys summer camps. He is going every year until he is 19, and we hope and pray he is called to a vocation with them.

    We have found an FSSP parish, but it is a long drive. A LONG drive. We could do it once a month. Perhaps we should start. It makes me so sad that it is this way. We offered to pay our priest’s training, plane ticket, expenses, everything to the FSSP for EF mass training and he refused. Then we offered to the diocese to send any priest the same deal and they never got back to us.

  30. I am one of the priests referenced in this blog post. I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts from the other side of the altar.

    There are plenty of faithful priests who are caught between traditional practice and the directions of our respective ordinaries, to whom we promised respect and obedience. When faithful who otherwise reverence everything about our faith direct their frustration at us, leave the parish or both, it’s extraordinarily disheartening. I sympathize with the sadness and anger at general and specific loss of devotion in the Mass. It’s no cakewalk having to be the guy who is duty-bound to get up in front of them knowing they’ll be upset by the instructions we’ve received – and then having that worry fulfilled at full volume both before Mass or after, or both.

    A commenter here mentioned a response from the CDW to a dubium sent from Cardinal George about kneeling after receiving communion and whether or not #43 of the General Instruction meant to restrict that. What a great piece of information, and one that could be shared with uninformed but sympathetic priests & bishops to great end! Many of us are blessed with ordinaries who are more than willing to adjust their directions in light of such things. Many of the faithful are blessed with priests who will enthusiastically bring such things to their ordinaries as advocates for the faithful.

    How many potential advocates are lost because they’re blasted to pieces or abandoned for apparently greener pastures? How will our parishes – very often works in progress with great hurdles – flourish without the support of those who love the faith? Consider that not all priests or bishops are your enemies, even when they’re not entirely on board with you.

  31. marcpuckett says:

    Here in P. (are we avoiding naming names?), the stand together nonsense was introduced by decree (I guess) of the last archbishop. I’ve ‘compromised’ by standing until the priest and ministers leave the sanctuary to distribute Holy Communion. From that point until the post communion prayer, I kneel. Complicating matters here is that, apart from lousy, pop music and unnecessary EMHCs, the pastor and vicars are evidently quite orthodox otherwise and attend to the rubrics, the preaching is sound, we have a perpetual adoration chapel etc etc: so I do sympathize with Fr Maurer’s point of view. Am still, still hoping that the ‘new’ archbishop will set things to right.

  32. Gaz says:

    Insistence on common posture, I think, is a bit modern. I rail against it when I go to Mass in one church where the practice is to sit for the prayer after Communion (we normally stand in this country). So, in this Church, I find myself kneeling after Communion and I just stay there until the dismissal. (Because it’s Christmas Day, I genuflect during the Creed but get pretty b#%^*y angry when the celebrating priest decides that the Gloria and the Creed are not required that day).

  33. Gaz says:

    Realise that my earlier rant doesn’t do justice to the Parish Priest and that I should raise it with him charitably before ranting about it publically. Miserere mei…

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