Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Stand or to Kneel: That is the Question

A few people have asked me about standing and kneeling during worship, so I thought I would write a little something about it. Truthfully, I’ve had to do some research since I don’t know much about the history of standing and kneeling in worship. This is what I learned.

Marion J. Hatchett in his Commentary on the American Prayer Book notes that it wasn’t until the 13th century that some people in Western churches began kneeling during worship. He goes on to say, “Although various editions of the Prayer Book have specified kneeling for very few prayers, it has been the standard posture for both ministers and people during prayers of confession from the time of the 1549 Book [the edition of the Book of Common Prayer that was issued in 1549].” So basically, from a historical standpoint, the only time in the service that the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) consistently directed the people to kneel was when they were confessing their sins.

Now, on to the most recent edition of the BCP that was issued in 1979. The following are the directions for standing and kneeling during Holy Eucharist II:
  • At the beginning of the service, “The people standing…” (p. 355)
  • At the Lessons, “The people sit.” (p. 357)
  • For the reading of the gospel, “Then, all standing,...” (p. 357)
  • At the Nicene Creed, “...all standing” (p. 358)
  • Notice that there is no direction for Prayers of the People or the Confession of Sin
  • At The Holy Communion, “The people stand while the offerings are presented…” (p. 361)
  • At The Great Thanksgiving, “The people remain standing.” (p. 361)
  • After the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy,) at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, “The people stand or kneel.” (p. 362)
As a general rule, the BCP 1979 indicates that standing is the posture for most activities, offering the option to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer.

What you might have observed by attending various Episcopal churches is that local practices around standing and kneeling vary widely. Almost always, congregations stand to sing, to hear the gospel read, and to say the creed. Many churches also stand for the Prayers of the People, the Confession of Sin, and for the Eucharistic Prayer, though some churches choose to kneel during some or all of these activities. It has been my experience that local custom tends to dictate when the congregation stands or kneels – what the congregation has done in the past is what they tend to continue to do.

You might notice that I rarely kneel. I have bad knees and discovered many years ago that kneeling was just too painful for me and often distracted me from actually participating in the prayer. While I have observed some people sit while the congregation kneels, I was never fond of that option. If a prayer is important enough to warrant kneeling, then I do not want to be in the passive posture of sitting while saying that prayer. As a result, I choose to stand, even when others kneel.

One of the great things about the Episcopal church and the Episcopal liturgy is that we have options. If you find yourself feeling the need to kneel during worship, it has probably been done by somebody somewhere at some time and it would not be inappropriate for you to do so. If you feel that standing is a more appropriate way for you to engage in prayer and worship, then the BCP indicates that you have the choice to do so.


Fred Preuss said...

What would you actually do if someone decided to sit during the whole service?

Julie said...

I wouldn't do anything if someone sat through the whole service. I, myself, at various times in my life have sat through the service. That's one of the things I love most about the Episcopal Church: we all get to think for ourselves, which means that we can each make decisions about how we worship that might or might not conform to what is customary.

Anonymous said...

We are "kneelers". For us it seems right, but often we are the only ones. As long as people are comfortable worshiping in their manner, then we are on target. Worst position is the one in the recliner at home listening to the news :)