That, in the early Church, the faithful stood when receiving into their hands the consecrated particle can hardly be questioned. . . . St. Dionysius of Alexandria, writing to one of the popes of his time, speaks emphatically of “one who has stood by the table and has extended his hand to receive the Holy Food” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VII, ix). The custom of placing the Sacred Particle in the mouth, rather than in the hand of the communicant, dates in Rome from the sixth, and in Gaul from the ninth century (Van der Stappen, IV, 227; cf. St. Greg., Dial., I, III, c. iii). (Catholic Encyclopedia: “Genuflexion”)
21. In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof ; for whatever you lose, is evidently a loss to you as it were from one of your own members. For tell me, if any one gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?
22. Then after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth your hands, but bending , and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen , hallow yourself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem [c. 313-386], Catechetical Lectures, 23:21-22)
We always did have them [altar rails] at my parish . . . it’s a beautiful practice, but I don’t argue that anything different is evil and wicked (since the early Church did otherwise for the first 400 years or more). “Both / and” . . .
One can argue cultures and situations. I agree that kneeling is generally regarded as more reverent in America, at least; I even agree (i.e., in my particular culture, at this time and place) that it is more conducive to reverence in the Mass (which is precisely why I posted this article). What can’t be done, however, is trashing the Church (in what it allows) and arguing that standing to receive is intrinsically irreverent by its very nature.
The very fact that we have a diversity of rites in Catholicism shows, I think, that not all liturgical procedures, gestures, etc. need be together as a whole, but that various combinations are also possible. Or so I would argue, anyway.
As I have stated, I think it is a more reverent posture in our society, and I always do it myself at my parish, where it is the only way we receive (some in the hand, but still kneeling at the rail). I was only arguing against the legalism of saying that receiving standing and in the hand is intrinsically irreverent. Oftentimes, it can be outwardly so, in practice. I’ve seen it, and that is undeniable. I contend, however, that that goes back to multiple causal factors, not bodily merely posture itself.
I think it’s absurd to argue that one is intrinsically better than the other, because of both history and also present practice. Eastern Catholics and Orthodox stand to receive Holy Communion. Most Latin Rite Catholics now do also.
So someone wants to argue that all those people are almost automatically irreverent, while the “cream of the crop” are the ones who kneel? I think we can all agree that it comes down to the individual soul and how that soul is approaching reception of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. It always starts on the inside: in our hearts and souls and minds (Sermon on the Mount). That’s infinitely more important in the scheme of things. Anyone can “go through the motions” with any kind of posture.
Occasionally I receive standing, and I know I am no less reverent then than I am when I kneel (as every week in my parish). I agree (minus any hint of “either/or” reasoning) that kneeling promotes reverence.
The argument from longstanding liturgical tradition or custom does hold weight, but not as much as “traditionalists” think. After all, the Jews practiced the Mosaic Law for some 1200 years, and all of a sudden, Jesus and Christianity brought in a quite extraordinary development of it. Circumcision was no longer to be practiced; now baptism replaced it. The Saturday Sabbath became Sunday worship. All the many dietary laws were no longer in force. And a man claimed to be God incarnate, which was a very radical thing indeed in the Jewish mind: regarded as blasphemy.
That was quite a change, including in major dogmas (doctrine of God); yet some “traditionalists” want to argue that the Church cannot possibly permit people to stand rather than kneel in receiving Holy Communion (which isn’t dogma at all)? I don’t think anyone can plausibly make such an argument.
“Traditionalists” could try to show that the Bible frowns on standing when before God (or being prostrate), but as I demonstrate below, it does not. That’s the best chance a “traditionalist” had to establish intrinsic inferiority or irreverence.
But then, even if that were able to be shown in Scripture, the “traditionalist” has to explain why the early Church for 4-9 centuries, Eastern Catholicism, and Orthodoxy (and now the vast majority of Latin Rite Catholics) all practice standing during Holy Communion: how that ever came about, if the Church is divinely guided and protected from serious error: even liturgical corruptions (real or so-called).
The New Testament doesn’t appear to ever mention kneeling in connection to eucharistic worship. But then, it doesn’t have much at all about the early Mass.
The overall biblical data on posture and reverence, “before the Lord” or during worship, is not conclusive as to one particular posture. There are plenty of passages about kneeling or bowing (second section below), but there are even more (taken together) concerning standing or prostration (face down to the ground). Moreover, there are even a few passages that describe someone “sitting” before God. Therefore, the Bible reflects precisely what Catholic liturgical diversity indicates: posture is not determinative in and of itself. Therefore, we can’t condemn someone as less reverent or pious simply because he or she chooses to receive Holy Communion in a manner different than our own preference.
[all Bible passages RSV]
Genesis 8:22 . . . Abraham still stood before the LORD.
Genesis 19:27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD;
Leviticus 9:5 . . . all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD.
Deuteronomy 4:10 . . . the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb . . .
Deuteronomy 10:8 At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day.
Deuteronomy 17:12 The man who acts presumptuously, by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God . . .
Deuteronomy 18:7 then he may minister in the name of the LORD his God, like all his fellow-Levites who stand to minister there before the LORD.
Deuteronomy 29:10 You stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, (cf. 29:15)
1 Kings 3:15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.
1 Kings 8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven;
1 Kings 19:11 And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” . . .
2 Kings 23:3 And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book; and all the people joined in the covenant. (cf. 2 Chr 34:31)
2 Chronicles 6:12 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread forth his hands. [in the next verse, he kneels]
2 Chronicles 20:13 Meanwhile all the men of Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.
Nehemiah 9:3 And they stood up in their place and read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; for another fourth of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God.
Jeremiah 15:1 Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. . . .
Jeremiah 18:20 . . . Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them, to turn away thy wrath from them.
Daniel 7:10 A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
Judith 4:14 And Joakim the high priest and all the priests who stood before the Lord and ministered to the Lord, with their loins girded with sackcloth, offered the continual burnt offerings and the vows and freewill offerings of the people.
Romans 14:10 . . . For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;
Revelation 8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
[moreover, virtually all of the priestly functions and offerings were done standing, as far as I know; see, e.g., Dt 17:12; 18:7; Jdt 4:14 above]
Genesis 24:26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD,
Genesis 24:48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD . . .
Exodus 4:31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.Exodus 12:27 . . . And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
Exodus 34:8 And Moses made haste to bow his head toward the earth, and worshiped.
1 Kings 8:54 Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and supplication to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven;
2 Kings 17:36 but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm; you shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice.
1 Chronicles 29:20 Then David said to all the assembly, “Bless the LORD your God.” And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads, and worshiped the LORD, and did obeisance to the king.
2 Chronicles 6:13 . . . Then he knelt upon his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven;
2 Chronicles 29:29 When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped.
Ezra 9:5 And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God,
Psalm 22:29 Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, . . .
Psalm 86:9 All the nations thou hast made shall come and bow down before thee, O Lord, and shall glorify thy name.
Psalm 95:6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
Psalm 138:2 I bow down toward thy holy temple and give thanks to thy name for thy steadfast love and thy
faithfulness . . .
Daniel 6:10 . . . he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God . . .
Micah 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? . . .
Judith 13:17 All the people were greatly astonished, and bowed down and worshiped God . . .
Sirach 50:21 and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing from the Most High.
Matthew 8:2 and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
Matthew 9:18 While he was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
Matthew 15:25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
Matthew 17:14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and kneeling before him said,
Matthew 20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zeb’edee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.
Mark 1:40 And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
Mark 10:17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Luke 5:8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Romans 14:11 . . . As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.
Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
Philippians 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Genesis 17:3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, (cf. 17:17)
Genesis 18:2 . . . When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, (cf. 19:1)
Genesis 24:52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD.
Leviticus 9:24 And fire came forth from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat upon the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces.
Numbers 22:31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face.
Deuteronomy 9:18 Then I lay prostrate before the LORD as before, forty days and forty nights . . . (cf. 9:25)
Joshua 5:14 . . . And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped . . .
Joshua 7:6 Then Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust upon their heads.
1 Kings 18:42 . . . And Eli’jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.
2 Chronicles 7:3 When all the children of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD
2 Chronicles 20:18 Then Jehosh’aphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.
Nehemiah 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Psalm 72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
Ezekiel 11:13 And it came to pass, while I was prophesying, that Pelati’ah the son of Benai’ah died. Then I fell down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, “Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?”
Judith 4:11 And all the men and women of Israel, and their children, living at Jerusalem, prostrated themselves before the temple and put ashes on their heads and spread out their sackcloth before the Lord.
Judith 6:18 Then the people fell down and worshiped God, and cried out to him,. . .
1 Maccabees 4:40 They fell face down on the ground, and sounded the signal on the trumpets, and cried out to Heaven.
2 Maccabees 3:15 The priests prostrated themselves before the altar in their priestly garments and called toward heaven. . .
2 Maccabees 13:12 When they had all joined in the same petition and had besought the merciful Lord with weeping and fasting and lying prostrate for three days without ceasing . . .
Matthew 2:11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. . . .
Mark 7:25 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet.
Luke 5:12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and besought him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
Luke 17:16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.. . .
John 18:6 When he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Acts 9:4 And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (cf. 22:7; 26:14)
1 Corinthians 14:5 . . . falling on his face, he will worship God . . .
Revelation 4:10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever . . .
Revelation 5:8, 14 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;. . .  And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Revelation 19:4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
Judges 20:26 Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept; they sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
2 Samuel 7:18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? (cf. 1 Chr 17:16)
Ezekiel 44:3 Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the LORD . . .
(originally posted on 1-23-13)
Photo credit: Communion rails from St. Martin’s Church (Thompson, Norfolk), built in the 15th century. The rails were installed by Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud in 1630. Photo by Bill Sibley: 1 March 2008 [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license]