Standing and Kneeling

Liturgy We Live
by Dr. Gil Haas

Old Testament references suggest that standing was the Jewish posture for prayer. Christ assumed that one stood when praying (“And when you shall stand to pray” [Mark 11:25]). The Council of Nicaea enjoined congregants to stand during prayer “that all things be uniformly performed.” In the early church, the congregation only knelt for private intentions. The celebrant would then conclude these private petitions by enjoining the people to rise at which time he summed up the silent petitions in a short communal prayer or collect. The next centuries were a hodgepodge of often-changing rules regarding standing versus kneeling based upon the day of the week, the season of the church year, and other seemingly petty variables. Chest-high altar rails were used beginning in the fifth century when standing was the posture for communion. Kneeling became customary around the thirteenth century. After the Puritans removed all altar rails, lower altar rails returned in the seventeenth century to protect the altar from desecration by being “so thick with pillars that doggs (sic) may not gett (sic) in.” Episcopal altar rails are low implying that communicants should kneel, but an increasing number of communicants stand.