Liturgical Calisthenics

August 31, 2018


Worship in the Episcopal Church is sometimes jokingly referred to as "Liturgical Calisthenics." Sometimes we stand, sometimes we kneel...how do we know which to do when?  And why do we stand, sit, or kneel at various points in the service? The easy one to explain is sitting.  We sit when we are learning in church.  In worship, we generally stand or kneel when we are praying.  Standing is especially associated with prayers of praise or thanksgiving, while kneeling is associated with penitence. Standing is a body posture that signifies a number of things.  When we want to show respect for something, we stand up for it...this is true in many different parts of our lives.  In a courtroom, you stand for the judge to enter. I always stood up when my grandparents walked into a room to greet them.  And that instinct toward respect is the same reason why standing is one of the oldest prayer postures. But probably the other oldest prayer posture is kneeling.  Kneeling is also a sign of respect, and a sign of submission.  When we kneel toward something it's a gesture that acknowledges power or authority. In the Book of Common Prayer, the rubrics (which are often written in italics) frequently give the option of either standing or kneeling at different parts of the service, and it's each worshipper's choice of how they'd like to observe that prayerful moment. So we stand when we sing hymns because we're singing hymns of praise to God. We sit when we listen to the readings and the sermon, because we're learning about the Word of God. But we stand when we hear the Gospel read as a sign of respect.  Also, think about how we end the Gospel reading - "The Gospel of the Lord."  "Praise to you, Lord Christ."  The Good News of the Gospel is something for which we always praise God. We stand for the Creed because we are praising God as we name God's three-fold nature. Then you actually have the option of standing or kneeling for the Prayers of the People, but we always kneel for the Prayer of Confession and the Assurance of Pardon because those are penitential moments. The Eucharistic Prayer is another time when the congregation has the option to kneel or stand.  Some might kneel because they understand the prayer as a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice.  Others might stand because it is "the Great Thanksgiving," a moment of gratitude and praise.  Both of those are the right answer (though in the season of Easter it is most appropriate to stand as in Easter we celebrate our redemption through Christ). But then we sit and sing while everyone else is receiving Communion because otherwise that is a lot of standing (and many people kneel and pray for a time when they return to their pews after receiving). A lot of this is also determined by local practice, and different Episcopal congregations will have different patterns...here at The Falls Church we tend to lean toward standing.  And of course, people have different bodies.  For some the knees don't bend as well, and for others standing for a long time is hard.  God knows all that, and even if someone can't do liturgical calisthenics, God knows the intentions in our hearts.


See you Sunday,

Kelly

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