The Catholic Mass contains many spiritually powerful moments. For me, two of the most powerful are the Eucharistic Prayer and my own prayers following Holy Communion. Not coincidentally, these are the two times during Mass that all parishioners are on their knees.
Catholics are often teased about their “worship aerobics” during Mass. It’s true that we do (in this order) stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, stand and walk (to the altar for Holy Communion), kneel, sit, and stand. Also, before we take a seat in a pew and again before we leave at the end of Mass, we genuflect — lower ourselves by bending one knee — before the altar as a sign of respect. K. Albert Little provides a very helpful explanation of why we do all of these things in his blog posting “Why Catholics Sit, Stand, and Kneel at Mass.”
Our bodies influence our minds. When we stand up straight, with chins lifted and shoulders back, we feel more confident and competent (try it!). When we sit up straight, we feel more attentive. When we walk briskly, we feel more purposeful. Our own body language communicates to our hearts and minds how to feel and think about the situation we’re in. This is why kneeling can be so powerful.
During worship, we Catholics kneel first for the moments when the priest invokes the Holy Spirit for the consecration of the bread and the wine. As we witness the sacred mystery of these gifts’ transformation into the Body and Blood of Christ, it is fitting that we are in a profoundly humbling position before the altar and an image of Jesus on the cross. Kneeling puts us in a posture of deep reverence for our Lord, who is now present there with us.
We kneel again before and after we receive Holy Communion. Especially afterward, once we are physically united with Christ, kneeling is the most appropriate stance, for it’s the position that best expresses our state of adoration. When I’m on my knees, I’m also reinforcing with my body the prayers that are in my heart, thereby deepening those prayers’ meaning and amplifying their power. This gesture is so significant, I suspect, that it even reawakens those who’ve been just going through the motions with wandering minds.
Many people of all faiths still kneel during personal prayer. When I go to my parish church for classes or meetings, I often see an individual or two on their knees on the hard stone floor before the Crucifix in the empty church. There’s no better way to express the overflow of emotion that occurs when encountering the Glory of God.