April 18, 2023

From the Rector…

I have always heard that we stand to praise, we kneel to pray, and we sit to learn in the church. Some of us call that pew aerobics as we get a physical and spiritual work-out on Sunday mornings. These actions are meant to draw us deeper into our liturgical appreciation of worship. We call them “manual acts”. There are other manual acts like making the sign of the cross at certain times of the liturgy and reverencing when appropriate. Like the sacraments, all can participate in them, some should, but none must. 

Our traditional custom at CoA is to stand to sing (praise) and kneel to pray. This custom is rooted in later expressions of our worship. At the First Council of Nicaea, the church decreed “that prayer be made to God standing”. The only exceptions were the Third Sunday of Lent and Holy Cross Day. All the liturgical traditions assume that standing is the correct posture for prayer—be it the Prayers of the People or the Eucharistic Prayer. However, the argument does divide when it comes to intercessory prayer and the prayer of consecration.

The Roman Catholic church would argue that intercessory prayer allows for the option to kneel as we come reverently, even humbly, to lay our concerns before God. However, the Eucharistic prayer or, prayer of consecration, is a celebratory one and the correct posture would be to stand. It is also a unified prayer—meaning that whatever posture you begin the prayer with should be the posture you maintain throughout the Eucharistic function of the liturgy i.e. if you start the Eucharist standing, you should continue to stand throughout the prayer, and finish by standing during the post-Communion prayer. 

Standing was considered the most reverent form of prayer in the early church. Kneeling was considered an act of penitence and not a posture of worship. Since the Council of Nicaea had to weigh in on the subject, there was obviously some discrepancy among the earliest of Christians. Though the Council declared standing to be the preferred posture for worship on Sundays, they only prescribed it for the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Even works of art from early church worship depict Christians as standing with their arms extended upward in what is called the orans position as the stance of worship and prayer.

At Ascension, no one is going to tell you what prayer posture you must utilize in worship for two reasons. One, we are delighted you come to worship as your presence blesses us and I hope we are a blessing to you. Two, expressions of personal piety are meant for the individual worshipper. Though there are some actions we all take as one, many of the manual acts of piety are done to encourage your own sense of worship. Some days you may feel especially joyous and desire to stand throughout the service as an expression of that joy. Other days, you may feel especially penitential and kneel throughout the service as a posture of acquiescence to God and an action in hopes of redemption. Your posture is important to you—not to the clergy, the other members of the congregation, or even to God.

Though I appreciate and honor your piety—whatever form it might take—I also would encourage you to practice a different expression of it every now and then. Easter is the most joyous occasion of the church year. You will notice that the choir and altar party do not kneel during the Great Fifty Days of Easter for that very reason—we are reverently expressing our joy. That seems odd. We think that it is in the lowering of ourselves—bowing our heads or kneeling that we are truly reverent—and yet, the early church saw it as the exact opposite. They believed that to be the most reverent one would stand and lift their arms, their entire being, to the sky—to God. True reverence is a lifting up not a sinking down. 

I challenge you to live into this posture of worship this season—lifting ourselves up to the Lord just as we say in the opening words of the Eucharistic Prayer. Sure, it’ll feel a little awkward at first. You may even be the only one who does it. Live into that. Explore those feelings of uniqueness in your worship and the self-awareness of being one of the few to worship in that way. Allow yourself to move beyond those feelings of self-doubt and shift your focus to God—yearning for God and stretching yourself to his presence. See how it changes your own awareness of what it means to worship in body, mind, and spirit.

And if you just can’t do it. No worries. Keep worshipping your way. I simply ask that you be mindful in why you are doing what you’re doing as a way of continuing to deepen your own life of worship and your relationship with God.

Light and Life,