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Why Don’t People Kneel at Mass?

November 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Challenges, Dan Burke, Mass, Worship

Why Don’t People Kneel at Mass?

Dear Dan,

I have been disturbed in Mass by folks who don’t kneel or who half-kneel (“rear-end” still on the seat).

This might sound petty but I am crippled and wish desperately that I myself could kneel. What a profound privilege it is to kneel before our God and King. He has given everything for me and I can give so little in return. I physically can’t kneel, but I long to. Why don’t those who can appreciate that they should? It is very frustrating to watch.

Mentally Kneeling

Why don't people kneel at Mass -

Dear Friend,

I am deeply sorry that you desire to kneel but cannot. You should know that your desire to kneel is sufficient for a good disposition to receive the graces that come from this humble act. You are already kneeling in your heart, so please rest in the knowledge that God sees your heart and that you are in fact kneeling before Him because you desire it.

The timing of your question is a bit ironic, because I am recovering from a broken leg. I was just in Mass working hard to kneel, but it was painful. I am finally now able to kneel after many months, but getting up is tough without help. Today I knelt and watched as an able-bodied person stayed seated a few chairs down from me. It was sad to me and I suspect it would have been troubling to you.

Why does this happen?

First, we shouldn’t presume or judge others. Many are ignorant of the teachings of the Church on these matters. They are not aware that these gestures are not optional for those who are able (unlike you). They are not aware of Church teaching regarding how they should (as a few examples):

  • Kneel as they enter their pew before Mass
  • Kneel if they cross the altar before Mass
  • Make an act of reverence before they receive the Eucharist

KneelingAtMassDetailHolyCommunionTheQuartermastersOfficeInTheSternArtIWMART1402Unfortunately, in our time, another reason people give for avoiding kneeling or half-kneeling is that kneeling or whatever action required in Mass makes them uncomfortable. I don’t doubt their suffering. In your case this is a very difficult and absolute limitation of your expression of bodily worship. However, there are many like me who have legitimately experienced a great deal of pain kneeling, standing, sitting, or any action involving my knees, but who still do it anyway.

Those in my category have a choice to make. For me, I cannot worship the King of all Kings in Mass and allow even a good bit of pain to keep me from kneeling or following any form of worship inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is God’s just due and that is rightly honoring to Him. If I can kneel to get ready in the morning or to pick something off the floor, or if I can go to the gym to work out, however rickety I am, then I can surely give myself to God as He has asked me to through the teachings of the Church in worship. It would be shameful to go easy on myself when Christ embraced profound suffering on my behalf as He gave Himself over to be scourged, beaten, mocked, and crucified in order to save my soul.

As well, as I suffer, I often give my suffering up to those who have asked me to pray for them. There is no more powerful place to offer up these prayers and join our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ than in the Mass. In my opinion, if I hurt but am not damaging my body by following the Holy Spirit’s prescriptions regarding how we should worship, I must follow them. God is worthy.

However, if someone who is in the category like you, or who would be tangibly damaged by worshiping God in this way, then neither God or the priest or anyone in the Church expects you to do so.

Finally, the enemy would love nothing more than to distract you at Mass because of this issue. Please work hard to ignore what others are doing and pour your heart out to God as you kneel in your heart and worship him in the best way that you are able.

Yours in Christ,


P.S. Here’s a link to something I wrote a while back about kneeling and genuflection, for even more perspective on this topic.


Art: Holy Communion – the Quartermasters Office in the stern image: a scene inside the Quartermaster’s office in a cabin onboard a troopship. A padre performs a holy communion ceremony, standing before an improvised altar at a table to the right. On the left several men and officers kneel in prayer, wearing lifejackets over their uniforms, James McBey, (First World War), PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

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Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Roseann Sorrentino

    also because many of the people who have knelt before have had total double knee replacement surgeries and a lot of the parents do not act like any of the other parents or grandparents we once had if children do not kneel. About a month ago, I saw a young woman about 29-30 with her 4 year old daughter, maybe she was even 3, and both her mom and the 3 or 4 year old was kneeling and hands folded. It was sooooo precious. If I didn’t kneel after my baptism, (which was around 4 years old) They would pull me down to the kneeler. I wasn’t one of those children who color or use the kids worksheet that the church gives you to color during mass to keep the kids quiet. But yes I think also now a days some kids who have not made their holy communion probably don’t like to kneel. But I have not met anyone who doesn’t kneel from lack of respect, it is usually because they don’t know because they are young and don’t want to because they are lil children and that they have had knee surgeries. I had close to knee surgery and I still knelt. But it was a slightly different kind of surgery.

  • orientstar

    A nice article but I strongly suspect that most people do not kneel because they do not understand why they should as they do not accept the Real Presence.

    • LizEst

      A lot don’t kneel because it is difficult for them to do so. That is what we can see. What is in someone’s heart, we are not to judge.

    • Lynda

      And their priest fails to properly teach and instruct them.

      • LizEst

        I believe that training starts early in life. Another good place for it is during RCIA. But, for a priest to make a correction during Mass comes across very badly, like someone scolding recalcitrant children, when there may be good reason (as can be seen by all the comments here) that people cannot kneel. All this has to be handled with a lot of compassion and care. Bulletin announcements may also be a way to instruct.

      • Dan Burke

        Hmm. Well, I for one am not disposed to blaming the priest. I think if more laity who were well formed and ready to love and care for others would step up and provide interesting classes and workshops etc, that we would see far less of this. We need to stop looking to the clergy to change or fix everything.

        • Lynda

          It is the proper role of the priest to teach, preach, instruct and sanctify the Faithful. That is the Faith.

          • LizEst

            Very good! We are all baptized as priest, prophet and king. So, those roles apply to us as well. Please see this post here on how this happens in a family:

          • Lynda

            The role of the priest is essentially different to that of the lay man and woman. As baptised we have a role to play but it is subsidiary and different to the role of the priest. The priest may delegate some tasks but never the teaching authority. Within a family, mother father, grandparents, etc., have duty to educate and form the child in the Faith.

          • LizEst

            We often carry out that teaching role in our families, our schools, our seminaries. There are many, many lay Catholics and religious who teach seminarians and are active in their formation. It does not supplant the teaching authority but supplements it.

          • Dan Burke

            True. Just curious, do you take an active role in teaching in your parish? I suspect you do but I have found many who are quick to blame and saddle the priest with every duty rarely do anything themselves but complain.

          • Lynda

            The blessings of God on you, brother in Christ. It is not about particular situations or individual or particular tasks in specific circumstances, or subjective matters – those are things that are dealt with locally, under the authority of the priest. Christ gave us a hierarchical Church for us to give Him glory and attain sainthood and salvation. He instituted the sacrament of the holy priesthood and endowed the priest and bishop with specific and necessary authority, power and duty that the non-ordained do not have. (My personal situation or anyone else’s is irrelevant. I happen to suffer from a debilitating chronic illness.)

        • LizEst

          So true. The laity are also baptized as priest, prophet and king. The spiritual works of mercy include instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offences willingly. These are all apropos here.

    • Dan Burke

      I think you are probably right.

  • LizEst

    lhorbal – It’s not necessarily “cultural”. The postures prescribed are not the same everywhere, according to what different bishops’ conferences have prayerfully decided. For an example, go here to the US Catholic Bishops’ site where, in an excerpt from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (which is binding), it says “in the United States”:

  • Daniel

    Standing during the Eucharistic Prayer with a deep bow during the elevations and when the bell rings is common in many parts of the world. Standing and bowing is a sign of reverence. Even at St Peters, you won’t find many kneelers. Orthodox/Eastern Catholics stand for the entire service. The real problem is those with no medical issues who choose to sit. As always do not rush to judge and be a good example as many may not know.

    • LizEst

      Well said, Daniel. God bless you!

  • Cathy

    What about those who stand continue to stand after the Our Father? I just went on pilgrimage and of 50 of us, only maybe 5 resumed kneeling.

    • LizEst

      The postures prescribed are not the same everywhere, according to what different bishops’ conferences have prayerfully decided. For an example, go here to the US Catholic Bishops’ site where, in an excerpt from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (which is binding), it says “in the United States”:

  • misererenobis

    We should be careful who we judge as “able-bodied”. My teenage son, a big former football player can no longer kneel after an injury and two surgeries. I imagine he looks like a disrespectful youth – he is, in fact, considering the priesthood. (I don’t know if not being able to kneel will preclude him from that). Only God sees the heart. We should seriously resist looking around at what other may or may not be doing, wearing, etc., and keep our eyes on the altar – lest we bring judgment on ourselves!

    • LizEst

      How wonderful that your son is considering the priesthood!

    • Denise

      My 17 year old grand daughter can only kneel for a little while as well. She has terrible knee problems. She is a very devout teen, goes to confession once a month, prays daily, and loves the Lord and His Church.

  • LizEst

    …and, just as an aside, it is a good and kind thing to lower your kneeler for the people who are kneeling in the pew ahead of yours…when you, yourself, are not using it. People with long legs and bad feet are particularly affected by not being able to kneel without a little or a lot of discomfort/pain depending on their particular situation. Have mercy!

  • ThirstforTruth

    I wonder if there is a higher preponderance amongst Catholics of knee surgeries?
    Just asking…and of course, kidding! I think the point of Mass and receiving communion is to place oneself physically and mentally in a state of worshipping the Divine. What goes on in others around us is always distraction from that and we do best to keep our hearts and minds ( as well as bodies) in a state of worship as best we can, infirmities not withstanding. We come to church with our bodies and souls all in a different stage of spirituality and state of mind and body.
    Recently I attended a mass at a monastery somewhat of a distance from my home. I was shocked to see the entire congregation of monks stand throughout the entire consecration. Even the elevation. I could not do that ever as my background has always been to kneel when worshipping God but I know that is not the custom everywhere. I knelt but had to fight the feeling of self-righteousness ( what is the matter with all those people? don’t they know they should kneel in the presence of the Lord? don’t they believe in the Real Presence were all the distracting thoughts racing through my mind. Hardly prayerful! I admit.) Very distracting and I do not think in retrospect, I should have knelt. It is best to be in community with others during public worship.
    Youth has advantage over age. When young I recall the nuns admonishing anyone who during Mass resorted to what they called the three point position, meaning rear ends at half-mast !

    • LizEst

      I had to chuckle at your mention of preponderance of knee surgeries! But, now I wonder!! After all, we do spend a lot of time on our knees! ?

      That said, besides different places in the world which have different approved postures for Mass, and the well over 20 different rites within the Catholic Church, different religious orders also have different approved postures in their different sacramentaries (the book which the priest uses to say Mass from).

    • misererenobis

      LOL!! I suspect we will see more and more knee problems. I just went to a conference on aging last week and they said the world is “older” than it’s ever been and that my generation can expect to live well into their hundreds (as an average age)! In light of this we can expect more joint problems. I myself have arthritic knees – I still kneel when there are kneelers but occasionally must rest my rump to alleviate shooting pain; and I can no longer properly genuflect – it’s really more of a curtsy. BUT, I offer it up with an apology to my Lord for my failing joints.

      • LizEst

        Reminds me of Isaiah 65:17, 23: “Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years…”

        As well, curtsying is also appropriate for a king. A friend of mine does this every time she meets new people.

  • Cynthia

    At our church, we do not have kneelers and have been specifically asked not to kneel, but to remain standing as one community until the last person has received from the chalice and then sit as one community. Sometimes I see people attempting to kneel and I attribute that to the fact that they are visiting from another parish and aren’t aware of our community’s preferred practice. It bothers and concerns some people, I’m sure, because our practice is in part due to the fact we worship in a small space and the kneeling of some people is a potential hazard to our elderly or less mobile members. Regardless, it is blessing to have someone visit our church, is it not?

    A friend of mine is not Catholic but has been taking her children to Mass to try to give them something she did not receive as a child. She doesn’t know all the rituals, but she still attends as she as her family discern whether they want to become fully Catholic. I believe God must be incredibly happy that they are there, regardless of whether they are doing all the right things. We don’t know the circumstances that calls anyone to worship with us on any given day, but they might be powerful ones and I believe love and compassion are called for, not judgment.

  • hsmom3

    There are many reasons someone might not kneel. The reasons might not be visible and those who are not kneeling may look ‘able-bodied’ or even young and strong. One such time would be after a total knee replacement and being advised by medical personnel that they should not kneel. Other times could be back and hip problems. I have two teenage sons who look very fit and strong, but both have scoliosis. At times, even on the altar (they are servers) they will find their backs in such a state that they feel nauseated, dizzy, or with a pinched nerve and in severe pain. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen and then they do not kneel for fear of passing out, throwing up or being unable to perform the rest of their server duties. Someone in the pews would NEVER know this.
    There may also be non-Catholics in the pews, who are attending Mass for whatever reason.
    As far as half-kneeling goes, my daughter will ‘half-kneel’ sometimes and usually it is if she is very tired (she’s 12). For the most part I don’t allow it and correct her position, but she has low muscle tone and it is much more taxing on her to kneel for long periods than it is for someone without low muscle tone.
    Again, these are just the reasons that my three ‘able-bodied’ teens will, at times, not kneel during Mass and I would hope that those around us would concern themselves more with their own interaction with God during those moments when we are kneeling.
    My mother always told me that during Mass, especially if we are kneeling, my eyes should be closed or fixed on the Crucifix and not looking around to see what others are doing. “It’s not the time for people watching.” She also would remind me to never have hard feelings about someone’s behavior just because they weren’t taught any different way to behave. (Of course, noticing my own children’s behavior and positioning during Mass IS my responsibility and I frequently remind them that Jesus wasn’t very comfortable on the cross for 3 hours ;>)

    • LizEst

      …and God bless your sons for having the presence of mind to not kneel when they are feeling ill. Sacristans and sextons have, for years, been cleaning up when folks have gotten ill in during Mass.

    • misererenobis

      That’s what I taught my children as well – that Jesus hung uncomfortably for 3 hours so they could kneel for 15 minutes – especially, when I make them kneel on tile or other hard floors where there are no kneelers!

  • Suzette

    I remember the story of St. Catherine of Bologna. When she was brought up and was being moved to the little throne the Prioress had made for her she was carried past the alter. Upon passing in front of the alter her dead body rose and bowed and then laid back down. Many were in the church and witnessed this.
    I know that the pope desires all to kneel at the high part of the Mass. As a teen I would slouch at times on my rear but then for many years I kneeled upright. I am now a little older and have had many health issues and have gained fifty pounds. It is my belly that forces me back onto the seat. I don’t fit! After my heart attack my belly swells and I just could not move around as fast as well as before. I am trying to loose the weight and walking a lot faster and further then what I could at first but Mercy! Don’t judge, some have old knee injuries or just a little over weight and can’t get into a full kneel. Bless you. As long as the whole church kneels that is what matters. In many of the elderly communities of religious they have taken out the kneelers the sisters can no longer get down or up and our Lord see’s us bow in our spirit and that is what matters. Our bodies sometimes do not obey our hearts, it is a suffering that also can be offered up.

    • LizEst

      Well said, Suzette! Thanks for reminding us of the story of St Catherine of Bologna, too! May God bless you and give you increase as you work at getting healthy again.

  • trod

    Can you explain “kneel if they cross the altar before Mass?” I’m not sure I know what that means.

    • LizEst

      That means to genuflect when passing in front of the altar before Mass.

      We reverence the altar because it “represents the two aspects of the same mystery: the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord…the Christian altar is the symbol of Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven who is giving himself to us. ‘For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ?’ asks St. Ambrose…’The altar represents the body [of Christ] and the Body of Christ is on the altar.” (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1383).

      Hope that helps trod…and God bless you!

  • Richard Murray

    I, like so many others, have a lot of physical problems with kneeling, but like Dan I do and I also offer my sufferings to be united with those of our Lord in atonement for the sins of man and the salvation of souls.

    However, there are times when I do sit back when kneeling, but this is not because of disabilities but the configuration of the pews and the people in front of my who do not kneel. Most often though the person in front of me, (a regular,) cannot physically kneel himself as he is severely disabled. If I kneel properly as I desire I an actually physically touching my friend and both of us do not wish this, especially as it is a distraction from the Mass.

    For me, I am on my knees as much as I can during the Mass and any time our Lord is on the alter. As a certain Protestant Minister once said, “If I believed as Catholics do concerning the Eucharist, I would go every day crawling on my knees to receive Him!”

    • LizEst

      Yes, though not intentional, there are a few pews out there like airline seats! Ha! Our pastor had a row taken out (within the assembly) years ago to make accommodation for people who need the extra space. You are so kind to be so considerate of your friend. No doubt, the Lord smiles every time you are gracious to your friend.

    • marybernadette

      Interesting you mentioned the ‘protestant minister’ I read about a ‘Jewish Rabbi’ who was reported to have said that if he believed that God was ‘truly present’ in the Tabernacle, he would be lying prostrate before him. Of course, as mentioned however we are able, our hearts need to have the ‘disposition’ of reverencing deeply Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Yes, we must be careful not to ‘assume’ that others are not being ‘reverent’ because they may have ‘disabilities.’ However as Liz stated, it is good to mention obvious acts of irreverence, as one of the ‘Spiritual works of Mercy’ is to admonish each other with firmness, but in love.

  • Maria Grima

    Your desire to kneel before God and your humiliation of not being able to do so, offer it up to Jesus, as reparation for all persons, which don’t bother to kneel before God.

  • veronica

    I don ‘t think it is Christian to judge others for not kneeling. Sometimes what we see or think as able bodied worshippers might not be so able bodied after all. The largest portion of our civilization are aging baby boomers. Many of them are suffering from weak joints (knees, hips, ankles, etc) and cannot kneel and to do so would only aggravate and deteriorate their joints. Also many have had knee, hip or ankle replacements. Doctors advise knee patients (like me) not to kneel because it displaces the metal work done on their knees and shortens the span that the knee replacement will last. So even if they look able bodied, these people with joint replacement are really not that able bodied. We go to Mass to pray and worship the almighty, not to be distracted by how others are kneeling or not kneeling. If we are so busy judging others during Mass, then we are not truly worshipping and even being judgmental. What I do to focus purely on worshipping and loving my Lord is sit as close to the front as possible so I will avoid the temptation to see other worshippers, judge others and become distracted..

  • Isobel

    How sad I am that comments below are judging others. In my Church, relatively new, bad design means often there isn’t room to kneel especially for those 6 foot tall or more. Others don’t look physically impaired but spinal degeneration make it impossible for them to kneel or get up if they do. Yet am I judging those who are judging others? Let’s just do what each of us should do and leave it at that.
    How the evil one loves argument on any subject. Let him push off and get lost.

    • LizEst

      Isobel — Yes, you’ve seen the comments you’ve mentioned. They are not all like that, though. There are many comments that do not judge, but rather seek to enlighten others by explaining the sufferings and difficulties of others. We are, as well, also called not to be self-righteousness. May the Lord always bless you abundantly.

  • Quis_Ut_Deus

    Not to put too fine appoint on it, but I think a distinction needs to be made between kneeling, genuflection (right knee) and double genuflection (two knees). Sadly, many Catholics don’t know any better due to lack of proper catechesis and these traditions are all but lost in some communities. Barring any disabilities, kneeling is the appropriate posture, among other times, at the consecration and at Benediction. Genuflection is appropriate upon entering your church/pew, whenever crossing the tabernacle, at appropriate points in the mass as indicated in the missal and at each Station of the Cross. Double genuflection is appropriate whenever the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, i.e., after the consecration (if you’re not already kneeling or must get up), during Eucharistic Adoration, or when the Blessed Sacrament passes by during a Eucharistic or Corpus Christi Procession (these are not intended to be exhaustive lists). As an interesting side note, it is appropriate to genuflect before a relic of the True Cross; traditionally, this is the only relic for which that is appropriate. Also, when the Blessed Sacrament is not being reserved in the tabernacle, a bow is the appropriate gesture when crossing the tabernacle (you should be able to tell by the candle being extinguished and the door left open). The saying attributed to St. Francis, ‘Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,’ is something that should be reflected on in this topic of discussion. Our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is what sets us apart from the heretical protestant denominations. What we know St. Francis did say is, “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.” Restoring these rubrics will help to restore The Faith. “Lex orandi, lex credendi” (Catholic Catechism 1124). If one has a disability, they should have no pain of conscience, but perhaps make another appropriate gesture such as beating their breast and/or a slight bow, even if only from the neck.

    Lastly, many the comments here (and elsewhere) about “judging” really bother me, but I attribute them to the same ignorance in regards to the above. Please review the spiritual works of mercy. We are all called to judge our neighbors appropriately, so please do so. I would encourage everyone to read the Three Secret Strategies of Satan to Destroy our Children, our Families, our Culture, and our Church.” Link here –

    • LizEst

      You make some good points. We are not to judge others in terms of their hearts. Only God knows the heart. What we can do is observe the behavior and address it. And, yes, that means admonishing the sinner…and other spiritual works of mercy. But, we can’t be like bulls in a china closet, running around condemning people and damning them to hell. We must be compassionate and merciful.

      As to double genuflection, we used to do it as children–and it’s a nice thing to do because, after all, the One we worship is God…but it is not required. So, while it may be appropriate, it is not prescribed to be done. As a matter of fact, all the liturgical books are in agreement that genuflection is specifically on one knee, even when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration:
      1. From the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (which is binding and considered part of Canon Law): “A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil….” (Paragraph 274). This is taken, almost word by word from:
      2. The Ceremonial of Bishops, which says: “A genuflection, made by bending only the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and is therefore reserved for the blessed sacrament, whether exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, and for the holy cross…” (paragraph 69). Notice is specifically says whether exposed or reserved in the tabernacle.
      3. In the “Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist” (which also has the force of Canon Law), in the places it speaks about the point in the exposition proper, when exposition takes place. it says that the minister genuflects, and then kneels. And, this is contained in many paragraphs within this document.

      I suspect that’s where double genuflection gained a following. People saw the priest genuflect and then kneel. So, they followed suit by doing a modified version of this as a double genuflection. The same thing is going on today with the signing of one’s head, lips and heart when the priest does it before proclaiming the Gospel. It is not prescribed…but a lot of people are doing it, in consonance with what the priest is doing.

      So, we must be very careful about things like this. “Appropriate” does not constitute required…and people should know this.

  • K Borah

    I think the same could be said about talking before, during and after Mass. I try not to be distracted but some people can’t maintain silence if their lives depended upon it. I am not judging those folks but do pray because they don’t realize that silence is how God talks to us and we should be mindful of those who desire silence in their prayer conversations. I am in formation in a third order group and when I brought up the issue of silence was rebuffed by a number of my group. That is when I made up my mind to be reverent as much as possible to set an example. Thanks for a great article.

    • LizEst

      Yes indeed, this is always difficult. Occasionally, there may be necessity to say something. But, usually, it can wait. God bless you in your formation and in your good example, K Borah. May the Lord reward you! By the way, what order?

  • Claire Marie

    I’m confused: you say people should kneel when they “cross the altar.” What do you mean??? We bow before the altar, genuflect before the tabernacle and kneel before and during parts of the mass. Please clarify or maybe this is the reason everyone’s doing something different!

    • LizEst

      Claire Marie: It’s good to also read all the comments when one reads a post, as well. Why? Because, oftentimes, someone has previously asked the same question. That is the case today further on down in the comments. So, I’m just copying what I said below regarding what it means to cross the altar.

      That means to genuflect when passing in front of the altar before Mass.

      We reverence the altar because it “represents the two aspects of the same mystery: the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord…the Christian altar is the symbol of Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven who is giving himself to us. ‘For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ?’ asks St. Ambrose…”The altar represents the body [of Christ] and the Body of Christ is on the altar.” (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1383).

      Of course, if one cannot physically genuflect, a deep bow is very appropriate. The Lord, who sees the heart, can tell when someone would genuflect if they could.

      • Claire Marie

        Thanks Liz but I’m still confused. Our Liturgical Director specifically said to bow before the altar not genuflect. Are both acceptable or is she mistaken.

        • LizEst

          This also depends on where the tabernacle is. If the tabernacle is behind the altar, as it is in many places, you would always genuflect before the altar no matter whether it is before or after Mass, or when just entering the church, bowing deeply when unable to genuflect. Now, if the tabernacle is to the side, then you would genuflect to the tabernacle (because Christ is present there) before Mass and bow to the altar before Mass. Once Mass has begun, as soon as the bread and wine have been consecrated and are now the Body and Blood of Christ, you should genuflect when approaching the altar, or crossing in front of it, because genuflection is the norm and is reserved for Jesus.

          You haven’t said what your duties in the sanctuary are. So, it’s hard to tell from what you are writing. I’m assuming you have some…or you wouldn’t be referring to your liturgical director.

          If you are a lector and come up to read, bow to the altar, then move to the ambo or lectern to read. When you leave the sanctuary, bow to the altar.

          If you are a cantor and will lead the people in song, before the consecration, bow to the altar and move to the place where you lead the assembly. When you leave the sanctuary, bow to the altar.

          If you are bringing up the gifts, after you’ve brought the gifts to the priest, and before you return to your pew, bow to the altar.

          If you are an usher, bow to the altar when you start your service and/or when you bring up the offerings.

          Once the consecration has taken place, genuflection is the norm for what is done until the Consecrated Hosts are put in the tabernacle to reserve them for the sick. …but please continue reading some more…

          If you are an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, normally you would genuflect when you go up to the sanctuary to assist with the distribution of Communion. However, let’s say that your parish is large, and there are not enough priests to go around, and it must have several Extraordinary Ministers come up at once. It may be that the pastor has determined, and the liturgical minister is disseminating his instructions, that the best thing to do, because it could be a group where one doesn’t know the physical capabilities of those assisting, is to have a set standard or norm of participation. So, it was probably determined that to have everyone bow would be the best policy. That’s OK. The pastor can make that decision. You wouldn’t want someone who can’t genuflect to have an issue just at the time of distribution of communion. So, for the good of all, for the good of the parish, it has been determined that all would bow…and therefore, most probably no one would fall or not be able to get back up!

          So, follow what your liturgical director has specified. Remember that we owe obedience to our superiors…and, in this case, it is her. It’s an exception to the rule for the good of the people, and to keep any possible issue with physical limitations from becoming a distraction. If she didn’t have your pastor’s blessing–and, as I said, this is an area the pastor can make a determination on–as to what she is directing you to do, then she couldn’t say it long and keep her job.

          Please be at peace about this! I hope this helps a little more…God bless you…and thank you for your liturgical service to the Lord and His people!

  • Mary Carter

    I am 77 and have constant pain in my knee and discomfort in my body in general. I am a member of a Traditional Latin Mass parish. If I were to kneel without resting against the pew I would never be able to get up. I am okay with pain but I would not want to bother my neighbor in the pew to help me up each and every time we kneel and stand. I would love to kneel and always did before my old age problems and why are we judging people? If we are to do that, there are a lot of problems … that need to be addressed.

    • LizEst

      Mary, I am sorry for your pain. This site is a haven for rest for many. We are fine with constructive disagreement and encourage people to communicate freely but within certain parameters. Please read our FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) here:

  • LizEst

    Oh you are most kind, Claire Marie. To God be the glory! You are so good to check, in order to clarify this for yourself, and dare I say for others who might have had the same, or similar, question. Please say a prayer for me. I can certainly use it! God bless you!

    • misererenobis

      I appreciate this clarification as well – so much confusion was created when they moved the tabernacles in churches. Ours is to the side and I have taught my children to genuflect in that direction when entering the pew rather than towards the altar.

      • LizEst

        Good Advice! Thanks misererenobis! God bless you and your children.

  • Rick Postel

    What really hurts the most is the irreverence towards our Lord. People showing unruly children whose parents do nothing to stop their behavior, late for Mass and leaving before the blessing, unruly children and the worst people on cell phones while in line to receive communion. As Dan said we cannot judge nor can I cast the first stone. I do know this, it hurts me to know when I have offended my Lord, in my soul and hurts to know how indifference to him is painful. We forget that Our Lord has feelings because he has a love for us so unimaginably fantastic that we cannot fathom.

    • LizEst

      Yikes! Cells phones while in line to receive communion?!! Ouch, ouch, ouch!

      • pawanna

        before Mass begins in our church everyone is asked to silence their cell phones…..of course – not everyone does…. that is just as annoying as children that are allowed to drum on the back of the pew in front of them……:)

  • LizEst

    Once, within the last year or two, I had to correct two young girls who were jabbering all through Mass directly behind me. I was a little concerned with what the adult (the grandmother) would say. I did it after Mass, speaking directly to the young girls, telling them how they had distracted me during Mass, acknowledging that it was indeed a temptation to talk during Mass, but that the purpose of coming was to worship God and thank Him. The look on their face was one of shock and then embarrassment that they were caught! I thought, “Here it comes!” when the grandmother caught up to me. Surprise! She had been telling them this over and over and it seems they wouldn’t listen to her. She was ecstatic that I had said something and thought that it was wonderful! I credit the Holy Spirit with giving me the words. Couldn’t have done it on my own!

    • misererenobis

      The Holy Spirit is good! I was once trying to pray after Mass and the three women in front of me stood there talking very loudly. I didn’t want to “shush” them and so said a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit to either offer me the words to correct them or to convict them Himself, then one of the women suddenly look down at me and said “Oh my! I am so sorry!” and then ushered her friends out of the church. I never had to say a word – nor did I have to become angry or upset.

  • jcsmitty

    it isn’t always obvious who can or cannot kneel, just as we can’t judge when someone parks in a handicap space. (People may look healthy but have heart problems where they can’t walk but a few steps, e.g.). I have problems with my lower spine so half kneel, only to raise up as best I can when the priest raises the host and chalice. Most of us do the best we can. What galls me more than those who don’t kneel are those who receive Communion while swinging their arms or acting irreverently both as they approach and leave. I find no excuse whatsoever for taking the host as if it were some inanimate object. What is so hard about folding one’s hands together prayerfully?

    • pawanna

      i personally can not kneel because of a car accident years ago – but – i find that i am not really aware of those around me and what they are doing – i concentrate on Jesus who i just received and that is enough for me……

  • GL

    When I attended catechism some 50 years ago I was taught by Franciscan Nuns. They taught us how to act and be reverent in church. I don’t think children are taught this today. And since Vatican II the church has become more of a meeting hall. People talk in church, the Blessed Sacrament is no where to be seen. It just the culture in which we live.

    • LizEst

      I think that depends on the parish…and the Blessed Sacrament is always present in a Catholic Church.

  • Quis_Ut_Deus

    Did you just judge what I said in my post?

    • misererenobis

      Not at all!

  • James

    What a good reply and the concluding para – most practical solution… Thank you.

  • The Rosary Works

    I am a convert and one of the things that drew me to the church almost 30 years ago is that people do kneel during the Mass. It has always been important to me. I believe it is an outward expression of an inward condition.

    However, in the 30 years that I’ve been a Catholic, like all people, I have aged and my knees have aged along with me. I’ve developed arthritis in both knees and it is excruciatingly painful to kneel. I do the best I can, but usually end up in what a friend of mine describes as the “three point landing”. It’s the best I can do.

    My arthritis is not readily apparent, I do not walk with a limp. I suppose many people would consider me an able bodied, stiff necked person who is too proud to kneel. They would be wrong.

    While I consider kneeling during Mass to be a very important means of being reverent before the Lord, I think it is more important to view the whole person. Does that person “bow” to the Lord’s Will in their lives? Do they walk in humility before Him in their daily lives? Do they treat others with reverence and respect, knowing that as they do to the least of their brothers, they do unto Christ? Do they do their best to live in the Imitation of Christ? Are these not the more important things to consider? Are these not the most important questions we should be asking about ourselves during the Mass?

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