To find congregations kneeling to pray in the modern Episcopal Church is a difficult task! Please read on.
In Morning and Evening Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) the congregation is described as “devoutly kneeling”. In the two Daily Services the expression occurs after the Creed and before the Lesser Litany which prepares for the saying of the Lord’s Prayer.
In The Order for Holy Communion from the same Prayer Book the Minister calls the congregation to confession of sins, ending his exhortation with the words: “and make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees.” In the rubric, which is printed before the text of the general Confession to be said by all, are these words: “both he and all the people kneeling humbly upon their knees.”
In other places within all these Services, there is direction for Minister and people to kneel.
For example, at the first saying of the Lord’s Prayer before the Versicles in the Daily Services the rubric reads: “the Minister shall kneel…the people also kneeling with him.”
And in The Order for Holy Communion in the rubrics which appear at the very beginning of the service are these words: “the Priest shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling.”
The Anglican tradition was (until the advent of modern liturgy in the 1970s) that the congregation kneels to pray, stands to sing and recite the Creed, and sits to hear the Word of God. So, if the tradition has been/ is to kneel for prayer, why should the expressions “devoutly kneeling” and “kneeling humbly” be used at specific places, and at those only?
It appears that these expressions are used to give special emphasis at these places and to serve as a further reminder to the congregation that it is facing the Almighty LORD. It is therefore to lay aside all wandering thoughts, and to attend to the great work of prayer that all are engaged in – looking to the Father through the Incarnate Son. For, although the Minister alone speaks most of the words, the godly affections of the worshippers must go along with every expression/petition/phrase, and sign them all at last with a hearty “Amen.”
Let us note that “devoutly kneeling” is used in the Daily Services at the transition point in the Office where there is a move from praise of God and hearing his Word to the offering of prayer. This is indicated by “Let us pray.” Then in The Order for Holy Communion it is before the general Confession, which is the immediate preparation for the move towards the Consecration Prayer and the receiving of Holy Communion.
Of course, in all prayer there should be humility before God but people are weak in will and in devotion and thus at these critical points they are urged to kneel humbly and devoutly. The true Christian will always be devout and humble before God but because of human weakness and sinfulness reminders are very much needed by all.
In the American edition of The Book of Common Prayer (1928) the expressions are only found in the Order for Holy Communion and at exactly the same place as in the English Prayer Book of 1662.
One further point needs to be made. In the description of services from the second and third centuries after Christ that still exist, it can be deduced that the congregations in those times in the Roman Empire usually (maybe always in some case) stood for prayer. This led liturgists from the 1970s onwards to call for exact imitation and to seek to abandon the Anglican tradition of kneeling and adopt the supposed primitive Church custom of standing (and so out went hassocks and kneelers etc.). And to a large extent they have succeeded in many congregations!
And some clergy devoted to this innovation have tried to show that even the rubrics of the historic Book of Common Prayer (editions of 1549, 1552, 1662 & USA 1928) required standing for the Prayer for the Church militant here in earth. Their reasoning is that there is no specific rubric requiring kneeling for this Prayer and that a little later there is the specific call to confess sins “devoutly kneeling.” Thus they say that no kneeling is required because it is not commanded. What they overlook is the very general requirement in the Daily Offices and then also in the first part of the Order for Holy Communion that the congregation is to kneel when it addresses God Almighty!
Let us recover or acquire the habit of devoutly and humbly kneeling! And of course of praying to the Father in the Name of the Son and with the Holy Spirit as we do so.
It is no accident that the growing absence of “the fear of the Lord” (godly reverence and awe before His Majesty) has accompanied the move away from kneeling to either standing or sitting. Bodily posture symbolizes inner attitude and conviction, and those who truly believe God, the LORD, to be transcendent and glorious in his holiness will be more than ready, very desirous, to kneel devoutly and humbly before him! (Those who for reason of age or infirmity cannot kneel will make sure that the inner attitude is right before God.)
In our culture of rights and of self-esteem, it is good for us to show by bodily posture that before God, our Creator, Judge and Redeemer, we possess no rights whatever. We implore his mercy in the Name of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Please visit www.anglicansatprayer.org for more material on public and private prayer as Anglican Christians
Please visit www.pbsusa.org for materials on the Common Prayer Tradition and work of the Prayer Book Society
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