POSTURE DURING THE MASS
The appropriate times during which we stand, sit or kneel during Mass were set over 40 years ago in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal published in the 1970’s. But across Ireland, and even from parish to parish in Dublin, we tend to fall back into postures as used before 1970 and what we saw other people do as we were growing up.
We show our unity as an assembled people not only by our sung and said responses during Mass, but also externally. We worship the Lord with our whole being; with our hands, feet and bodies as well as with our eyes, ears and mouth. Because of their unspoken power, gestures and posture in the liturgy deserve as much care as the words we use.
God calls us together as members of Christ’s body, as members of an organic whole and not as disparate individuals. Therefore, a Christian assembly that believes ‘with one heart and soul’ (Acts 4:32) adopts common postures as signs of its unity in our worship of the Lord. These postures both express and foster the spiritual attitude of those taking part. There are many actions and gestures that we do together during Mass: we make the Sign of the Cross, we stand to pray, sit to listen, bow to show reverence, we move forward to present gifts and to receive, we exchange the sign of peace.
When Mass begins we stand. We stand up to greet people, to honour someone important, to express our readiness for action, and (especially at sporting events) when gripped by excitement. For example, we stand when the national anthem is played.
In terms of the Eucharist we stand before God as a Resurrection People, lifted up to greet our Risen Lord, called to stand in God’s presence and serve through the celebration of the Eucharist – a Priestly People fully engaged in the liturgical action. In this way, standing reflects the assembly at work actively given to participation.
There are appropriate times during the Liturgy when standing reflects this reality. So when does the General Instruction on the Roman Missal recommend we stand during Mass?
- To begin with we stand for the entire ‘Introductory Rite’ – that is from the beginning until we respond ‘Amen’ to the Opening Prayer or Collect. (We can sit together if the Gloria is sung and then we stand again)
- Then we sit to listen to God’s word.
- The next time we stand is at the Gospel acclamation to greet the Lord’s words in the Gospel. After it is proclaimed we sit.
- We stand together for the Profession of Faith and the Prayer of the Faithful. Then we sit as the gifts of bread and wine are presented and prepared.
- We stand at the Prayer over the Gifts and for the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer (the reason why we are giving thanks and praise) until the end of the ‘Sanctus’ – the Holy, Holy. Then we KNEEL for the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer.
- We stand to pray the ‘Our Father’ together, and right through until after the Lamb of God. Then we KNEEL as we are shown the Body and Blood of the Lord and respond: ‘Lord I am not worthy…’
- After receiving Holy Communion, we may kneel or sit in silent thanksgiving.
- Finally we stand for the ‘Prayer after Communion’, the Final Blessing and Hymn.Another important element during Mass is sacred Silence. Silence allows us to truly listen to the Lord, to hear what’s going on in our hearts and minds and to gather on a deeper level. This should especially happen during the Liturgy of the Word and after the priest says ‘Let us Pray’ before the Opening Prayer/Collect and before the ‘Prayer after Communion’. This silence only takes a few seconds but can greatly help our prayer, just as in any piece of music, we need silence in which to hear the separate notes.