Monday, September 26, 2011
I have never seen Lutherans kneel ever before!
In the twentieth canon of the Council of Nicæa (A.D. 325) the fathers decreed: Because there are some who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost [the fifty days between Easter and Whit-Sunday]: that all things may be uniformly performed in every parish or diocese, it seems good to the Holy Synod that the prayers [tas euchas] be by all made to God, standing. Apparently kneeling and genuflection had already found their way into the Divine Service.
In the West in the sixth century, St. Benedict enjoins upon his monks absent from choir to recite the Divine Office as a private prayer, not standing but kneeling throughout. So if not in public, in private kneeling was the standard posture of prayer and humility. The practice of kneeling during the Consecration was introduced during the Middle Ages, and is in relation with the Elevation of the body and blood.
So what does it matter? It matters not in the sense that a particular external posture determines whether or not we are heard by God when we pray. But ceremonies, ritual, and church usages are not merely external. C.S. Lewis makes the point in his Screwtape Letters (a book I heartily recommend) that we are not souls trapped in bodies. We are incarnate spirits. What I do with my body I do with my soul. And therein is the issue. The very value of external postures is when they mirror the internal posture of the heart (faith). No one would say we must (except those with canon law) but in our liberty we can and do use external postures to mirror what is (or at least is supposed to be) happening internally.
In this parish we offer the chance to kneel (that is, we have kneelers in the pews). We may kneel for the confession and for the prayers. Maybe we will offer more opportunities to kneel in the future. We do not require it but it is available. Much in the same way some cross themselves and some do not. Some bow and some do not. We do not despise those who do nor do we despise those who do not. But at least let us not misunderstand or slander those who do. In the end I think C. S. Lewis has got it right. Worship is not just a matter of the spirit and true spirituality does not despise or disdain the material. After all, our Lord has chosen common and ordinary earthly elements to serve as the means of His grace. Surely bodily postures and gestures are fair means of communicating the faithful response of His people to what He, in His grace, has bestowed.