© Copyright 2002 Grace D. MacKinnon
This article taken from the book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith, coming in March 2003 from Our Sunday Visitor. Order online by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-348-2440. Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: email@example.com. You may also visit Grace online at www.DearGrace.com.
The Mass is divided into two major parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The question of when we are to kneel pertains to the second part, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. During this portion of the Mass, there are two points where Catholics of the Roman Rite want to know about kneeling: the Consecration and the Communion rite, which are both part of the whole Eucharistic Prayer. There has been much confusion about the rules and a wide variation in practice. Your question refers to kneeling during the Communion rite.
Until recently, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal had made no reference to kneeling after the Agnus Dei (or Lamb of God) until Communion. This, however, has now changed. On November 14, 2001, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops proposed some adaptations to the 2000 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the dioceses of the United States. Some of these adaptations were approved in a decree by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on April 17, 2002 and will be inserted into future editions of the Roman Missal in English for use in those dioceses.
Regarding kneeling, the adaptations state the following: “In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise (GIRM, no. 43). So, we see that kneeling after the Agnus Dei is now a liturgical norm in the dioceses of the United States.
For many centuries, Catholics have expressed their reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ present on the altar by the practice of kneeling during both the Consecration and the Communion rite. It was not until some time after the Second Vatican Council that an attempt was made by some liturgists to change the people's customary posture during Mass. It does seem, however, that kneeling during the Communion rite has been a custom and an act of personal piety that Catholics in America have almost universally continued to practice by kneeling from the end of the Agnus Dei until they go to receive Communion, and even after receiving until the final prayer and blessing, in spite of the legal technicality that it was not required. Now, it has finally been written into the liturgical law of the Church for the dioceses in the United States. One can say that the faithful have always done this out of sincere love for the Lord and as an expression of their belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.