If There Are No Kneelers, Is It a Catholic Church?

This time of year, I am wistfully remembering our summer vacation. The ferry ride to Washington Island. Walleye at the English Inn. The bag of cheese curd next to a bottle of wine in our room’s refrigerator.

I imagine I’m standing on Ephraim’s shore and scanning the hillside across the bay where shops and art studios dot the landscape. I have trouble envisioning a snow-covered bay. I don’t suppose people are running along the shore or riding bikes like they did last June. Seasons change places like Door County, Wisconsin.

And I wonder about St. Rosalia, the Stella Maris parish in Sister Bay where we worshipped Our Lord last summer.

Something unusual happened the day we visited that parish.  After genuflecting, we slipped into a row and leaned forward to lower the kneelers. There were no kneelers to lower.

My husband and I wondered for a moment if we had made a mistake. Was this really a Catholic parish? I looked at the inside of the church. Yes, there was Our Lady. It must be Catholic.

It was the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. And we were in a Catholic church, but we wouldn’t be kneeling at the moment of Consecration – the very moment that the Corpus Christi would come to us in the Eucharist.

My heart ached for kneelers. Doesn’t that sound strange coming from a former Protestant who spent forty years in churches that didn’t have kneelers?

I wondered as I sat there. Why had they left out kneelers when they built this church? I guessed that the decision had been made in an attempt to welcome visitors. This area of Wisconsin had its share of tourists. I suspected that the parishioners had hoped to welcome anyone and everyone.

I visited a few Catholic churches as a child. On those rare occasions, I did think the kneelers were a strange addition to a sanctuary. Kneelers were part of the list of Catholic oddities that included incense, bells, and statues.

So why was my heart heavy on that Solemnity of Corpus Christi? If I could live without kneelers for forty years, surely I could worship without them during this one Mass.

But there’s one thing that changes everything for me. That one thing is Jesus Christ, Our Eucharistic Lord.

I came to the Catholic Church with a love for Christ, and when I grasped the Truth – that this same Christ was truly present in the Eucharist –  everything changed.

I thought of St. Paul’s letters. To the Romans, he writes, “As I live, every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” To the Philippians, St. Paul writes, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth.”

That day in Door County, I knew that this same Lord would come to all of us. And there was no kneeler upon which to bend our knees.

At the end of Mass, the priest made an announcement. “There are envelopes in the pews if you wish to make a donation for kneelers. We want to comply fully with our Bishop’s mandate for every parish in the diocese to have kneelers,” he said.

I blinked back tears. This bishop was a shepherd after St. Paul’s own heart! And I pulled out my checkbook and wrote a check.

I understand the desire to make all people feel welcome. And I remember all too well what it was like to see the kneelers and not understand. To watch the incense going up, to hear the bells and not know that Jesus Christ had just arrived.

Just bells for no reason. Incense to be different. Kneelers to pray when I could pray while standing or sitting, whether indoors or outside.

But if you had asked me what I would do if Jesus Christ walked through the door, if Jesus came to me in the Flesh and stood before me – even back then I would have smiled and answered without hesitation.

I’d hit my knees.

There is one thing in the Mass that changes everything. Jesus Christ comes to us really and truly- Corpus Christi. All praise, glory, honor, and power belong to Our Lord.

God bless the bishops for reminding us: We have the Body of Christ.

Denise Bossert


Denise Bossert is a convert and a syndicated columnist. Her column has been published in 60 diocesan newspapers. She attends Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri.

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  • adrienne

    I don’t understand why one would question kneeling even if there weren’t kneelers. Maybe this is a Canadian thing?

    If Our Lord is coming to us, we would adapt our reverence based on whether or not we can be comfortable?

    Lots of parishes have no sign of kneelers, yet are still 100% Catholic. I’ve knelt in gravel for the Consecration many a time.

  • Joe DeVet

    The reform of the “reform.” How good it is to see it happening all over the place in big and little ways.

    In particular, obedience to the bishop, which is, in effect, a symbol of obedience to the Church and all she teaches and stands for. This is a part of what each baby priest pledges as part of his ordination–I say, an integral part of it. In practice, however, often a lost virtue in our day.

    We need it. This Church of ours has a very big job to do.

  • waynergf

    No kneelers? Oh yes, very much a Catholic church – just like St. Martha Catholic Church in Kingwood, TX. 🙂 No kneelers by choice, not by budget constraints. And everyone kneeled as usual. Think about it: If our Lord and Savior could hang on a cross for three hours for us, surely we can kneel on a floor for several minutes once a week.

    [Weekday daily Masses were in the Chapel – it had kneelers on the back of each chair. 🙂 ]

  • ndlaw

    I certainly agree with the sentiment of the writer. Truth is, however, that if you go into the very old Catholic Churches in Europe you will not find kneelers. In fact, in many of them you won’t even find pews. Folks used to stand and kneel without pews or kneelers.

  • RoodAwakening

    Perhaps, it should be mentioned that there are normally no kneelers in Byzantine Catholic churches (and possibly those of other Catholic rites), but they are just as Catholic as Roman rite churches with kneelers are.

  • nyer2

    Denise, as RoadAwakening has already pointed out, most if not all Eastern Catholic Churches do not have kneelers.

    Kneeling is a western tradition. In ALL Catholic Churches, both western and eastern, we stand for the reading of the Gospel. Why? Because standing is a sign of respect. In the Eastern (Catholic and Orthodox) Churches, the congregation stands, out of respect, during the consecration.

    Ndlaw rightfully notes that in many European Catholic (Western) Churches, there are neither kneelers nor chairs. There have been several times when I attended Mass in a Latin Rite Church without kneelers. Since kneeling is the western tradition, I chose to kneel on the floor during the consecration.

    Hope this offers some clarification. Welcome home to the Catholic Church!

  • drea916

    Kneeling does not require kneelers. And if I happen to be in a parish where I’m the only one doing the kneeling, while everyone else is standing, that’s just fine.

  • et1jake

    I understand her lament. Cardinal Arinze used to say that there is no requirement in the GIRM for kneelers; but there is the requirement to kneel.
    Unfortunately many parishes, priests and even bishops allow the lack of kneelers to be a suitable excuse for disobedience and disrespect.

  • Freeman, Loretta

    Finally! Someone feels as I do. I have been raised Catholic all of my life, and now that I have turned forty and matured a bit, worship has becomes of the utmost importance. I can not find a Catholic Church in my region that has kneelers, and if they do, it is only on half of the church, and the Father serves the host on the other side! I feel like they are disgracing what is Holy. To make matters worse, I walked into a new church yesterday (on my search for a properly designed one) and lo and behold, no holy water font! Oh! What are we saying to people? Here is the real kicker. It is an abomination to God to touch the consecrated host with your hands, yet that is precisely what we are teaching our second graders what to do when receiving their first communion. What is so hard about sticking out your tongue and obeying God? Today, my prayers have evolved to,”Dear God, Please let me win the lottery so I can build a Catholic Church that obeys your every command, and falls to their knees to solemnly worship you as we should!”

  • lweisenthal

    I attend a Franciscan parish with no kneelers. Franciscans follow the Gospel, first and foremost. The Last Supper was not an occasion for private prayer. There is ample opportunity for this during both mass and private life. The Last Supper was an event for community participation and celebration, The disciples had their eyes glued on Jesus Christ, as He broke the bread and shared bread and wine. It was a community supper, not a dinner eaten alone. Thus, at my parish, we keep our eyes on the Friar during the consecration and blessing and on our fellow parishioners as we sing the communion hymn together. It’s my understanding the Bishop has the authority to grant some latitude in such minor deviations of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, as was done in the case of my parish. I think that it’s good to have a spirit of forbearance when visiting another parish. There is usually a good reason for seemingly variant local customs. St. Paul advised the Corinthians to have forbearance in the cases of such minor differences in various factions which had arisen in the church he founded.

  • Adriana

    I refuse to use kneelers. I prefer to always kneel on the hard floor and do not understand how people can get so hung up on something so unimportant.