An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


A traditional posture of prayer in which one’s weight rests on the knees. The pews of many churches have “kneelers” or cushions to protect the knees of those who kneel to pray. Kneeling to pray may express penitence, supplication, and humility. Depending on local custom and personal piety, worshipers may kneel to offer private prayer, during the prayers of the people, while saying the general confession and receiving absolution, during the Great Thanksgiving, to receive communion at the altar rail, during the prayer of thanksgiving after communion, and to receive the blessing. The more traditional of the two invitations to the confession of sin in the Rite 1 eucharistic liturgy (BCP, p. 330) includes a direction for the congregation to make their “humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”

Recent liturgical reforms, following the ancient practice of the church, encourage the congregation to stand for prayer during most of the times of the service when kneeling has been customary. For example, the rubric in the Rite 2 eucharistic liturgy directs that the people may “stand or kneel” after the Sanctus (BCP, p. 362). This emphasis is reversed in the Rite 1 eucharistic liturgy, which states that the people may “kneel or stand” (BCP, p. 334). Many believe that standing for the eucharistic prayer emphasizes the eucharist to be a celebration in community rather than an expression of penitence by individuals.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.