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"The knee is made flexible by which the offence of the Lord is mitigated, wrath appeased, grace called forth" (St. "By such posture of the body we show forth our humbleness of heart" ( Alcuin, De Parasceve ).
"The bending of the knee is an expression of penitence and sorrow for sins committed" (Rabanus Maurus, De Instit. To kneel while praying is now usual among Christians. In the Jewish Church it was the rule to pray standing, except in time of mourning (Scudamore, Notit. Of Anna, the mother of Samuel we read that she said to Heli : "I am that woman who stood before thee here praying to the Lord" ( 1 Samuel ; see also Nehemiah 9:3-5 ).
Hence such classical phrases as: "Genu ponere alicui" (Curtius); "Inflexo genu adorare" (Seneca); "Nixi genibus" (Livy); "Genibus minor" (Horace). Benedict as uttering his dying prayer "stans, erectis in coelum manibus" (Dial., II, c. Nor is it unlikely that since standing has always been a posture recognized, and even enjoined, in public and liturgical prayer, it may have survived well into the Middle Ages as one suitable, at least in some circumstances, for even private devotion.
On the other hand, examples are not wanting of Christians who pray standing. Yet, from the fourth century onwards, to kneel has certainly been the rule for private prayer.
It was a principle akin to that which deemed it a great virtue to fast even on Sundays and feast days. The decree has likewise (though lightly varied in wording) been incorporated into the canon law of the Church (Dist. "The 29th Arabic Canon of Nicæa extends the rule of not kneeling, but only bending forward, to all great festivals of Our Lord " (Bright, Canons of Nicæa, 86). Thereupon, the deacon in attendance subjoins: "Flectamus genua" (Let us kneel down). Anciently a pause more or less long, spent by each one in private and silent prayer, ensued.
That, in our time, the Church accepts kneeling as the more fitting attitude for private prayer is evinced by such rules as the Missal rubric directing that, save for a momentary rising while the Gospel is being read, all present kneel from the beginning to the end of a low Mass ; and by the recent decrees requiring that the celebrant recite kneeling the prayers (though they include collects which, liturgically, postulate a standing posture) prescribed by Leo XIII to be said after Mass it is well, however, to bear in mind that there is no real obligation to kneel during private prayer. It must be said kneeling, except when illness makes the doing so physically impossible.
Thus, unless conditioned on that particular posture being taken, the indulgence attached to a prayer is gained, whether, while reciting it, one kneel or not (S. Turning now to the liturgical prayer of the Christian Church, it is very evident that standing, not kneeling, is the correct posture for those taking part in it.
The "Stans in medio carceris, expansis manibus orabat", which the Church has adopted as her memory of the holy martyr, St. Eusebius (Vita Constant., IV, xxii) declares kneeling to have been the customary posture of the Emperor Constantine when at his devotions in his oratory. Augustine tells us: "They who pray do with the members of their body that which befits suppliants; they fix their knees, stretch forth their hands, or even prostrate themselves on the ground" (De curâ pro mortuis, v).
Even for the ante-Nicene period, the conclusion arrived at by Warren is probably substantially correct: —"The recognized attitude for prayer, liturgically speaking, was standing, but kneeling was early introduced for penitential and perhaps ordinary ferial seasons, and was frequently, though not necessarily, adopted in private prayer " (Liturgy of the ante-Nicene Church, 145) It is noteworthy that, early in the sixth century, St. l) enjoins upon his monks that when absent from choir, and therefore compelled to recite the Divine Office as a private prayer, they should not stand as when in choir, but kneel throughout. The "Sacrosanctæ", recited by the clergy after saying the Divine Office, is one of the exceptions.
This has given occasion to the Missal rubric, requiring the clergy and by implication the laity, to kneel in Lent, on vigils, ember-days, etc., while the celebrant recites the collects and post-communions of the Mass, and during the whole of the Canon, that is, from the Sanctus to the Agnus Dei. It remains however unexplained why the exception for Sundays and paschal time is not expressly recalled. They are the Western analogues of the Eastern diaconal litanies, and recur with great frequency in the old Gallican and Mozarabic uses.