Hello there my friends! In this post we will explore the question: do you have to kneel to pray? I will be approaching this question from a Catholic viewpoint.
Traditional Prayer Postures
Traditionally, yes, most Catholics would have prayed on their knees, probably. Certainly it was encouraged as pious devotion and respect towards God. You can read this in works of saints.
Standing is another traditional prayer posture, as in the Orthodox Christian tradition and the Byzantine Catholic tradition.
In the past, there seems to have been a lot more emphasis on approaching God properly with proper dress and proper posture. Actions from the laity were built into the traditional Latin Mass, so that everyone was doing the same thing together at worship.
Modern Prayer Postures
These days, there is a much more relaxed approach to all of this, at least as far as the laity go.
Many Catholics don’t pray on their knees anymore, unless they are at Mass. The Catholic Church is a lot less traditional since the great Vatican 2 council of the 1960s, and this council helped bring the Church into the 20th century.
One of the impacts of this has been that modern-day Catholics do things that perhaps our ancestors would have thought disrespectful. For instance, many modern Catholics do not dress up to go to Mass, but opt for a more smart-casual approach.
Most modern-day Catholics receive the Holy Eucharist on the hand, rather than direct into the mouth from the hand of the priest.
Another change was that since Vatican 2, most priests now face the people when they serve Mass, whereas before they faced away from the people and faced the Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is.
What is Church Teaching on Prayer Postures?
We are not routinely taught that we should pray on our knees anymore. In the past, instruction given to Catholics may have emphasised more of an importance to pray on our knees.
That said, it has never (so far as I am aware) been part of official Catholic teaching that Catholics SHOULD pray on their knees. It seems that there has always been freedom here.
In reality, we can pray in any posture we like, even lying on the bed, as David says in the Psalms (Psalm 63:6). We can pray whilst driving, walking, standing, sitting, or generally in any posture.
We can even pray on the toilet, as St Theresa of Avila apparently did!
The important thing is to maintain some element of respect towards God. So long as the heart has a sincere approach to God, the body should follow in maintaining a posture that is at least not disrespectful.
Kneeling Prayer is Helpful
Many Catholics still do pray to God on their knees as part of their devotion to God. This is encouraged by the Church because it is a traditional posture of respect, and ensures respect for God. But there is no obligation to do it.
Praying on our knees generally helps us focus our minds more on God. Generally speaking, we will pray better on our knees.
It is worth recalling also that the apostles in the book of Acts often pray to God on their knees, so this is an apostolic way of praying (e.g. Acts 20:36), especially for significant events.
It is important for us to make use of our bodies when we pray. This is recognised by all apostolic Christian traditions, be it Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox. This is why we do the sign of the cross.
This is also why we have the sacraments. The physical world and our physical bodies are INCLUDED and redeemed by God becoming flesh in the person of Christ. Creation is good and the material world (our bodies included) should not be excluded from prayer or the worship of God.
We are physical and fleshly creatures with souls. We have bodies, and our bodies are being saved just as our souls are. The human person is a combined unity of soul and body, not one or the other.
Therefore, we should try to approach God with all of our being. We are, after all, commanded to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
If you’re interested in this topic, check out my other post on a similar theme.
Rosary Lovers constantly promotes the glory of Mary and her Rosary. As such, we often direct readers to this gorgeous collection of long-lasting paracord rosaries.