How does one show respect in contemporary Western societies? "Western societies" here refers beyond the Western Hemisphere to include those societies in the Global South that imitate the West and/or use the Roman rites.
There used to be a hand of respect, the right hand. Not any more: the left hand competes favourably with the right for virtually everything. It used to be that when one talked to seniors, one could not have one's hands in one's pockets, or cross one's legs, etc.
In fact, the English encouraged people to stand up to answer questions, as a sign of respect. These days, a standing ovation seems to be one of the few signs of respect remaining.
Few people make the link between our liturgical posture of standing and the Easter or paschal events. The recent debates, after the new English translation of the Sacramentary, or liturgical books, on when or why we should kneel at Mass orient the faithful more towards postural expediency rather than the theology behind liturgical posture.
An abiding liturgical principle is the saying: "lex credendi est lex orandi" – what we believe determines how we pray.
The English word "resurrection" comes from the Latin verb "surgo, surgere, surrexi, surrectum" – to stand. The prefix "re" – meaning "again" – attached to "surrectum" to give "resurrection." This gives "resurrection" its meaning – standing again.
In other words, the resurrection of Christ means, in a literal sense, that Christ is alive or standing again, after his death. The first impact of the resurrection for Christians was felt in the transformation of the Christians' day of worship: the first day of the week or the day of the resurrection (Psalm 118.22-26; Acts 20.7; 1 Corinthians 16.1-2).
The Council of Nicea, in 325 AD, inserted the following into its canon 20: "On Sundays and during the paschal season, prayers should be said standing."
Although the authenticity of this canon is contested by some historians, their argument does not hold sway. A century earlier, the Roman priest Hippolytus, around 215 AD, composed the Apostolic Tradition. The Second Eucharistic Prayer we still use today dates back to the Apostolic Tradition.
In the Second Eucharistic Prayer, a portion missing in the new English translation, but present in the old and the Latin version, reads: "We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you" – "gratias agentes, quia nos dignos habuisti astare coram te et tibi ministrare." People stood up at Mass in earliest Christianity.
We are a standing people. The resurrection of Christ makes us a "standing" people. Our liturgical posture of standing sprung from the paschal events of Christ. The theology associated with standing reminds us of who we are – a resurrected people – and why we do what we do – stand at Mass.
The resurrection of Christ is the foretaste of every Christian's resurrection. In the here and now, the resurrection of Christ, manifested in our standing, is closely related to a life of virtue. To be standing is to be virtuous; to be with God and on the side of God. To be standing is to proclaim the power of life over death, the victory of virtue and righteousness over sin and evil.
What happens to our kneeling and its theological legitimacy? "The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector'" (Luke 18.11).
The difference between a standing Pharisee and a standing Christian is their theology. Self-righteousness springs from pride; a Christian is humble: "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner'" (Luke 18.13).
In adoration of a God made man, humble enough to accept the humiliating death on a cross, we kneel.
You know what? Paul himself sees it that way when he cites a Christian hymn which says: "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth" (Philippians 2.10).
Yes, when Jesus becomes flesh and blood at Mass, we respectfully kneel in adoration.
Spiritan Father Ayodele Ayeni is a sessional lecturer at Newman Theological College and pastor of Mary Help of Christians (Chinese) Parish in Edmonton.