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California dioceses to kneel at 'Lamb of God'

Two California dioceses will make a change this week that will see Catholics kneel during Mass after the Agnus Dei — the “Lamb of God” triptych prayed during the Eucharistic liturgy.

Starting Ash Wednesday, February 14, both the Diocese of Stockton, California and the Diocese of Oakland will require that Catholics kneel after the “Lamb of God” is recited, as is the practice in most parts of the United States.

Catholics kneel during the celebration of Holy Mass. Credit: © Mazur/

According to a letter published by Stockton’s Bishop Myron Cotta, both Stockton and Oakland will normalize kneeling on Ash Wednesday, “meaning that with the change we will have the same practice as most of our surrounding dioceses.”

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The postures and practices used during Mass are governed by a Vatican document called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which allow for certain practices to be adapted or specified by national bishops’ conferences. 

The 2002 U.S. bishops’ conference adaptations to the text stipulate that “the faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise.”

In his letter, Cotta explained that since the early 2000s, the Stockton diocese, “along with several others in the country, changed to having the faithful stand at this point of the Mass.”

Standing after the Agnus Dei “is in line with the general practice of the Roman Rite worldwide,” the bishop wrote, adding that “both postures have their value: standing together helps us to recognize our unity as the Body of Christ, while kneeling is seen to better express an attitude of adoration before our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.”

But the bishop noted that because kneeling after the Agnus Dei is more common in the United States, the local practice of standing “has often become an opportunity for confusion, with dioceses in the same region having differing practices.”

“Even though both are legitimate, there does not seem to be sufficient reason to have a different practice from the great majority of the other dioceses of our country,” Cotta wrote.

In the Diocese of Oakland, the practice of kneeling after the Agnus Dei is already common in many parishes, local sources told The Pillar

But Lenten guidelines published by the diocese indicate that kneeling after the Agnus Dei will be “normative through out diocese as of Ash Wednesday,” for all parishes.

In an instruction on the subject shared with The Pillar, Oakland’s Bishop Michael Barber explained that “it had been the policy in our diocese set by a previous bishop to remain standing following the Lamb of God. However I see no valid reason for us to diverge from the common practice of the Church in the United States.”

“Therefore I ask that in our diocese we join the rest of the faithful in our country in kneeling after the Lamb of God in order to prepare ourselves reverently for reception of Holy Communion.”

In a recent column in his diocesan magazine, Barber wrote that “kneeling is a sign of reverence, prayer, and belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”

“St. Paul says, ‘At the name of Jesus, every knee must bend,’” the bishop added. 

“We are going to follow that.”

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Kneeling at various points in the liturgy, especially in the West, developed over centuries as a custom which aimed to demonstrate respect, honor, and deference to God, especially in his sacramental presence in the Eucharist.

According to the U.S. bishops’ conference, “In the early Church, kneeling signified penance. So thoroughly was kneeling identified with penance that the early Christians were forbidden to kneel on Sundays and during the Easter season, when the prevailing spirit of the Liturgy was one of joy and thanksgiving.” 

“In the Middle Ages kneeling came to signify homage, and more recently this posture has come to signify adoration, especially before the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”

Bishops’ conferences around the world have taken diverse approaches on the frequency of kneeling in the liturgy, with some emphasizing standing as a traditional posture of public prayer, and others calling for more frequent kneeling.

Some liturgists in recent decades de-emphasized the importance of kneeling, with some suggesting that the bonds of a community in public prayer could be better expressed through standing during the liturgy, or that congregational kneeling during the liturgy could be taken as a symbol of clericalism.

In the U.S., there reportedly remain some dioceses which continue to permit standing after the Agnus Dei, though some have recently returned to the practice of kneeling.

In 2018, the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon returned to the practice of kneeling at the Agnus Dei, which Archbishop Alex Sample said would “foster a greater reverence for our Lord.”

In November 2023, the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, returned to kneeling, with Bishop Robert McClory citing the ongoing Eucharistic Revival as “a fitting time for us to rediscover how our bodily posture is symbolic of our interior disposition.”

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