Why do we stand in the Maronite Liturgy of the Offering?

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St Maroun’s Maronite Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. We can observe the congregation standing during the consecration.

The Days of the Resurrection

This is a topic that can cause a lot of anxiety and confusion. It is not one to be treated lightly and for some it is not enough to say you must do it ‘because the Church dictates it’ or ‘this is just how we do it’. This article sets out to explain the history of the matter in order to better explain why we are all called to stand in the Maronite Liturgy.

First Council of Nicea

It seems this was an issue, even for the early Church. The first Council of Nicea was held in the fourth century. The focus of the Council was to respond to the pressing problem of Arianism, a heresy first proposed by Arius of Alexandria who affirmed that Christ was not divine but a created being. They were also seeking a uniform date for Easter, an issue that even 2000 years later appears yet to be resolved.

Canon 20 of the Council states:

“For as much as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.”

The Canon is brief, but from it some things are obvious:

  1. There were people who stood prior to the proclamation of the Canon
  2. There were people who were kneeling prior to the proclamation of the Canon or the Canon would have been unnecessary. (It would be interesting to know who those people were, but is beyond the scope of this article)
  3. The Canon was seeking uniformity in Liturgy in the early Church, a Church that was already facing threats of heresy.
  4. Standing related to the Lord’s Day and days of Pentecost

The fourth point is directly related to the Resurrection.  By the fourth century, Sunday was being observed as the Lord’s day rather than the Sabbath. This was because Sunday was the day that Christ rose from the dead. The days of Pentecost followed the Resurrection and were days of celebration.

Kneeling is referred to in the scriptures. In Philippians 2:10-11 (drawing on Isaiah 45:23) we hear;

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

 in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel says:

“And I knelt down on my knees three times a day to give thanks and praise to God” (Dn 6:11).

Daniel saw kneeling as a way to give thanks and praise to God. These passages are often quoted by the Roman Catholic Church to explain why they should kneel in Mass.

However, the early Church and Eastern Churches draw on other parts of Scripture to emphasise why we should stand. The most obvious is contained in Revelation 20:11-15 and relates to our own day of judgement:

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.  And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (emphasis added)

A deeper theological understanding may also be found in John 6: 35- 40:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Here the bread of life, the Eucharist is linked to the Resurrection and the ‘rising up’ on the last day. Similarly, at the Consecration of the Eucharist we are called to rise up before our Lord. We must be confident that we are ready to stand before him to be judged, for we do not know when judgement will come. We rise as faithful daughters and sons in faith. Each Sunday is a constant reminder to us of the state of readiness we are in to stand before God. What choices are we making and are we responding to receive Jesus Christ? This is not a reason to cause us fear, rather we should all be living our lives in a way that we will not fear to stand before Christ.

It also appears that the Syriac and Greek words for Resurrection are linked to rising. One theory suggests that the word “Qyima” in the Syriac (and the root of the Arabic) and “anastasis” in the Greek both relate to the Resurrection, but also to standing. This may come from the idea of rising which may explain why we also rise at various points of the Liturgy when we are in the presence of Christ. These include at the reading of the Gospel, when we hear the Word of God, at the Eucharistic prayer and at the Elevation.

Fr Yuhanna Azize also points out that in Mark 5:41, St Mark quotes Our Lord saying “talitha qumi” (little girl, arise!). It is specifically in Aramaic, emphasising Our Lord’s very words were in Aramaic. There are also other places in the Gospels where Christ calls someone to rise (the paralytic and Lazarus). Similarly, we are called to rise.

Finally, the liturgical postures of the various traditions of the Church have developed over time to mean different things. This is similar to postures of any culture.  For example the Japanese might bow to greet one another whereas in the West we might wave or shake hands. There is no one way which is right or wrong, it is a matter of expression which contributes to the overall meaning of the Liturgy. In the Maronite Church and other Eastern Churches kneeling expresses penance and not celebration (in the Western Church kneeling has come to express reverence and humility). The days of the Resurrection are a celebration.  It would not make sense to an Easterner who has that understanding of the posture to kneel on a Sunday, the day of the Resurrection and celebration. Initially, the Offering was only celebrated on a Sunday and not every day. Celebrating daily Mass is a later development of all the Churches. Accordingly, in the Eastern Church as the daily offering became the norm, the posture of standing transferred to the other days of the week because of the meaning that it developed within the Liturgy.  We stand before the Lord to express we are ready to meet him and in celebration of the Resurrection.

Latinisation 

There is some debate as to when kneeling became a part of the Mass in the West, but most sources indicate it was towards the Middle Ages. In the Eastern Churches, it never became a part of the Divine Liturgy, except for those Churches that were Latinised, including the Maronite Church. In the Maronite Church, it appears that the practice of kneeling during the Offering took hold at the height of Latinisation in the sixteenth century.

Latinisation was the practice of making Eastern Catholic Churches more like the Roman Catholic Church by replacing Eastern Catholic customs and practices with Latin practices. The underlying premise for doing so was the assumption that the Eastern practices were wrong and the Latin practices were right and that those practising in ways and customs different from the Latin Church were less Catholic.

Many of the missionaries that went out into the Middle East, Africa and Asia even got to the point where they demanded that those within the Eastern Rites must become Latin Rite in order to be completely Catholic. This led to Pope Leo XIII condemning the practice in his encyclical ‘Orientalium Dignitas’:

“Any Latin rite missionary, whether of the secular or religious clergy, who induces with his advice or assistance any Eastern rite faithful to transfer to the Latin rite, will be deposed and excluded from his benefice in addition to the ipso facto suspension a divinis and other punishments that he will incur as imposed in the aforesaid Constitution Demandatam. That this decree stand fixed and lasting We order a copy of it be posted openly in the churches of the Latin rite.”

It is now universally accepted both in the Eastern and Western Churches that Latinisation was an abuse of the liturgical dignity of the Eastern Churches and a loss to the Universal Church who is enriched by the diversity of all its Churches. The Universal Church has committed to restoring the traditions of the Eastern Churches.

Today

That process of delatinisation of the Eastern Churches has started. In 1992 the posture of standing (not kneeling) was restored in the Maronite Liturgy. No doubt it has been met with resistance by some, especially those who have only known kneeling their entire life or to whom none of this has been properly been explained. It serves as a reminder as to how puzzled and confused those Maronites of the sixteenth century must have been when Latinisation bought kneeling to their pews. For this reason, we must be careful how we approach the topic and we must always do it in a way that does not drive people away. Explaining the meaning is important. Demanding it of people or saying ‘it doesn’t matter” are not the right ways to address it. Nor is harassing people who continue to kneel. These are matters which must be approached with sensitivity.

Equally  this is the liturgical norm and we must not persist in knowingly working against it. There is no valid reason to do so. We must not become so entrenched in our ways and be closed in our own hearts that we insist on rebellion. Our spirit and thought must not be so rigid. If you are still struggling to understand even after reading this article, speak to your priest.

We can also distinguish this from private prayer. During private prayer we can choose our posture. We can kneel during Adoration or personal prayer if we wish. But Liturgy is more than just personal, it is communal.

If people persist in stubbornness to kneel (despite knowing it is not the liturgical norm),  it can be disruptive and cause confusion among the faithful. Liturgy is a communal and living action of praise and a way for all of us as One Body, the Church, to meet Christ. Fr Anthony J Salim explains:

“Because God so loved the world, God did not want to abandon the world, despite its penchant for sin. No, He wanted to save it, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to give it the healing balm of life, in short, to give it hope. The Maronite Church celebrates this hope in the sacramental Mysteries, and celebrates them in her own liturgical style, for the life and salvation of souls. How great a gift from God to the Church, and how great the God who gives! Glory be to God!”

The Liturgy is the way for the Church, as One Body to continue the Divine relationship with God. We do this in unity and everything we do in Liturgy has a meaning and purpose. The times when we incense, the times when we make the sign of the cross, the times when we sit and when we stand all correlate with what is happening in the Liturgy. Doing things differently makes the action of the Liturgy at that point lose its meaning. For the Maronite Church, the Liturgy has been the primary catechiser for generations. You will not necessarily find the great treatise of theology that you might find in other traditions, but you will find a Liturgy steeped in teaching, meaning and learning. The Liturgy serves to bring all the community closer to God and we are all responsible for allowing the Liturgy to come alive in order that we may gain life.

This can be demonstrated by examining the Liturgy more closely for ourselves. One such example is when we stand at the Eucharistic prayer.  During the prayer, the Deacon chants to the whole congregation explaining:

“How awesome is this moment, my beloved, for the living Holy Spirit descends and rests upon this offering for our sanctification. Let us stand with reverence as we pray.” (emphasis added)

Here we don’t just stand in symbolism, we stand because at that very moment the Holy Spirit is descending to rest on the gifts which we have offered as a community on the altar of Our Lord. The Lamb is being offered for our sins and we are standing before it, in reverence and in awe, ready to be sanctified.

After the Eucharistic prayer, the congregation and priest are called to all pray together. First the “Our Father” and then at the invitation to communion. Standing in readiness before God with arms outstretched together we pray:

Make us worthy, O Lord God,

so that our bodies may be sanctified

by your holy Body

and our souls purified

by your forgiving Blood.

May our communion be

for the forgiveness of our sins

and for new life.

O Lord our God, to you be glory, for ever.

In perfect typology, we the Body of Christ, clergy and laity, open our hands and our hearts and stand before Christ ready to receive the most perfect sacrifice, and we are reminded that we need to be living our lives ready to be able to stand before Our Lord.

Theresa Simon