Rules for kneeling

Kneeling is a fundamental human gesture, associated with obedience to a monarch, but equally with devotion to the divine, or reverence towards a loved one, or compassion to a parent or child. Protestants such as Jean Calvin (in the Institutio christianae religionis) approved it as the proper mark of worship in prayer, whether privately or in church. However, kneeling could also be problematic within Reformed ideas, whenever it was associated with Catholic rituals such as the Mass. Puritans readily felt that such devotion bordered on idolatry. In the Book of Common Prayer, kneeling was prescribed during confession and absolution, during the Ten Commandments, and before taking communion. This last point caused anxiety throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A special rubric added to some copies of the 1552 edition (known as the ‘Black Rubric’) explained that kneeling was allowed, but should be experienced only as an act of humility and thanksgiving, not out of worship. Here, in a copy of the 1549 edition, a marginal note manifests the degree of bodily sensitivity at stake in kneeling and other gestures: ‘In the booke of the 2d of Edw. 6 which is the onelie in [force?] by act of Parliament it is said: They shall receave kneeling, crossing, holding vp of hands, knocking vpon the breast, & with other gestures, at least as every mans devotion serveth: Then it is left free for those gestures to do as his devotion serveth him: & so he not to be pressed to kneele’. BC

The booke of the common prayer and administration of the Sacramentes, and other rites and ceremonies of the Churche of England (London: Edward Whitchurch, 1549).

CUL: Rit.c.755.1, sig. M6r

Further Reading

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven and London, 1996), pp. 525-33.

Bryan Spinks, Sacraments, Ceremonies and Stuart Divines (Aldershot, 2002), chs 2-3.

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