Take a Stand

The faithful have assembled to celebrate Mass. After vesting, the celebrant, deacon, acolytes and altar servers exit the sacristy and meet the other ministers at the back of the Church. All are about to take part in a liturgical rite whose roots date back thousands of years.

An entrance song is announced, and the assembly rises to participate. Many disparate voices will soon blend together to create one communal expression of worship and praise.

The singing of the entrance song as well as the standing posture opens the liturgical celebration. These two ritual actions–standing and singing–impart a sense of cohesiveness to an assembly who, until this point, has been a set of individuals. Both marks of unity, however, are not reserved to religious expression.

When the home team scores in a sporting event such as a football game or soccer match, the fans stand up and yell touchdown or goal! All collectively arrive at the same posture—standing—and all recite the same words. These fans, who a score ago were complete strangers, now act as life-long friends.

During the naturalization ceremony, candidates for citizenship recite the Oath of Allegiance while standing and raising their right hand. This posture is seen as an acknowledgment that all assent to what is transpiring.

Whenever the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, the United States Flag Code mandates that all—from children in public schools to members of congress–should rise.

[note]The Flag Code provides advisory rules for the display and care of the U.S. flag and cites the posture to be assumed during the Pledge of Allegiance. “The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, ‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’, should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.” – UNITED STATES FLAG CODE #172[/note]

Festive songs such as Happy Birthday and Auld Lang Syne travel with us on our life’s journey. Uniting our voices with family and friends solidifies group identity and fosters community—reasons identified by the Church for having the assembly stand and recite the entrance song.

Every posture assumed at Mass is deliberate and emphasizes that particular moment in the liturgical celebration. Sitting, kneeling and standing all take part at very specific times and each has its own distinct significance.

In many instances in our lives we stand as a sign of respect. We rise when the Church doors swing open to reveal the bride, as she makes her procession down the center aisle inaugurating the wedding ceremony. We stand when someone important enters a room such as high-ranking political figure. Similarly, we stand when the bailiff says all rise, as the judge enters the courtroom to take his or her seat at the bench. Scripturally, standing is seen as a sign of petition, praise and reverence.

“The Levites…said, ‘Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.”” – Nehemiah 9:5

Jesus himself referred to standing as a posture of prayer.

“When you STAND to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.” MARK 11:25

The Church has long seen standing as a sign that we are a people belonging to the resurrected Christ—no longer bound by death— destined to the eternal repose of the tomb.

Standing is the first statement of unity the gathered assembly makes at the liturgical celebration. Each person arrives at the Church as an individual. Before Mass, some might kneel and pray or sit silently before the Blessed Sacrament. Others might recite the rosary while others read the missalette, hymnal or spiritual book. All actions have been personal. Each performing a private form of prayer and devotion to God.  But the Mass is a communal act of worship and, although God is undoubtedly present in the individual lives of every believer, both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures show God acting in a unique way among his people when they are in community.

“You shall be My People and I shall be Your God.”  – LEVITICUS 26:12

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind…tongues as of fire, …came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”  – ACTS 2:1-4

In order to foster an environment of togetherness, the celebration begins when all stand.

“The liturgy of the Church has been rich in a tradition of ritual movement and gestures…When the gestures are done in common, they contribute to the unity of the worshiping assembly.”– ENVIRONMENT AND ART IN CATHOLIC WORSHIP #56

At the entrance procession, whoever was kneeling, stands, whoever was sitting, stands. Everyone’s posture is the same; standing. This begins to impart a sense of unity- all are one. Each was doing his own thing, but now, all are doing the same thing. The Church instructs that our uniformity in posture serves as an unambiguous witness of our oneness as the Body of Christ.

“For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ.”  – ROMANS 12:4-5

The people who entered the church as individuals, now begin to form a liturgical community.