“At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.” Philippians 2:5-11
Does the Resurrection of Christ negate the importance of kneeling? I offer two reflections to answer this. The first is from Romano Guardini:
WHEN a man feels proud of himself, he stands erect, draws himself to his full height, throws back his head and shoulders and says with every part of his body, I am bigger and more important than you. But when he is humble he feels his littleness, and lowers his head and shrinks into himself. He abases himself. And the greater the presence in which he stands the more deeply he abases himself; the smaller he becomes in his own eyes.
But when does our littleness so come home to us as when we stand in God's presence? He is the great God, who is today and yesterday, whose years are hundreds and thousands, who fills the place where we are, the city, the wide world, the measureless space of the starry sky, in whose eyes the universe is less than a particle of dust, all-holy, all-pure, all-righteous, infinitely high. He is so great, I so small, so small that beside him I seem hardly to exist, so wanting am I in worth and substance. One has no need to be told that God's presence is not the place in which to stand on one's dignity. To appear less presumptuous, to be as little and low as we feel, we sink to our knees and thus sacrifice half our height; and to satisfy our hearts still further we bow down our heads, and our diminished stature speaks to God and says, Thou art the great God; I am nothing.
Therefore let not the bending of our knees be a hurried gesture, an empty form. Put meaning into it. To kneel, in the soul's intention, is to bow down before God in deepest reverence.
On entering a church, or in passing before the altar, kneel down all the way without haste or hurry, putting your heart into what you do, and let your whole attitude say, Thou art the great God. It is an act of humility, an act of truth, and everytime you kneel it will do your soul good.
The second reflection is taken from a book by Joseph Cardinal Ratziner (now Pope Benedict XVI), who named this writing after Guardini’s reflections quoted above, “The Spirit of the Liturgy.”
…However, St. Luke, who in his whole work (both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles) is in a special way the theologian of kneeling prayer, tells us that Jesus prayed on his knees. This prayer, the prayer by which Jesus enters into his Passion, is an example for us, both as gesture and in its content….Now we understand why the Son’s loving way of addressing the Father, “Abba”, is found in this place (Mark 14:36). St. Paul sees in this cry the prayer that the Holy Spirit places on our lips (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6) and thus anchors our Spirit-filled prayer in the Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane.
…Secondly…the gesture of falling to one’s knees before another, which is described four times in the Gospels (Mk 1:40; 10:17; Mt 17:14; 27:29)…A leper comes to Jesus and begs him for help. He falls to his knees before him and says: ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’…What we have here is…a supplication expressed fervently in bodily form, while showing a trust in power beyond the merely human.
…The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is precisely that of worship. Without the worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act must of its very nature, because of the psychosomatic unity of man, express itself in the bodily gesture. The two aspects are united in the one word [proskynein, which means adoration on one’s knees, appearing 11 times in St. John’s Gospel], because in a very profound way they belong together. When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless. On the other hand, when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man. Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man. That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.
Ratzinger goes on to explain that in the Old Testament Hebrew, the knee was associated with strength, so to kneel was “to bend one’s strength before the living God, an acknowledgment of the fact that all that we are we receive from him.” This expression of worship can be seen with Solomon (2 Chron 6:13), Ezra (Ezra 9:5), Sts. Peter and Paul and the whole Christian community (Acts 9:40, 20:36, 21:5), which in these later cases take place after the Resurrection. Stephen, the first martyr, models Jesus and prays on his knees as he witnesses to Christ showing us his “entry into the prayer of Jesus (in Gethesemane). Kneeling is not only a Christian gesture, but a christological one…The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel…”