Teachable Moment #2: The NFL and the National Anthem

Wedding couple kneeling at MassTeachable moment #2. Stand or kneel at the singing of the National Anthem.

With the NFL season fully underway only to be overlapped and followed by hockey and all kinds of basketball (NBA and NCAA), this issue is probably not going to die out any time soon. So, how as ministry leaders and professionals do we sidestep the political aspects of this debate, and facilitate a well-grounded and fair discussion with our children, parents, adults, and leaders?

When in doubt, look to the Church and her liturgical tradition.

Let me preface this by saying, as a “lex orandi, lex credendi” Church, we’re way ahead of everyone else on this topic . . . by almost 10 years.

During the process that led to the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (issued in 2010), there was a great deal of discussion and debate over the meaning of standing versus kneeling during the most important moment of the Mass, the Consecration. For the U.S., it was resolved that we kneel during the Consecration as a sign of the great reverence and respect we have for our Lord who died and rose again so that we might escape the bonds of sin and death.

When you travel internationally, however, you will discover (as I have seen everywhere from Italy to China) that this ritual action during the Eucharistic Prayer and Consecration are not consistent. In some countries, they stand. In some countries, they kneel. What is clear is that both standing and kneeling as ritual actions communicate reverence and respect.

As Catholics, one of the contributions that we can make to this discussion–and use as a teachable moment with our children and adults–is to ask the question, “how does each of these ritual actions express reverence and respect?”

Let’s tease out a couple of thoughts as starting points for a more substantial conversation.


  • Standing symbolizes equality — we are all on the same plane, same level.
  • Standing communicates solidarity — “we-ness” if you will, we stand together as one — one of the Church’s 7 principles of Catholic social teaching.
  • Standing exudes strength, firmness, and rootedness. We use expresses like “standing as tall as a tree” for this reason — a tree is strong, firm, and deeply rooted, it cannot be easily toppled.
  • Standing ritually is a posture of corporate prayer — think of the Our Father and the American habit in some parishes of holding hands. I doubt we would do this were we sitting or kneeling.
  • Standing embodies respect at important moments — when the bride walks down the aisle, when the queen is passing in a procession, when “Taps” is played.


  • Kneeling symbolizes humility — we bow down before that which is greater than we are, our God.
  • Kneeling is the least stable of the human postures. It captures the sense of our human weakness and frailty. We can be easily pushed over. We kneel to recognize that which is stronger then anyone of us.
  • Kneeling is often reserved for moments of sadness and grief, to recognize the losses that have brought us to this point. We kneel to acknowledge our Lord’s death and when others have died.
  • Kneeling is used in both corporate and individual prayer.
  • Kneeling is required when a person is knighted to express fealty and loyalty to the sovereign (in our liturgical life, God).

With an MA in worship, you would think that I would have spent a lot of time contemplating things like this. But I didn’t. It took graduate school to help me step back and reflect on actions that I performed every day and every week with little thought to what they meant.

Take this opportunity to bring to the light a Catholic perspective on this debate. Help those who are in your care to better understand consciously what we say when we stand and when we kneel. Don’t let this teachable moment slip by.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *