Kneeling all the way down the aisle

This Sunday I witnessed a couple of people after Mass doing something I had never seen before.

A couple of ladies made a trek on their knees down the main aisle, stopping at each pew to pray. (They weren’t doing the Stations of the Cross, I guarantee.) They ended up on the first stair of the altar, still kneeling and doubled over, with their faces in their hands.

I posted in this forum because I’d like to know if this is a “traditional” devotion from a particular place, culture, or era. (Three ladies were Hispanic, two were African, and one was Caucasian. They ranged in age from mid 20s to about mid 50s.)

Where did it come from? Has anyone else seen this and can they explain this devotion is to me? Are there “set” prayers for this? Is it a penance? An act for a special intention?

Incidentally, I wasn’t put off by it, but didn’t have the chance to ask about this particular devotion.

never heard this before. would be nice to have an answer…

we see this frequently here, especially at pilgrimage sites, a gesture done usually by Hispanics, and while I can’t speak for any individual’s reason, in general it is a penitential practice, prayers such as novenas are said as the person moves in this way, and often it is done as a promesa, that is to fulfill a promise or to ask God for a blessing, such as for one’s son in the army to come home safely, that a family member be cured of a disease etc. It is one symbol or ritual gesture among many indicating that the person unites themselves with the suffering of Christ. Some churches or pilgrimage sites have stairs or areas that are traditionally climbed on the knees. you will often see pilgrims at Guadalupe with bloodied knees as they finally reach the sanctuary or the image.

OH! When I was little my parents brought me to Ste. Anne de Beaupre Basilica in Quebec. There, they had a building with a large stair case if I recall correctly. We went all the way up on our knees, a prayer for each step!

Thanks!!! I should have known this!

This is sometimes done when petitioning God for a special blessing or grace. The practice is usually done in private when others are not in the sanctuary so as not to be thought of as a show to others…

In one case it was for children in a childless marriage.

I have also heard of this when asking for forgiveness of very grave sins. In this case it was done at Adoration late at night.

These is an old Mission in Pittsburgh that has stairs that the Monks and faithful were said to climb on their knees in prayer. The stairs are now off limits as it is a homeless shelter and no longer a Catholic Mission.

The practice used to be quite common in Mexico. I can remember visiting the cathedrals in Monterrey and Saltio in the 1950s. It was generally women and they would start their journey on their knees at the street. They would cross the plaza praying, climb the steps, then enter the church. Many would continue up the aisle to the sanctuary. Others would go to a particular statue of a saint that they were petitioning. They remained on their knees from start to finish.

The statues were covered with little gold legs, arms, bottles, etc. that the women brought if their prayers were answered. As a young boy, their devotion and sacrifice was/is quite impressive and has stuck with me for all these years.

The practice was also very common in Europe during the Middle Ages. One of the most emotionally striking moments I had in England was visiting Canterbury Cathedral. The stone steps leading up to the shrine of St Thomas Becket were all worn down about 1/3 of the way in the middle from the knees of pilgrims climbing the stairs to the great Saint’s tomb.

In some of the Eastern Catholic Churches from the time Christ is placed in the tomb on Thursday until the Resurrection on Sunday, people will enter the Church on their knees, until they reach the tomb and pray. Some will go to the pews on their knees while others will get up and walk.

As a child of missionaries in Mexico, I remember in Monterrey and Guanajuato people beginning at the bottom step of the churches and crawling on their knees up to the doors for special penances. It was very touching. It seems to be a special thing for Hispanics.

I have seen this done in other cultures. In Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Bosnia to name a few. This comes from a deep faith and respect of these people for our Lord and what he went through for us. In some of these places, they went miles on their knees, out of love and thanksgiving. Would that we would not be embarrassed to express our faith in such profound ways.
Deacon Ed B

My mom ,aunts and grandmother all did it during certain devotions they were involved in. My dad would do it once a year during Holy Week. Very common, at least it used to be, in the Philippines.

I saw it done fairly frequently years ago in New Orleans as well, especially with Italians and more recently with Vietnamese and Latins although not to the same degree.

There is also a cemetary in New Orleans, St Roch#1 and 2 where there is a chapel. People still practice the devotion there. Reportedly there have been many cures among those who have prayed there. They have a side room in the Chapel filled with plaster casts of body parts healed, braces from legs, crutches etc., all from those healed at that shrine.

This is a common practice in Hispanic countries. I commonly see old women on their knees in the aisle going up to the Altar in Philippines (there are even notices that forbid trekking the aisles during Mass as it causes disruption).

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