Many refused to comply. "Not kneeling would be sinful," said Manuel Ruiz, 45, "because that is what I believe I should do."
Mary Tripoli, 54, a former member of the parish council, was dismissed for her insistence on kneeling: "Standing may be reverence, but kneeling is adoration. It's the one thing that means Catholicism throughout the world. It's what sets us apart."
At least two altar boys, the parish altar servers coordinator and three members of the parish council have been dismissed from their duties for kneeling at the wrong time, according to parishioners.
Angered by the anti-kneeling edict, a group calling itself Save Saint Mary's began distributing leaflets calling for its return outside church each Sunday.
Tran responded in the church bulletin with a series of strident weekly statements condemning what he called "despising the authority of the local bishop" by refusing his orders to stand, and calling the disobedience a mortal sin, considered the worst kind of offense, usually reserved for acts such as murder.
Tran sent letters to 55 kneeling parishioners "inviting" them to leave the parish and the diocese for, among other things, "creating misleading confusion, division and chaos in the parish by intentional disobedience and opposition to the current liturgical norms."
Father Joe Fenton, spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, said the diocese supports Tran's view that disobeying the anti-kneeling edict is a mortal sin. "That's Father Tran's interpretation, and he's the pastor," he said. "We stand behind Father Tran."
Recipients of Tran's banishment letter said they have declined his "invitation" to depart.
Kneeling, said Teri Carpentier, 50, is praying "with our bodies, not just our minds."
During a recent Saturday afternoon Mass, dozens of worshippers defiantly knelt after the Agnus Dei.
One who didn't was Winifred Mentzer, 84.
"I've been standing lately," she later said, "because I'm all the way up front, and I know that the priest is watching. But I'm kneeling in my heart."