Gestures of unity

By Pat Wettstein | October 3, 2013

Our postures during Mass demonstrate being of one faith, heart, mind and voice

Have you ever seen the movies where confusion is amassed as one unfamiliar with Japanese greeting bows incessantly? First one person bows to the other, the second one bows to the first, then the first bows again and it seems to continue back and forth ad infinitum. It creates quite a humorous situation to view, but in real life could be quite embarrassing to both parties.

I can only imagine that this plight of confusing postures and gestures is also experienced many times in our liturgical celebrations, especially for non-Catholics who are amazed at the amount of sitting, kneeling and standing, as well as the bowing and genuflecting.

It begins as we enter the church body itself as we bless ourselves with the sign of the cross, genuflect at the pew, kneel and bow our heads in prayer. Just in those few minutes alone we have already implemented four postures. In the book “Introduction to the Order of Mass,” it states that these actions are symbolic and should not have to be explained. So, just what are all these actions, and when are they to be done?

Generally, we sit as we listen to the word and as we watch the priest or deacon prepare the gifts. We stand as we process and when we pray during which we also bow our heads. The most significant parts of the Mass where we all bow are during the words of incarnation in the Creed with the words, “he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.” We are to bow again at the words of consecration during the eucharistic prayer and at the doxology at the end of the eucharistic prayer — “through him, with him…” Bowing and genuflecting are always done in reverence to the Blessed Sacrament, especially as we enter or leave the church.

I know this probably sounds a bit sacrilegious, but the last time I was at Mass I spent a bit of time just observing all the different postures during Mass. But then a strange thing happened: I got lost in the awe of the Mass and my body just flowed along with all of the movements, as did the whole assembly. The beauty of the eucharistic liturgy continually takes me by surprise. 

There is something telling about all of this unity of posture.  Gestures and postures used during the Mass are not banal and without significance. When we all kneel, sit, stand or bow at certain times of the liturgy, we are celebrating our unity in prayer as a community. We are of one heart, mind and voice. Let us keep this in mind the next time we are at Mass. We are of one faith and we demonstrate this in both gesture and posture.

Wettstein is director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.

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