As a little girl, I always was enthralled by how my father dressed to go to Sunday Mass, wearing his best suit and donning a felt fedora. Men were expected to wear a hat in public and then remove it once inside the church. There were even heavy duty clamps in each pew to securely snap the hat (and the fingers of an unsuspecting little girl) in a strong grip. My father employed a second hat practice. Every time we drove past the Catholic Church in our town, he would tip his hat. If Mom were along, she would nod her head and make the sign of the cross. I was told this was to honor Jesus who lived in the church. I was equally enthralled by my elderly Aunt Emily. If she were in a group of people and the name of Jesus was used in an unsavory way she would place her hand on her heart and say, “Have mercy on us.” Once, when I asked her why she did that, she replied, “I was just finishing that man’s prayer for him. It’s a pious practice.”
In this weekend’s second reading you will note that St. Paul still exhorts us to the pious practice of reverence for the name of Jesus, that at the name of Jesus every head should bow and every knee should bend. Pope Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 officially inserted bows into the celebration of the liturgy. Our own General Instruction to the Roman Missal instructs us several times during the Mass to honor Jesus with a bow of the head or a genuflection, in particular when the three divine persons are named together and at the names of Jesus. If you observe the assembly this weekend, you may notice that many people do employ this practice.
During the Creed, there is a time to bow, it is even noted in italics in the Missalette. We are to make a profound bow, one made from the waist, during the words (and by the Holy Spirit . . . and became man). Since you will be bowing, it will be difficult for you to observe what others are doing. However, we can safely say that in all of our parish communities this bow is not yet done with consistency, rather we have the “no bow people,” the “head bow people,” the “profound bow people” and the “bow and look frantically from side to side, so I know when I can come back up, people.”
Before we are to receive holy Communion, we are instructed to make some sign of reverence to the Eucharist. In most of our parishes, you will see a person make a slight bow of their head.
Lastly, if one is physically able, we should genuflect toward the tabernacle upon entering and leaving church.
To bow one’s head or bend one’s knee before Jesus is a profound act of worship; it states boldly yet simply that he is the source of all power. In our humility, we make ready to place all our being at the service of the Lord. These practices give evidence of what we believe in our hearts.
When you are at liturgy this weekend, remember how we use our body, our voices and our ears, what we do with our hands and feel in our hearts while at worship, is anything but trivial.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.