Why does the priest bow to Mary’s name?

By Fr. John Broussard | The Compass | October 14, 2020

I have noticed that some of our priests bow their heads at Mass when they mention the Blessed Virgin Mary. I know about bowing your head at the name of Jesus, but I didn’t know about this. Is it something new? Are we required to do that?  – Green Bay

The long-standing tradition of the Catholic Christian community is to bow the head at the mention of the holy name of Jesus, while inside of a church and outside of one. Bowing the head has always been seen as a sign of respect and recognition for the authority which the Holy Name represents. The origin of this practice is within sacred Scripture, which states:

“Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:9-11, NRSV).

This scripture passage from St. Paul is lived in the pious custom of bowing one’s head at the mention of the Holy Name. This custom, however, within the holy sacrifice of the Mass, is not limited to the name of Jesus but extends to the mention of the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and patron saints. This expresses the respect and honor due to them and their connection to the Holy Name. 

Bowing is indicated repeatedly in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the church’s directives for the celebration of the Mass, but this offers a helpful summary of this posture:

“A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bow: a bow of the head and a bow of the body. A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated” (n. 275).

Within the context of the holy Mass, all of the practices and rituals direct us back to God through the sacrifice of Christ. Thus, bowing of the head at the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (and patron saint of the day) connects their lives to the central purpose of the Mass, the sacrifice of God to God. 

Fr. Broussard, a Father of Mercy, is rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis.

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