Catholics are “fleshy” people.’ We don’t just deal with the spiritual and the ethereal. Through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God took on human form. Thus, if Jesus is the source of all grace, in some ways all graces from heaven come to us by means of humanity. Ergo, Catholic Church liturgy has always celebrated all aspects of our human nature and our human senses (taste and see, sound, smell, touch).
With the move into the ‘gym chapel,” we find ourselves in an UNfamiliar worship space. Thus, movement and posture has taken on a new significance. So why do we do the things that we do? Let’s look at one item – bowing and genuflection.
Some people have noticed (they notice everything!) that sometimes I genuflect and sometime I bow and have asked why? There are liturgical and practical reasons. Some have mentioned that they read ‘on the internet” (the definitive liturgical source for all things Catholic of course) that the “Vatican forbids standing during the Eucharistic Prayer.” They say that this is mentioned in the “General Instructions of the Roman Missal” or “GIRM” (which, to be honest, is the official Catholic Church document on liturgical guidelines and norms). If you go to “the internet” you will find this reference mentioned – GIRM Paragraph #21. You will find it mentioned several times in fact. Here’s the problem. The quote is from the old version of the GIRM. A new version for the United States was promulgated in 2010.
What does the 2010 GIRM mentioned about genuflecting, bowing etc…
#274: During Mass, three genuflections are made by the priest celebrant: namely, after the showing of the host, after the showing of the chalice, and before Communion. Certain specific features to be observed in a concelebrated Mass are noted in their proper place (cf. nos. 210-251).
If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.(Emphasis mine. This is why I bow towards the altar when I move from the presider’s chair to the ambo to read the Gospel.)
Otherwise all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession. Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting.
Here’s an issue with paragraph #274 and the words, “..all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect…” What does it mean to “pass in front of the Blessed Sacrament?” While on the platform? While actually in the sanctuary? While on the floor (in the current gym set-up) or while in the main body of the church building? How do we settle this? Invite several liturgists for an MMA-style, liturgical cage-match? (I’d rather enjoy seeing that quite frankly). The fact is that the GIRM doesn’t say specifically. Some indications can be found elsewhere in the GIRM. For example, #42 reads:
“..gestures and posture ought to contribute to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, so that the true and full meaning of the different parts of the celebration is evident and that the participation of all is fostered. Therefore, attention should be paid to what is determined by this GIRM and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.” Yet #43 mentions, “except when prevented on occasion by ill health or for reasons of lack of space of the large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause.”
This leads me to the two reasons why I bow at the beginning of Mass instead of genuflect as mentioned in GIRM. Reason #1 is a 57-year-old-formerly-operated-on-left-knee. Reason #2 is that the right knee is the same age.
If you’re personally interested on further readings on prayer and liturgical posture, type “Benedictine and Dominican Keys to Prayer by Fr. Charles Zlock on August 11, 2012” into your internet browser (the definitive liturgical source for all things Catholic of course). I wrote about it then.