Msgr Michael de Verteuil, Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission continues a series of articles looking at some areas of our Eucharistic celebration.
In the previous two articles (November 15 and 22 issues), I have looked at processions in the celebration of the Eucharist but there are other times in the Mass that we use our bodies, our whole being in worship of God.
In the Scriptures, there are many examples of use of the body in prayer. For a very limited example from the Old Testament, “Let us bow and bend low; let us kneel before the God who made us” (Ps 95); “the people stood…. bowed down…. prostrated before the Word” (Neh 8:5–6 ). And from the New Testament – “lift up their hands in prayer” (1 Tim 2:8); Jesus “raised his eyes to heaven” and prayed (Jn 10:41).
In the celebration of Mass, we use many gestures and make many movements all of which express our faith and deepen it at the same time.
For example, if I genuflect, I am expressing my faith that I believe in a God who is present and who is worthy of my adoration and praise. My act of genuflecting, if I am paying attention to what I am doing and why I am doing it, will deepen my inner conviction.
Among the gestures and movements made during the Mass are the Sign of the Cross, sign of peace, striking of the breast, genuflecting, standing, sitting, kneeling and, at ordinations and on Good Friday (by the priest and ministers), prostrating. Often, we make these gestures or posture without too much thought and so they may have little influence on how fully, consciously, actively we celebrate the Mass.
Like so much else in the Mass, we need to pay attention. It is a good habit from time to time (always?) to remind ourselves why we are doing something. Ask yourself, ‘What am I doing and why am I doing it?’
So that when I am genuflecting, I consciously say, ‘My Lord and My God’, or ‘My God, I bend my knee before you’, or some such thing. The same for the Sign of the Cross and other forms of posture or gesture—I can say the words appropriate to each one.
Standing is a sign of attention or respect, so we stand for the Gospel, the Opening Rites and part of the Eucharistic Prayer. Sitting can be a posture of attention—we sit to hear speeches, for example.
During the Mass, we sit for the readings before the Gospel, for the collection and Preparation of Gifts, and possibly for meditation after Communion.
We kneel as a sign of contrition or worship before one worthier than us, so we kneel at the ‘consecration’ and before Communion when we say, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to receive you……’.
If we consider what we are doing and why, then there will be no standing or slouching and the Mass will be more fruitful for us.
Liturgical ministers, in particular, need to pay attention to their gestures and posture—not only for the quality of their own worship but because by so doing they will contribute to the beauty of the celebration and set a good example.