Postures and Gestures at Mass – Part 2

November 13th, 2011  |  Published in New Roman Missal

There are other gestures that intensify our prayer at Mass. During the Confiteor the action of striking our breasts at the words through my own fault can strengthen our awareness that my sin is my fault. In the Creed we are to bow at the words which commemorate the Incarnation of Jesus (His birth): by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. This gesture signifies our profound respect and gratitude to Christ who, though God, did not hesitate to come among us as a human being, sharing our human condition in order to save us from sin and restore us to friendship with God. This gratitude is expressed with even greater solemnity on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord and on Christmas when we genuflect at these words.

The Our Father is followed by the Exchange of Peace, the gesture which we express through a prayerful greeting of peace, that we are at peace, not enmity, with others. This exchange is symbolic. The persons near me with whom I share the peace signify for me, as I do for them, the broader community of the Church and all humankind. Finally, with the new General Instruction, we are asked to make a sign of reverence, to be determined by the bishops of each country or region, before receiving Communion standing. The bishops of our country have determined that the sign which we will give before Communion is to be a bow, a gesture through which we express our reverence and give honor to Christ who comes to us as our spiritual food.

In addition to serving as a vehicle for the prayer of beings composed of body and spirit, the postures and gestures in which we engage at Mass have another very important function. The Church sees in these common postures and gestures both a symbol of the unity of those who have come together to worship and a means of fostering that unity. We are not free to change these postures to suit our own individual piety, for the Church makes it clear that our unity of posture and gesture is an expression of our participation in the one Body formed by the baptized with Christ, our head. When we stand, kneel, sit, bow and sign ourselves in common action, we given unambiguous witness that we are indeed the Body of Christ, united in heart, mind and spirit.

2010, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops