Humility and Reverence before God

A little while ago I was reviewing some materials I have concerning the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (also known as the Old Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass). I haven’t celebrated this form of the Mass very many times and, for lack of practice, am a bit rusty, as it is much more complex than the “new” Mass.

Anyhow, the physical gestures of humility that are required in the rubrics (instructions for celebrating) for that form of the Mass are really striking. Take, for example, the Gloria. Here it is in the current English translation, but I have added two things: capital letters to indicate the five times that the priest has to bow his head, and a plus sign to indicate where he has to cross himself at the end.

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we glorify you,
WE GIVE YOU THANKS for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
Lord JESUS CHRIST, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
you are seated at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
JESUS CHRIST, with the Holy Spirit,
+ in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

The priest bows his head in reverence at moments of adoration (worship), supplication, and thanksgiving; also at the mention of the Holy name. (Again, keep in mind that I am talking about the older form of the Mass, which is said by the priest in Latin.)

Have these gestures been completely forgotten or abandoned in the new Mass? Not entirely.


Here is what the current “rule book” for the celebration of Mass says (called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal):

275. 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) 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.

b) A bow of the body, that is to say, a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (With humble spirit); in the Creed at the words et incarnatus est (and by the Holy Spirit . . . and became man); in the Roman Canon at the Supplices te rogamus (In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God). The same kind of bow is made by the Deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the Priest bows slightly as he pronounces the words of the Lord at the Consecration.

I always try to remember to bow at the names of Jesus, Mary, and the saint(s) of the day, though I often enough forget. But these are actions that we can all undertake. When you hear the reader or priest say “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ”, whether it be in one of the readings or one of the prayers, you can make a slight bow of the head also. The same for the names of Mary or whatever saint we are celebrating that day. And we should all bow a bit more profoundly – priest and people – during the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” in the Creed.

These are good habits to get into; not only because the Church legislates them (in at least certain circumstances), but because they help us to adopt the right attitudes of prayer. 

That is, after all, one of the main reasons for reverence! Why do we genuflect? Why do we kneel? Why do we stand? Why do we bow? Why do we fold our hands?

Because what we do in the body has an effect on our soul. Reverent behavior helps us to open our heart and our mind more fully to the divine; to say nothing of its being a matter of justice, for we owe God such acts of humility.

For a long time, the bow during the Creed was not really done in many areas at all. I think it is making a bit of a comeback. And I am curious: in your parish, do priests and people bow during the words of the Creed, “and by the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”?

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