…Continued from last week: The following are definitions of specific movements in the Mass and other liturgies from the FDLC publication; “Our Sacrifice of Praise”.
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
Because it was by his death on the Cross that Christ redeemed humankind, we begin and end Mass by marking ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. The cross reminds us in a physical way of the Paschal Mystery we celebrate the Death and Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. We dip our hand in the holy water and make the Sign of the Cross on ourselves as as reminder of our baptism in which we share in the dying and rising of Christ. We trace the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips, and hearts, at the beginning of the Gospel, praying that the Word of God may always be in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts.
Bowing signifies reverence, respect, and gratitude. In the Creed, we bow at the words which commemorate the Incarnation. We also bow as a sign of reverence before we receive Communion. The priest and other ministers bow to the altar, a symbol of Christ, when entering or leaving the sanctuary. As a sign of respect and reverence even in our speech, we bow our heads at the name of Jesus, at the mention of the Three Persons of the Trinity, at the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the name of the saint whose particular feast or memorial is being observed (GIRM 275)
As a sign of adoration, we genuflect by bringing our right knee to the floor. Many people also make the Sign of the cross as they bend their knee.. Traditionally, Catholics genuflect on entering and leaving the church if the Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary. The priest also genuflects in adoration after he shows the Body and Blood of Christ to the people after the consecration and again before inviting the people to Holy Communion.
The priest frequently uses this ancient prayer posture, extending his hands from his side, slightly elevated. “Orans” means “praying”. Early Christians frequently depict the saints and others standing in this posture, offering their prayers and surrendering themselves, with hands uplifted to the Lord. It is a gesture that echoes Christ’s outstretched arms as he offered himself on the Cross.
In this rarely used posture, an individual lays full-length on the floor, face to the ground. A posture of deep humility, it signifies our willingness to share in Christ’s Death so as to share in his Resurrection. The gesture is used at the beginning of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and during the Litany of the Saints at Ordination, when those to be ordained deacons, priests, and bishops prostate themselves in humble prayer and submission to Christ.
The Church sees in these common postures and gestures both symbols of the unity of those who have come together to worship and also 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, bow, and sign ourselves in common action, we give witness that we are indeed the Body of Christ, united in body, mind and voice.