Often, when someone has spoken or written well, and especially if I agree with what is being said, it is better for me to pass along the wisdom undisturbed (but properly attributed). Rather than tell you what you are about to read, I ask you to read it and think about it and let it be a part of our ongoing conversation.
The source for this extended quotation about posture and prayer: Patricia S. Klein, Worship Without Words: The Signs and Symbols of Our Faith, (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2000), pp. 127-130
Those new to the liturgical tradition may be startled by the considerable amount of movement during the service. The uninitiated may perceive no rhyme or reason to the bowing, the standing, the sitting, and the kneeling. Indeed, it may appear to have all the mystery of a secret handshake.
Bowing and kneeling have always been a part of human worship as signs of humility and reverence. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:9-11), he included the words to an early hymn describing Jesus:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is the words “every knee should bow” that acknowledge the posture that Christians assume before their Lord and Savior. It is this hymn as well that provides the key reason for bowing and kneeling: “at the name of Jesus….” During the liturgy, it is at the name of Jesus that heads bow. And. by extension, it is to those things that remind us of him, that worshipers bow or kneel.
There are no penalties for not bowing at the right places during the liturgy. And the only hazard in not kneeling at the right points in the service is a brief moment of standing alone. In general, worshipers pray on their knees, so when it comes time to pray in liturgical services, it’s a pretty good bet people will kneel. (NIV)
To those who come from nonliturgical traditions, bowing and kneeling may seem utterly foreign and even distasteful, enough to keep a person from participating. But all aspects of worship are intended to point the worshiper to Jesus, even things as fundamental as posture. Kneeling recalls the bedtime prayers of childhood and bowing reminds us of the honor ascribed to greatness. Sometimes the body can remember what the mind forgets. And as C. S. Lewis points out, “The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both the better for it.” (1)
bowing. An inclination of the head and body, or just the head. Liturgically, bowing is a sign of supplication and adoration towards God; bowing also can indicate respect or reverence toward a person or thing, or express a greeting. In the Roman Church, the head is bowed
- at the doxology (in which the Holy Trinity is invoked);
- at the name of Jesus, Mary, or the saint of the day; and
- at the consecration of the Eucharist.
Bowing of the body is made
- before the altar, and
- at specified times during the Mass.
In Anglican churches, people may bow
- as the processional cross passes by;
- before the altar;
- at the Name of Jesus;
- at the mention of the Holy Trinity;
- toward the Book of the Gospel
- at the Gloria tibi and the Laus tibi;
- during the creed, at the words describing the Incarnation.
- A bow also is exchanged between the thurifer and those being incensed when incense is used.
genuflect, genuflection, or genuflexion. (Latin, “to bend the knee.”) The act of recognizing the presence of God in the Holy Eucharist by bending the right knee upon entering and leaving the pew while facing the altar.
kneeling. The posture often assumed for private or corporate prayer as an expression of humility before God, reflecting both an attitude of penance and an attitude of adoration.
On entering a church, or in passing before the altar, kneel down all the way without haste and hurry, putting your heart into what you do, and let your whole attitude say, Thou art the great God. It is an act of humility, an act of truth, and every time you kneel it will do your soul good. (Romano Guardini) (2)
standing. The posture of respect that worshipers assume for processions, for the reading of the Gospel, the creed, the prayers of the people, from the Presentation of the Gifts through the breaking of the bread, and then at the Prayer after Communion and the recessional.
Standing is the other side of reverence toward God. Kneeling is the side of worship in rest and quietness; standing is the side of vigilance and action. It is the respect of the servant in attendance, of the soldier on duty. (Romano Guardini) (3)
(1) C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1963, 1964), p. 17
(2) Romano Guardini, Sacred Signs, (St. Louis, MO: Pio Decimo Press, 1956), p. 20
(3) Romano Guardini, Sacred Signs, (St. Louis, MO: Pio Decimo Press, 1956), p. 22