Saturday 22 January 2011

The Significance of Genuflections and Other Gestures

Father Nicola Bux is professor of Eastern Liturgy in Bari and consultor of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Saints' Causes, for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, as well as of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. In an article on Zenit this week significantly, under the title of the Holy Father's book, The Spirit of the Liturgy) he points out some ways in which he envisions the enhancement of the liturgy in continuity with the past manner of celebration. I reproduce it below with my own highlights.

More Than Words: External Signs of Faith by the Celebrant
The Significance of Genuflections and Other Gestures

By Father Nicola Bux

Faith in the presence of the Lord, and in particular in his Eucharistic presence, is expressed in an exemplary manner by the priest when he genuflects with profound reverence during the Holy Mass or before the Eucharist. In the post-conciliar liturgy, these acts of devotion have been reduced to a minimum in the name of sobriety. The result is that genuflections have become a rarity, or a superficial gesture. We have become stingy with our gestures of reverence before the Lord, even though we often praise Jews and Muslims for their fervor and manner way of praying. More than words, a genuflection manifests the humility of the priest, who knows he is only a minister, and his dignity, as he is able to render the Lord present in the sacrament. However, there are other signs of devotion. When the priest extends his hands in prayer he is indicating the supplication of the poor and humble one. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GRIM) establishes that the priest, "when he celebrates the Eucharist, therefore, he must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he says the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ" (No. 93). An attitude of humility is consonant with Christ himself, meek and humble of heart. He must increase and I must decrease. In proceeding to the altar, the priest must be humble, not ostentatious, without indulging in looking to the right and to the left, as if he were seeking applause. Instead, he must look at Jesus; Christ crucified is present in the tabernacle, before whom he must bow. The same is done before the sacred images displayed in the apse behind or on the sides of the altar, the Virgin, the titular saint, the other saints. The reverent kiss of the altar follows and eventually the incense, the sign of the cross and the sober greeting of the faithful. Following the greeting is the penitential act, to be carried out profoundly with the eyes lowered. In the extraordinary form, the the faithful kneel, imitating the publican pleasing to the Lord. The celebrant must not raise his voice and should maintain a clear tone for the homily, but be submissive and suppliant in prayer, solemn if sung. "In texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice, whether by the priest or the deacon, or by the lector, or by all, the tone of voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a commentary, an acclamation, or a sung text; the tone should also be suited to the form of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering" (GRIM, No. 38). He will touch the holy gifts with wonder, and will purify the sacred vessels with calm and attention, in keeping with the appeal of so many saints and priests before him. He will bow his head over the bread and the chalice in pronouncing the consecrating words of Christ and in the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesi). He will raise them separately, fixing his gaze on them in adoration and then lowering them in meditation. He will kneel twice in solemn adoration. He will continue with recollection and a prayerful tone the anaphora to the doxology, raising the holy gifts in offer to the Father. Then, he will recite the Our Father with his hands raised, without having anything else in his hands, because that is proper to the rite of peace. The priest will not leave the Sacrament on the altar to give the sign of peace outside the presbytery, instead he will break the Host in a solemn and visible way, then he will genuflect before the Eucharist and pray in silence. He will ask again to be delivered from every indignity not to eat and drink to his own condemnation and to be protected for eternal life by the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ. Then he will present the Host to the faithful for communion, praying "Dominum non sum dignus," and bowing he will commune first, and thus will be an example to the faithful. After communion, silence for thanksgiving can be done standing, better than sitting, as a sign of respect, or kneeling, if it is possible, as John Paul II did to the end when he celebrated in his private chapel, with his head bowed and his hands joined. He asked that the gift received be for him a remedy for eternal life, as in the formula that accompanies the purification of the sacred vessels; many faithful do so and are an example.
Should not the paten or cup and the chalice (vessels that are sacred because of what they contain) be "laudably" covered (GRIM 118; cf. 183) in sign of respect -- and also for reasons of hygiene -- as the Eastern Churches do? The priest, after the final greeting and blessing, going up to the altar to kiss it, will again raise his eyes to the crucifix and will bow and genuflect before the tabernacle. Then he will return to the sacristy, recollected, without dissipating with looks and words the grace of the mystery celebrated. In this way the faithful will be helped to understand the holy signs of the liturgy, which is something serious, in which everything has a meaning for the encounter with the present mystery of God.


Fr Gary Dickson said...

In that “actions speak louder than words”, the reduction in the number of genuflections at Mass gave an implicit permission to Catholics to reduce their adoration of the Most Holy Lord Truly and Substantially Present in the Blessed Sacrament. Add to this that one no longer kneels to receive Our Blessed Lord on the tongue at Holy Communion (though “every knee shall bow and every tongue Confess [by action as well as word?] that Jesus Christ is Lord” Phil. 2v11), and one cannot be surprised that a Church is filled with chatter rather than prayer before and after Mass, and that genuflections are rather perfunctory when entering the pew. Restoration of the genuflections before each of the elevations and the ‘per ipsum’ (‘Through Him, with Him, in Him’) and when sacred ministers or servers pass the Tabernacle during Mass, the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling, thus seem vital to any recovery of Faith in the Real Presence and the sense of the sacred.
I notice Fr Bux speaks of the celebrant bowing the head at the Consecration. This would be foreign to most priests today, many of whom feel they have to stand with the bread (not yet being consecrated) and the cup stretched out towards the people and moved from side to side as they say ‘take this, all of you...’ –which in fact turns this part of the Canon from a prayer addressed to God into an instruction addressed to the people (and isn’t the Canon effective because it is prayer ‘in persona Christi...’?)
Father Bux speaks of just a few simple things that can have an effect on the sense of the sacred in the liturgy. Would that they were present in every liturgy we celebrate.

GOR said...

I put much of the lack of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament (reserved in the Tabernacle or present on the altar during Mass) to the turning of the altars to face the people. This introduced both practical difficulties and confusion. The celebrant is celebrating Mass with his back to Our Lord in the Tabernacle, so instead of acknowledging the Real Presence there with a genuflection, a bow (merely a nod in that direction oftentimes) is recommended when passing before the Tabernacle or it is omitted completely.

After the Consecration as Our Lord is now present in both places, what to do? Usually this is ‘resolved’ by ignoring the Tabernacle – as if Our Lord is ‘more present’ on the altar than in the Tabernacle. To resolve this difficulty some ‘reformers’ were driven to re-locate the Tabernacle elsewhere so it wouldn’t be ‘in the way’ during Mass or eliminating reservation of the Blessed Sacrament altogether - except for ‘emergencies’ like sick calls.

All of this contributed to a lack of emphasis on the Real Presence. Benediction was frowned upon and Exposition and Adoration discouraged or eliminated completely. The Church was no longer ‘God’s house’ where He was always sacramentally present, but merely the ‘meeting place’ or ‘gathering place’ as if it were the public square or the village green.

To resolve this disconnect and return to a proper reverence for the Blessed Sacrament will require time, catechesis and, above all, the example shown by priests in their attitude in church. A priest who always genuflects when passing before the Tabernacle (and teaches altar servers to do the same)sends a message to the people. One who doesn’t also sends a message. Example does speak louder than words.