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    A View from the Pew
    Sunday
    May132012

    Bowing, kneeling and genuflecting --- oh my! 

    Bowing, Genuflecting and Kneeling, oh my!

    Select the correct answer from the following choices:

    1. The minister of the word rises from the assembly and approaches the sanctuary. She stops, bows to the presider and proceeds to the ambo with “a well trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” (Isaiah 50:4).

    2. The minister of the word rises from the assembly and approaches the sanctuary. He stops, bows to the cross and proceeds to the ambo with “a well trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” (Isaiah 50:4).

    3. The minister of the word rises from the assembly and approaches the sanctuary. She stops, genuflects in front of the tabernacle and proceeds to the ambo with “a well trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” (Isaiah 50:4).

    4. The minister of the word rises from the assembly and approaches the sanctuary. He stops, bows to the altar and proceeds to the ambo with “a well trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” (Isaiah 50:4).

    5. The minister of the word rises from the assembly and approaches the sanctuary. She stops, kneels before the statue of Mary, blesses herself and proceeds to the ambo with “a well trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” (Isaiah 50:4).

    6. The minister of the word rises from the assembly and approaches the sanctuary. He stops, genuflects before the altar and proceeds to the ambo with “a well trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” (Isaiah 50:4). 

    Would anyone like to add another option that you’ve witnessed? Do any of these models resonate with you?

    The confusing conundrum of postures seems to confound ministers of the word wherever I go. Surely some of you who minister at weddings and funerals witness the bewilderment of inexperienced readers, selected purely because of their relationship to the bride, groom or deceased as they approach the sanctuary to read the word the God. At minimum, someone clearly needs to offer brief directions with a small but significant catechesis on bodily postures before these mystified neophytes rise from the pews to ‘speak a word that will rouse them.’ And a very deliberate preparation and ongoing formation for parish ministers of the word clearly needs to occur in a great many places. That principle holds for anyone proclaiming the word from the ambo, including cantors who proclaim the psalm from the ambo.

    So which answer did you select from the optional models? The correct answer is number 4. Why? Here’s the answer, plain and simple: the altar is Christ.

    In the introduction of the Rite for the Dedication of an Altar in the Dedication of a Church and an Altar (1977, English translation 1978), the authors draw on the writings of the early Church to recognize the altar as a representation of both Christ and the Church (Introduction, 1, 2).  I included the actual reference from Chapter Four: Rite of Dedication of an Altar, Introduction.

    The Altar, Sign of Christ

    4.  The Church’s children have the power to celebrate the memorial of Christ and take their place at the Lord’s table anywhere that circumstances might require. But it is in keeping with the eucharistic mystery that the Christian people erect a permanent altar for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and they have done so from the earliest times.

    The Christian altar is by its very nature properly the table of sacrifice and of the paschal banquet. It is:

    -          a unique altar on which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated in mystery throughout the ages until Christ comes;

    -          a table at which the Church’s children gather to give thanks to God and receive the

    -          body and blood of Christ.

    In every church, then, the altar ‘is the centre of the thanksgiving that the eucharist accomplishes’ (GIRM, no. 259) and around which the Church’s other rites are, in a certain manner, arrayed. (See Pius XII, Encycl. Mediator Dei: AAS 39 (1947) 529.

    At the altar the memorial of the Lord is celebrated and his body and blood given to the people. Therefore the Church’s writers have seen in the altar a sign of Christ himself. This is the basis for the saying: ‘The altar is Christ.’

    ***

    We genuflect before the tabernacle as a sign of reverence. We kneel during the exposition of the eucharist in moments of prayer and in prescribed moments during the celebration of a eucharistic liturgy. We bow before the altar, the Christ. The Ceremonial of Bishops prescribes that “a deep bow is made to the altar by all who enter the sanctuary (chancel), leave it, or pass before the altar." (72) Bowing denotes gratitude, respect, toward royalty and greeting. As in all symbols, the more intentionally we carry them out, the deeper our regard toward the object of our action. So a profound bow by a reader before the altar at a Eucharistic liturgy alerts an assembly that the person about to proclaim the word of God with a “well trained tongue” esteems the Christ, the altar, with humility, honor and thanksgiving for the great gift of “speaking a word that will rouse them.”