Several Gestures and Postures During Mass and their Meaning
Non-Catholics who attend the Holy Mass for the first time especially during the Holy Week might wonder why we stand, kneel, sit, and repeat after the priest during Mass. Chances are, they might get confused.
Do all these mean anything?
Yes, they do. When we kneel or stand, or whenever we make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, lips and hearts, we are saying something of who we are, who God is and what we believe in.
Here are some of them:
This is a sign of humility. A common posture for prayer and worship. Catholics kneel during the holy Eucharist celebration when God comes down to be with us, and the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
There are few instances where kneeling is not convenient during the consecration, instances are; when it’s an outdoor Mass and the ground is a messy one due to the rain or when a particular Parish has not made provision for the comfort of worshippers by providing kneelers.
In these cases, it may be appropriate to stand through the Eucharistic prayers most especially the consecration.
We also kneel during the veneration of the Holy Cross.
The Sign Of The Cross
This is a simple ritual that expresses our prayer to the Holy Trinity – God the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, that they will be with us. Here are where we make the signs of the cross:
- We make the sign of the cross at the beginning and end of our prayer.
- When we dip our fingers into the holy water fonts we make the sign of the cross with the holy water.
- At the beginning of the Gospel when we use our thumbs to make a small sign of the cross on our foreheads (asking God to help us understand his words), on our lips (that we might speak his words), and on our hearts (that we may store his words and ponder our it) saying; “Glory be to you oh Lord”.
Standing has been a common posture for prayer since the early Christians. Standing is a sign of respect and can mean a wordless sign for the resurrection. Catholics may sit when the first and second readings are read, but we always stand for the Gospel readings where the word of Christ himself are found.
This is a sign of profound reverence. We stand during the Profession of faith but also bow our heads when we remember the incarnation as we say: “… and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin and became a man“. We also bow when we go to receive the Holy Communion, the church requests that we express our reverence at that time with an outward symbol such as Kneeling (if there is a communion rail), genuflecting (dropping onto one knee) or a profound bow (in most cases) as one approaches the Priest to receive the body and blood of Christ.
Lying Prostrate Or Face Down On The Floor
This is a sign of total surrender to God. During the Liturgy of Ordination, Candidates who wish to be ordained into the Priesthood lie prostrate in the aisle as the Liturgy of the Saints is recited or sung, invoking the intercession of all the Saints for their ministry. This dramatic gesture is used by priests and Deacons who lie before the altar on Good Friday.
The Liturgical Kiss
The Priest and Deacon kiss the Altar at the beginning of the Mass because the altar symbolizes Jesus Christ Himself. They also kiss the texts of the Gospel which symbolizes Christ’s words himself. Other places where kisses show up are; during Good Friday services (when the Faithfull process forward to kiss the feet of Christ on the Crucifix)
Striking The Chest
We strike our chest when we recite the Confiteor (the “I Confess”), at the beginning of the Mass. We ask God for the Forgiveness of our sins. Asking Him to Cleanse our hearts before we listen to his word and before we receive him in the Holy Eucharist. We strike our Chest in the gesture of penitence and surrender. Although it was not specified how many times we strike our chest, many repeat the gesture three times.