Why does there seem to be reluctance – at least in parishes I am familiar with – to showing reverence by bowing in worship? Is it that the bodily posture of bowing has become too archaic? Is it the feeling or semblance of lowering oneself that might be attached to bowing? Is it a lack of knowledge (and catechesis) among the faithful about the moments in worship that call forth bowing? Is it unease with certain gestures that have become socially odd? Is it laziness?
I have pondered these questions especially in this Christmas time, when the incarnation and nativity of Christ speak so forcefully of the importance of embodiment to our redemption. In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal specifies that for the Solemnities of the Annuncation and of the Nativity of the Lord, the faithful genuflect at the words of the Creed “by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . became [hu]man.” At all other liturgical celebrations, “a profound bow” is called for at that point in the Creed.
What I witness in worship most often, however, is – at best! – the slightest inclination of the head by a few of the faithful. Most worshippers simply continue standing in place. I think these worshippers would be quite astonished to know that the GIRM even distinguishes between two kinds of bows in worship: a bow of the head, and a bow of the body (GIRM 275 explains which bow is appropriate when). Both bows signify “reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them.”
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, it seems to me that how we respond through, with, and in our own human embodiment to God’s own embodiment among us matters profoundly. Venite adoremus is a call to bodily enactment. — Or do we need other bodily postures than bowing to enable the faithful to live into that truth in 2014?