If you've been following my Lenten series of posts, you've probably noticed in various pictures and videos that Catholics move around quite a bit! There is genuflecting going on, kneeling, standing, bowing, lots of action. This is because Catholics believe that we're not only to worship God with our hearts and minds, but we're to worship Him with our body too.
I think it's sometimes easy to forget just how important our body is. When we think of God and spiritual things, we often tend to discount the physical world as unimportant or unnecessary, or in some cases even as evil (as is the case with gnosticism, a heresy which continues to pop up in various forms today.) But countering this is a central mystery of our Catholic faith...the Incarnation. God became flesh and dwelt among men! This, in and of itself, should remind us just how important the physical is, and that it is a good because it was created by God.
So while Catholics pray to and adore God with our hearts, we feel it is also useful and more holistic to adore God with our bodies as well. It takes thoughts, feeling, and intent to the next level, and turns it to action, which then reinforces those thoughts and feelings and so on. It's like a cycle that makes itself stronger the more we do it!
What are some of the ways we incarnate reverence and adoration?
Genuflection is one of those ways. This is when, upon entering or leaving a pew for instance, a Catholic will bend down on one knee to acknowledge Christ's presence in the Eucharist, and many make the sign of the cross as well. (As a side note, there is a popular tradition that one genuflects on the right knee to God alone. To show honor to royalty or clergy such as one's bishop, one genuflects on the left knee.)
A double genuflection is when one genuflects, then brings the other knee to the ground (as in a kneeling position) for a moment before getting up. This is done during any exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, as when entering a pew for adoration, which again emphasizes our belief that Christ is truly present in front of us.
Kneeling, for me, is one of the most personally humbling forms of reverence. I remember at my first mass, seeing all the people, young and old, kneel together at the time of the consecration. I couldn't help but know, even as an outsider, that something special was happening then. I'd never before seen a group of people so simply, visibly, and uniformly humble themselves in this manner. At that point I probably could have counted the number of times I'd actually knelt in prayer or worship of God myself on one hand, it was just not something I ever really thought to do.
Bowing, either a bow of the head or a "profound bow" from the waist, is also a way to show reverence. Many bow before receiving the Eucharist, and we also bow during creed while stating the mystery of the Incarnation (when we say, "By the Power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became Man"). It has also long been a tradition to make a slight bow of the head any time the name of Jesus is mentioned. It's a beautiful way to remind ourselves of the Lord's sovereignty.
Standing is a position of prayer and honor. We still stand when a judge enters the room out of respect, and it used to always be proper etiquette for a man to stand when a woman entered the room. At mass, "let us pray" is typically code for "stand up." We stand for many of the prayers we recite together, and we also stand out of reverence for the gospel reading, acknowledging the preeminence of Christ's words among scripture.
Prostration is a posture of reverence which isn't used often, but is a beautiful way to show humility and submission to God. This is when one lays completely on the floor, face down. It is used during the Rite of Ordination, as can be seen at the right. (I love the fact that one of the men prostrating has a cast and a crutch, lol, that's dedication.)
For more on the subject, here is another great episode of That Catholic Show called Sit, Stand, and Kneel.
Opening the windows in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, he knelt down three times a day, and adored, and gave thanks before his God, as he had been accustomed to do before. (Daniel 6:10)
I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands to the Lord my God (Ezra 9:5)
Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. (Ps 95:6)
Then going out [Jesus] went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives...and kneeling, he prayed. (Luke 22:39, 41)
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. (Phil 2: 9-11)