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Insight: Meaning of the Gestures and Postures used in the Mass (Part one

Brief Meaning Of Gestures & Postures
Gesture and Posture are both major elements in nonverbal communication.
And both are capable of indicating a person’s emotions and attitudes.
A Gesture refers to a movement of a body part, especially a hand or the head and Posture refers to the way in which your body is positioned when you are sitting or standing.
🔥Main Difference Between Gesture & Posture
▪️Gestures only involve Part of the Body & can be used to replace words
▪️Postures involve the Whole Body & can’t be used to replace words
🔥Gestures & Postures In the Liturgy
Now in the Liturgy especially the Mass we raise our hearts and minds to God.
We are creatures of body as well as Spirit, so our prayer is not confined to our minds and hearts.
It is expressed by our bodies as well.
When our bodies are engaged in our prayer, we pray with our whole person.
Therefore, using our entire being in prayer helps us to pray with greater attentiveness.
During Mass, we assume different postures and gestures.
These postures and gestures are not merely ceremonial.
They have profound meaning and our understanding of them enhances our participation in the Mass.
Therefore, we learn about these Gestures and Postures used in our Liturgical Celebrations.
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🔥Standing:
Standing expresses an attitude of respect between persons. It also shows the relationship between persons:
One stands in the presence of an authority or one of greater rank.
As it primarily expresses respect, standing has been the main posture used in Judeo-Christian prayer.
This tradition is rooted in the scriptures.
▪️In the story of the reading of the law from the prophet Nehemiah, there is an example of the standing posture in Liturgical assembly:
And Ezra opens the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood.
And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God and all the people answered, “Amen Amen”, lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Neh. 8:5-7).
▪️Other passages that show the standing posture for prayer and receiving the word of God include Exod. 20:21; 33:10; Neh. 9:5; & Dan. 10:11.
▪️Standing also expresses “readiness”, and it is the posture for the celebration of the Passover meal (Exod. 12:11).
Standing for prayer is the model in the Gospels.
▪️In Mark 11:25 Jesus says, “when you stand to pray ….” Both the pharisee and the publican stand in the prayer even though there is a difference in attitude (Lk. 18:11-13).
This conventional posture of prayer whose roots can be traced to the Old Testament is given a new symbolic meaning in the light of the resurrection and the expectation of Christ’s second coming in the New Testament.
▪️Paul uses the standing posture as a symbol of slavery that has ended (Gal. 5:1)
▪️In Revelation, there is the element of “worthiness” to stand in God’s presence and the “readiness” in waiting for Christ’s coming again in glory (Rev. 7:9).
The posture of standing for prayer with hands uplifted continues to be the usual posture of Christian prayer in the earliest times.
▪️According to the Tertullian Christian stand on Sundays and during Easter time as a sign of the joy of the Resurrection.
They are not permitted to fast and two new during these times.
▪️Jerome says something similar when he says that “it is a time of Joy and of victory when we do not kneel or bow to the earth, but risen with Christ, we are raised to the heavens”.
▪️Justin says that “we do not kneel on Sundays as a sign of the Resurrection through which we are freed from our sin by the grace of Christ”.
The early Christians took the standing posture to mean that, as a Pascal people made worthy to stand in God’s presence through their participation in Christ’s Resurrection, they stand ready to greet him when he comes again.
In the church’s liturgy today the standing is once again the main posture of Christian prayer.
During mass the faithful should stand:
▪️From the beginning of the entrance chant, or while the priest approaches the altar, until the end of the collect;
▪️For the alleluia chant before the Gospel;
▪️When the Gospel itself is proclaimed;
▪️During profession of faith and the prayer of the faithful;
▪️For the invitation, (pray, brethren),
▪️Before the prayer over the offerings until the end of the Mass.
The Instruction also indicates those places where the people do not have to stand but have to kneel or sit.
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🔥Kneeling:
The kneeling posture can signify supplication and adoration.
It can also have a penitential meaning or it can be a posture for private prayer.
The idea of kneeling as symbolizing supplication comes from the clear difference in status between the one who is imploring and the one being implored, as in Matthew 18:26:
“So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything”’
Its power as a posture of adoration can be found in PS. 95:
“Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our maker,” and Eoh. 3:14: “For this reason, I bow my knees before the father”.
The sense of “awe” before the creator moves the person “to the Knees”.
This same sense of “awe” it’s linked with a sense of unworthiness in the example of Peter falling to his knees in Lk. 5:8: “when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘depart from me I am a sinful man”’.
Jesus himself uses this posture of private prayer as he prays in the garden before his passion in Lk. 22:41: “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw and knelt down and prayed”.
Stephen kneels to pray before his martyrdom (Acts 7:60).
In the earlier centuries, it was not considered proper to kneel during the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist and during the Easter season because of its penitential and private character.
It was not permitted during Easter season by canon 20 of the council of Nicea.
St. Irenaeus gives the reason for the Prohibition:
“The practice of not kneeling on the Lord’s day is a symbol of the Resurrection by which, thanks to Christ, we have been delivered from sin and from death which he put to death”.
Although many of the church Fathers were of the view that it was appropriate to stand for prayer on Sundays and during the Easter season, they also believe that kneeling for prayer as an expression of penitence and humility was in order.
▪️For example, Tertullian said, “As for other times, who would hesitate to bow before God, at least for the first prayer by which we begin the day?
And on the days of fasting, all the prayers are made kneeling”.
▪️Origen expresses a similar sentiment in his treatise on prayer when he says that “one ought to kneel when one accuses oneself before God of his own sins and supplicating God to be healed and pardoned.
Apart from the use of kneeling for the consecration, it is customary nowadays for people to kneel during private prayer, devotion, and other liturgical functions.
The kneeling posture is also used during;
▪️The liturgy of Holy Week, especially at the transference and exposition of the sacrament at the conclusion of the Holy Thursday Eucharist as a sign of adoration and
▪️Also at the beginning of the Good Friday service when the presider prostrates himself as a sign of penance and total submission.
🔥Sitting:
This posture signifies presence and repose as such it is used by the one who presides with authority over a group as well as by those to whom instruction is given.
The person with power and authority sit on a special seat or throne to judge, rule or preside.
“You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power” (Mk. 14:62).
Jesus often teaches his disciples from a seated position, as in the sermon on the mount (Mt. 5:1), or, after he has read from the scriptures, he sits before he begins to interpret them (Lk. 4:20).
The person who listens with attention also assumes the seated position:
“Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Lk. 10:39).
In our liturgy today, the seated posture is used during;
▪️Times of reflection
▪️Meditation
▪️Reception of Instruction
The people Again should sit during the following;
▪️While readings before the Gospel & Responsorial Psalm are proclaimed
▪️And for the Homily
▪️During preparation of the gifts when the Offertory is taking place
And as circumstances allow, they may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after communion is observed (GIRM 43).
[…….To Be Cont’d With The Rest Of The Gestures & Postures In The Next Catechism….]
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Reference
Osei-Bonsu, J. (2011). Catholic Beliefs &
Practices. Takoradi: Franciscan Pub.
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