The Angelus

Volume 6, Number 47

From Father Beddingfield: Why do we bow?

Visitors to Saint Mary’s sometimes ask, “Why do people bow and nod and kneel so much here?”  I usually explain that it has to do with piety and the way many of us try to enact our beliefs, connecting word with body, prayer with posture.  (I also choose to believe that the nodding of heads at random times during my preaching has to do with piety rather than the unfortunate combination of a large breakfast and a boring sermon!)  I know that it is sometimes frustrating for newcomers that there is no manual or guide to gesture and posture in worship, but specific practices of bowing and kneeling vary according to tradition and even among parishes of the same Christian tradition. Like faith itself, this is probably something that is more easily caught than taught.  I also find it very difficult to suggest particular practices to people without sounding precious, overly fastidious or like an etiquette manual for Mass. The reading of such manuals can be fun and enlightening, but I don’t think I’m ready to include something like the following in our worship leaflets.

The layman’s first action before taking his seat is to bow before the altar in homage to the Lord who makes the altar his throne.  If the Blessed Sacrament be there he genuflects, that is, bends the knee so that it touches the ground.  Care should be taken in making this act of reverence that the head and body are kept in an upright position, otherwise, if either is allowed to bend forward the gesture becomes clumsy and undignified. (Irene Caudwell, Ceremonies of Holy Church, London: The Faith Press, Ltd., 1949.

At Saint Mary’s our practice combines the particular tradition with current thinking and openness to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  While Miss Caudwell’s explanation above might be helpful for some, modern suggestions tend to be more spare and direct.  One very helpful and clear guide for current practice at Saint Mary’s comes from the Roman Church.

A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bows: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.  A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.   (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 2003.)

The GIRM goes on to explain the bow of the body, or the profound bow.  This is what parishioners see the ministers and assistants doing during the Confession, a portion of the Creed and when they pass the altar during Mass.  Current thinking suggests that ministers at the altar only genuflect at the beginning of Mass and at the end, unless the Holy Sacrament is exposed.

As often happens, I’m getting into details I had not planned to discuss.  My main reason in mentioning the bowing we do is to try to recall why we do it in the first place.

We bow to remind ourselves of our place in God’s creation.  When we bow in worship, it is a kind of shorthand for placing our entire bodies before God.  If we are worshipping fully, we place all that we have and all that we are before God.  When we bow at the name of Jesus, we pray a shorthand prayer that we might live our lives with him as the Lord of our lives.  It is a reminder that Jesus is the Lord of our lips and of all that we say.  He is the Lord of our work and all that we produce or create.  He is the Lord of our wallets and bank accounts.  He is the Lord of our loves. When we bow at the name of Mary, we pray a shorthand prayer that our wills might be as open to God as hers.  We pray that we might be as open to other people as she.  We pray that we might have her strength, her compassion and her faith.  When we bow at the name of the Holy Trinity we pray a shorthand prayer that our life might always be wrapped up, included in and expressed within the community of God. 

If our gestures are not connected to our beliefs and to the reality of God living within us, then they are the height of silliness and result in a sad and empty pantomime.  May God be praised through our postures as we learn to give more and more of ourselves to God and to one another.  John Beddingfield


PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Adele who is gravely ill, for Charles, Gloria, Samuel, Penn, Gilbert, Robert, Margaret, Jason, Bart, Hugh, Marion, Rick and Charles, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Bruce, Paul, Brenden, Jonathan, Jeffrey, Ned, Timothy, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Marc, Timothy, David, Colin, Christina, David, Nestor, Freddie, Matthew and Bennett; and for the repose of the soul of Carl . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . October 23: 1985 Adolphe Barreaux; October 26: 1987 Dorothea Moran.


IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . We have received word that Raymond Simmons, who was baptized at Saint Mary’s in 1995, died on October 18 after a long illness.  A Mass of the Resurrection will be offered at Saint Mary’s on Tuesday, October 26 at 4:00 PM.  Please pray for Raymond and for all who mourn.


LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Jeremiah 14:1-10,19-22, Psalm 84:1-6, 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18, Luke 18:9-14 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, October 23 by Father Beddingfield . . . On Sunday, October 24, Father Beddingfield will be the celebrant and preacher for the 10:00 AM Mass and 11:00 AM Solemn Mass.  Father Mead will be the celebrant and preacher at the 9:00 AM Said Mass and celebrant at the Solemn Evensong & Benediction at 5:00 PM.  The preacher at Evensong is the Reverend David Wood, Rector of Joondalup and Anglican Chaplain to Edith Cowan University, Western Australia.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . Last Friday night and Saturday, Eric Peterson, Julie Gillis, Erwin de Leon, Sandra Schubert and Father Beddingfield attended the Magnetic Church evangelism workshop.  The parish thanks them for giving up most of their weekend in an effort to strengthen Saint Mary’s   . . . Parishioners and friends should have received a mailing regarding names to be included in the prayers for All Souls’ and the Requiem Masses that follow on November 3 through 6.  (Thanks again George, Eileen and Dennis for coordinating the mailing!)  There will be additional request forms and envelopes this Sunday in Saint Joseph’s Hall . . . This MONDAY: Via Media for those who are new to the Episcopal Church, curious about the Christian faith or simply want to explore some of the basic Christian beliefs from an Anglican perspective (Saint Joseph’s Hall 7:00 to 8:30 PM) . . . TUESDAY: Weekly Bible Study led by Father Mead will be on the cycle of Joseph stories in Genesis 37-50 (Saint Benedict’s Study 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM . . . WEDNESDAY: Series on prayer with the Reverend Anne Richards (Saint Benedict’s Study 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM) . . . The Rector returns from vacation on Tuesday, October 26 . . . Attendance last Sunday 265.


NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This Sunday at the Sung Mass, played by Robert McDermitt, the prelude is Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 731 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and the postlude is Postlude in D by Healey Willan (1880-1968) . . . At the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Prelude No. 1 from Six Short Prelude and Postludes (Set 1), Opus 101 by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).  The postlude is Fuge g-moll, KV 401 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).  The setting of the Mass ordinary is Mozart’s Missa brevis G-dur, KV 49.  This Mass was written in Vienna in 1768, when the composer was 12 years of age!  The soli parts are sung by choir members Sarah Blaskowsky, soprano, Benjamin Boyle, countertenor, William Eddy, tenor and Craig Phillips, bass-baritone.  The anthem at Communion is Give us the wings of faith by Ernest Bullock (1890-1979).  Bullock was organist and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey for many years, and this beautiful setting of a text by Isaac Watts is probably his best known and most beloved work . . . The organ recital at 4:40, featuring works of Mendelssohn and Victor Togni, is played by Maxine Thevenot of Garden City, New York . . . Solemn Evensong & Benediction is sung this Sunday by the choir of Saint Peter’s Church, Morristown, New Jersey, and includes works of Howells, Bairstow and Dupré . . . Tickets are now on sale for Concerts at Saint Mary’s.  The first concert, sung by our choir, is Thursday, November 18.  Tickets may be ordered by check (fill out the form in the brochure that has arrived in your mailbox, or print and mail the form found at or by credit card (phone 212.869.5830, extension 25).  Robert McCormick

The Calendar of the Week

Sunday                      The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Monday                     Weekday                                             

Tuesday                     Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, 899

Wednesday               Weekday

                                    Eve of Saint Simon and Saint Jude 6:00 PM

Thursday                 Saint Simon and Saint Jude, apostles

Friday                        James Hannington, Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa,

                                    and his Companions, Martyrs, 1885                             Abstinence

Saturday                   Of Our Lady




The Parish Clergy

The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,

The Reverend John Beddingfield, The Reverend Matthew Mead, curates,

The Reverend Ian Bruce Montgomery, The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priests,

The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.