Dear Johan,
            Why do we need all the movement during liturgy? And I don’t mean the procession. What I am talking about is the sitting, standing, kneeling .  .  . Wouldn’t it be easier to just sit? All the movement is distracting.

Gentle Reader,
 Your question brings us to the issue of bodily presence in the celebration of the liturgy. Our culture is somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to the body. We suffer from an obsession with the body while exhibiting a Victorian fear of the body. This, of course, impacts the way we see liturgy in relationship to our bodies.

When words fail us, our bodies take over as tears run down our cheeks or smiles brighten our faces. Though we fancy living above our eyebrows, we are essentially bodily creatures. This is why kneeling and standing, blessing oneself with holy water, bowing and genuflecting are part of the Roman Rite.

In addition, our bodies are both good learners and good teachers. Often one cannot help but wonder which came first, our faith in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament or our custom to make a sign of reverence when we enter a church. Do we believe because our bodies, through genuflecting and bowing, from childhood on, have taught us to believe? Or do we bow and genuflect because we were taught to believe? Probably a combination of both, yet, the power of the body as a learner and teacher should not be underestimated.

While certain words and gestures are reserved for the presider, at the same time he models for us how we are to be present at the Eucharist. When he stands, we stand; when he sits, we sit; when he bows, we bow. Other times during the liturgy we assume a posture different from that of the presider, which is befitting to our role in the assembly.

All these gestures weave a wonderful tapestry of bodily engagement of all of us in the celebration of the liturgy. After all, the liturgy is not merely an intellectual exercise celebrated above our eyebrows; rather the liturgy needs to be engaged in by the entire person, mind, body, and soul.


© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission.




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