Catholic worship involves not only the mind and the heart but the whole person. Our bearing, the gestures we make, and the sacred items we use are meaningful in themselves and help to enhance our prayer. Here are some common examples.

The Sign of the Cross

You can identify the Catholics in a room by noticing those who make a gesture known as the Sign of the Cross before they pray. St. Francis de Sales explains:

The Christian first lifts his hand toward his head while saying, “In the name of the Father,” in order to show that the Father is the first person of the Blessed Trinity and the principal and origin of the others. Then, he moves his hand downward toward the stomach while saying, “and of the Son,” in order to show that the Son proceeds from the Father, who sent Him here below into the Virgin’s womb. Finally, he pulls his hand across from the left shoulder to the right while saying, “and of the Holy Spirit,” in order to show that the Holy Spirit, being the third person of the Blessed Trinity, proceeds from the Father and from the Son and is their bond of love and charity, and that it is by His grace that we enjoy the effects of the Passion.

When making the Sign of the Cross, therefore, we confess three great mysteries: the Trinity, the Passion, and the remission of sins.1

The Sign of the Cross has been used in prayer since the earliest days of the Church. Circa 386, St. Cyril of Jerusalem stated, “Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest.”2


To genuflect is to make a reverent acknowledgment by bending the right knee to the ground. Before entering a pew, when leaving a pew, or when passing in front of the tabernacle, Catholics genuflect toward the tabernacle to show respect and reverence for Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament.


During Mass and at other times of prayer, Catholics kneel to show reverence and humility before God. In Ephesians 3:14, St. Paul says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.”

When Catholics kneel to pray privately, they are following the example Jesus set on the night before His Crucifixion. The Gospel of St. Luke states that after asking the apostles to keep watch with Him, Christ “withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41).

The practice of kneeling during Mass has undergone many changes. Customs vary among countries. In 1969, for example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decided that Catholics in the United States should kneel during the entire Eucharistic Prayer. In 1980, the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship decreed that local authorities could decide whether Catholics should kneel or stand to receive Communion.

Whether one kneels or stands, a reverent attitude should be maintained for prayer.

Originally posted 2019-05-19 15:44:04.