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Catholic Gestures Explained

Catholics express reverence and respect with several gestures. If you’re Catholic, you perform the sign of the cross, you kneel at the proper times during Mass, and you genuflect as a matter of course. If you’re not Catholic, or have forgotten why you take these actions and make these gestures, check the following list for explanations:

  • Kneeling: Kneeling is the most profound sign of reverence and Roman Catholics kneel at the most sacred points of the Mass. In the United States, Catholics kneel throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, but in Europe and elsewhere, they’re only obligated to kneel during the Consecration. Eastern Catholics, such as the Byzantine, don’t kneel because standing is their normal posture for reverence.

  • Making the sign of the cross: The most common Catholic gesture is the sign of the cross. It symbolically reaffirms two essential Christian doctrines: The Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and humankind’s salvation through the cross of Christ.

    Latin (Western) Catholics make the sign of the cross by using their right hand to touch the forehead, then the middle of the breast, then the left shoulder, and finally the right shoulder. As they do this, they say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” This one complete gesture makes a cross — an intersection of a vertical line from forehead to breast and a horizontal line from left to right shoulder. Byzantine Catholics make a similar sign of the cross but go to the right shoulder first and then to the left.

  • Genuflecting: Another telltale sign of a Catholic is genuflection, which is touching the right knee to the floor while bending the left knee. The sign of the cross is made simultaneously with this gesture. Catholics genuflect only in front of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus, so Catholics show the ultimate form of respect by genuflecting or kneeling before him.

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