Monday, January 18, 2010

Bow Out

In recent years I've noticed a trend for the gift bearers to bow after they give the gifts to the presider. It's meant to be an act of reverence before the sanctuary -- the very same sort of gesture that readers are asked to make before entering the sanctuary to break open the Word.

The problem is, it doesn't look like they're bowing to the sanctuary. It looks like they're bowing to the priest. Which is problematic. Because it has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the priest at all. Some parishes try to solve this by having the priest bow back -- but that only seems to make the whole thing less coherent. Why are all these people bowing to each other?
And then the priest headbutted the guy who brought up the gifts.

My question is, do we need to have this bowing in the first place? It's not as though those who bear the gifts ride up on Segways or leave running and screaming (though that would be something). The act of processing forward has its own inbuilt solemnity. People naturally approach the altar at that moment with a certain reverence and care. And once they arrive at the sanctuary, what's the moment "about"? Two things, I'd say -- welcome and reception. The presider welcomes the bearers as sisters and brothers, and through him the Church receives the gifts they bring. The gifts, the gifts we will offer up and which God will transform into nourishment for us.

Bowing doesn't look right here because it doesn't fit with those movements. It's not a gesture of welcome or of reception, but an act of reverence that pulls focus from the gifts and the giving, without even a sense of what's the subject being revered! You see the look on most gift bearers' faces, they have no idea what it's supposed to mean, either. They're just doing what somebody told them to.

In liturgy as in many areas, the simplest procedure is often the right one. Presenting the gifts is a very different sort of moment then entering the sanctuary to read the Word of God. Let it moment be what it is, reverent in its very act of bearing, welcoming and receiving. It's more than enough.

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