Q. I notice that some priests bow their head when the name of Jesus is spoken during the Mass. What is the reason for this practice? Should everyone do this?
A. St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians: “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” (Phil 2:9-10).
This passage speaks of the reverence that is owed to Jesus Christ, who through his saving work sets us free from sin and death. There is a pious tradition stemming from this passage for all the faithful to bow their heads at the name of Jesus, as a sign of respect and reverence.
Mass is celebrated by following the Roman Missal, which is the book that contains the prescribed prayers for the celebration of Mass. At the beginning of the Roman Missal is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). The GIRM gives instruction for how the Mass is to be celebrated and about the roles that priests, deacons and other ministers may perform.
The GIRM states that “A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them… 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.”
Anyone is welcome to make the pious gesture of bowing at the name of Jesus. It’s a small, exterior act that is meant to remind us interiorly of Christ’s presence. In the 13th Century, Pope Gregory X exhorted the faithful to have a devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He said, “…whenever that glorious name is recalled, especially during the sacred mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head.”
Devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus has been long standing tradition in the Church. Pope Gregory X encouraged the Dominican order to preach and promote the devotion to the Holy Name. In 1721, Pope Innocent XIII instituted the feast of the Holy Name. This was temporarily removed in 1969 and was restored by St. John Paul II. It is now celebrated Jan. 3.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.