September 18 – Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Recently I learned another little factoid about the Mass that I wanted to share with all of you. Have you ever noticed that the priest bows slightly right before saying the words of consecration? This is first of all because the big red book called the Roman Missal tells the priest not only what to say, but also what to do while saying it. At the most important point of the Mass, the Missal instructs the priest with these simple words, “He bows slightly,” and then, in all caps, tells him to repeat the words of Christ, “TAKE THIS ALL OF YOU…”

Why bow? On the one hand, we may be tempted to think that the priest should simply be looking at the people and saying these words standing straight up because, in a certain way, he is re-enacting the scene of the Last Supper where Jesus said this to the disciples. However, the Mass is so much more than a re-enactment. If that were all it is, I’m sure you could find much better actors and singers at the Paramount Theatre!  Something substantial and miraculous is happening when we follow the Lord’s command to “do this in memory of me.”

In medieval times, kings would send messengers on their behalf to share a message. In order to make clear that what they were saying was from their lord and not from them, the messenger would bow while pronouncing their king’s words. Not only would this convey a certain reverence for their king’s words, it would also be a simple way to distinguish between who was saying what. During the Mass, the priest does much the same. He takes the words of Jesus as his own because of his ordination into the priesthood of Jesus Christ—“THIS IS MY BODY…THIS IS MY BLOOD”. This is an amazing and beautiful moment for priests, as it reminds us to give up our own bodies, to give up our own blood in service to our people. But the priest also bows while saying these words to show that he is merely a servant of the True Priest, a messenger of the High King.

At Mass we not only remember what Our Lord did for us, we encounter His very self—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity—offered to us, and for us. May we, at each and every Mass, keep our gaze fixed not simply on the messenger, but on the True High King and His good news of great joy.

Father James