A few months back, our family was about halfway through Sunday Mass when our son declared that he was tired of moving so much. He was kind of right- there is a lot of moving. The Catholic Mass involves a lot of movement. We stand, we sit, we stand, sit some more, stand again, kneel, take a walk to receive Communion, kneel again, and finally stand up before walking out of church on the heels of the priest. To say that Catholics move a lot during Mass would be an understatement. I’ve heard people jokingly refer to it as a Catholic workout, and more recently, Catholic acrobatics. It’s a fitting description of what we do. But that leaves the question: Why the Catholic acrobatics?
There is a lot more movement in the Catholic Mass than there is in a Protestant service. I’ve never attended a Protestant service personally, but I know quite a few converts from Protestantism to Catholicism, and most of them agree (I also know a few converts from high-church Anglicanism, and their service looks a lot more like our Mass than most Protestant celebrations). We don’t just sit for an hour, singing Christian worship songs and listening to the Scriptures and the pastor’s sermons. We move. A lot.
Catholics are a sacramental people. Catholicism is a sacramental religion. We believe that water and words can take away sin, that bread and wine can become God. We believe that man once had the chance to look on the face of God in the flesh. We believe that our flesh has meaning, that our bodies communicate our souls. We believe that the physical manifests the spiritual. We believe that the whole world is a sacrament meant to reveal the love of God. It should come as no surprise that we use our bodies a lot in our worship.
We worship God with our whole being. We worship Him as human persons. And as human persons, we have bodies and souls. So when we worship God, we worship Him with both. Our hearts are lifted up in praise, and sometimes so are our bodies. When we declare our sinfulness and ask for mercy, we bow our heads. When we approach the throne of God, we genuflect. When the priest speaks the words of consecration and bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood, we kneel. We express with our bodies what we feel in our hearts.
So the next time you’re wondering why you have to move so much during Mass? Thank the Lord that He gave us a liturgy that acknowledges that we are embodied souls. Prayer is not just spiritual. It’s physical too. The Catholic Mass draws man, body and soul, to heaven. It allows us to worship God with our whole being. It gives us permission to sit as we absorb the Word of God and the words of the priest, to stand in awe of the life of our Savior, and to fall down on our knees in adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. So that’s why the Catholic acrobatics.