GIRM 42: Gestures and Bodily Posture

This is an important section, and informs a relevant discussion currently in the liturgy news. First let’s read the first of three numbered sections that address “Gestures and Bodily Posture.”

42. The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all.[Sacrosanctum Concilium 30, 34] Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.

A common bodily posture, to be observed by all those taking part, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them.


This first paragraph above was an addition to the 2000 edition. This might tell us that Rome’s intention was that local faith communities pay more close attention to this matter, both as a theoretical practice and also what the rite instructs and intends.

Physical movement is not defined as participation per se, but as a means to an ideal “participation by all.”

GIRM 42b comes to bear with recent initiatives to legislate a common posture during the Communion procession. PrayTell notes one of the latest directives in northern Michigan with much discussion. Going by the book, I can understand the move to institute a common posture of standing all during the Communion procession. Given popular piety, I can also see why some favor reversing this and instructing people to stand when moving and kneel when not.

I’ve parted company with my more progressive colleagues  by not seeing the Communion procession as that big a deal. I was critical in print of the Archdiocese of Seattle many years ago in print. And they let me know about it. My concern is pastoral, and the difficulty in legislating piety or quality by fiat.

If we’re talking a sign of unity, the Communion procession is already a mess. Acts of reverence before, during, and/or after receiving. Not to mention clergy with wide variety in how they gesture. Between you and me, I think there are bigger liturgical fish to fry. But perhaps you have some comment. If so, please do. Is an outward sign of unity at Communion worth the fuss? And if so, can you make some concrete pastoral suggestions?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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