Physical Acts of Devotion
Physical actions or changes in posture can become sacramental as well. In prayer, Catholics have incorporated several such postures in order to display their devotion and respect. These actions or postures include the following:
Genuflection. The bending of the knee before sitting in the church pew is known as genuflecting, a sign of acknowledgment and grace to God.
Kneeling. A common position while praying, it is seen as an expression of penance, esteem, and humility in relation to God. Kneeling is the traditional position of prayer, confession, and receiving communion.
Prostration. Only intense forms of prayer require this position, which expresses adoration as well as penance.
In the fifth century, a priest and his confessors would prostrate themselves before the altar as part of the ritual of confession. According to the Gospels, Jesus himself prayed this way on the night before he was crucified.
By far the most well known gesture of Catholic devotion is the sign of the cross. This personal sign of respect and devotion began in the Middle Ages. To make the sign of the cross, you begin by touching your forehead, moving your hand down to the breast, and then across to the left and then right shoulder. While making the sign of the cross, you recite the names of the persons of the Trinity: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Catholics begin prayers with the sign of the cross; priests who officiate at Mass make the sign of the cross before and during the ceremony. Other occasions for using the sign of the cross include the following:
Bishops and priests make the sign of the cross in the air when they make blessings.
The bread and wine of the Eucharist are blessed by the sign of the cross, an act that is part of the Liturgy of the Sacrament.
The sign of the cross is used during baptism of children. The priest makes a cross with his thumb on the child's forehead, then the mouth, and then the breast.