Why do Catholics bow at the Name of Jesus?

Catholics and gestures, right? There are so many bodily gestures performed during the Eucharistic Celebration, and this one, like many other, have been practiced for centuries. Bowing at the mention of the Name of Jesus has not been as emphasized as it used to be but is still a big practice with many Catholics worldwide.

The origin has roots in the words of St Paul in his letter to the Philippian Church:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Seeing how it might have been challenging to kneel every time Jesus’ Name is mentioned, Pope Gregory X found a more practical solution. When he wrote to the Order of Preachers in 1274, he shared with them his desire to make some gesture in reverence to the Name of Jesus.

In the book With God: A Book of Prayers and Reflections by Francis Xavier Lasance, a portion of the letter was printed:

Recently, during the Council held at Lyons, we deemed it a useful commendation to exhort the faithful to enter the house of God with humility and devotion and to conduct themselves while there in a becoming manner so as to merit the divine favor and at the same time give edification. We have also judged it proper to persuade the faithful to demonstrate more reverence for that Name above all names, the only Name in which we claim salvation — the Name of Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us from the bondage of sin. Consequently, in obedience to that apostolic precept, ‘In the Name of Jesus let every knee, be bent,’ we wish that at the pronouncing of that Name, chiefly at the Holy Sacrifice, everyone would bow his head in token that interiorly he bends the knee of his heart.

This gesture is not only to honor his Name but to submit our hearts in an act of love and reverence. The Dominicans accepted the Pope’s request and took it seriously. They became the foremost promoters of the Holy Name in the Church; they preached about it and formed societies, and placed altars in their churches that had been dedicated to Jesus’ Holy Name.

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