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November 15, 2011

Catholicism Nerd: Questions Answered

It dawned on me recently that perhaps I have become somewhat of a Catholicism Nerd.  

I have decided to give you the option to become a Catholicism Nerd, too!  This will be the first (of many, I hope!) posts tackling something little (or big) that Catholics do and why.  I might explain a bit how I learned because...truth be told...I had 8 years of Catholic education and I didn't learn most of what I know until I was in my late 20's!

Just for some reference, Dictionary.com's definition of the word, NERD, follows:


[nurd] Show IPA
noun Slang.
1.a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person.  (Nah, I don't think I fit THIS part of the definition --Pipe Down in the cheap seats!)

2.an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit: a computer Catholicism nerd.

I was recently asked by another lifelong Catholic (Catholic school educated and everything...just like me!) "Why do some people bow down during the Creed at Mass when we say, 'by the power of the Holy Spirit'?"

I know I am not the only Catholic to have actually read in whole, or in part, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) in an attempt to teach myself and my children the proper way to attend Mass.  It came in handy that I'd studied it though.

You see, I am one of "those people" who makes a profound bow at that point in the Creed.  

The first time I consciously noticed someone (a priest) bowing at that point in the creed, I was 28 and I wondered why he was doing it.  At first I thought that I should do it even if I don't know why simply because the priest was doing it.  But then I remembered that there are some things the priest is supposed to do that the congregation is not supposed to do.  

So...then I was confused.  

Back then, whenever I was confused, I had a Catholic co-worker friend that I turned to whenever I needed answers.  I asked him about it and he directed me to the GIRM.  

While it's intimidating to tackle the GIRM, it is helpful to understand some of the things we do during Mass.  I highly recommend you put the GIRM on your list of reference materials if you're interested in learning more about Catholic Mass.

The GIRM addresses many details of "Mass With A Congregation."  Since I'm sticking to the one question, I'll only mention that part.  You can go to the site linked above and read through the GIRM on the Vatican website.

And now...

Why do those crazy Catholics bow during the Creed at Mass when saying "by the power of the Holy Spirit?"

The first (and easy) answer is:  Because the GIRM says so.  Really.  Item #137 under "Mass With A Congregation" states:
137. The Creed is sung or recited by the priest together with the people (cf. no. 68) with everyone standing. At the words et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . and became man) all make a profound bow; but on the solemnities of the Annunciation and of the Nativity of the Lord, all genuflect.

A more detailed answer is given here.  

The profound bow is to show reverence to the Incarnation.  We begin the bow at the words, "by the power of the Holy Spirit" and rise back up after "and became man."  The profound bow shows that we understand and respect the importance of this event, of God becoming man.

So the profound bow occurs while saying the following (bolded) part of the creed:

...For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried...

Furthermore, this article (137) of the GIRM mentions two times where you're actually supposed to GENUFLECT at those words. If you're at Mass on March 25 (solemnity of the Annunciation) or December 25 (Nativity of the Lord), you are required to genuflect as you say those words of the Creed.

On every other day that you are at Mass, if you see someone bowing at that point in the Creed...they are not doing anything wrong.  In fact, you should probably consider joining them.

And as you make your profound bow, you can join the rest of us Catholic Nerds when someone asks you why you are doing that!


  1. Very interesting, knew why we bowed but did not know twice a year we should genuflect. Thanks!!

  2. Yay Catholic nerds! Thanks for sharing. :)

  3. Add me to the Catholic nerds part :) - and I'm doing a little happy dance at my desk because I actually *knew* this already! (Seriously, this is HUGE as I knew pretty much NOTHING just 4 short years ago!!!).

  4. Every time I do a liturgy presentation I tell people to read the GIRM and the CSL. Those are probably the most accessible Church docs I've ever read, and the most useful. I will admit though that I had totally forgotten about the genuflect command. Do YOU do it??? :)

  5. Just found this one, Michelle.. haha, I LOVED this post! Ironically tonight at Mass I bowed during the creed for the first time. (Just not something I was ever taught to do, but I noticed someone else do it recently and know we *should* do it because the little red books say "All Bow".. so.. I just did.) I love the fact that you read the GIRM. I am definately a nerd about these things, and Jimmy Akin is always talking about the GIRM on Catholic Radio, I would like to ask if I can become a Catholic Nerd with ya, because I want to go read it now.


Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)