What is the proper disposition for entering church?

    Why do we bless ourselves with holy water as we enter church?
    When Catholics enter church, we should bless ourselves by dipping our finger in holy water from either the baptismal font or from a holy water font and making the sign of the cross. This act serves as a reminder of our baptism, when we were claimed for Christ for the first time. In baptism, the priest or deacon poured holy water over our head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The immersion in water symbolizes dying to self in order to live for Christ. Scripture reminds us, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). By blessing ourselves with holy water, we are reminding ourselves that we have died to sin and chosen to live our lives for Christ.
    Why do we genuflect or bow before entering our pew?
    Depending on the layout of the church, we should either bow or genuflect before entering our pew. If the Eucharist is present in the tabernacle in the sanctuary, then we should genuflect (bend our right knee to the ground) as a sign of reverence for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. If the tabernacle is out of sight in a side chapel, then we should bow (bend at the waist) as a sign of reverence to the altar where Christ is made present during Mass. Both genuflecting and bowing are signs of humility that remind us that we are on holy ground.
    What if I am unable to genuflect?
    If someone is unable to genuflect due to sickness or age, it is appropriate to bow.
    Why do Catholics keep the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle?
    The Eucharist is reserved in the tabernacle for several reasons. First, the Eucharist is brought to the sick, homebound or those in prisons who are not able to participate in Mass. It also serves as a focal point of prayer for people who stop by the church throughout the day to pray. By having the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, believers are able to spend time in prayer and worship before Christ in the Eucharist. Whenever the Eucharist is present in the tabernacle, there is always a candle, usually red or white, burning as a sign of Christ’s presence.
    When I kneel down to pray before Mass, how should I pray?
    In order to prepare to receive the savior of the world both in the Word proclaimed and in the Eucharist, we must take time to become interiorly quiet from our lives. We live in a busy society where we rush from one event to the next. If we do not arrive at church a few minutes early and quietly prepare ourselves in prayer, it is possible that we might go through an entire Mass without fully entering in or actively participating in the liturgy.
    If you are not sure how to pray, one suggestion is to pray like a pirate: “A.R.R.R.!” (Acknowledge, Relate, Receive and Respond). After kneeling down and making the sign of the cross, the first thing is to acknowledge what is going on in your life. If you are tired, stressed, anxious or upset, it is important to take a minute to acknowledge how you feel before trying to enter into worship. After acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and desires, it is important to relate them to God. Invite God into whatever situation is going on in your life. If you are upset with someone, ask God to help you forgive the person who hurt you. Next, prepare to receive from God during the liturgy. Allow God to speak to you through the songs, scriptures, homily, prayers and the Eucharist. At the end of Mass, we are called to respond to God’s presence and action in our life, either by amending the way we live or by spreading the love of Christ to all we come in contact with.
    Aside from spontaneous prayers, our tradition has many prayers written by saints that can help us remind ourselves about the importance of the Mass and prepare us to enter into it. Spending time praying with or meditating on some of these can help us enter into the Mass. Often there are written prayers in the back of the missalettes or hymnals.
    Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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