Hey, Father! Why do we bow during parts of the Nicene Creed?

During the proclamation of the Creed, either the Apostles Creed or the Nicaean Creed, we bow our heads during the portion that covers Jesus’ incarnation and birth. If the core of our faith is that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the source of our salvation, why do we not bow our heads from incarnation through birth, death, and resurrection?   

Dan in Troy

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) directs that when the liturgical rubrics expressly prescribe the recitation of the Creed, such as on Sundays and Solemnities, that the faithful — clergy and laity both — make a profound bow at the mention of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity (no. 18). During the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the bow occurs during the words, “… and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” During the Apostles’ Creed, the bow occurs during the words “ … who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”

This bow is not intended to be slight but to be “profound,” meaning “a bow of the body,” from the waist (GIRM, no. 275b). Within the celebration of the Holy Mass, “a bow signifies reverence and honor shown to persons themselves or to signs that represent them” (GIRM, 275).

You are right to note the core of our faith is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but His Paschal Mystery would not have happened had He not been conceived in Mary’s virginal womb. While it would not be wholly inappropriate for the Church to ask us to bow at the mention of Jesus’ resurrection during the Creed, she instead tells us to bow at the mention of His Incarnation.

The Son of God humbled Himself to take on our flesh, to be born as a human child. We bow at the mention of this great mystery to humble ourselves before Him who humbled Himself for us. He was conceived to die; His resurrection is a consequence of His Incarnation.

Father Daren Zehnle, J.C.L., K.C.H.S., is pastor at St. Augustine in Ashland and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.