On Fixing a Dreadful Error And Taking a Graceful Bow

We are in the heart of Lent but for one day we step back into the Christmas cycle. It is nine months before Christmas and today we celebrate the true feast of the Incarnation. December 25 is the Lord’s birth but today is His incarnation as he is conceived in his Mother’s womb. TODAY the Word becomes flesh.

This needs to be emphasized in an age of abortion where some in our culture deny explicitly or implicitly that human life begins at conception. You are aware that a new translation of the Mass will soon come to us in the English speaking world. It is long needed and treasures of the faith kept hidden for long decades (except for those know Latin) will become visible again.

Among the most egregious errors of the current English version is in the Creed which erroneously indicates that Jesus became man at his birth, rather than his conception. Here is what the current version says:

For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary , and became man.

Notice that the text says he became man when he was born. As a poor translation of the Latin text it is irritating enough but to have this mistranslation exist when abortion is thought a legal right is a complete disaster. The Latin text does not say that Jesus became man at his birth (celebrated December 25), but rather at His incarnation (celebrated March 25). Here is what the the Latin text says:

Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.

The New Translation which will be implemented in a little over a year renders it correctly in the following way:

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

I for one am grateful for the accuracy. The whole translation is going to take some getting used to but it will be of great benefit to see our Holy Faith, so beautifully articulated in the Latin text, properly translated and conveyed at last. Since 1970 the text has been really little better than a paraphrase and so much is lost. This mistranslation of the Creed is but one of ten thousand examples where the current translation is woefully inaccurate and/or incomplete. But surely the mistranslated Creed  is most egregious for the reasons stated.

A final thought on this section of the Creed – The Bow. The Congregation is instructed to bow at the words: and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  This is in recognition of the great mystery that the incarnation is. How can God, whom the very heavens cannot contain dwell in the womb of the Virgin Mary? How can the infinite become an infant? It is a mystery too great and so we bow in reverence. In the Traditional Latin Mass the practice is to kneel at these words. Such was the practice until about 1970 when it was replaced by a bow. Personally I think we Americans are terrible at bows and would be happy if the genuflection returned. In other cultures bowing is graceful and natural. For most of us here it is awkward and usually lacks proportional and graceful movement. But bow we are told and bow we should. One ought to fold the hands and bow at the waist. Think of your waist as the hinge, not the neck and shoulders which should not move in proportion to the shoulders. The bow is a reverent acknowledgment of the mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate today. Interestingly enough there are still two days  in the year when we still kneel at the words of the incarnation. We kneel and pause at these words on Christmas and today, March 25, The Feast of the Annunciation. Otherwise we bow, as gracefully as possible 🙂

I am curious if you bow at these words in the Creed and if it is common in your parish. Does your clergy bow, do they teach others to do so? Just asking!

Happy Feast Day!

30 Replies to “On Fixing a Dreadful Error And Taking a Graceful Bow”

  1. by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man

    I suppose an argument could be made that “became man” is meant to be understood to follow “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” just as “He was born of the Virgin Mary” follows it, but it is indeed susceptible of “and became man” being misconstrued as following “born of the Virgin Mary.”

    Now, if I am forced to give an opinion as to the new translations . . .

    OK — some of them are clunky. And this one is clunky. More accurate maybe, but clunky.

    What if, instead of the new translation, “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man,” they had retained the old phraseology but changed up the order — “by the power of the Holy Spirit, He became man, and was born of the Virgin Mary”? Would that accomplish the same thing? Or is there a special theological need to say “incarnate” instead of “born”?

    If there is a special need to say “incarnate,” is there any theology lost by getting rid of the word “born,” notwithstanding the greater accuracy in translation? Does not “He was born of the Virgin Mary” itself say something of theological significance, i.e. Jesus was born, Mary gave birth, in the manner of any other man, such that He is truly man, and has known His entire life the same things that other men have known? And, borrowing what is said earlier in reference to the Father, “He was begotten, not made”? That He didn’t simply materialize into the outside world?

    And is any theology lost my dropping “by the power of”?


    As for bowing, our priests bow. I bow. Some others at my parish bow, not everyone does (as far as I can tell when looking down).

    Every parish I’ve ever attended has knelt during the Creed on the proper days, but it is often disruptive — “For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” (THUD, THUD, THUD, sounds of kneelers falling, followed by short silence) “For our sake . . .” (sounds up people standing, THUD, THUD, sounds of kneelers being raised) “He was crucified . . .”

    1. I think something is essential about saying that he was incarnate rather than born since birth takes place nine months after incarnation. We are saying that hominization ocurrs at our conception (incarnation) rather than at our birth. It is unsual to use this word in modern english but so are many theological terms. At any rate I think the Latin text uses this termonology for a reason and our translation ought to reflect it.

    2. If there were a return of the genuflection during the Creed the kneelers likely would be dropped as the Creed started, so it would sound more like

      We *creak* THUD THUNK *creak* THUD -er Almighty

      1. There would be a period of adjustment, to be sure, but if you attend a mass in the EF you would soon realize that where genuflection is the norm this isn’t much of a problem.

  2. Bowing is standard practice at my parish (Cathedral of St. Joseph, Jefferson City, MO) and seems pretty much the norm in both my current (JC) and former (Archdiocese of St. Louis) dioceses.
    I’d feel better about the new translations (which I agree are more accurate) if I was certain that the congregation was solid in its understanding of what the Incarnation is and means. Remember, we’ve got at least 2 generations of weak catechesis to overcome.

  3. I guess I have been making an incorrect assumption (I admit to not investigating the Latin version…), but I understood the phrase “He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man” to indicate Jesus’ progression from childhood to adulthood, because stories from His adult life are mostly what is told in the gospels. Also, there is no comma between “Holy Spirit” and “He was born…” in the missal that I used to memorize the creed. I believe that we used the word “incarnate” in my previous Protestant church, although we did not say the creed that often. Would you please post a link to the new translation? Thank you!

    All of our priests and readers bow and much of the congregation follows suit. Kneeling is limited to certain days. I tend to agree with Bender. Although kneeling does punctuate the phrase, it is often a little more “percussive” and less dignified than it is probably meant to be because many people do not put the kneelers up and down quietly.

  4. Most of the priests have bowed, a couple haven’t. Most of the parishioners bow, some don’t. My family and I do.

    If you will permit me to stray a bit further – a couple of years ago we had a workshop where the liturgy coordinator for the diocese explained to us the difference between the profound bow and a simple, or head bow. The simple bow was to be used during the Creed, and before receiving Holy Communion under one or both species.

    There is no consistency either in our parish or throughout the state. Everyone does what they want to do when they want to do it.

    The postures seem to be random to some people even though they are pretty straight-forward and actually very well marked in our Missals; for instance, some people are very quick to jump up during the Preparation when the priest says “Pray, brethren…” instead of waiting, as we were taught by the liturgy coordinator, for “May the Lord accept…” – which, coincidentally, is right where it’s marked in the book.

    I look forward to the new Missal and the translations. I do think it’ll be chaotic for a time – especially for those of us who are so used to reciting from memory – we’ll have to remind ourselves to read for awhile again.

  5. Monsignor and Bender: I am in favor of using “incarnate.” To my mind, to be born is to emerge from the womb. “Incarnate” suggests being “in the flesh” (which is the root meaning of the Latin). And I suspect this part of the Creed derives from John 1:14: “and the Word was made [or became] flesh.” That is a fairly literal rendering of John’s Greek. According to John, the Word is not born, but made flesh.

    Contrary to the popular Christmas song, I believe Jesus was Lord at his conception. That is why John the Baptist lept for joy in Elizabeth’s womb at being in the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb – she is the Arc of the (incarnate) Covenant.

    I don’t imagine that any theology is lost by dropping “by the power of.” Of course, it is not in the Latin. I suspect the word “power” crept in because Luke 1:35 speaks of the “power of the Most High” overshadowing Mary. That’s just a guess.

    As for bowing, our pastor does it during the Creed, and does it well. Only a handful of us in the congregation bow at this point. We’ve only had this pastor for couple of years. I don’t recall any of the prior priests bowing at this point.

  6. Msgr Pope,

    The Parishes around Kansas that i have attended have just recently began bowing at that point in the creed. It still seems awkward to many but it is slowly catching on and becoming a part of the liturgy.

    Holy Spirit Parish, Goddard, Kansas

  7. I bow. Our priest and most others in the parish do not. We have a most lukewarm diocese; pray for us.

    I love all the snippets of the new translation that I have read thus far. Theology aside, it is vastly more literate than the mush we have now. I can’t wait … 😀

  8. Our priest, some of our congregation (the ‘hard cores’), and my family bow at the appropriate moment. I was at the Cathedral in Kalamazoo today and everyone bowed (most of them ‘daily Massers’) but none genuflected…at least i didn’t hear any wood knocking, my head was down…

  9. Our priests always bow, and as a church nomad, I have yet to see a priest that DOESN’T bow. Pretty much all of them do at the parishes I’ve visited. Most of the congregation bows at my parish (well, the one I go to the most) except the people who don’t get why we are bowing, or the ones who are pretty much just there because you are “supposed to go on Sundays.”

  10. I’m amazed at how many of these commentators are hypersensitive to kneel sounds , those are sounds of people paying homage and respect to the most marvelous of all ideas- that the Creator would humble Himself to take on the form of the creature- how greatly You have elevated the most wonderful being that is man , your wonderful creation. Perhaps vast hosts singing Holy Holy Holy would be annoying to some of these too ……

    Bowing, I’d submit , is foreign to the American mind. We as a people don’t bow and we don’t tip or dip our flag. It is Un American. if you will – to our national psyche
    that’s why genuflecting or kneeling is so appropriate a sign of reverence and respect- as though the body is assuming the worshiping posture the properly aligned soul has assumed. – Like the angel of Portugal[ Michael!] when he brought Holy Communion to the children – As I recall he suspended the host and ciborium in mid air and prostrated himself in the dirt- assuming the bodily position of the very well aligned soul. It feels right. Have you never desired to prostrate yourself before Almighty God and humble yourself bodily before His sacramental presence?

    Minor and major BOWS are silly and foreign – one more attempt at breaking the tradition with the past . In the spirit of Vatican II -like communion in the hand – which began as an abuse . All of this shall pass in time just as will these deliberate mistranslations. Pray brethren that OUR sacrifice is acceptable……. or For you and for all
    – or was born and became man –

  11. I so much agree with gedda fan. Genuflecting is definitely more reverend. I have seen priests and nuns prostrating themselves before His sacramental presence, and have desired to do the same, the right opportunity has not yet presented itself. And as you said, “all of this shall pass in time”, I only hope to live long enough to see it come to full fruition.
    Pax vobiscum my friend

  12. My family and I bow. I rarely hear a priest give direction about this. As far as bowing goes, my family bows, most do not. Although, in the past few years I have noticed more are bowing. The bow should be a bow form the waist, but not a profound bow. This is a distinction in western liturgy from the monastic tradition. I have spent time with Trappists and Dominicans and their bows are different. Granted, Dominicans are not monastic, but these things carried over. A profound bow is like bending over to touch your toes, a simple bow does not go that far. They use both in while praying the hours. I think the reason that we do not know how to bow is that monastic life has always been so sparse in our country. Also, kneeling or genuflecting is awkward with kneelers and pews, both a modern addition. Why do we need a kneeler to genuflect for a few seconds? Oh, and one more question, when receiving Holy Communion, where did the idea that a simple head nod was all that was necessary? As Fr. Groschel says, next we will just wink at Our Lord!

  13. Interesting. From official Church websites.

    Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, took body, became man, was born perfectly of the holy Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.

    Who for us men and for our salvation
    came down from heaven and was incarnate
    of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.

  14. Our parish does not employ the bow as a general rule although a few do. However, my wife and I recently went to Mass at Ss. Cyril and Methodius church outside of Detroit. The entire congregation bowed in unison! What a beautiful gesture – all in solidarity showing that this element of the Creed is a major tenet of our faith. It certainly reinforced the centrality of this belief. Would that all would do this bow reverently and help make the Mass more beautful and more participatory.

  15. We should not concern ourselves with minor issues such as noise from a kneeler, but rather focus on the fact that we are giving reverence to God and the Incarnation, We also ought to contemplate on our upbringing and admit that many of us are too proud to kneel. We are subject to God. He deserves our respect.

  16. Jim S- 3/26- you write [ However, my wife and I recently went to Mass at Ss. Cyril and Methodius church outside of Detroit. The entire congregation bowed in unison! What a beautiful gesture – all in solidarity showing that this element of the Creed is a major tenet of our faith. It certainly reinforced the centrality of this belief. Would that all would do this bow reverently and help make the Mass more beautiful and more participatory.

    Do you really mean to write that you measure the beauty and participatory level at the sacrifice of Calvary by the # and unity of the ?Bow”- was it a major or a slight bow??

    You”ve seen the earlier bloggers who have pointed out the miss translation of this Tenet of your faith –

    Et Verbum Caro Factum Est!

    If it was the uniformity that impressed you- may i also suggest the lowering of the flag at 8th and I St. in Washington D.C, at the original Marine Hdqtrs’ – You’ll be blown away by this wonder of the modern world

    Oh, would that my parents had had major and lesser bow’s in tighter cadence!! – perhaps that would have prevented Paul VI’s Protestant experiments with all 7 sacraments , especially the most beautiful thing this side of
    heaven, i.e. the Mass. [ Holy Eucharist ]

  17. Bender says:
    March 25, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Bowing in prayer is a tradition from the time of Jesus and before

    yep- they Bowed to Caesar ! and Darius and Nabucco

    this is a bit more than prayer alone, as you know – it is public affirmation of personal belief in an incredible fact- that God, the Word, the 2nd Person of the Most Adored Trinity would take on human nature and be born of a virgin . And become Man. At these sacred words, the tradition in the Roman church has been for over 500 years to kneel- or at least genuflect on one knee – when ever this statement would occur – as kneeling was the custom to receive communion; or when coming in direct line with the Blessed Sacrament -; receive communion kneeling and on the tongue – that was changed [ at whose requst and why ?? i wonder ]

    1. By writing that bowing was a tradition before the time of Jesus, what was pretty clear in my words was that it was (and is) the traditional practice in Judaism to bow at certain points in prayer. Being a Jew Himself, no doubt Jesus bowed in prayer as well, together with Joseph and Mary and Zechariah and Elizabeth and John and the Apostles.

      But you are free to say whatever you want about bowing.

    2. that was changed [ at whose requst and why ?? i wonder ]

      It was changed at the request of the Successor to Peter and the other Successors to the Apostles because, as shepherds of the Church, given authority by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, they thought it appropriate to do so.

  18. I didn’t know we’re supposed to kneel at those words during on Christmas and the Annunciation. I guess that’s why people started kneeling the other day when I went to Mass (this wasn’t at my local parish though). At my local parish the majority of the congregation does not bow.

  19. Andy- kneel whenever you hear the words- The WORD was made flesh and DWELT among us.: or He cam down from heaven[ annunciation] and was Born of the Virgin Mary [ nativity] – and you’ll be fine- never mind that the ICEL mis translated the original approved Latin into bogus English- in an bunch of places- trying to make our liturgy more acceptable to our Protestant brethren perhaps- which they did , to no avail- not your issue-

    hey Bender- I’ve annoyed you and that wasn’t my intention- bowing as a Jewish person [ or an Egyptian, or a roman, or a Greek] may have done is not a justification for the silliness that is major and minor bows in our liturgy – lex orandi lex credendi –
    and you write further-
    “it was changed at the request of the Successor to Peter and the other Successors to the Apostles because, as shepherds of the Church, given authority by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, they thought it appropriate to do so. ” [ I’d submit as pushed on by the evil influence of the Annibal Bugnini types who were periti at the council and eventually exiled? [ uuhhmmmm wonder why exile??]

    Who asked them to change it ? on what basis does the hierarchy change the form of each of the 7 sacraments

    Does your statement apply to the ‘experimenting’ of communion before first confession as was the rage at the turn of the 70’s? among so many of the bishops and allowed by the Holy See – I taught confirmation prep to some of those tortured souls who never knew how to make use of the sacrament of Penance: but sure knew they wanted to –

    or the approval to the insertion of the Jewish prayer- O God of all creation, through your goodness etc. in our propitiatory event?

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