Proper Reverence

Q. In the Nicene Creed, we say, “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.” Why do we bow our heads at that, and why do some people kneel? Which is right?

Bradley, via e-mail

A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:

Sometimes we are supposed to bow our heads, and sometimes we are supposed to genuflect, and those indications can be found in the rubrics of the Roman Missal inserted right before that line in the Nicene Creed. On almost all Sundays and holy days of obligation, we bow our heads when we recite that line, but on March 25 — the solemnity of the Annunciation — and then again on Dec. 25 — Christmas — the faithful are asked to genuflect. Why? Because that line refers to the most important moment in history — the Incarnation — and the bow of the head or genuflection, as the case may be, shows special reverence for that event. It was the moment when the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh (March 25) and was born of the Virgin Mary (Dec. 25).

And it is for that reason that the standard calendar in use around the world today marks the current year as A.D. 2013, and the “A.D.” stands for “Anno Domini,” the Year of the Lord.