Church of the Good Shepherd

The Anglo-Catholic Parish of the Episcopal Diocese Of Upper South Carolina

Acts of Devotion

picture of Thurifer and Acolyte
Visitors to the Church of the Good Shepherd will note the rich ceremonial nature of the Mass. Many worshippers use manual acts of devotion to enrich their participation in the liturgy. A manual act is an outward and visible way of expressing one's connection to the mystery of God. The information that follows will be helpful to those who wish to understand why manual acts of devotion are so important to Catholic Christians.

Liturgical Participation

The liturgical participation of the congregation includes actions such as bowing, genuflecting and making the sign of the cross. These acts have always been optional for members of the Anglican Communion. For example, in the branch of the Anglican Communion that is the Episcopal Church, there have never been any rubrics or canon laws prescribing the above mentioned manual acts of devotion. However, countless numbers of Episcopalians use these manual acts to enrich their worship life as members in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The intention of this guide is to make available an understanding of what these acts mean and how they may be utilized to the benefit of the worshipper. It is hoped that a greater understanding of the manual acts will lead to a more meaningful worship experience for those who use them.

Theological Rationale

The fundamental theological reason for the use of manual acts of devotion comes out of the mystery of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation we confess that God became man, and through his son Jesus, sought to reconcile the world to Himself. Because of this, the nature of all flesh has been changed forever. Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, has shown us how the Father blessed the material world as a way of communicating Himself to us.

As physical creatures we respond in love to the God who has come to us in the Christ event. Our signs of devotion need not be confined to verbal expression alone, for we can outwardly demonstrate our faith through the physical actions of bowing, genuflecting and making the sign of the cross.

Devotional Actions

picture of acolyte holding candle


  • The practice of bowing is an ancient custom that demonstrates reverence and respect. Bowing varies from the profound bow, from the waist, which is typically done by the priest and the liturgical ministers in the sanctuary, to the simple bow done by the people in the pews. It can be used at the following times during the Mass:
  • During the Gloria at the words "we worship you," "Jesus Christ," and "receive our prayer" because they are acts of worship;
  • As we respond to the announcement of the Gospel with the words "Glory to you, Lord Christ" and again at the conclusion of the Gospel when we say "Praise to you, Lord Christ," again because these are acts of worship;
  • During the Nicene Creed at the Incarnatus ("by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.") with a profound bow as an act of reverence in thanksgiving for the gift of the Incarnation (a genuflection would also be appropriate), also a simple bow at the words "With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. ";
  • During the Sanctus, for "Holy, Holy, Holy" through "Hosanna in the Highest";
  • Whenever the Book of Gospels passes us to honor the Word of Christ that is in our midst;
  • Whenever the Bishop passes in procession (a genuflection would also be appropriate) in recognition of his apostolic ministry.


  • Genuflection is another means of showing reverence for the sacred. It is a traditional way of humbling oneself before Christ's presence in the consecrated elements of the Eucharist. At Good Shepherd, as in a great many other Episcopal churches, the Blessed Sacrament is kept in an aumbry next to the altar in the church and in a tabernacle, which is on the altar in St. Mary's Chapel. The Real Presence of our Lord in this sacrament is signified by the burning of a sanctuary lamp. Therefore, it is appropriate to honor our Lord's presence by genuflecting when entering or leaving the pew, or whenever you must walk past the altar. Genuflection may also take the place of a profound bow at the Incarnatus during the Nicene Creed.
  • To genuflect for the Reserved sacrament or the Creed go down on your right knee, while keeping your back straight. In genuflecting for a Bishop in procession, follow the same procedure, but go down on the left knee.

The Sign of the Cross

  • Early Christians made use of the sign of the cross as a means of blessing oneself, beginning and ending a prayer, and in devotions associated with the Holy Trinity. One practice for the faithful was, upon rising in the morning, to begin their daily prayers in the name of the Trinity and sign themselves with the cross at the same time. This still a good devotional practice that many Christians put to good use.
  • Holding the thumb and first two fingers together (three fingers for the Holy Trinity, two fingers for the two natures of Christ) and touching the forehead, the breastbone, the left and then the right shoulders makes the sign of the cross. Some Anglicans complete making the sign of the cross by bringing their hand to rest over their heart, as a sign of how Christ is at the heart of their being.
  • There are many times during the Mass when it is appropriate to cross oneself:
  • At the beginning of the liturgy when the priest makes the opening acclamation of the Mass, this demonstrates that we have assembled in the name of the Triune God;
  • At the end of the Gloria because we are involving the name of the Trinity;
  • At the beginning of the Gospel as the priest or deacon announces the reading. This particular signation is done one of two ways. In some places the people make the traditional sign of the cross, but the more common form is to use the right thumb to make a small cross on the forehead, the lips and the heart, with the silent prayer intention being "God be in my thoughts, my words and my heart to believe your Holy Gospel";
  • At the end of the Nicene Creed at the words "and we look for the resurrection of the dead" because it is through the cross of Christ that the resurrection has become a reality for us;
  • In the Prayers of the People at the petition for the dead, to remember the departed before God and remind ourselves that we too will die and pray for a holy death in Christ;
  • At the absolution, as the priest makes the sign of the cross over us, in acknowledgement of God's forgiveness;
  • At the Benedictus Qui Venit ("Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord " ) because we give thanks for Jesus coming to us as our Lord and Savior;
  • During the Canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer) many people cross themselves at the elevation of the Eucharistic elements. This is in thanksgiving for the sacred presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the altar;
  • At the point in the Canon of the Mass in which we ask God to send His Holy Spirit upon His people;
  • At the presentation of the Blessed Sacrament, when the priest says "The gifts of God, for the people of God" we acknowledge God's gifts and pray to be worthy to receive them;
  • When receiving communion, making the sign of the cross just before we consume each species of the Blessed Sacrament and again before we leave the altar rail;
  • At the final blessing, in thanksgiving for what God has done for us in the Mass as we prepare ourselves to go into the world, declaring His truth.

Prayer for Worship

O Almighty God, who pours out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and supplications: Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Book of Common Prayer p.833