Lenten Prayer: Bow Down Your Heads to God

Lenten Prayer: Bow Down Your Heads to God

From Tradidi Quod et Accepi…

Lent is a liturgical season when changes occur during the ferial, or weekday Mass. If asked, most of us would point to the fact that the priest does not say the Gloria as the most obvious difference. We might also list such things as the purple penitential vestments and the paucity of flowers on the altar. We might also highlight the fact that there is a particular Mass for each ferial day of Lent — something we don’t see in any other liturgical season.

But how many of us have paid attention to the fact that there is a very special prayer, just after the Postcommunion, at every Lenten weekday Mass? This prayer is called the Oratio super populum, or the Prayer over the people, and has a long liturgical history.

The Prayer over the people during Lent always begins, Humiliate capita vestra Deo. “Bow down your heads to God.” As Father John Zuhlsdorf wrote on his blog in 2016, “We need special graces to carry out our Lenten discipline.” This is a beautifully succinct way of explaining why the Church directs the priest to say these brief but sublime prayers just before the Blessing. To elaborate on what Father Z. writes, this prayer clearly demonstrates the solicitude of Holy Mother Church for the requisite spiritual needs of her children during what can be an arduous time, spiritually and perhaps even materially.

As the priest begins the prayer bidding us to bow our heads, we humble ourselves before Almighty God and read along as the priest invokes the divine assistance we most desperately need.

Father Zuhlsdorf, citing the famous liturgist, Fr. Joseph A. Jungmann, in The Mass of the Roman Rite, tells us: “Jungmann emphasizes that, as Mass ends, we are at a ‘frontier’ moment, the threshold of the sacred precinct of the church and the world.  When properly formed we want the influence of our intimate contact with the divine to carry over into the outside world.”

As we prepare to leave the sanctity of the church, we take what we have been given in the Mass we have just heard, and we go out into the world, to discharge the duties of our vocation. As Father Zuhlsdorf so aptly concludes: “You need the light that God offers you in the teachings of the Church to guide your footsteps.”  Source…

Editor writes…

The above beautiful reflection is a timely reminder – as we approach the end of Lent – that we are in need of much grace to enable us to complete our Lenten penance(s). At our Conference in Glasgow marking the Feast of the Annunciation, we had a telephone call from a gentleman who was booked to attend the Conference and the evening meal with his wife.  Unfortunately, he took ill en route to the event and had to return home.  I then offered his meal(s) to another couple who had booked for the afternoon but not for the meal.  This reader hesitated, clearly tempted, but shook his head decisively and said he was not going to break his Lenten fast.  My protestations that this was a major Feast and it was OK to celebrate, fell on deaf ears. He was determined. Do YOU have any similar experience(s) to share?  Or are you closer to my own experience which is… well, I NEVER make a good Lent.  I am ashamed to say.  If you – like that very good soul at the Conference – DO make a good Lent, please share your secret…

Your thoughts…

Comments (12)

  • Margaret USA

    In the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great (and even Presanctified Liturgy), there is always the Prayer of Inclination (or Bowing of the Heads) after the Our Father and before Holy Communion.

    Just wondering: Have you ever attended the Divine Liturgy (either Byzantine Catholic or Ukrainian Greek Catholic)?

    March 30, 2023 at 6:53 am
    • Petrus

      Margaret USA,

      Yes, I have attended Divine Liturgy quite recently. It’s beautiful, but I was disappointed to see a girl altar boy, so I won’t be back.

      To the question, have I ever made a good Lent ? Never! This year has been the worst ever. I don’t know what my problem is? Well, gluttony is certainly one of them!

      March 30, 2023 at 8:49 am
    • Fidelis

      Margaret USA,

      I’m afraid I don’t feel any attraction to those rites which I don’t see as part of our Latin culture. I notice you post a lot of stuff from those liturgies but, sorry to disappoint you, I prefer the TLM.

      March 30, 2023 at 11:40 am
      • Petrus


        They aren’t part of our Catholic culture, but they are venerable Catholic Rites. One of my big issues with some Eastern Catholics is they are very hostile and disparaging towards the Latin Church and far too close to the schismatic Orthodox.

        March 30, 2023 at 11:57 am
  • Fidelis

    That is a beautiful reflection and there are some other beautiful articles on the Tradidi Quod blog, as editor says in her comment over there.

    About Lenten penances, I think it is important to remember that there’s more than fasting penances we can do. For me, I do cut down on sweet things, always have done that, but I don’t eliminate them altogether and I try to cultivate a particular virtue which I lack which gives me plenty of scope, LOL!
    This year I’m trying to cultivate the same virtue that I failed to achieve in past years – charity! Not thinking the worst about people, and if you knew my circle, you’d realise how hard that is, LOL!

    March 30, 2023 at 11:38 am
    • Petrus


      How true! However, I also fail big time with charity. I’m trying to have more humility this year, but I’m failing at that too!

      March 30, 2023 at 11:59 am
      • Laura


        I’ll never make it when it comes to the virtues. I just fall at every turn, LOL! I really am trying to be more charitable but then somebody says something annoying and it’s gone!

        March 30, 2023 at 4:58 pm
  • RCAVictor

    Very interesting that what was once “the solicitude of Holy Mother Church for the requisite spiritual needs of her children” has become, during the Conciliar pontificates, and especially under the present one, a scourging, and a cause of – and participation in – apostasy.

    A severe test of our faith, to be sure….and a Lenten environment probably unlike anything we’ve experienced in modern(ist) times…

    March 30, 2023 at 2:45 pm
  • Laura

    That is a really lovely reflection – I love the photo of the altar boys with their heads bowed. How wonderful is that to see such young lads showing humble adoration. Why can’t the modern clergy see what they are missing? It just mystifies me.

    March 30, 2023 at 4:57 pm
  • Athanasius

    I’m one of the 99 who need not penance! Aye, right! We do what we can with the help of God’s grace, whether it’s giving up something we like or bearing with someone who represents a hair shirt for us. I noted recently one priest mocking people who give things like chocolate up for Lent, basically saying that it’s not remotely good enough. This is a priest who is a stranger to Our Lord’s Heart. Like the widows mite, Our Lord blesses even the least penance offered to Him in good conscience.

    March 30, 2023 at 6:48 pm
  • Josephine

    I don’t think many of us would think we’d made a good Lent. I think would be a bad sign, LOL!

    March 30, 2023 at 8:14 pm
  • Michaela

    I agree – it would be a very bad sign to think we’d made a good Lent as there’s always room for improvement LOL!

    That is a lovely reflection and a beautiful photo of the lads with bowed heads. It’s really touching. I’m sure God will be touched by it.

    March 30, 2023 at 9:42 pm

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