Liturgy at Sheil

Mass at the Sheil Catholic Center is a vibrant and prayerful experience, but some of the postures and gestures assumed during our liturgy may not correspond with those of your home parish. The clarifications outlined here are intended to help all who enter Sheil’s Christ the Teacher Chapel to worship with the best understanding possible of how and why we do what we do at Mass.

We invite you to explore some or all of the practices at Sheil below.

Sheil and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal

Sheil offers Roman Rite worship that follows the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the rules and guidelines for the celebration of the Eucharist as promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2003.

The GIRM makes up the preface of the Roman Missal, currently known as the Sacramentary in the United States. The Roman Missal contains the Order of Mass: the rubrics for liturgical action, the prayers for both priest and people for the various seasons of the liturgical calendar, as well as prayers for Saints and Masses for Various Needs and Occasions.

As a Catholic Campus Ministry, our community annually contracts as current students graduate and leave Northwestern University—and expands as new students join us at prayer. The opportunities that the liturgy offers to those assembled should lead to a “conscious, active and full participation of the faithful both in body and in mind” (GIRM 18). Bishops throughout this country have the option to make different choices for specific ritual actions outlined in GIRM for their diocese; therefore, a ritual action used in another diocese may not be the ritual choice proposed for the Archdiocese of Chicago by Francis Cardinal George.

We hope that, by outlining the postures and gestures assumed during the Mass at Sheil, you will have a fuller, deeper understanding of our communal actions.  In this way, you will feel welcome at worship, comfortable with the local customs of this particular church and diocese, as well as fully conscious in your participation as a member of the Body of Christ at prayer.



Standing for our prayer allows us to assume the stature before God as a people redeemed by the Blood of Christ.  We stand:

  • When the celebrant and the other ministers process into the church;
  • For the Gospel, as acknowledgement that it is Christ himself speaking to us when it is proclaimed;
  • As the normal posture for reception of Holy Communion according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Kneeling has come to signify humble adoration. It is for this reason that the bishops of this country have chosen this posture for the assembly:

  • During the Eucharistic Prayer, from after the singing of the Holy, Holy until after singing the Great Amen;
  • From after the Lamb of God until the beginning of the communion procession.

Sitting is the posture of attentive listening and of meditation, used:

  • For the readings before the Gospel;
  • During the homily;
  • For the period of sacred silence after the remaining Eucharist has been reserved in the Tabernacle following the communion procession.



The Sign of the Cross is the most familiar gesture we make as Catholics symbolizing the saving death of Christ on the cross—the first sign that claimed us for Christ at baptism. We make this sign over our bodies:

  • As we enter the church and take holy water;
  • As we begin Mass;
  • As we conclude Mass.

Genuflecting is the gesture of adoration that we make to the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Upon entering the church, before taking our place in the pews, we genuflect toward the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle. Likewise, the priest also genuflects three times during the liturgy:

  • After showing each of the consecrated elements of the body of Christ to the assembly;
  • Before he speaks the Invitation to Communion and receives the sacrament himself.

Bowing is a gesture of reverence:

  • The priest and all the ministers make a profound bow to the altar after processing to the sanctuary at the start of Mass.
  • In the Creed, we bow at the words of Incarnation: “by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary…”.
  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has determined that, in this country, a bow of the head is the act of reverence made by those receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. It is meant to signify our unity as members of the one body of Christ with a simple bow of the head and shoulders before receiving each of the Eucharistic elements.


The Communion Rite

The current instruction of the Church states that: "The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise" (GIRM 43). This gesture signifies our humble adoration before receiving the Sacrament.

GIRM also states: "The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the United States is standing" (GIRM 160). Unified as members of one body through this common posture, we are strengthened as the presence of Christ while we process, sing and pray together.

After all the members of the Body of Christ have been fed, we then sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence is observed after the reserve Eucharist has been placed in the tabernacle.


Substantial Bread

Substantial Bread is used at Sheil for our Eucharistic celebrations on Sunday. Concerning the bread used for Eucharist, the GIRM states both that, "The meaning of the sign demands the appearance of food" (#321); and that, "The bread for celebrating the Eucharist must be made only from wheat, be recently baked, and, according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, must be unleavened" (#320).

This instruction allows for the use of hosts, which we use at Daily Mass, when the number of those receiving Holy Communion requires it.

However, as the Sheil community is relatively small, we are fortunate enough to have members of the community willing to give of their time and talent every week to bake our altar bread—so that we can experience a fuller meaning of the sign.


One Body in Christ

By common postures and gestures, the Church gives witness to and fosters our solidarity in Christ. When we engage in the postures and gestures of our ritual prayer in a unified manner, we give witness to who we are as the one Body of Christ. These actions carry profound meaning when done consciously, comfortably and with faith.

We hope that these explanations have given you a greater understanding of the spirit of our communal worship here at Sheil, and that you will find peace incorporating the ritual actions outlined above in your prayer with this faith community.


For further information on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the celebration of the Eucharist at the Sheil Catholic Center, please contact Angela Stramaglia, Director of Music and Liturgy, at or (847) 328-4648, Ext. 20.