Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. Could you please tell me why Catholics no longer bow their head at the name of Jesus? I seem to be the only one still doing that — even the priests don’t. When and why did this stop? (Ocean City, N.J.)

A. The tradition of reverencing the name of Jesus takes its origin from St. Paul, who wrote in his Letter to the Philippians 2:9-10: “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. …”

The custom was formalized at the Second Council of Lyons in the 13th century, which decreed the special honor due, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow; whenever that glorious name is recalled, especially during the sacred mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head.”

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which currently governs celebrations of the Mass, goes beyond that and says in No. 275, “A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.”

So, to your question, you are correct in bowing at the name of Jesus, and everyone else should be doing it, too. It lifts us all from the mundane and serves as a convenient reminder that there are lofty realities that transcend and beckon us.

Q. When Pope Francis was elected, it was often stated that he would be the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Whom does that number include? Is it just active Catholics? (In my own extended family, unfortunately, only a few are regular churchgoers, and the others seem to be Catholic in name only. Do all of them count in the 1.2 billion?) (Little Falls, N.Y.)

A. The 1.2 billion figure is, by any reckoning, a “soft” figure. That is to say, in a world of 7 billion people, it is beyond difficult to determine with any real accuracy how many of them belong to each faith community. This is particularly so because demographers differ on what constitutes “belonging” to a religion.

In church law, baptism makes you a Catholic and you remain one forever unless you are excommunicated or formally renounce your faith. So, the Vatican’s Statistical Yearbook counts 1.196 billion Catholics worldwide, which is likely the source reporters used at the time of Pope Francis’ election.

The difference in criteria is best illustrated by varying estimates of the number of Catholics in the U.S. The Pew Research Center sets that figure at 75 million. Pew collects census and survey data and simply accepts the word of those who self-identify as Catholic.

The Official Catholic Directory, which tabulates figures compiled by the nation’s dioceses, sets the total at 66.3 million, but that initial compilation is something less than an exact science. (As a pastor, I can verify this.)

The Glenmary Research Center publishes a U.S. religion census in which local church leaders are asked to estimate the number of their congregants, and Glenmary’s latest calculation shows 59 million U.S. Catholics.

If you were to consider only Catholics who formally register in a parish, the totals would probably drop substantially, as they certainly would if you tallied only those who attend Mass each weekend.

So, to get back to your question, the flock of our new shepherd, Pope Francis, is certainly very large, but it is, literally, countless.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.