We Bow Before You

Q. I have noticed that many people do not genuflect when entering or leaving church before and after Mass like they used to. Isn’t this required any more?
A. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
“A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday.”(#274)
It is proper therefore for people to genuflect before taking their seats in the church as a sign of reverence for the real presence of Christ in the reserved Blessed Sacrament if the tabernacle is housed in the body of the church.
Physical circumstances may prevent a person from genuflecting, but a dignified pause and reverential acknowledgement of the tabernacle when entering or leaving the church show respect for the Real Presence.
If the Eucharist is reserved somewhere other than the main body of the church, a sign of reverence should be made to the altar, which is the table of the Lord and a symbol of Christ, before taking one’s seat. This is best done in the form of a profound bow, performed slowly and deliberately from the waist from a standing position.
Of course, reverence for the altar as a symbol of Christ means that it is never used as a receptacle for books, papers, glasses, vases or flowers, and certainly not the teddy bears that one bride demanded!
I have read articles complaining about how informality is becoming more and more characteristic of life in the 21st century, and that this is manifest in individuals’ neglecting to genuflect when entering and leaving a church. I wonder if this is really the case or whether some people are not aware that the gesture is not necessary if the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved in the main worship space, as is the case in many churches now.
I attended Mass recently at a church where the tabernacle is located in a side eucharistic chapel and was surprised to see how many parishioners still genuflected toward the front as they entered and left the church. I could not help wondering whether people genuflected out of force of habit or are unaware of when and where the gesture is appropriate.
Perhaps we all need to be reminded that the act of genuflecting is a sign of reverence for the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle. The red lamp burning near the tabernacle serves as a sign of the real presence.
Occasionally someone will genuflect just before receiving communion. Apart from being hazardous to others in the line, such a gesture goes against the Church’s encouragement of uniformity of posture as a sign of our unity.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal approved for Australia directs the faithful to “bow in reverence of the Mystery that we are to receive” when approaching to receive Holy Communion. Perhaps a little reminder about that would not go astray!


Elizabeth Harrington