On Bended Knee
Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded why we do certain things that perhaps have become rote behaviors. When we enter a church or before we leave the church, what’s the appropriate gesture, and what are we gesturing toward? People have wondered whether traditions such as genuflections are still part of Catholic custom. They are indeed!
When one enters a worship space in which the Blessed Sacrament is present, tradition suggests a genuflection toward the tabernacle before entering the pew. A genuflection is made by bending the right knee to the floor. If for whatever reason a genuflection cannot be made, a bow is more than acceptable. Some people may choose to make the Sign of the Cross when they genuflect. You may also notice a priest, deacon or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion genuflect or bow when directly approaching the tabernacle during Mass.
When the tabernacle is in a separate chapel, as is the case in some of our churches, the custom is to make a profound bow (a bow from the waist) toward the altar upon entering and exiting the church. Like the genuflection, the bow is a sign of reverence. When the tabernacle is not located in the main body of the Church, it is encouraged that at some point before or after Mass, one make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel where the tabernacle is located and offer petitions and or prayers of thanksgiving. These short visits can be seen as an extension of our worship at Mass or our special preparation for Mass.
I always like to remind people God created us not only with souls and minds, but also with bodies. When we worship God, we try to lift our souls to God, and I hope that we actively engage our minds by reflecting upon our experiences at Mass. But I encourage you to remember your body in worship and to engage your body in worship through gesture and posture. Don’t simply make a hasty Sign of the Cross at Mass, but make the Sign of the Cross purposefully and feel that gesture envelop your body. Similarly, recognize that in the very act of bowing and of genuflecting, you offer worship and adoration to God. It’s not simply something done for the sake of following tradition. It is done because we are an “em-bodied” people, and we are invited to offer our full self – body, soul and mind – to God in worship and adoration
– Josh Perry is director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Burlington.