Monday, May 29, 2006
Bowing vs. Genuflecting: When Each is Required at Mass

I think it's important to post again about when one should bow or genuflect. I know that some people at my parish didn't think we should genuflect to the Crucifix on Good Friday, but you actually do according to the Church. Here are some facts on genuflecting and bowing.

Disclaimer: This post does not express my endorsement of the entirety of the GIRM. I do not necessarily support everything in the GIRM or any post-Vatican II document in its entirety or any of its parts.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM 2003):

274. 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 from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bows: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.

A) 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.
B) A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Almighty God, cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (Lord God, we ask you to receive); in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . made man); in the Roman Canon at the words Supplices te rogamus (Almighty God, we pray that your angel). The same kind of bow is made by the deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the priest bows slightly as he speaks the words of the Lord at the consecration.

Also, please remember to genuflect by touching both knees to the ground before entering the pew when the Holy Eucharistic is visible on the altar in Adoration. This will also occur if you arrive at Mass after the Consecration. In these two cases touch both knees to the ground, make the sign of the Cross, and bow.


del_button May 29, 2006 at 5:21 PM
Anonymous said...

What continually surprises me is how often a total lack of reverence is shown. People come to Mass and just plop down in a pew. No genuflection or bow at all.

del_button May 30, 2006 at 4:49 AM
Anonymous said...

In my former parish only the more mature parishioners genuflected or bowed.

There have been times when families have sat behind me munching on potato crisps and guzzling down soft drinks!! *sigh*!

I gave them MY special *LOOK*! Could they not wait one hour..but then again in my former parish Mass has to be over in 40 minutes, lest it clash with the footy replay on TV...GRRRRR! lol

Ok lol my two cents worth.

Peace of christ to ALL


del_button May 30, 2006 at 6:46 AM
Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

We have been asked to bow just before receiving Communion, as a sign of reverence. Is this just in our diocese or is everyone doing this?

del_button May 30, 2006 at 7:06 AM
Matthew said...


My parish has asked for us to bow before Communion too. I personally, though, would like to see Communion rails come back.

del_button May 30, 2006 at 10:24 AM
Anonymous said...

And then there are the cell phones that ring at various time during Mass. A few Sundays ago the man in front of me in the Communion line actually left the line and went outside to answer a call. By the time he returned, Communion was over. Choosing to take a cell phone call instead of receiving Holy Communion seems incredible.

On bowing before receiving Communion...we have been asked to bow but I would guess only 50% of the people do so.

del_button May 30, 2006 at 10:49 AM
Matthew said...

Louis, if people do not bow, do they at least make the sign of the cross beforehand? At my old parish, the people would do that as the form of reverence before receiving.

del_button May 31, 2006 at 8:01 PM
Jennifer said...

I was amazed today at the rehearsal for my daughter's Confirmation (which is Sunday) that the candidates did not bow or even realize they had to. Even the speakers didn't bow while approaching the altar.

I bow before and leaving my pew and if I walk in the front of the church in front of the altar. I have taught this to my children and think it's important to show respect and humble ourselves before God.

I was taught with communion to take the host in my hand, step aside, bow before the crucifix and cross myself after I place it in my mouth. My ds was taught exactly the same thing during his first communion last month.

del_button June 1, 2006 at 2:19 AM
Anonymous said...

Many Priests here instruct the faithful that genuflecting and bowing is 'old superstitions' that should be 'done away with in our progressive times' *sigh*!

This is why I am SO against Modernism, it's the death of a parish.....Always Genuflect and bow and Cross yourself at the appropriate times.
It's sad that these days in some countries the Priests and Nuns are the least reliable when instructing the Faithful.

Once again my two cents worth.


del_button April 1, 2007 at 3:32 PM
Anonymous said...

I was told by a priest that one never genuflects and crosses oneself at the same time - that you cross yourself with Holy Water upon entering and leaving a church and genuflect when entering or leaving your pew (or when passing in front of the tabernacle).

But I suppose that it would be better to do both then neither!

del_button April 1, 2007 at 4:38 PM
Matthew said...

Anonymous, I've never heard that. Everyone in my parish makes the Sign of the Cross while genuflecting.

del_button July 5, 2007 at 8:24 PM
Anonymous said...

In our parish, we are to bow before receiving the Eucharist, but are not to genuflect beforehand or make the sign of the cross afterwards. Many don't do anything or more than a head bob.
Three of my children are altar servers, and want to know when they should bow or genuflect when preforming their duties. All 4 of my older children have been altar servers, all taught by different priests, deacons, or lay persons, and none of them taught the same.

del_button March 23, 2008 at 2:55 PM
marychristine said...

I have been bowing before communion now since our parish first introduced it a couple years ago directly from a Catholic summit of sorts. I was visiting another parish for Easter Mass and was shocked that the priest, a visiting priest at that, made comment after communion that he was against the bowing (he was very stern about this). I'm unsure how to proceed in the future as I felt it offended him in some way. Is there a debate in the church concerning this bow that I am unaware of?

del_button March 23, 2008 at 2:59 PM
Matthew said...


Greetings on the holiest day in the year, Easter!

There should be absolutely no problem with your bowing. It is required to show a sign of devotion before receiving Communion. I, myself, either receive kneeling and/or make a genuflection beforehand. But, some sign is required; don't stop this practice of yours.

I do however, if you do not do so already, encourage you to receive the Holy Eucharist only on the tongue:

Eucharistic Reverence

del_button March 23, 2008 at 5:00 PM
Anonymous said...

Rachel, I was an altar server as a kid, that's great that your kids do it!

The one things that I remember really well is that if you are walking up onto the altar (whether it is during the mass or not), you must genuflect before stepping on to it and once you leave the altar.

Hope that's a start!

del_button April 7, 2008 at 11:05 PM
Anonymous said...

Is it true that extra ecclesiam nulla salus? if it is true then what will happen to those who are not in the church?

del_button April 8, 2008 at 1:34 PM
Matthew said...

Reynold, it is true. We, though, do not know what happens to them. We must hope in God's mercy, but we do not know any definitive answer.

See this Post for More Info

del_button January 7, 2009 at 10:07 PM
Anonymous said...

Bowing from the waist before Communion is a request from His Holiness and was to be made a practice by Pentecost. We are to bow at the first pew at the church before the priest says "the Body of Christ" so the procession goes smoothly. At the same time His Holiness asks we stand immediately after the Priest washes his hands so we are ready for the reply. With regards to the bowing, if one has been in the practice of genuflecting they are welcome to keep up this practice but the remainder MUST bow. This is NOT to be a nod of the head but a bow from the waist. That's what I was told anyway and since the person who told me is very devout I dare not do anything else but believe her and do. She also said something about "through my own fault, through my own grievous fault" coming back in at some stage. I just obey

del_button January 8, 2009 at 7:09 AM
Matthew said...

It is better to honor the ancient customs (i.e. kneeling) as opposed to acquiescing to the demands of the current hierarchy.

del_button April 10, 2009 at 10:26 PM
Jorge said...

After reading some of your comments, it's quite clear that many of you do not know the real purpose behind genuflection.

It's to show respect, not to do just for the sake of following tradition or to look like the perfect parishoner. If they don't feel the need to show respect in one way or another, that's their decision, not your right or place to judge those who don't genuflect before entering the pews.

Don't genuflect "because you have to" unless you really mean to show respect.

del_button September 7, 2010 at 10:10 AM
Anonymous said...

Prudence and patience are to be cultivated by all who have posted.

Consider the level of catechesis available at your parish now, and in the last 30 years or so. Is it any wonder that there are so few signs of disrespect? It doesn't help when you give your 'special look' to these poor sheep who have been led astray - the wonderful thing is that they are hanging in there with so little formation! I myself attended a LifeTeen parish in high school, where I would routinely *stand* around the altar in the sanctuary during the Consecration, then (at age 15) be a Eucharistic minister while the pastor sat in his chair in the middle of the Church behind the altar where the Blessed Sacrament should be. I only DIDN'T eat chips in church because my mom knew that was wrong, by the grace of God.

But, I'm checking this blog, which means I've learned something, right? It took a lot of understanding, and attending at a new parish where things were done more properly, to catechize me. And, that youth group actually did a great job introducing me to the Faith; it just didn't understand liturgy.

Please don't just vent on this and other blogs, and do nothing else about it. Read the Vatican II documents and figure out how to read what they say in the best of light, try to help educate your parish in a non-judgmental way (offer to bring in a third-party speaker, join your youth group's adult leader team, pray!, no more bad looks), and exercise some patience.

Thanks to those of you who do this already, and just also happen to vent here. Your example is worth so much! When I started staying behind (gasp!)to pray after Mass during those same high school years, four or five other students started joining me, and now the pastor requests that people stay until the end of Mass, and several people pray afterwards. We are cultural beings, and things change slowly, and by example.

God bless you!

del_button October 15, 2010 at 7:35 PM
First Communion Invitations said...

With many young children beginning their preparations now for the First Holy Communion, these concepts need to be taught to the teachers, so they can be passed onto the children.

del_button September 29, 2011 at 12:01 PM
paul said...

i was watching a lovely tv show & wanted to look for the meaning of a word. i found this site & have found a wonderfully clear explanation ... then discovered many unanswered questions ,via those who have donated their thoughts to contribute to this discussion and rightly so have queried as to why a sacred act should be modernised or abandoned ...

del_button February 27, 2013 at 3:58 AM
Anonymous said...

I disagree with Jorge, that we shouldn't genuflect if we don't feel it. That would be similar to a parent telling a child that they didn't have to say please and thank you if they didn't really feel thankful (but on a much bigger scale). Just because a child doesn't know enough to be thankful shouldn't excuse him/her from doing what they should. I, personally, don't know why one would even be there if they didn't have a certain reverence to God. But if you are one of those people Jorge is talking about, do it any way. Show reverence until you feel it. If people do it for the Queen of England, whether they want to or not, shouldn't we most definitely show reverence to our God?

del_button February 2, 2014 at 1:39 PM
Anonymous said...

There is a lot of disrespect in the Church. No bowing or genuflecting when entering the sanctuary, or approaching the Tabernacle. Nor at they wiping the fingers that meted out the Hosts to get the dust of the Lord off their fingers. One priest told me, after I confronted him with not bowing, "I bowed once that's enough."
The Extra Ordinary minsters are also guilty of disrespect who do not bow or genuflect after leaving their chalice at the Tabernacle.
Lastly, the Mass is a reenactment of the Lord's sacrifice on the cross. When the priest says "Happy are they who are called to the supper of the Lamb,' the sacrifice has been turned into a meal, and that is blasphemy.

del_button March 1, 2016 at 7:26 PM
Unknown said...

Doing away with genuflecting and bowing is not only egregious, but the highest form of disrespect and irreverence. It's called 'modernism,' and another form of abuse in the church, along allowing women on the altar, touching the chalice and host, not wearing a hat or veil in church, and last but not least, having altar girls. Outrageous. It complements societies lack of etiquette, all of which society has thumbed their noses at. It complements today's ideology, 'I will do what I want, when I want, and no one tells me what to do. America has allowed this to happen. It Christ was sitting there in front of you, which HE actually is, would you act the same way? Probably, because you do this in every day's actions in life towards each other. The English Mass, albeit legitimate, is another major abuse of the Church, with excuses that you're bored with and do not understand the Latin Mass, which should act as its own highest impetus to research and learn what goes, especially with today's technology. The English is printed in books alongside the Latin. All the actions of the Priest and what it means is there on Youtube, along with books that will just floor and fascinate, but you remains silent and lazy and do not care. You go to church either because you are forced to, must, or out of habit, acting with 'rote' actions. Priests have become lazy in their traditions and in implementations, resisting when appropriate, along with saying mass because he 'has to,' with no personal emotion behind it. Sad!

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