Friday, March 20, 2015
Genuflections During the Mass: What the Traditional Latin Mass Teaches Us Through Action

An ordinary Catholic will no doubt be familiar with genuflecting.  After all, everyone is supposed to genuflect towards to Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist while in the Church.  As the Eucharist should always be in the Tabernacle which rests in the center of the Altar, we will genuflect towards the Tabernacle before entering the pews and taking our seats.  If we ever cross the aisle, we genuflect toward the tabernacle again as we walk before the Presence of God.

In the context of the Tridentine Latin Mass, anytime the priest walks past the Tabernacle, he will genuflect.  The priests genuflect every single time he approaches the altar, removes the pall, replaces the pall, opens the tabernacle and opens the ciboria. This is done out of respect, reverence, and awe of the presence of the Triune God who is present in the Holy Eucharist.


Yet, the scope of this article is not to mention any of the above practices.  Rather, it is to comment on the sublime realities expressed during the Tridentine Mass when, several times through the year, the priest and people will genuflect together as certain words are read whether in the Epistle, Sequence, Tract, Gospel, or other place.  These special occurrences are worthy of meditation and consideration.

This article also is not to discuss the aspects of genuflection that occur often in the Tridentine Mass.  But for the benefit of those who are not not familiar, they include:

  1. During the Nicene Creed, all will kneel during the words "...and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man"
  2. During the Last Gospel of the Mass, all genuflect at the words "...and the Word became flesh"

What follows are the truly unique and special occasions when the Faithful will genuflect during the Readings of the Mass. Most of these occasions do not occur on Holy Days of Obligation (whether they be on a Sunday Mass or another day of required Mass attendance).  As a result, many Catholics - even those who attend the Tridentine Liturgy each Sunday - may not be aware of these. 


The Mass During the Day of Christmas is the reading traditionally said for the Last Gospel, and the faithful genuflect as they would do during the Last Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in God's presence, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made: in Him was life, and the life was the Light of men; and the Light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to testify concerning the Light, that all might believe through Him. He was not the Light, but he was to testify concerning the Light. That was the true Light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him to them He gave power to become sons of God, to them that believe in His Name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, [here genuflect] and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us: and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Juda in the days of King Herod, behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him. And king Herod hearing this was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the Prophet: And thou Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the Captain that shall rule My people Israel. Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them: and sending them into Bethlehem said: Go and diligently inquire after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again that I also may come and adore Him. Who having heard the king went their way.
And behold the star, which they had seen in the East, went before them until it came and stood over where the Child was. And seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the Child with Mary His mother, [here genuflect] and falling down they adored Him. And opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.


In the Lenten Feria Mass for Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent, there is a beautiful epistle in which a healing is recounted by one of the Old Testament Prophets.  Then the Gospel shares a similarly beautiful episode from the life of our Lord.  May we too fall down and adore the Lord:
John 9:1-38 
At that time Jesus, passing by, saw a man who was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him: "Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  
When he had said these things, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and spread the clay upon his eyes, And said to him: "Go, wash in the pool of Siloe," which is interpreted, 'Sent.' He went therefore and washed: and he came seeing. 
The neighbours, therefore, and they who had seen him before that he was a beggar, said: "Is not this he that sat and begged?" Some said: "This is he." But others said: "No, but he is like him." But he said: "I am he." They said therefore to him: "How were thy eyes opened?" He answered: "That man that is called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me: 'Go to the pool of Siloe and wash.' And I went: I washed: and I see." And they said to him: "Where is he?" He saith: "I know not." 
They bring him that had been blind to the Pharisees. Now it was the sabbath, when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Again therefore the Pharisees asked him how he had received his sight. But he said to them: "He put clay upon my eyes: and I washed: and I see." Some therefore of the Pharisees said: "This man is not of God, who keepeth not the sabbath." But others said: "How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?" And there was a division among them. They say therefore to the blind man again: "What sayest thou of him that hath opened thy eyes?" And he said: "He is a prophet." 
The Jews then did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight, And asked them, saying: "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then doth he now see?" His parents answered them and said: "We know that this is our son and that he was born blind: But how he now seeth, we know not: or who hath opened his eyes, we know not. Ask himself: he is of age: Let him speak for himself." 
These things his parents said, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had already agreed among themselves that if any man should confess him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore did his parents say: "He is of age. Ask himself."
They therefore called the man again that had been blind and said to him: "Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner." He said therefore to them: "If he be a sinner, I know not. One thing I know, that whereas I was blind. now I see." They said then to him: 
"What did he to thee? How did he open thy eyes?" He answered them: "I have told you already, and you have heard. Why would you hear it again? Will you also become his disciples?" They reviled him therefore and said: "Be thou his disciple; but we are the disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses: but as to this man, we know not from whence he is." The man answered and said to them: "why, herein is a wonderful thing, that you know not from whence he is, and he hath opened my eyes. Now we know that God doth not hear sinners: but if a man be a server of God and doth his, will, him he heareth. From the beginning of the world it hath not been heard, that any man hath opened the eyes of one born blind. Unless this man were of God, he could not do anything." They answered and said to him: "Thou wast wholly born in sins; and dost thou teach us?" And they cast him out. 
Jesus heard that they had cast him out. And when he had found him, he said to him: "Dost thou believe in the Son of God?" He answered, and said: "Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?" And Jesus said to him: "Thou hast both seen him; and it is he that talketh with thee." And he said: "I believe, Lord." [here genuflect] And falling down, he adored him.
This is a powerful passage.  The words that we hear during the Gospel are not merely a story.  We too are called to have them transform us.  And like the man who was healed, we are also to be so moved by our Lord's miracles and teachings and all His virtues that we fall down and adore Him.


Throughout the Lenten Feria's there is often repeated the Tract of Ash Wednesday.  Again for those unfamiliar, this prayer is said right before the Gospel in place of the Alleluia.  Starting with Septuagesima Sunday (which is 3 Sundays before the First Sunday of Lent) and until Easter, the Alleluia is not permitted to be prayed.

This tract should also cause us to repent of our actions:
Ps. 102:10; 78:8-9
O Lord, repay us not according to the sins we have committed, nor according to our iniquities. V. O Lord, remember not our iniquities of the past; let Your mercy come quickly to us, for we are being brought very low. (All kneel.) V. Help us, O God our Savior, and for the glory of Your name, O Lord, deliver us; and pardon us our sins for Your names sake.


Yet, not all of these instances of genuflections during the Readings occur during the somber time of Lent.  There is a point in the Pentecost Pascal Alleluia where genuflection occurs:
Alleluia, alleluia! V. Ps. 103:30. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth. Alleluia! (Here all kneel.) V. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.
There is often a connection with kneeling when one implores the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, the 3rd Person of the Most Holy Trinity.


Even during the September 14th Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, you will find a genuflection occurring during the readings.  Like the aforementioned example occurring during Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent, this occurs during the Readings. We too should feel moved as to fall down and adore the Lord's Holy Name.  A reading from the Epistle of the Mass:
Philipp. 2:5-11
Brethren: For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause, God also hath exalted him and hath given him a name which is above all names: [here all genuflect] That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.


The Epistle of Palm Sunday is the very same one as for the Exaltation of the Cross. Thus, during this day, all genuflect as well.


In a most somber manner, on these days in which the 4 Gospel accounts of our Lord's Death are read, all genuflect when during the readings after His death occurs.  As we read in part on Good Friday:
...Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother, and His Mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He saith to His Mother: J. Woman, behold thy son. C. After that, He saith to the disciple: J. Behold thy mother. C.And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. Afterwards, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said: J. I thirst. C. Now there was a vessel set there, full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to His mouth. Jesus therefore, when He had taken the vinegar, said: J. It is consummated. C.And bowing His head, He gave up the ghost. 
Here all kneel and pause a few moments. 
Then the Jews because it was the Parasceve, that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day for that was a great Sabbath day, besought Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with Him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it hath given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true: that you also may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture might be fulfilled: you shall not break a bone of Him...


Many times on Good Friday the Faithful and the priest all genuflect.  This is not only during the Great Intercessions but also during the veneration of the Cross where at three times, all fall down and adore the Holy Cross of our Lord.


And in yet another example, all genuflect as the Pascal Candle is carried from the Holy Fire into the Sanctuary, when the Exultet will be chanted.


The Sacred Liturgy offers a number of occasions of great meditation when we pray not only with our words but with our actions.  Man should not hate his body but rather should use it and embrace it.  We are a creation of God composed of both body and soul; and as such, we pray with our whole person.  It is therefore fitting we should embrace these moments in the Liturgy when we fall down and adore the mysteries of our God.  Such occasions are worth great meditation.

3 comment(s):

del_button March 23, 2015 at 9:57 AM
Lynn Marie said...

I loved the Latin, traditional was so very beautiful.

del_button October 29, 2016 at 12:25 PM
Pat Atencio said...

I'm also contemplating creating a blog re the Catholic Faith and the differences between the Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo. Can you tell me the actual number of genuflections that the priest made during the Latin Mass?

del_button October 30, 2016 at 3:07 PM
Matthew said...

Dear Pat,

Even in the original Latin form, the Novus Ordo was a doctrinal travesty that displayed its intent to destroy the Tridentine Mass. A total of 35 prayers or approximately 70% of the Tridentine Mass were replaced or discarded as well as many brief versicles and responses, more than 20 Signs of the Cross, 12 genuflections and multiple other acts of reverence.

Post a Comment

Copyright Notice: Unless otherwise stated, all items are copyrighted under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. If you quote from this blog, cite a link to the post on this blog in your article.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links on this blog are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate, for instance, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made by those who click on the Amazon affiliate links included on this website. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”