ISSUE: What are the Church’s guidelines concerning genuflecting during Mass? What other guidelines does the Church provide regarding reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament?
RESPONSE: Generally speaking, a priest makes three genuflections during Mass: after the elevation of the Eucharistic bread, after the elevation of the sacred chalice, and directly before Communion (General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM), no. 274). “If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.” (ibid; Ceremonial of Bishops (CB), no. 71). However, during the entrance and exit processions, “neither a genuflection nor a deep bow is made” by those who carry articles, such as the cross, candlesticks, and the Book of the Gospels (CB, no. 70).
DISCUSSION: In general, reverence is an outward expression performed in the presence of something or someone holy or sacred. In the Mass, reverence can be expressed in a number of ways. One way, for example, is bowing, either at the head or at the waist. This is sometimes done towards the altar or when the names of Jesus or Mary are said during Mass (GIRM, no. 275; CB, no. 68). Then there is genuflection, made by bending one’s right knee to the ground. Genuflecting expresses adoration and is therefore reserved for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The only exception is venerating the holy cross from Good Friday services until the beginning of the Easter Vigil (CB, nos. 69-71).
Following the Church’s guidelines in this area can help us cultivate a proper reverence toward Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, better appreciate His death and resurrection which is re-presented sacramentally at every Mass, and evangelize others about these same sublime matters.