When do we genuflect . . when do we bow . . and when do we kneel? Even with recent changes in the General Instructions to the Roman Missal some of us are unsure what postures and gestures are acceptable during Mass and inside Church. What does the Vatican truly envision for the Universal Church?
In the First Commandment interior and exterior worship is required of us. We adore God by acknowledging both in our hearts and by our actions that He is Our Lord and we are His creatures and His servants:
- our adoration of God manifests itself first by interior reverence then by external signs.
- we pay God exterior worship because we owe him all of our being and because it serves to increase our interior devotion in that the true and full meaning is perceived.
For the Ordinary Rite of Mass, the General Instructions of the Roman Missal explain the meanings and uses of these gestures:
GENUFLECTIONS AND BOWS
274 A genuflection, which is made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and for this reason is reserved to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to the Holy Cross, from the solemn adoration in the liturgy of Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
275 A bow is a sign of the reverence and honor given to persons or what represents those persons.
a) An inclination of the head should be made when the three Divine Persons are named, at the name of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is celebrated.
b) A bow of the body, or profound bow, is made: toward the altar if there is no tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament; during the prayers "Almighty God, cleanse" and "with humble and contrite hearts"; with the Profession of Faith at the words "was incarnate of the Holy Spirit ... made man"; in Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon) at the words "Almighty God, command that your angel". The same kind of bow is made by the deacon when he asks the blessing before proclaiming the Gospel reading. In addition, the priest bends over slightly as he says the words of the Lord at the Consecration.
The Adoremus Bulletin also provides answers to common questions concerning the new Instructions here. In regards to what gesture to use for receiving Holy Communion IGMR 160:
The faithful may communicate either standing or kneeling, as established by the Conference of Bishops. However, when they communicate standing, it is recommended that they make an appropriate gesture of reverence, to be laid down in the same norms, before receiving the Sacrament.
In the United States, IGMR 160 now reads:
This however does not mean that one cannot genuflect or kneel to receive Holy Communion. Again, the purpose of gestures is to show an act of reverence to give God honor and for the person to perceive the true and full meaning of such an act - not to diminish the meaning. The Adoremus Bulletin explains:
The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.
When receiving Holy Communion standing, the communicant bows his or her head before the sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.
The chairman of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy (Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb) said that "norm" is a descriptive term meaning the usual or standard practice, not a legal term. With this clarification, the bishops voted to accept the BCL's wording of the adaptation.
Since then, however, some bishops and liturgists are interpreting "norm" as implying that standing is legally obligatory. This is not the case.
The post Vatican II business of showing a gesture for receiving Holy Communion while standing began in the 1967 Instruction on Eucharistic Worship (Eucharisticum Mysterium #34). It reads, in part:
b) When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration.
When they receive Communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
However, since 1967 people began receiving Holy Communion standing in line rather than kneeling, the gesture of reverence was dropped altogether. Since most people received standing and made no sign of reverence at all, the GIRM specified that the bishops' conference decide on a minimal gesture. The bow was chosen as a simple enough gesture for everyone to make in order to make it clear that a real sign of reverence is required of all Catholics before receiving the Sacred Host without impeding Communion.
Apparently, most bishops saw specifying a minimal gesture as "restoring people's personal expression of reverence for the Sacrament they are about to receive, not to diminish it further" (Adoremus Bulletin Question and Answer March 2003). Therefore, the intent was to establish a bow of the head as a minimal requirement. Meanwhile, "other traditional expressions of reverence (genuflection and sign of the cross) were not prohibited, and could be discreetly added" (AB, March 2003). The Question and Answer session included, in part, the following exchange:
Furthermore, this exchange of questions and answers (responsum ad dubium) by Cardinal Medina Estevez (who announced the election of Pope Benedict with the words "Habemus Papam"), reaffirms the appropriateness of genuflecting before Communion:
"Q. We have been told that a "simple bow of the head", amounting to a nod, is now the only gesture of reverence permitted before one receives Holy Communion. I am an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and I can attest that no one has ever bowed their head before receiving, although some may genuflect briefly or make the sign of the cross. I have two questions.
1) Does the IGMR directive really mean that the only permissible gesture before receiving Communion is a simple bow?
2) Since most Catholics don't have the habit of making any gesture of reverence at all before receiving, how do we persuade them to do so?
A. First a clarification: This requirement for a gesture of reverence before receiving Communion is not new. This dates from the 1967 Instruction on the Eucharist (Eucharisticum Mysterium §34), and was repeated in Inaestimabile donum (1980). However, this rule has been honored in the breach when people stand to receive, thus it was repeated in the new IGMR.
If one receives kneeling, this is already a sign of adoration (Eucharisticum Mysterium §34), so no other sign is needed. But since most people receive standing and make no sign of reverence at all, the IGMR specified that the bishops' conference decide on a gesture of reverence. So they decided on the bow, which would be simple enough that everyone could make it -- in order to make it clear that a real sign of reverence is required of all Catholics just before they receive the Blessed Sacrament.
Apparently, most bishops saw specifying the bow as restoring people's personal expression of reverence for the Sacrament they are about to receive, not to diminish it further.
A bow of the head is required; however, other traditional expressions of reverence (genuflection and sign of the cross) were not prohibited, and could be discreetly added. Indeed, the IGMR itself describes the meaning of various gestures (see sidebar page 5), and it prescribes that the priest is to genuflect before he receives Communion.
Genuflection -- brief kneeling on one knee -- is the traditional gesture of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament and also at the Incarnatus during the Creed, along with the sign of the cross. (Now we are to make a profound bow at the Incarnatus except on Christmas and the Annunciation, when we kneel.) . . .
Most bishops believe it is important that all Catholics express bodily their recognition of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The minimal gesture (simple bow) is one that everyone can make and that would not impede the distribution of Communion."
Cardinal Medina Estevez's Responsum ad dubium
(November 7, 2000: Prot. n. 2372/00/L)
Dubium 1. Is it the case that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by No. 43 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, intends to prohibit the faithful from kneeling during any part of the Mass except during the Consecration, that is, to prohibit the faithful from kneeling after the Agnus Dei and following the reception of Holy Communion?
Dubium 2. Does the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments intend by Nos. 160-162, 244, or elsewhere in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, that the people may no longer genuflect or bow as a sign of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament immediately before they receive Holy Communion?