A genuflection is the action begun from a standing position in which a worshiper moves his or her right foot back a step, drops the right knee briefly to the floor, and then stands upright again. Most people naturally bow their head while performing this action; some make the sign of the cross. Some hold onto a nearby pew for physical support. The purpose of genuflection is for the worshiper to honor Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.
The priest genuflects three times at Mass. During the eucharist prayer he genuflects after showing the eucharistic bread and after showing the cup to the people. He genuflects again before announcing, "This is the Lamb of God." Taken together, his genuflections affirm the central belief about the Mass: During the eucharistic prayer, the Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ; that food then becomes communion for the faithful. Additional genuflections should be made in churches where a tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament is in the sanctuary. In those cases, the priest genuflects before and after Mass, and anyone passing in front of the tabernacle also genuflects to it. Since a tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament is commonly found in sanctuaries of Catholic churches, the faithful typically make a genuflection toward the tabernacle before entering and after leaving their place. In churches where the tabernacle is not in the sanctuary, the faithful should bow to the altar before and after the service instead. Genuflection is directed not toward the altar, not toward the cross, not toward one's proximity to a pew, but to the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Formerly it was customary to make a genuflection before a bishop and a double genuflection (both knees to the ground) when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for adoration. These practices have been eliminated. A single genuflection is always appropriate before the Blessed Sacrament whether it is in the tabernacle or exposed in a monstrance; you may bow to a bishop if you wish.
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Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate
in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.