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8/6/2023 Deacon's Corner

Genuflecting and bowing. What is the difference and when do we do it? Simply put, these are gestures of greeting and respect as we see in other cultures when two people meet or approach a king and queen. In the tradition of our Catholic worship, we use these gestures as a symbol of reverence for God, the saints, and the solemnity of the moment.

There are three types of bows – simple, medium, and profound. A simple bow of the head is used at the names of Jesus or Mary. A medium bow of the head and shoulders is used to show reverence to the Altar, and sometimes by clergy and religious orders when greeting each other. A profound bow is bending the entire body at the waist with the option to place the palm of your hands on your knees. Profound bows are made when the deacon asks the priest for a blessing before reading the Gospel, and when we speak the words “Glory be” while praying the Doxology.

Genuflecting is kind of like a quick “half-kneel”, but not so quick it looks like you are in a hurry. A proper genuflection slowly touches the knee to the floor for a moment before standing back up. You can make the Sign of the Cross while genuflecting, but not so fast it looks like you are swatting flies. We genuflect when entering the presence of God. This happens when we approach, or cross in front of, the Tabernacle because the consecrated hosts inside are the Real Presence of Jesus.

Knowing when to genuflect or bow in church can be confusing, but it really boils down to a few simple things to remember. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) states genuflecting is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the solemn adoration of the Holy Cross in the liturgy on Good Friday. So, when entering the church or pew, look for the Tabernacle and the Sanctuary Candle near it. If the candle is burning, Jesus is in the Tabernacle – God is in the House – so we genuflect. In some churches, the Tabernacle is kept in a side chapel and not visible. In that case, make a profound bow to the Altar. If you are unable to genuflect or make a profound bow due to physical limitations or holding something, make a simple bow. Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers are to make a profound bow towards the Altar whenever approaching or departing the Sanctuary area. Priests, Deacons, and Altar Servers genuflect or bow as appropriate according to the rubrics of the liturgy.

Whether genuflecting or bowing, it’s important to keep in mind that we use these gestures to reverently greet and show our respect for God. After all, He is the King of Kings!


Deacon John

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