QUAERITUR: genuflecting to the Blessed Sacrament during Mass

From a priest reader I received a couple liturgical questions.  Here is one of his comments:

It does not make sense to me—and it makes even less sense to servers and others—to say we genuflect before and after the Mass, but not during, except at the entrance and exit. The servers especially don’t get it; thus they continue bowing outside of Mass. One practical solution might be to teach the servers to genuflect every time they cross before the tabernacle, but I can’t square that with the GIRM.

 

Some people might not realize that the GIRM indicates that those who are in the sanctuary are to genuflect at the beginning and end of Mass, but not during Mass, even when they pass before the Blessed Sacrament.  The priest also genuflects at the consecration, according to the rubrics, but NOT when, for example, incensing the altar or crossing the sanctuary to the ambo, etc., even if the tabernacle is at the center and he passes before it.  You are supposed to bow instead of genuflect.

Weird, no?

I think that doing the red and saying the black is the best approach.

This is one of those points of the GIRM which I do not in the least mind seeing broken.

It makes no sense to me at all to ignore the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle during Holy Mass. 

I know that all the liturgists want us to focus on the altar, blah blah blah.

Yes, the altar is important.  But the altar is not God.

If a server or priest were to come to me with the confession that he genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament during Mass, I think I would give him a very mild penance and absolve him… even if he said he had every intention of doing it again… and with others.
 

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90 Responses to QUAERITUR: genuflecting to the Blessed Sacrament during Mass

  1. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: I would give him a very mild penance and absolve him

    Perhaps the more interesting question is what you would say to a priest who confessed that he had not genuflected every time he passed in front of the Blessed Sacrament during Mass. Would you ask whether he worshiped God or the GIRM?

  2. Sacerdos ignotus says:

    What about this point: in the EF, when the priest passes from the Epistle to the Gospel side to read the Gospel, he does not genuflect, even when the Sacrament is reserved on the altar; rather, he makes a profound bow as he says the Munda cor prayer. Precedent! [Nay, rather, “Exception!”]

  3. When I serve the NO, I genuflect at all times to the Blessed Sacrament,

    The priests on EWTN do the same thing, several of my priest friends do as well.

    That instruction in the GIRM drives me crazy. So I just treat it like the TLM, course of habit, I serve the TLM more than I do the NO, so I’m constantly applying old rubrics to new Mass

  4. Joe says:

    “You are supposed to bow instead of genuflect” — so Father, a solumn bow done correctly,is not appropriate then ? Have you ever cross referenced “The ceremonies of the liturgical year” By mons
    by Peter Elliot ? Have you ever genuflected holding a processional cross or a thurible without burning your leg ? [You might be confused. The bow to be done is not to be done to the Blessed Sacrament, but to the altar. The altar.]

  5. “I think that doing the red and saying the black is the best approach.

    This is one of those points of the GIRM which I do not in the least mind seeing broken. [etc]\”

    *headscratching*

    I honestly don\’t get it, Father: when is it licit to NOT follow the GIRM? [I didn’t say it was licit.]

  6. Ed says:

    “Have you ever genuflected holding a processional cross or a thurible without burning your leg?”

    A processional cross? No. But a thurible? Yes. I do it all the time.

  7. Henry Edwards says:

    Sacerdos What about this point: in the EF, when the priest passes from the Epistle to the Gospel side to read the Gospel, he does not genuflect, even when the Sacrament is reserved on the altar; rather, he makes a profound bow as he says the Munda cor prayer.

    Is this not because he stops in front of the Tabernacle to offer the prayer to God that you mention? Whereas he would genuflect whenever he actually crosses — that is, without stopping to pray — in front of the Tabernacle.

  8. Mark says:

    “What about this point: in the EF, when the priest passes from the Epistle to the Gospel side to read the Gospel, he does not genuflect, even when the Sacrament is reserved on the altar; rather, he makes a profound bow as he says the Munda cor prayer. Precedent!”

    But the SERVERS almost always genuflect when crossing the middle (except during the initial procession from the sacristy if the sacristy is on the North [left]).

    And the priest in the Old Rite genuflected any time he handled the Blessed Sacrament, uncovered the chalice, etc…

    When is it licit to ignore the GIRM? I think the real question is when these “rubrics” came into existence as morally and legalistically binding that used to be passed on traditionally and have local variation and allow for pious additions.

  9. Pelicanus says:

    What about the times when the Blessed Sacrament is present on the altar or if It is carried past you?

  10. Bonifacius says:

    The altar was created for the Victim/Priest, not the Victim/Priest for the altar. [hmmm]

  11. Deacon Joe says:

    I told my pastor that I cannot pass-by the Tabernacle and not genuflect. I told him that bowing to the Altar while showing my butt to Jesus Christ just did not seem right. For the life of me, I do not understand the thinking behind this – if you really believe in the Real Presence, doesn’t your heart force you to genuflect?

    Although my pastor does the bow, he is OK with my genuflection.

    Deacon Joe

  12. Give an inch take a mile. You have people who dont even genuflect when they come in the church, period. This is because of the GIRM. you said “oh dont mind that God Character in the Box, except when you leave and enter”…now they take it a step further, they simply bow…. And its a half efforted bow at that..barely a head nod, like God is their Boy, rather then ..well their God.

    I am with Father Z. This point in the girm could go, and I wouldnt shed a tear. How can we teach that the Sacrament is the Real presence, if we fail to give it due respect..

    If you met God tomorrow, you would be burned away by the radiance of his love. You would probably hide your face. Why is it Elijah could hear God in the wind, hide his face…we can actually SEE God in form, and people just act stupid? We are being turned into cattle mroe and more, and less from worshipers.

  13. Alex says:

    I have had no trouble genuflecting with anything. I think in this one instance the GIRM is wrong and ignore it. In a time when belief in the Real Presence is lacking I am reminded ( and I forget the order of the latin words) “As the Church prays, so she believes.” I don’t see how one can reconcile ignoring the True Presence of God in the tabernacle and focus on the Altar. All the more reason the tabernacle should go on the Altar. To parapharse The Servant of God, Fulton J Sheen, you can’t separate the sacrament from the Sacrifice.

  14. Fr. Charles says:

    I empathize with the author of the question. More clarity is needed about such gestures and how they are distinguished.

    In my community it has become normative just to make a bow of the head to the Blessed Sacrament. (And to think–we used to kiss the floor upon entering one of our chapels!) The people we serve in parishes then pick up the practice, start making just the bow of the head to the tabernacle, and now I find myself in a parish in which the entire practice of genuflection–a proper gesture of worship–is more or less lost.

  15. Alex says:

    Fr Charles’ comment reminded me of what our the Vice Rector of Our Seminary did. At a conference, he told us that we are to Genuflect when passing the tabernacle, then showed us how to do it!.

  16. Sacerdos ignotus says:

    What penance does Fr Z. give for saying the “second” confiteor?! [Someday you can come to me for confession and find out for yourself.]

  17. Salvatore Giuseppe says:

    Of course we could fix the confusion by moving all tabernacles to the side of the church…>_> /sarcasm

  18. CarpeNoctem says:

    Father Z: I would give him a very mild penance and absolve him.

    So, if I may gently ask, what is the sin that is being absolved? Disobedience? Pride? Scandal? Something else bordering on a touch of scrupulosity?

    I, too, am guilty, upon entering/exiting the sanctuary, of genuflecting when the rules seem to indicate a profound bow needs to happen instead. My particular situation, though, is to a tabernacle in a mostly-visible ‘closet chapel’ just outside the sanctuary. My intention is to fix this (the tabernacle location, that is), but in the meantime, one’s got to do what one’s got to do.

    I know there is a bit of dissonance with a legitimate instruction in taking matters into my own hands in this way, [That is to the point, isn’t it. There are rubrics which should be followed.] and I do not see my opinion and actions beyond reformation in this matter given a better argument, but going ahead and genuflecting seems the ‘right thing’ to do because the instruction seems to lack proper context. My argument is that I presume the law was intended to address a situation like St. Peter’s in Rome, where the tabernacle is completely isolated from the altar where a celebration is taking place… a bow to the altar does make more sense than a genuflection to a tabernacle way off in the distance in a separate chapel which is not visible from the church. (Indeed, an altar lacking a tabernacle in the EF receives the same treatment… a bow.) In my situation, where the tabernacle is plainly visible from the church (and people genuflect as they enter their pews), this situation is not taken into account or anticipated by the lawmaker, thus giving me a just reason to do as I do out of common-sense respect and piety…

    … or do I need to go to confession too?

    My point is to consider if there is anything that may be presumed or lacking from the context of the current instruction which may change how one interprets the norms we are discussing here? Did the lawmaker presume that a tabernacle would not be in a high altar when that norm was written? (I need to look this up to have an intelligent conversation on this matter, but I offer it up, FWIW.)

  19. Henry:

    It’s not a matter of worshipping the GIRM, but of being obedient to lawful authority.

  20. Frank H. says:

    I am constantly driven to near despair by the sight of our priests, when crossing from the presider’s chair to the ambo, profoundly bowing to the altar, resulting in their derrieres pointing squarely at the tabernacle. A retired priest who occasionally says Mass here is the only one who bows toward the tabernacle.

    It’s little wonder the poorly trained altar servers don’t know to show reverence to the tabernacle.

  21. mike hurcum says:

    Long ago 60 years to be precise I was the altar server at every morning mass for Canon William Percival Hayes Vicar General of the Diocese of Clifton. I also served all his funeral masses until I was eleven. he was insistent that I must kneel every time I crossed in front of the Tabernacle and that I never turned my back on the tabernacle. In other words I turned inwards towards the tabernacle in moving away from the altar itself. The sisters who taught me to serve the altar also taught me to lay out the Priest’s robes. This priest washed his hands for several minutes before we knelt and prayed before entering the sanctuary to offer the sacrifice. The sisters taught all of us at the school never to chew the Host as we might just have particles of food between our teeth. The Host was allowed to melt in our mouths. The heat that melted the Host we were told was a symbol of burning love for Jesus in the Sacrifice. We certainly knew under this priest not to contaminate the Eucharist with any kind of dirt.
    Why would you give a penance to a priest who knelt before Christ seems foolish to me? I say the sinners are those who drifted beyond tepidness to minimalism, doing the least they can in honor of Christ’s presence. We knew before the laxity of Vat 2 what we were in the presence of, when we were at mass. Today it might well be as so many think, just bread and wine. Every thing we were taught was directed at what the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist truly was is and will always be. I am so sorry for those children in the Church today who do not receive what I was taught. We called it the Faith of our Fathers from whom it came.

  22. Gregory says:

    The simplist solution really is to “turn the altars back around” or re-orient the sanctuary. If the priest and servers were always passing in front of the altar and the Blessed Sacrament instead of in between then the question becomes more moot as the profound bow is an act of reverence. Remember the GIRM also presumes Father is facing the altar along with the people and therefore presumes a more properly oriented and arranged sanctuary.

  23. Nathan says:

    Ah, the crux of the traditional-liturgically-minded dilemma–when a rubric of the GIRM is obviously detrimental to piety and reverence, perhaps even leading the Faithful away from understanding the Real Presence, does the rubric constitute an abuse of authority? And, if not, is it legitimate to disobey?

    It’s a question at the heart of what we debate here, with implications well beyond the minutia of the GIRM.

    In Christ,

  24. GordonBOPS says:

    I am an usher who, during mass, takes up the collection to the altar. I bow before I approach the altar, and also pass the Tabernacle on the way to putting the collection in its appointed place near the altar. I am not at all sure what proper gesture I should make passing the tabernacle. I assume the bow before approaching and when leaving the altar is OK… this seems like related issue…and perhaps, laity shouldn’t even face this issue, but we don’t always have enough altar servers to help with this…

  25. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    Gregory makes sense, in my parish we have the tabernacle in the old high altar with the new altar in front. When the priest crosses the sanctuary from his chair to the ambo for example, he crosses in front of the altar and bows. However, he goes behind the altar at the beginning of Mass to kiss it facing the congregation, then he has his back to the tabernacle and that bothers me.

  26. Tweeting says:

    I think that Gregory [1 July 2009 @ 3:24 pm] has a point. Celebrate ad orientem and most (or all) of the problem disappears.

    I also tend to agree with Fr. Martin Fox. [“It’s not a matter of worshipping the GIRM, but of being obedient to lawful authority.”]

    Still, my earlier question stands, as I don’t think that it’s been properly/directly answered by anyone. [Pushy! o{]:¬) ]

  27. Stephen says:

    My home parish was built 1963 in such a way as to work, unmodified for both forms of the Roman Rite. If vs populum celebration was the intent of the Vatican II fathers I doubt they would have wanted the altar so far in the front of the sanctuary as to have everyone walking behind the altar. It just seems that if the altar were somewhere toward the back of the sanctuary and priests didn’t have to pass behind the altar going from the chair to the ambo their bow would be to the altar, crucifix, and, God willing, the tabernacle.

    In some places, like my home parish, however, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved on a side altar rather than at the main altar. Sure, it’s not the ideal situation but this altar on a peninsula business putting servers and other lay people walking behind the altar weakens many people’s understanding of the priesthood.

  28. Origen Adamantius says:

    The crux is of course that, if we dismiss the GIRM when it goes against our theology or sensitivity then we cannot demand that others follow the GIRM when their sensitivities are offended

  29. Henry Edwards says:

    Fr. Martin Fox: It’s not a matter of worshipping the GIRM, but of being obedient to lawful authority.

    With respect, Father, when I’m in front of the Tabernacle, I’m thinking of God and the Adoration I owe Him, not of lawful authority and whatever obedience I owe it.

  30. Gail F says:

    Our parish recently issued a directive for people bringing up the gifts to walk all the way up to the altar (rather than stop at the step before it) and NOT to bow. I told the pastor and the Worship Commission that I do not agree, and for a long time I stopped taking up the gifts. Now, on the rare occasions that I do, I bow anyway. I figure that they won’t ask me if they don’t like it, and that bowing to Christ is more important than doing what a commission says. (In our parish the tabernacle is on the wall behind the altar, so you face both at the same time.)

    But I can see the point of the servers not bowing or genuflecting. It seems to me to be one legitimate interpretation — when you are in the sanctuary you behave differently from outside it. So you genuflect when you go in the church, you genuflect before the sanctuary, and then once you are in the sanctuary you behave differently until it’s time for you to leave. I don’t know if that’s the rationale but at least it is one that makes sense. That’s how I have always interpreted it, anyway — that’s why it seems wrong to me for the ushers and the people brining up the gifts not to bow or genuflect — they’re approaching the sanctuary.

  31. Thank God I don’t have the Blessed Sacrament in the church but in the Lady Chapel and don’t have to put up with all this foolishness during Mass!
    I just wish that I could get the people to stop genuflecting when they come into the church but to bow profoundly to the altar. Why do they do that? They are obviously not respecting the Blessed Sacrament. The reason is that they come to church without preparation—mental, spiritual, and physical. Here’s a pew! Let’s genuflect! It is pew worship, not sacramental worship.
    Many of the above comments to this post show that pre- and post-concilliar catechesis was a failure on this as in so much else. No Catholic entering a pew before Vatican II would NOT genuflect (whether or not the sacrament was in the tabernacle or the sanctuary lamp lighted or not!). It was/is a “knee-jerk” reaction if there ever was one. It is done in a mindless way that shows their minds are not in harmony with their bodies or much else for that matter. I’ve even seen Catholics genuflect when they went into a row at a cinema! (Did it myself once, BTW)

    Proper respect for the Blessed Sacrament DEMANDS proper respect for duly constituted authority in the Church, not matter what sister may have said or what even other priests may say. You may subscribe to conspiracy theories as many on the cracked left and right do, but as Catholics who want to please God, we have to respect the discipline of the Church, no matter what we may prefer. Of course, its a waste of time to talk to a conspiracy theorist.

    If a priest came to me to confession and said that he refused to do something that was required by the Church I would ask him why. If he said that it was because it wasn’t the way we used to do it, or because “Father Feelgood” suggested that it would be more pastoral, or it wasn’t a big deal, then I would have to ask him that if he were not going to obey the discipline of the Church as a priest, then how, in God’s name, would he expect the people to do so, when “Father” has given them such a bad example? “Well, Father, it’s just a little thing that I drop or add.” So he is the determiner of what is big or little now, hunh? Then what will keep his flock from determining what they think is big or little? Nothing, I can assure you.
    In fact, all of this has nothing to do with the “heart.” We do not follow our hearts. If we do we deserve the damnation that is rightfully ours. We follow Christ only. Following our hearts simply privatizes our religion around our personal ego. Once we do that it is facile to present the reasons why we are no longer members of the Church that Christ founded. This happens on the left and right all the time. Instead of converting ourselves to Christ we convert Christ to our egos. Great move, everybody!

  32. pjsandstrom says:

    It is odd to see the admirers of the Roman Liturgy so set on keeping the ‘ecclesiastical furniture arrangements’ of St. Charles Borromeo after the Council of Trent. This is a very strange grasp of ‘tradition’ with a small ‘t’ and a lack of understanding of Tradition with a large ‘T’. [I think a lot of people here understand the difference between “Tradition” and “tradition” pretty well.] “Do the red and say the black” indeed! — but that applies to the Liturgy as re-formed by Pope Paul VI as well as that re-formed by Pope Pius V.

  33. Mark says:

    In our oratory, we put an icon of Our Lady in front of the Tabernacle, and bow to it during Mass. Then, after Mass, it’s removed, and we genuflect. Does that square things or not?

  34. Fr. Wade says:

    I believe that the Blessed Sacrament is God.
    Not going to ignore God.

  35. CarpeNoctem says:

    >>Fr. Martin Fox: It’s not a matter of worshipping the GIRM,
    >>but of being obedient to lawful authority.

    >With respect, Father, when I’m in front of the Tabernacle,
    >I’m thinking of God and the Adoration I owe Him, not
    >of lawful authority and whatever obedience I owe it.

    Ah, but when we are in front of the tabernacle, there is no amount of adoration which we can offer which is sufficient to honor his glory. I could say, if you were truly holy, that each time you passed before the tabernacle, you should prostrate yourself… but the Church does not prescribe that, as pious an act it may be.

    By specifying a common act of reverence, the Church in her wisdom and competent authority saves a lot of foolishness, pride, ones-up-man-ship, unreflective habituation, and scrupulosity when it comes to dealing with truly holy things. The discussion of genuflection over bowing over setting oneself on fire in front of the tabernacle of God is not a question of personal piety, but it is instead a question of good ecclesiology in the midst of liturgical law which is clearly not up to the task of legislating the lex credendi. Thus, to ignore the importance of obedience to lawful authority and to subjectify this entire question in terms of “the adoration I owe him” is to unwittingly fall into the very same trap of modernity which one might think he is strenuously avoiding.

    There is a very fine line here, which I admit is very difficult to figure out… I may be wrong, myself, in the argument I make above about genuflecting over bowing– but I am open to a good argument to correct my opinion. I do know that staying with the wisdom and authority of the Church is the safest way to go, unless law gives room for legitimate interpretation or doubt… which I think is the case.

    I would suggest that a question to ask is not what you think the “respect I owe him” is, but rather what respect “God thinks you owe him” through the agency and mediation of the Church and her laws.

  36. Mark says:

    “as Catholics who want to please God, we have to respect the discipline of the Church, no matter what we may prefer”

    Yes, but does the Pope even have the right to micromanage the local liturgies of the dioceses? At Rome, of course. But what happened to the local liturgical determination by the diocesan bishop (and even, to some extent, the pastor) of the Middle Ages? Why did it get centralized in the Vatican all of a sudden (seems rather unsubsidiary) and why is the situation such that loosening that would lead to all sorts of silliness and liberalism (and, admittedly, in our current ecclesiastical climate it probably would). But it’s questions like these I think the Pope’s talks with the Orthodox about the extent of his role are going to address. Yes, he is the universal authority and theoretically supreme…but so is the Federal government, yet I know many traditional Catholics in favor of States Rights.

    I think we need to adopt a pragmatic view towards hierchal interference in the local liturgy. Bad liturgy is a “I’ll know it when I see it” sort of thing, “liturgical abuse” shouldnt be defined so legalistically or rubricistically.

    Improvisation in some sense should be allowed, as it was through the Middle Ages…if it’s good, organic, traditionally-grounded, piety-increasing improvisation. If it is…the bishop should let it grow. If it’s bad, he should put a stop to it. It’s that simple. But you have to let the weeds grow alongside the wheat a little bit so that the wheat has a chance to grow. That’s why organic development stopped. And when they tried to restart it after Vatican II…they forgot that they had to also weed out the weeds, and so they choked what could have been good, and it was back to slash-and-burn rubricism.

    And if the bishop isnt doing his job weeding out the bad (or is weeding out the good), only then should the Vatican step in.

    If a priest wears a maniple, or genuflects at the tabernacle, or uses the old offertory with the new mass, or did the old mass in a nice english translation…I see no reason the bishop, having investigated it and found it to be orthodox and tasteful, shouldnt allow it.

    Yes, the same freedom would open the door for puppets and liturgical dancers, but the bishop just has to be diligent and take things on a case by case basis and quash that sort of thing as early as possible as it pops up.

    The way to have good organic development is to allow freedom. I think this scares a lot of people used to a legalistic, ossified, set-text liturgy of the post-tridentine era, especially seeing the abuse of the past 50 years. But the problem is not so much the freedom for new, local-initiative additions in themselves, but the failure of the hierarchy to discern between the good and bad and to be diligent in rooting out the bad.

  37. David says:

    We all know the most practical solution, don’t we? How about just admitting the emperor is naked? [Hardly a helpful comment for this discussion.]

  38. JimC says:

    I still marvel at Father saying Mass with his back to the tabernacle like it isn’t even there. There is much cognitive dissonance caused by Church Sanctuary layout and design. Ad Orientem would solve a host of problems. How long oh Lord!

  39. JimC says:

    Darn, I meant like He isn’t even there.

  40. Sacristymaiden says:

    Fr. Z–[You might be confused. The bow to be done is not to be done to the Blessed Sacrament, but to the altar. The altar.]
    !
    I always thought it was toward the Crucifix. Wonder why I thought that?
    Bowing toward the altar does make sense though, the altar stone has the relics of saints in it. Is that the answer?

  41. “[I didn’t say it was licit.]”

    That’s true. I was confused by the remainder of your post which seemed to effectively ok disobedience to the rubrics.

    I apologize for coming across as pushy in my second comment. The second time, my question was really more directed at commenters who appeared to me to be sidestepping the issue of the illicitness of this variety of liturgical disobedience; even viewed that way, however, I do see where my comment can still run into trouble.

    At this point, I’ll state unequivocally that I would support a change in the rubrics that would lend to a greater reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament but cannot find sufficient reason not to obey the rubrics now as they stand now. If I may continue to offer this layman’s opinion, I shall hereby submit that it would seem that persistent disobedience to the rubrics on the part of a server might be an occasion for pastoral correction. Nonetheless, I do not and cannot condemn those who disagree with me on this issue.

  42. James A says:

    My “weekday” parish Church near where I work in central London is a curious case in point here. The regulars in the pews at Mass all genuflect before the tabernacle (large, prominent, up front behind the altar), whereas the priest does not do so – either at the start or at the end of Mass. Only at consecration. I often wondered why he does not do so and it sounds like he ought to! He has a reputation for being somewhat ‘radical’ – perhaps his lack of genuflection reflects some theological position on human dignity before God. Who knows. Perhaps the safest and most charitable thing is to assume early-onset arthritis and pray for him.

  43. Father Bartoloma says:

    This ridiculously illogical rubric always makes me think of if I were to come home on my day off and instead of kissing my mother hello, I walked by her and waved to a photograph of her. Bizarre and rude. But to God? Even more bizarre and rude!

  44. Thomas Herge says:

    Granted this rule ignores the Roman tradtion, I would note that these rules of genuflection have long been held in the Dominican Rite.

  45. Father Bartoloma says:

    P.S.

    This is also a disgraceful example of an abuse being \”baptized\”. The former GIRM instructed to genuflect whenever crossing in front of the tabernacle. Liberal liturgists pushed and taught and rationalized the bowing. When the GIRM was revised, the bow was given as the directive, even if the Blessed Sacrament is on or behind the altar. And if the Eucharist is to the side I would presume we are supposed to ignore the Real Presence? All of the bowing looks like a karate match is about to begin.

  46. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    Ugh! People, could we get our Sacramental Theology straight.

    Fr. Wade: The Blessed Sacrament is not God; rather, the consecrated elements mediate the real, substantial presence of Jesus Christ, Who is God.

    Sacristymaiden: Very true that one bows to the altar. Not true that it’s done because of the relics therein. (In fact, relics are no longer even required to be placed on or in a consecrated altar.) The altar has traditionally been conceived as a symbol of Christ. That’s why one bows to it if the Blessed Eucharist is not present.

    Fr. Gregory: The less said, the better.

    And, for those who don’t seem to know, in the rubrics for some of the less-common “uses” (e.g., the Dominican) it was never considered appropriate to show one’s back to Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. Therefore, when the priest was supposed to turn towards the people in ordewr to greet them–“Dominus vobiscum“–the rubrics instructed him to pivot on his left side so that his back would not be turned to the tabernacle on the altar.

    While I’m sure the people in the Congregation for Divine Worship believe in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, they have certainly done a lot to obscure that belief from showing forth liturgically.

  47. Jayna says:

    “The servers especially don’t get it; thus they continue bowing outside of Mass.”

    I noticed this happening in a church I’ve started attending for Sunday Mass. It’s inconsistent, actually. Prior to Mass, they’ll genuflect when approaching the altar, but only bow when they cross in front of the tabernacle. I’m guessing it’s that entrance/exit mentality, that as long as they’re in the sanctuary they don’t genuflect until they leave it. Truth be told, I’m glad to see any acknowledgment of it at all. In my own parish the servers usually blow right past the altar unless it’s during Mass.

  48. Mark says:

    “The Blessed Sacrament is not God; rather, the consecrated elements mediate the real, substantial presence of Jesus Christ, Who is God.”

    No. They do not merely mediate the presence, they become that presence. The consecrated elements do not remain after transubstantiation, that’s the whole point. Only the species of their accidents remain.

    But when referring to what something “is,” we mean what substance. That is how the communication of idioms in the case of the Eucharist works.

    The “Blessed Sacrament” refers to the Eucharistic Christ. The ACCIDENTS of Bread and Wine are, indeed, not God. But they are associated with Christ’s substance (though they do not inhere) in such a way as to be able to be properly identified with Him because of their association with Him.

    The roundness of the host is not Christ, but the Blessed Sacrament IS, because when we refer to a noun, we are referring to it’s substance, and after consecration it is Christ’s substance which sustains the accidents of bread and wine from collapse (though they inhere in no subject). What you say seems to suggest that some subject still remains for them to inhere in, ala consubstantiation.

  49. wsxyz says:

    Ok, Matthew W. I. Dunn, I’ll bite: You day the Blessed Sacrament is not God, so then what IS it? And don’t tell me what the Blessed Sacrament mediates, tell me what it IS.

    Thanks in advance for your clarification.

  50. Fr. k says:

    This rubric is also one of the hardest for me. It bothered me a lot when I visited some other seminaries where they didn’t genuflect crossing during Mass. Then with the new rubrics there it was! I always wondered why this change was made. I assumed it had something to do with problems when people pass between altar and tabernacle, but I always made a point of walking the long way around the altar so as not to walk between. I too have the problem with having to remind the servers to genuflect always except during Mass.
    At least now we can point to the rubric which immediately follows which reminds one outside of Mass to always genuflect when crossing in front of the tabernacle. I don’t think that was explicit in the previous edition of the Missal.

  51. Mark says:

    The communication of idioms definitely makes it true to say that the Blessed Sacrament is God.

    Dont get me wrong, I’m not suggesting Impanation or that the communication of idioms works in the same way as with a hypostatic union.

    In terms of relative accidental actions (like chewing, stabbing, breaking, etc) we cant say that chewing the host is chewing Christ. Rather, it is chewing accidents “under” which Christ is.

    But in terms of absolute essential designation or substantial identification, we can indeed say that the host IS Christ (and thus God) or that the Blessed Sacrament IS Jesus. Because such a phrasing denotes essential identity, not accidental. More precisely we can say “the Blessed Sacrament is Christ sustaining the accidents of a piece of bread that do not inhere in His substance”…but all that detail is not needed “is Christ” is still a valid designation, though it does not extend to accidental descriptions.

  52. Palestrina says:

    Can anybody quote directly from GIRM on this?

    If GIRM says that one genuflects to the Blessed Sacrament at the beginning and end of Mass, but does not positively forbid genuflecting to It at other times, then surely one could develop a praeter legem custom of doing so!!!

  53. Mark says:

    During the counter-reformation, much of the liturgical action that had previously been mere tradition and potentially local variation…was codified and officially prescribed in legally binding rubrics.

    As you might imagine, this protected things from undue (protestant-influenced) deformation, but also ossified things to a significant degree. A monolithic centralized unity (centered at Rome) was enforced over the local liturgical variation seen in the Middle Ages.

    As a medievalist, I have always been uneasy with such ossification and legalistic rubricism, but at the same time wondered if it wasnt necessary. Perhaps, I thought, the Church in antiquity and the Middle Ages was able to allow such freedom and local discretion because the Church was pure and the additions and changes and improvisations that were made tended to be good. Whereas nowadays we cant trust people to be orthodox in their changes, even, let alone tasteful. God knows I didnt want Clown Masses and liturgical dancers and giant puppets and Buddhist prayers inserted and invalid sacraments, all of which have made an appearance under the lax regime of the Novus Ordo.

    I was so concerned with the problem of stopping bad improvisations from ever developing in the first place that, like many Catholics who legalistically support the idea of enforced rubrics as the guarantor of good orthodox traditional liturgy…I was willing to sacrifice local liturgical freedom and potentially good developments for the sake of stopping bad.

    But in this discussion it suddenly hit me that they dont have to be mutually exclusive, as I described above.

    We dont need to be so concerned about stopping something bad from ever being tried in the first place. I think we can afford the risk of letting it be tried once, and if it is bad, the bishop or Vatican can step in and crush it.

    For too long I was imagining the agent of selection in the process of liturgical evolution to be mere popularity…and sadly, many things could become popular and spread even if they are tasteless or heretical. But the agent of selection doesnt have to be mere blind sociological darwinism like that. The agent of selection could be the intelligent agency of the hierarchy itself and, rather than trying to stop mutations entirely, we could allow them and have the hierarchy (instead of popularity) purposefully kill-off the bad, while still allowing the good or neutral to either spread or stagnate based on popularity instead of a mandate.

  54. shadrach says:

    There needs to be a campaign in each diocese to promote and encourage genuflection to the blessed Sacrament.

    Of course, many people have become confused by the ruinous practice followed in so many churches (probably following the GIRM) of removing the tabernacle to a side altar, thereby destroying the orientation of the sanctuary; in effect destroying the sanctuary. Bishops and priests need to lead the way on this. So manyh people in the Western world nowadays amble purposelessly around churches (as if in meeting halls, or malls) that signposting insisting on genuflection and repetitious catechesis is required.

    Unfortunately many priests are neglectful in this matter themselves, they’re generally the same characters who love to inflict their personality on every single part of the liturgy.

    A widespread return to genuflection will help save the world

  55. Fr Ray Blake says:

    I had always assumed this rubric applied when the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved in the centre of the apse, and therefore one genuflected except “when passing in procession”.

  56. jplsr says:

    Then there was the elderly priest who, after the NO arrived, confessed that he said Mass facing the tabernacle–and took pleasure in it.

  57. CarpeNoctem says:

    from IV. Some General Norms for All Forms of Mass

    Genuflections and Bows

    274. A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

    During Mass, three genuflections are made by the priest celebrant: namely, after the showing of the host, after the showing of the chalice, and before Communion. Certain specific features to be observed in a concelebrated Mass are noted in their proper place (cf. above, nos. 210-251).

    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.

    Otherwise [In other words, outside of Mass.] all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession.

    Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting.

    275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bows: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.

    A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.

    A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Almighty God, cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (Lord God, we ask you to receive); in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . made man); in the Roman Canon at the words Supplices te rogamus (Almighty God, we pray that your angel). The same kind of bow is made by the deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the priest bows slightly as he speaks the words of the Lord at the consecration.

  58. So, here are the TWO paragraphs:

    “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.

    “Otherwise all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession.”

    The way I understand this, the presumption is that the tabernacle is off to the side. Ask anyone like Bishop Trautman where the tabernacle is presumed to be.

    But, if the Blessed Sacrament is in the center, one is to genuflect. Of course.

  59. that is,

    off to the side of the sanctuary.

  60. Apropos the sideline discussion on precisely what (I prefer Who) the Blessed Sacrament is, on this 1st day of July, perhaps it is appropriate to contribute a petition taken from the Litany of the Precious Blood.

    Blood of Christ, only Son of the Father, be our salvation.

  61. CarpeNoctem says:

    Sorry for the GIRM dump… hit the button too quick.

    in re, Palestrina: it would seem that there are three genuflections specified for the priest-celebrant. I suppose that this could be interpreted two ways: there are only three genuflections (restrictive) OR here are three places where he is to genuflect (prescriptive). I think it is meant in a more restrictive sense, because genuflecting when entering a sanctuary when the Blessed Sacrament is present I interpret as a modification or exception to the implied norm that genuflecting takes place only at the three times.

  62. Papabile says:

    The ironic thing is that pre-conciliar practice did not reserve genuflecting just for the Hots/Tabernacle. It was also directed that one was to genuflect to the altar cross if the Sacrament was not present on the main altar.

    I think we see the remains of that in the part of the IGMR rubric which states “as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.”

  63. TP says:

    Greetings,

    If people are going to be disobedient and NOT follow the girm on purpose with the tabernacle in the Center. Perhaps it would be best to move the tabernacle to a eucharistic Chapel, and then your conscience would allow you to bow and again be obedient to what the church demands. Being obedient is also honors God as much as a genuflection does.

    peace

  64. The litrugists solution to the genuflection question is… to put the tabernacle in an obscure spot. Take it out from the center of the snactuary put the Tabernacle in the corner and they do not have to worry about genfulecting. RESPECTFUL TO THE LORD, no? Who now becomes the center of the Church. The Altar and the presiding priest.

  65. Alex says:

    Lets leave the tabernacle in the center and move the altar to the side. I think this would hasten the return of saying Mass Ad Orientem, the priest having a crucifix in front of him and we don’t have to worry about bowing vs genuflection. Oh wait that makes just as much sense as moving the tabernacle to the side. Silly me.

  66. Alex,

    Guess you haven’t seen the increasing number of churches with tabernacle off to one side and the main altar off to the other side, providing a fuller stage for theatrics, you know, on stage

  67. ssoldie says:

    God bless you Mike Hurcum. I long for all to know that wonderful time. We now have the spirit of Chaos and Confusion, Confusion and Chaos.

  68. ::Ponders this thought:: If God in the Tabernacle is exactly the same before Mass, during Mass and after Mass, and God is the same yesterday, today, and forever..(Ref Heb 13, 8)…should not the same rubric be applied consistently? In the Roman Rite, the action towards the Tabernacle is to genuflect, hence one should genuflect to the Tabernacle during Mass…

  69. Chris says:

    This is an interesting question. I once heard a priest say that if we crawled on our bellies in the presence of God, it would not be enough. Certainly the *action* of genuflecting is important, we do believe in faith AND works, after all, but doesn’t the Lord know our hearts?

  70. Paul says:

    Mark,

    The federal government is the creation of the states, and subservient to it. It may only legitimately exercise authority delegated to it by the states. This authority may be amended, enhanced, or revoked by the states.

    The Holy See is a creation of Christ. The diocese have their authority from the Holy See, so the Holy See really is supreme, not an usurper like our current federal gov’t.

    Paul

  71. Alex says:

    Fr George,

    Thank the Good Lord you are right! I have only seen two churches like that.

  72. Salvatore Giuseppe says:

    Going back to the GIRM, it says “Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting.” It does not mention a Thurifer, is he to genuflect then? It is quite possible(I have done it), but we were never quite sure which one we should do. Both seem equally reasonable

  73. Mark says:

    “The federal government is the creation of the states, and subservient to it. It may only legitimately exercise authority delegated to it by the states. This authority may be amended, enhanced, or revoked by the states.”

    That simply isnt true. The Constitution establishes a Federal and State governments, each sovereign in their own right, one the ordinary national authority, one the ordinary regional authority, the Federal designated as supreme, but at the same time is primarily designed to handle multi-state issues, not issues internal to one state.

    “The Holy See is a creation of Christ. The diocese have their authority from the Holy See, so the Holy See really is supreme, not an usurper like our current federal gov’t.”

    That simply isnt true. Christ established both the Papal and Episcopal authorities, each sovereign in their own right, one the ordinary universal authority, one the ordinary local authority, the Universal is supreme, but at the same time mainly designed to handle issues affecting multiple local churches (ie, issues of catholic unity), not so much issues internal to one.

    The diocesan bishop is an ordinary authority in his own right. He does not derive his authority from the Holy See. They are not be seen as vicars of the Pope, for they have a proper ordinary power all their own, sovereign in its own way.

  74. Salvatore: Yes, I believe the Thurifer is to genuflect, that’s how I’ve interpreted the rubrics when I do thurifer for the NO.

  75. isabella says:

    I don’t think anybody has brought this up, but . . .

    I have had three surgeries on my left knee after an accident, and can only genuflect when I have something to hold on to so I can stand back up. When nothing is available to me, I make a profound bow. God probably understands. FWIW, our tabernacle is in a separate chapel to the side of the sanctuary.

    And when I bow on the occasions when I have to attend the Novus Ordo, it is NOT towards the altar, it is to the Body of Christ, being held by the priest, or present on the altar for adoration.

    Am I OK? Or at least acceptable? If I tried to genuflect without something sturdy, I would fall on my nose and create a disturbance. Have been practicing at home, but no go.

    isabella

  76. Phil (NL) says:

    Isabella,

    While Fr. Z. would be able to answer that with more authority, I believe the general line is simply that one is not obliged to fulfill the impossible. If you really can’t, then you can’t, which – drawing the analogy from the Sunday obligation – excuses the obligation.

    To me it sounds like you tried, went the extra mile, and concluded that your medical condition simply makes it impossible. I cannot imagine how anyone – least of all our Lord – in charity would think less of you for it in such a sitaution.

  77. Father Z,

    In the following paragraphs you seem to understand “Otherwise” to refer to the immediate precedent in the preceding sentence: “but not during the celebration of Mass itself”.

    “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.

    “Otherwise [In other words, outside of Mass] all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession.”

    However, it seems to me that it is not only posssible but even probable that the word “Otherwise” refers to the opening phrase of the first paragraph: “If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary…” The reason for this is that such similar openings of paragraphs attract.

    In this case, I think my interpretation within a hermeneutic of continuity holds, that is, within the broad context of decades of encouragement to have the tabernacle off to the side, that is, in a so-called dignified part of the Sanctuary which the ministers do not cross. The question is where the Sanctuary begins and ends. Does it end with the snare drum to the immediate side of the altar, behind which is the tabernacle? In other words, is it an actual architectual sanctuary or a sanctuary of practical liturgical use that is being described?

    Since one should act with a hermeneutic of continuity (regardless of the desires of Bugnini, since his desire have been contradicted by the desires of Benedict XVI), if the Blessed Sacrament is in the center, or in another place that the ministers pass, one is to genuflect. Of course.

    Father Z, is there not enough ambiguity to act with the common sense of centuries? I can’t see calling this a sin. Really, I can’t.

  78. Kimberly says:

    After reading the comments, I really appreciate Fr. Wade’s comment. Short, deep, TRUE. Thanks Fr. Wade.

  79. Alex says:

    Fr George,

    Brillant reading of those sentences!. It makes perfect sense to me.

  80. Ohio Annie says:

    Isabella, you are fine. i have the same problem. I know a priest with such severe back problems that he can only give a slight bow but he does so very slowly and painfully and we all know he means “genuflection here.”

  81. Jon K says:

    Speaking of legitimate authority and obedience… Was it not Legitimate Authority that gave the rather strong impression that the traditional Latin/Gregorian rite had been abolished in 1970? and therefore was illicit? verboten? The French bishops, for instance, went far (and I mean: F A R) beyond giving this impression, I can tell you.

    Obviously, this impression was false. And Rome did little to help those unjustly persecuted for being faithful to the “Tridentine” rite. At the same tme, abuses abounded in the Latin Church (Holland, Switzerland, France, England, the USA…). Now, without all those who seemingly disobeyed at the time, can one imagine (pace divine intervention) of Summorum p ever having been possible?

    Catholic obedience, sound obedience is not always to do as told. Sometimes, obedience is first and foremost fidelity. Being faithful, fidelis. Whatever the cost. As were all those priests, religious and lay people (and even a few bishops) who kept the immemorial rite of the Latin church alive during the Dark Years. If it weren’t for them, there would have been no traditional Latin rite for me to go when I discovered the Church. And I would not have stayed. At best, I ‘d be an Orthodox to-day.

    For (sound) authority and (sound) obedience to be restored, I firmly belive TRUST must first be resurrected, i.e. DESERVED by those in authority. As it is to-day, far too many abuses by people in authority have caused too many wounds, too much legitimate distrust.

    Let me rephrase this in a somewhat provocative way: I’d genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament if so the Pope him self, or indeed an angel, were to forbid me to do so.

  82. CarpeNoctem says:

    Fr. George,

    The entire section does, it seems in plain reading, presume that the tabernacle is not in the sanctuary, as it specifies that there are (only?) three genuflections during Mass. The ‘if’ statement derogates from this norm, ‘allowing’ (requiring? specifying? instructing?) a genuflection upon entering and exiting the sanctuary IF the Blessed Sacrament is in the tabernacle. It would seem that, then, there could be a total of 5 genuflections during Mass, all other things being equal.

    It does seem that the “otherwise” (“secus”) of GIRM #274 does subordinate directly to the “if” (“si”) of the previous paragraph including its condition (non autem durante ipsa missae), and not of the entire #274 section as a parallel instruction. If this is the case, then it seems that the 3 + 2 are the only times to genuflect.

    But this might not be the only interpretation, as you point out. My interpretation of the limited meaning of the ‘secus’ statement would be stronger if it were contained in the same paragraph as the ‘si’ statement, but alas, we don’t have that, thus the fuzziness that we are debating.

    Using the convention that law is to be interpreted to the best advantage of those who are under it, I think I can see and even agree with your argument. Hmmm. Intresting.

    I’m hardly a canonist or liturgist, so I am more than open to correction on this matter, if shown an authoritative ruling on this interpretation. Of course, I reinterate, that this is a matter of discipline and not faith. There isn’t enough respect that we can show the the Blessed Sacrament, but for good order, we must assent to the Church’s authority to specify how her liturgy will be celebrated. When the instructions are unclear, we can dicker and debate, but we do so, again, under the aegis of mutual good will and faith. This is an intresting argument, but not a hill I want to die on, regardless of the outcome of the debate.


    274. Genuflexio, quae fit dextero genu flectendo usque ad terram, adorationem significat; ideoque reservatur Ss.mo Sacramento, et sanctae Cruci inde a sollemni adoratione in Actione liturgica feriae VI in Passione Domini, usque ad initium Vigiliae paschalis.

    In Missa tres genuflexiones fiunt a sacerdote celebrante, hoc est: post ostensionem hostiae, post ostensionem calicis et ante Communionem. Peculiaritates in Missa concelebrata servandae suis locis notantur (cf. nn. 210-251).

    Si vero tabernaculum cum SS.mo Sacramento sit in presbyterio, sacerdos, diaconus et alii ministri genuflectunt, cum ad altare perveniunt, vel ab eo recedunt, non autem durante ipsa Missae celebratione.

    Secus genuflectunt omnes qui ante Ss.mum Sacramentum transeunt, nisi processionaliter incedant.

    Ministri qui crucem processionalem vel cereos deferunt, loco genuflexionis inclinationem capitis faciunt.

  83. canon_law_expert says:

    Speaking of legitimate authority and obedience… Was it not Legitimate Authority that gave the rather strong impression that the traditional Latin/Gregorian rite had been abolished in 1970? and therefore was illicit? verboten? The French bishops, for instance, went far (and I mean: F A R) beyond giving this impression, I can tell you.

    The tridentine rite was suppressed (and therefpre could not be used without an
    indult) so the French bishops were not being dishonest at all.

  84. Re: thurifer genuflecting…I have trained servers that if they are “carrying something” (i.e., cross, candles, thurible, funeral pall, holy water), they bow rather than genuflect.

    My reasoning was drawn both from the text of the GIRM cited above, and practicality. That was, however, before I was familiar with the classic form of the Mass, in which servers do genuflect holding things. Also–although I cannot remember from the rubrics on this point, it seems to me one carrying the Gospel Book wouldn’t genuflect, at least in the newer usage of the Mass; I don’t recall the rubric in the older usage.

  85. Nothing weird in this practice at all. The rubrics of the Novus Ordo on genuflecting to the reserved sacrament during Mass are exactly those of the traditional Dominican Rite. The Dominican rubrics however absolutely forbid turning ones back on the reserved sacrament–something I have watched EF priest celebrants do all the time. I think this this is an except solution to the OF “problem” of not genuflecting to the reserved sacrament.

    The short explanation is that Mass is not worship of the Reserved Sacrament, and our focus should be on Christ’s sacrificial presence in the Mass. Our Lord is not offended if our attention is on his sacrificial presence during the Sacrifice.

    Genuflections are made in both the Novus Ordo and the traditional Dominican Rite, but they are made to Our Lord present in the Host of the Mass.

  86. Jon K says:

    “The tridentine rite was suppressed (and therefpre could not be used without an
    indult) so the French bishops were not being dishonest at all.”

    Really? Well, you must tell this to the reigning Pope. Still, thanks for missing my point and illustrating a certain mentality, a certain way of reducing every Catholicic matter to one of mere legality.

  87. Jon K says:

    Father Thompson,

    Arguing from the Dominican rite seems rather awkward when the Roman rite is the matter at hand. The Dominican rite is older than the elevation as we know it. And has many particularities, with their own logic. These things are often a matter of context. Then, there are pastoral concerns, the lack of faith in the Real Presence being sadly widespread to-day.

  88. It was always my understanding that forty years of a certain observance gave it the status of custom in a church, even if such observance was contrary to the general liturgical law, and this custom would be upheld by canon law.
    People have been genuflecting to the Blessed Sacrament throughout Mass for a lot more than forty years, and therefore this custom, where it has been observed, has the force of law. In observing it, we are upholding the principle of ‘say the black, do the red’ perfectly.

  89. What I often see happen is a concelebrating priest go to read the Gospel on the other side of the Sanctuary, passing on his way between the non-ad-orientem altar of Sacrifice and the tabernacle (which still does occur!), bowing to the altar in non-ad-orietem fashion, having, then, the Blessed Sacrament behind him. There is a risk of scandal in all of this. How many believe?

  90. Michael J says:

    If the GIRM really(there seems to be some debate about this) does require that a Priest act as if Christ is not present, then it should come as no surprise that the laity do not believe either.