QUAERITUR: Genuflections during the Novus Ordo Creed

From a reader:

I know that on Christmas and the Feast of the Annunciation in the Ordinary Form we are required to kneel during the words, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” and I know the normal practice for the rest of the year is to bow, but are we allowed to genuflect?

I don’t see a prohibition against genuflecting at those words.

This will, of course, revive the debate between those who say that something like this would be illicitly “adding” something to the Mass which is not there in the rubrics, and those who find it foolish that, unlike previous Missals, those who cobbled up the Novus Ordo were/are obsessed with what the laity is doing during Mass.

Motive should be examined, as well.  Do you want to genuflect in order to draw attention to yourself? Are your motives pure?

If this were a question coming from an individual, might respond “Yes, you may genuflect at that phrase, but don’t draw a lot attention to yourself, and don’t sneer at others who are following rubrics and with a bow.”

If this were from a group in the parish (e.g., Holy Name Society, Fraternal Knights of the Incarnation, etc.) who wanted to start doing this, I would enthusiastically support it as the development of a legitimate custom.

I think this is one of those things that should be brought back into use, one way or another.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. It should be brought back, when I do attend Mass in the OF, I typically genuflect at that particular point. Was pleased a few years ago, when I was attending Mass with Abp Gomez that he followed this rubric on the feast of the Annunciation :)….

  2. ray from mn says:

    Until I fully assimilate the word “incarnate” I imagine I will still find it difficult to read and bow/kneel/genuflect at the same time.

  3. Fr. Hamilton says:

    It’s not entirely clear to me if the reader is asking about practice for the Masses of Christmas and the Annunciation, or suggesting that a genuflection happen more broadly beyond those stated Masses. That being said, my understanding of the rubric for the Novus Ordo is that in the Creed when the Incarnation is mentioned it is honored with a bow. However, at those Masses explicitly celebrating that very mystery of the Incarnation (Annunciation & Christmas) the reverence is augmented by genuflecting where one would ordinarily bow. Furthermore, the rubric indicates that in those cases where a genuflection is required and when the Creed is sung, then the genuflection becomes kneeling.

  4. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    I apologize that this is a little off-topic, but here goes: the Blessed Mother Teresa’s Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, in their humble blue and white saris, sometimes attend Holy Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. During the Consecration, when the priest genuflects after offering the Sacred Body, and again when he genuflects after offering the Precious Blood, the Sisters, kneeling in their pews, execute a momentary bow from the neck and waist, and then return to their upright posture.

    Watching them from my pew a few rows behind, I thought the gesture was very beautiful, and so now I do it, too.

    I’m afraid some spirit of sanctimony or pridefulness does sometimes attempt to approach me when I do this, but these I push firmly from me, and try to bow solely for the love of God instead.

    Anyway. Hope this is OK.

  5. iPadre says:

    Since the introduction of the new translation more people in my parish bow. I have noticed that in most places no one bows, not even the priests. I find it it interesting that some people demand their right to hold hands for the Lord’s Prayer, but don’t follow what the rubrics prescribe for bows. Reason #65,000,054 for Summorum Pontificum – people are changed by our tradition.

  6. Mike says:

    In my NO parish, few bow. As scholars have noted, the NO has a certain Cartesian element in it–we are thoughts, not incarnated spirits….

  7. Netmilsmom says:

    I have to agree with Father Z, I wish this would be brought back.
    However, a person who would like to do things that the rubrics do not address, needs to take that gesture and substitute any other gesture which is not defined and see how he/she feels.
    I believe, If it’s not in the rubrics, don’t do it. It leads to innovation.
    I’ll pray that this gesture is approved again.

  8. Deacon Augustine says:

    I don’t know if it is a cultural hang-up about bowing, but I notice that very few people bow at the “et incarnatus est”. However, everybody is quite happy to kneel on those few occasions where the rubrics call for it – including all those who will not/do not bow.

    I suggest that this is one of those changes in the liturgical reform which has not been widely received or understood, and it is better that it be reversed and we return to kneeling. There would thus be a greater likelihood of the “whole people of God adopting the same posture” in prayer – which is so important to modern liturgists.

  9. Funny how, in an age when the rubrics are just tossed out the window most of the time, it is the reintroduction of a more reverent practice that gives people the vapors. Frankly, I’m tired of the laity in the pews being strictly regimented while priests get up on the altar and do as they please. It should be the other way around. Just bring back the traditional Mass.

  10. mamajen says:

    At most of the NO parishes I’ve been to recently, pretty much nobody even bothers to bow, including the priest. That makes me angry. But, hey, at least they do the Creed at all, unlike the church I went to in college. Where I am no we all bow. I think genuflecting would look out of place…but if the priest or others were to start, sure.

  11. Miss Moore: “Frankly, I’m tired of the laity in the pews being strictly regimented while priests get up on the altar and do as they please. It should be the other way around.”

    Hear, hear! The micromanagement of the people in the pews by liturgical martinets brandishing all too many “general norms” destructive of reverent worship is strictly a Novus Ordo thing.

    The traditional rubrics direct minutely the actions of the clergy but say nothing whatsoever about how the people should show due reverence. None of the traditional gestures and postures of the people seen at a TLM are actually prescribed in its official rubrics. They are the practice of immemorial customs that developed over the centuries and inculcated in successive generations of Catholics an innate sense of what common behavior in worship is proper and reverent.

  12. Imrahil says:

    At my original parish, we would only have the Great Creed on two occasions per year*, one of which was not Annunciation (but Epiphany), and then, however, there would always be genuflection. [*I cannot tell about Easter High Mass because I never was there, and in the Easter Vigil, which was celebrated in the early morning, there would be the renewal of the baptismal promises instead.]

    As for what I do now… I genuflect in the TLM, on Christmas and Annunciation, and also otherwise to the Great Creed when there’s a kneeler in front of me, and otherwise unless I should feel uncomfortable to do so. Otherwise, I always bow. If I remember to do it, but I have to say this is rare, I also bow during the Apostle’s Creed at the respective case (and, barring TLM and Gregorian Chant Masses, the Apostle’s Creed is what is said in Germany in some 9x % of cases).

    Should anyone ask me, I’d say that I was brought up (twice a year, but still) such that this is what is appropriate at this place. But those who bow don’t ask, and those who do nothing 1st have no real right to insist on the rubric, and as a practical fact don’t ask either.

    Whether attendant laity is even bound by the rubrics in this regard may be doubtful, by the way. For if a layman adds an additional genuflection, he does logically no more than what he does when he adds an additional prayer, such as the devotional prayers for during Mass of old, and that is obviously allowed.

  13. slainewe says:

    @Marion Ancilla Mariae

    This is also a custom here with the sisters. Only in the TLM they add a slight bow when the priest genuflects before the elevation. Then they lift up eyes to behold the elevated Host. (My Lord and my God!) Then they follow the Host down and keep a deep bow until the bell rings indicating the priest has arisen. The same for the Chalice (My Jesus, Mercy!)
    I also adopted it – in my case because it reminds me to keep the precept that we should not receive the Body of Christ if we have not ADORED the Body of Christ.

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  15. Imrahil says:

    As a more general observation, a thought that I get on reading, for instance, the dear @Netmilsmom’s comment. Please do not take it personally!

    What is obedience? A virtue, a good thing, and by natural law a binding thing (in so far as it does bind).

    But what is obedience not? It is not the way out.

    To be safe from what for abbreviation’s sake I shall now also call “the liberals”, only truth is the way out. It is not enough to decry something as illicit or private interpretation; it must be decried as false.

    Note that something just in itself may be false just by the fact that it is opposed to the just commandment of a lawful superior. But still, the important thing is that thus it becomes something false, a sin, which means an insult to God Himself, not merely that “we’ve got to draw a line somewhere and if you don’t follow this you don’t follow Catholic law”.

  16. slainewe says:

    I was told by a priest that there are two things a Catholic may ALWAYS do anytime during any Mass: make the Sign of the Cross, and kneel (which I would think includes genuflecting).

    I have found that if pious actions are done VERY slowly and gently, with an air of apology, few even notice, and those who do are rarely offended.

  17. Phil_NL says:


    It would be beyond silly if anyone is offended by kneeling at any time during the Mass. Let’s bury that lunacy.

    But on the other hand, it may not be very conductive to the Mass either, devout as it may be. Kneeling, especially among those who are past their first youth, or in poorly-designed pews (how I hate those designed with people of 1m70 (5 feet 6 if you prefer), one of these days I’ll break one – or my own bones) is rarely fast nor quiet, nor can it be done without diverting thought from the creed to the process of getting down and up again without accident.

    For example, I can imagine that the choir would not appreciate a continious rumble from “Et incarnatus est” lasting all the way till “et unam sanctam catholicam” (people aren’t that fast, but some choirs are!), cause that is what can very well happen.

  18. TheAcolyte says:

    On the traditional Mass practice for Christmas, “Peregrinus Goes Abroad” has some witty observations: http://romanitaspress.com/peregrinus_gasolinus/peregrinus_gasolinus_chapter_14.htm.

  19. The Church prescribes bowing at the mention of the incarnation in the Creed during Ordinary Time, and genuflection during the Annunciation & Nativity (GIRM 137).

    If the Mass is to be taken seriously, as something with integrity in its own right, deviating from a legitimately given norm (where no leeway is given to do so) is to be avoided.

    We can’t allow our frustration at other abuses to lead us into one of our own.

  20. TXKathi says:

    I have often wondered about this. There used to be a Monday Latin OF Mass that I would attend on occasion. The majority of people who attended this Mass were Sunday TLM’ers (as I am). The norm came to be at that Mass that the TLM rubrics were followed — so genuflecting during that part of the Creed, kneeling during the Sanctus & Agnus Dei (versus kneeling after those prayers are said as is done in the OF), and Communion taken kneeling (no altar rails) and from the priest only. I have to believe that people were doing what they had become accustomed to at the TLM. These are people that use to be regular daily OF Mass attendees, but had switched to the FSSP parish when it came into town, and is a bit of drive for daily Mass.

    I am inclined to believe this annoyed the priest to some extent — he made a point one time of expressing – during Communion (!) – his frustration at the long line he had for Communion & the EMHC had no one in her line. He exclaimed , “People, it’s the same Sacrament no matter whom you receive from!” Some people quickly jumped to the other line. For the next several months, Father took to only distributing the cup, but that’s another story. On the positive side, he was fine with people receiving Communion kneeling, which many did.

    All this got me thinking about my actions. I want to be obedient. I think the postures in the TLM are better suited for what’s happening at Mass, and my mind wants my body to be in sync w/that. But if I do those actions in the OF, then I’m doing what people have been doing that’s messed up the OF; I’m doing what I “feel”. But then again, if it was done before, why can’t it be OK to do it now?

    For the life of me, I don’t understand why the postures were changed in the OF. It seems that if we’re saying the words of the angels during the Sanctus, we should be kneeling. The Agnus Dei is a plea for mercy from Almighty God, it seems more appropriate to kneel. I don’t like standing during those prayers at all. It seems that if a genuflection during the Creed is appropriate at the Assumption & Christmas — why in the world is it not appropriate during the rest of the year???

    I attend a daily OF Mass , and have decided that as I am in their house, I will do as they do. I wear a veil and genuflect before receiving Communion & don’t need to bring any more attention to myself by following TLM rubrics. On rare occasion we have to attend the OF parish for Sunday – like this past b/c of the weather. My husband is convicted about kneeling during the Creed, so our family row all kneels on those occasions.

  21. Kennedy says:

    Interesting comments above, and I’d agree with the most of them. I am similarly conflicted. However, kneeling during the Sanctus has become a bit alien to me. I’m living in Kenya, and we stand, and during sung Masses we wave our arms during the Hosanna. I was uncomfortable with that for a while, but now it seems much more appropriate.

  22. Imrahil says:

    Dear @TXKathi,

    It seems that if we’re saying the words of the angels during the Sanctus, we should be kneeling.

    As far as the Sanctus is concerned, it seems that with this hymn of praise, we should be properly standing. If I remember that correctly, there is a verse in the Revelation where the Sanctus is said in Heaven and then the angels and the eldest at the throne fall on their knees and adore.

    The thing is different in the Canon.

    People have taken up the habit of kneeling down for the Sanctus because the Sanctus takes a couple of time for the choir to sing, while the celebrant is faster to pray, and in virtually no time, the priest will have finished hisSanctus and begin the Canon, while the choir has merely arrived at the third “Sanctus”, or so. It is easier to remember “at the Sanctus” than “a few seconds after the beginning of the Sanctus”.

    Which is why I’ll keep standing, at the TLM too, until I see a sign that the priest has begun the Canon (altar boys kneel down, or: hands are extended, or at least the great bow of the priest). Not imposing that on others, but still: I don’t think kneeling is per se the most appropriate position for the Sanctus.

  23. joecct77 says:

    The genuflection in the NO has become rare, therefore on the Feast of the Annunciation and Christmas, most Mass atttendees do not genuflect (or kneel) because it is not done at the Masses they attend on Sunday or the other Holy Days of Obligation.

    If we desire it to come back, it needs to be regular, not rare on Sundays.

    BTW, the Anglican Use genuflects regularly.

  24. New Sister says:

    On the infrequent occasions where I do attend a NO Mass that recites the Creed, I genuflect at the “et incarnatus est”, through the final blessing, and often through the Pater (partially to avoid the kiss of peace & to not add to the “clatter-bang-slam” of kneelers during the “ecce Agnus Dei”). I also bow my head (and teach my CCD students to do the same) each time the holy Name of Jesus is uttered.

    I do not wish to distract anyone and don’t think kneeling does (I pray it doesn’t). I figure people can always divert their eyes if it bothers them, as I feel compelled to do at hand-holding chains & kiss of peace aberrations (grining, hugging, kissing on the lips, etc.).

    Fortunately, members of the Arlington Diocese can avoid the issue, having TLMs offered every Tuesday/Thursday (St Rita’s, St Louis), most Wednesdays (St Michael’s), some Fridays (St Raymond’s), every Saturday (St Michael’s), and Sunday (take your pick!!).

  25. Bob B. says:

    I’m waiting for someone to tell me that I shouldn’t genuflect when I pass a Catholic church (and say an aspiration).

  26. Vincent says:

    New Sister, yes. I do the same. I’ve always genuflected in the Creed and knelt for a Priest’s Blessing. Frankly though, it’s humiliating. It’s not “drawing attention” in a positive way, and if anyone thinks it is, then tough. It’s not nice to be the only person to do something in an entire church, especially given all the aberrations that occur during most NO Masses I’ve been to.

    I’m sorry, but there you have it; if you believe you should kneel for something, then do it – there aren’t rubrics for the laity, you can do what you like (within reason). The laity aren’t there to celebrate Mass, they’re there to worship God. Even if that means kneeling for Communion and looking like you’re somebody from the ’50s, good on ya.

    Maybe if the laity were prepared to say “thank you for saying Mass, father” when it’s a good Mass, and prepared to say “I’m sorry father, but the congregation won’t like that” when he next suggests an innovation, then we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. Sure, priests, bishops, popes, follow the rubrics, but the people are letting them get away with it. And for our sins, we have become Protestants.

  27. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I’m waiting for someone to tell me that I shouldn’t genuflect when I pass a Catholic church (and say an aspiration).”

    Well…I wouldn’t try it while driving in a car past the church. The aspiration should be sufficient :)

    The Chicken

  28. truthfinder says:

    I don’t know why it is but my home parish (a cathedral) in the OF during the two-times of year of genuflecting in the Creed usually instructs the congregation to kneel at the “and the word…” and keep a moment of silence. I have no idea why they do this, and it always felt really weird to me, especially after I started attending the EF elsewhere – apparently it’s too difficult for the laity to multi-task (kneel and say a prayer at the same time) or something.

    I’m also one of the very few who bows during the Creed the rest of the time.

  29. Bob B. says:

    Sorry….Bless myself.

  30. nykash says:

    When at an NO mass, I fight the urge to genuflect as I don’t want to cause a scene. Kneeling for communion likely garners a few puzzled looks.

  31. New Sister says:

    @ Vincent – too bad you can’t profit from the tunnel vision & anonimity provided by a chapel veil. ;-) [it helps!]

  32. Chiara says:

    Hi Father –

    I enjoy your blog very much, and this is the first time I have commented.

    I attend Mass at my parish, which is prayed in English. With all respect to you and your readers, I love it with all my heart. I have attended the Latin Mass elsewhere on more than one occasion, and I was open to loving it as well, but I left feeling as if I had not been to Mass at all. I understood very little (although I could follow the flow of the Mass, of course), and the usual attendees looked at me like I had a third eye growing out of my forehead. Frankly, they left me cold, and I felt I had no part in the Mass at all (again, I say this respectfully).

    At my parish, at the part of the Creed you are discussing in your article, we all bow deeply from the waist. Mass is always, without exception, prayed with great reverence and devotion by our pastor, parochial vicar, or priest in residence, and by our parishioners.

    I love the Mass in English at my parish, and I love my parish. We merged with a more conservative parish (and have since separated in obedience to the Vatican). The first week we were merged, I was manning the coffee urn at coffee hour after Mass. I was approached by one of the parishioners from the other parish with which we merged, and was told that, “the problem with St. X (my original parish) is that our children do not behave at Mass, our women should wear veils and dresses, and our men are not reverent enough.” I listened, in my usual Sunday clothes (dress trousers, blouse and cardigan). When I was able to speak, I told her it was a good thing we merged so she could be a good example to us (as I silently thanked the Holy Spirit for putting the words in my mouth!)

    Anyway, Father, I am learning much from your writings, but I have to tell you I would rather attend a Mass in English, without wearing a veil, at my beloved parish than attend a Mass in Latin elsewhere. I can understand and participate in the prayers, and I do not feel condescension and unfriendliness. I was blessed to attend Mass at Yankee Stadium as a representative of my diocese and parish when Pope Benedict visited America. Mass was reverent, beautiful and in English.

    Please understand that I am not criticizing you, Father. I deeply appreciate you, your vocation and your blog. But perhaps your readers might put themselves in the place of others like me. We are all Catholics and deserve respect and love from each other.

    God bless you from Akron

    PS – At my parish and to my knowledge, my diocese (Cleveland), those who wish to genuflect during the Creed or when receiving Holy Communion are not discouraged or made to feel outsiders, and many of our parishioners do so.

  33. ChesterFrank says:

    During this part of the reading, my parishes mass card gives instruction for the person to bow. I do make an effort to do this bow though sometimes I think to someone observing me that my bow might not be as noticeable as I might think. I know what the card says, and I try to oblige; but between trying to recite the prayer aloud while reading that card and making that gesture simultaneously, I get confused. While my intentions are to make that part of the prayer particularly dignified, I fear it comes across more as a mumble and a shrug. Its the best of intentions but the worst of performances.

  34. Vecchio di Londra says:

    To younger generations it must seem quite puzzling for some to kneel or cross themselves where it is not ‘prescribed’ in the rubric for the Novus Ordo.
    But when the faithful kneel at the words ‘Et Incarnatus est’ surely we are kneeling in gratitude to the newborn Redeemer, who not only came down for us historically, but continues to do so daily, and will do so in a few minutes time at this Mass too. We do not need to wait until Christmas to relive that Nativity, the Incarnation.
    Having knelt in adoration to our God made man for several centuries, why would we now only bow instead? To show how ‘evolved’, how dignified we now are? It is quite simply a lower stage of respect. (And it is rarely even a proper bow. More of a quick nod, as if to a passing neighbour in the street.)
    And why would we just stare proudly ahead of us at the Consecration and Elevation, instead of bowing our heads in adoration?
    The question is not frivolous. It was posed by a great many baffled souls during the wave of innovation of the late 1960s: “How on earth is not genuflecting, not kneeling, not making the Sign of the Cross and not beating our breasts a sign of greater humility and worship of the Almighty…?”
    And no, these are not empty signs, and the dispute is not trivial either.

  35. First, for what it’s worth, “say the black; do the red” should apply equally to clergy and laity. It’s such a simple thing; why do people feel the need to improvise? (Granted, most laity are not following from a book with black type responses and red rubrics, but maybe “say the bold; do the italics” would be more precise.)

    Second, as everyone know, I appear at a variety of parishes in my travels. I rarely see a unified effort to bow, though I try to mind my own business first rather than be preoccupied with what others are doing. In any case, Jesus’ great act of humility in the Incarnation is worth a bow from us who desperately needed that act of humility for our salvation.

  36. bernadettem says:

    It is a general tradition in all Ordinariate/Anglican Use Masses to genuflect during the Creed at the Incarnation, as it was in many Anglican churches. We also genuflect during the Last Gospel and Angelus at the words of the Incarnation.

    At the Ordinariate parish I attend when able they also bow when the crucifix goes by in the recessional and processional and at the names of Jesus, Mary and the Saint of the day.

    We kneel for Communion and if we don’t have a church building, the ones who can’t kneel if there is no altar rail, they stand.

    It is part of our traditions/patrimony, besides other services and traditions that Pope Benedict commented that these were “treasures” being brought into the Church through the Anglican Use.

    There might be some Latin used at the Sanctus and Kyrie or not and some AU parishes also include a NO Mass, although I suppose the same traditions might be encouraged or used.

    I also attend a traditional NO/OF parish where most bow during the Creed and the priest does try to encourage a decent dress code for both male and female.

    It has been so long since the changes in the NO Mass that it must be difficult to make some changes, as human nature does not always like change.

  37. Andrew Saucci says: First, for what it’s worth, “say the black; do the red” should apply equally to clergy and laity.

    Why? How many years did the Church stagger on without rubrics for the laity? What makes them necessary now? I’m not a minister at the altar. My presence is not even essential: the Mass happens with or without me.

    Freedom and autonomy are proper to the lay state and should be respected, even at Mass.

  38. Joe in Canada says:

    The GIRM does have instructions for the laity at the Mass. True, not printed in red, since it is an instruction and not a missal, but still binding.
    I genuflect at “and the Word was made flesh” during the Angelus. I’ve had a few people ask why and I point out that it is very traditional, and a sign of adoration of the Incarnation. On the other hand, when I am on the altar for Mass, either alone or concelebrating, I do not feel free to add such things beyond what is prescribed.

  39. Well, if the lay people don’t need rubrics, I guess wandering about the nave for the sign of peace shouldn’t be proscribed, or holding hands, or whatever other nonsense someone might dream up. The laity are out of control in many places too. At this point in history, the laity need rubrics. That is why we belong to a living church– she has the authority and sometimes the duty to make adjustments over time in good judgment and pastoral necessity. (I know I’ve just turned that last phrase on its head here, but I actually don’t like the way it has been abused in the last few decades and would like to start a movement to restore a better meaning to the word “pastoral.”) Maybe after good taste and good judgment are restored to the Novus Ordo those rubrics could be removed, but right now– absolutely necessary. The idea that people should do what they feel best presumes that those people are well-formed in liturgical and spiritual taste. Our current laity doesn’t qualify, sad to say.

  40. Vecchio di Londra says:

    I think it might transform the NO for the better if the faithful were shown how to make some basic movements, for instance, how to bow devoutly from the waist, how to genuflect, how to bow reverently at the name of Jesus, and at the ‘Glory Be’, how to beat one’s breast at the ‘mea culpa’ of the Confiteor. Earlier generations had the benefit of parents and teachers who instilled these matters from infant years on. These days they go largely unmentioned and untaught. You’d think young people would pick them up mimetically, but it seems the culture has been broken. Perhaps the human rights culture has banished all gestures of submission to the Almighty as ‘inappropriate’.

    It reminds me of the Hassidic story of the rabbi who is asked ‘Why don’t men see God any more?’ The rabbi replies that it is ‘Because these days, no one can stoop that low’.

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