ASK FATHER: Father told me not to genuflect when passing tabernacle during Mass

From a reader…


I was serving at Mass in the OF today, and before Mass, my priest approached me and told me that, when crossing from one side of the altar to the other, I was not to go to the foot of the altar and genuflect, instead instructing me to cross behind the altar and bow to it with my back to the tabernacle. He claimed that this was part of the extraordinary form, and since one cannot pick and choose sections you like, you cannot add something from the extraordinary to the ordinary, but rather the two must remain separate, either offered in full, or not at all. He claimed there were canons that prohibited the mingling of the two. He further mentioned, upon my mentioning of the OF’s very scanty rubrics as regards the movement of servers, that what is common practice has the force of law, and what I did is not common practice, so ought not be done. Was he incorrect about any of the above, and if so, where can I find proof to the contrary?

Firstly, it is probably the best course of action to be obedient to Father.

There may be reasons for why he laid down such rules. He may be under “heat” from the chancery or other quarters to “stamp out” the wild and flagrant abuse of showing respect to the Blessed Sacrament during the course of the Mass.  (Don’t laugh.)

That said, the rubrics of the Ordinary Form of the Mass prescribe genuflection upon entering the sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, and upon leaving the same sanctuary, as well as after the consecrations.

The General Instruction states,

“If 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.”

It’s a really stupid rule, but it is the rule in the Ordinary Form.

Yet another reason to promote the Extraordinary Form.

In the Ordinary Form of the Holy Mass, the abuse of incidentally genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, and showing respect to Our Sovereign Lord and Majesty, is on the same scale as using a gold safety pin, instead of an aluminum one for the maniple on a ferial day of Lent.

Both of these abuses should be corrected severely, dealt with harshly, perhaps by imposing a penance of two ice cubes in the server’s post-Mass glass of lemonade instead of three.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. wised says:

    I assume then that your priest will also be educating those entering the pews that genuflection is expected, even though it is not common practice.

  2. LarryW2LJ says:


    I genuflect at all times. He is my Lord, Master and Creator. I owe Him nothing less.

  3. Lepidus says:

    I’m assuming that the priest in question always say the black and does the red. Actually, as a substitute genuflecting usher at my parish, I’m just waiting for my priest to say something. My response will be offering an agreement to bow, as he agrees to get the words right for a change.

  4. iamlucky13 says:

    Perhaps this is a good time for a note from St. Maximilian Kolbe on holy obedience, which is not often easy and may not always be the best path, but which can be sanctifying when done out of love of God, even on little things like following an bizarre rubric prohibting genuflecting to Our Lord during Mass.

    I’m disappointed to learn the official answer, but at least now I know.

  5. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Haranguing an altar boy because he is genuflecting during Mass? Lecturing him about not doing any EF Mass reverences during the OF Mass? Oh. My. Remember when Pope Francis said this about some priests and people got mad at him?–“if you are neurotic, go and see a doctor, spiritual or physical,” he added. “The doctor will give you pills. But, please, don’t let the faithful pay for neurotic priests.” He was right!

  6. Blaise says:

    While the priest may be correct as to the rule in the OF regarding genuflection he seems to have given an odd justification and I don’t see the rule that says you have to pass between the altar and the tabernacle rather than in front of the altar so you can effectively bow to both. He seems unaware of the concept of mutual enrichment as well.

  7. Dspauldi says:

    I didn’t even notice there was a rule against genuflecting… Anywhere. Now that you mention it though, I reflect that our parish priests and deacons move about without genuflecting till the Tabernacle is being closed. I just never questioned it.

    Still… Seems kinda petty to make such a big deal of it so maybe, as you suggest, there is something here we aren’t seeing.

  8. Joe in Canada says:

    I agree about not importing OF elements in EF liturgy, but the OF is so poor anyways, it seems that anything imported from the EF would only benefit it. That having been said, yes, obedience in this matter is preferable to disobedience. Also, uniformity among servers.

    That having been decided, I have two minor questions. First, once the Blessed Sacrament is on the altar, shouldn’t anyone passing in front of It genuflect instead of bow? And second, at any point in the OF Mass, when anyone enters the sanctuary with a Tabernacle (e.g. lector or EMHC), shouldn’t they genuflect? [The OF rubrics say what they say.]

  9. Animadversor says:

    Father Sotelo, to be fair, we don’t know that the priest in question was haranguing the altar server; also, from the language used I’d guess that the server is too old to be considered an altar boy.

  10. lairdangusmcangus says:

    Ouch–I think I am guilty of this.

    A related question: I genuflect during the processional and recessional as the crucifix passes us. I also make a small bow to the priest.

    Am I in violation of the rubrics of the OF???

    What about receiving the Eucharist on the tongue (and on my knees)? Is that acceptable during the OF? [Yes.]

  11. Alice says:

    Several years ago I was organist at a church where the tabernacle was in the traditional spot. A young monsignor who was substituting for the pastor asked me if the pastor usually walked behind the altar and bowed to it during the Gospel procession or in front of it so as to bow to both the tabernacle and the altar at the same time. I couldn’t remember what the pastor did, so Monsignor said he’d do the latter. He said people might be scandalized if he ignored the Blessed Sacrament. I hope Monsignor is appointed a bishop soon. He understands “the people.”

  12. Sword40 says:

    And all of the above is why I don’t attend the OF Mass (unless the weather prohibits me from the long drive up to our EF parish).

  13. tzard says:

    It is my recollection and reading of the GIRM that the instruction about genuflecting applies to the ministers only (I’d assume acolytes and EMHC’s too) – as such it is entirely silent on the actions of individual congregants entering or leaving the pews.

  14. iamlucky13 says:

    @ lairdangusmcangus

    “What about receiving the Eucharist on the tongue (and on my knees)? Is that acceptable during the OF?”

    In case it helps, the longer answer, from two complementary sources: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal confirms that you may receive on the tongue, and that although in the United States, the normal posture is to receive standing, you may receive kneeling.

    Furthermore, in Redemptionis Sacramentum, the Congregation for the Divine Worship officially settled any doubt about your question, with two relevant statements:

    “it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful (who are properly disposed and not prohibited by law) solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing.” (paragraph 91)


    “Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice,[178] if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her.” (paragraph 92)

    In other words, the norm, even in the United States, is to receive on the tongue. However, the USCCB has permission to allow Catholics in the US the option of receiving in the hand. So not only is receiving on the tongue licit, but it is officially preferred.

  15. Ben Kenobi says:

    wow. *Two* whole ice cubes? In our parish we’re happy if we have even one! :p Thanks for the laugh Fr Z!

  16. Rosary Rose says:

    Does “genuflect” include a bow? I bow when I cross the altar to cantor or when I go up the steps to the altar. I bow because Christ is there.

    Does this mean we aren’t to acknowledge the Presence of Christ in the tabernacle during Mass? Surely I am misunderstanding.

  17. pelerin says:

    lairdangusmcangus (Are you perhaps Scottish by any chance?!!!)

    Interesting comment about genuflecting to the processional Crucifix and bowing to the Priest as they go past. I don’t remember anyone telling me this but I have always nodded my head to the processional Crucifix and to the Priest as they process past. Just seemed the right thing to do. I did not know that it was possibly in violation of the rubrics.

    I regret too the passing of the custom of genuflecting when a bishop processed in or passed by. It was like a Mexican wave in a church and seemed to emphasise the obedience of the whole congregation to the Church hierarchy. Those were the days! I think the last time I had the opportunity of genuflecting in this manner was when Cardinal Heenan of Westminster passed by after celebrating Mass in Earls Court.

  18. Simon_GNR says:

    The General Instruction states,

    “If 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.”

    This rubric might as well continue…”…when they are to pretend that the Blessed Sacrament is not there.”!!

    The OF instructions on showing reverence to the reserved Blessed Sacrament are a bit of a mess in my opinion. I think those who concocted the Ordinary Form may have envisaged that with the re-ordering of churches post Vatican II the tabernacle containing the reserved Blessed Sacrament would not be in the sanctuary where the main altar is located, but would be in a separate side-chapel away from the main altar. The problem is that most churches were not built with the OF in mind and in many cases it is architecturally impractical to have the tabernacle anywhere but behind the main, free-standing altar. It’s not good to see clergy and servers passing to and fro in front of the tabernacle as if the Blessed Sacrament were not reserved therein.

  19. Matt Robare says:

    At my parish you can tell the age of a priest by the way in which they bow during Mass. The older priests go between the low Altar and the High Altar and bow towards the low one, facing the people and with their backs turned to the Tabernacle. The younger priests, however, pass in front of the low Altar and bow to it and the Tabernacle.

  20. Moral_Hazard says:

    Our priests always genuflect; it’s a very edifying example. The youngest, a guy in his 20s told me that a friend from the seminary working at another parish received a complaint from a parishioner (the complaint went to the pastor). It said, “He hold that thing [the Eucharist] like it’s the most Holy thing on earth!” Our priest said, “I hope I get a complaint like that someday.”

  21. iamlucky13 says:

    @ pelerin and lairdangusmcangus

    “Interesting comment about genuflecting to the processional Crucifix and bowing to the Priest as they go past. I don’t remember anyone telling me this but I have always nodded my head to the processional Crucifix and to the Priest as they process past. Just seemed the right thing to do. I did not know that it was possibly in violation of the rubrics. “

    As I understand Father Z’s past answers to similar questions, there is generally no direction given to the laity on the finer points of our posture – in acting such smaller details are referred to as “business”, although there are some directions given for the basics of where we are and what we’re doing – stand, kneel, process forward for Communion, etc – what’s called “blocking” in show biz.

    I wasn’t intending to respond with an analogy, but thinking about it, there’s some appropriateness to the comparison – what we see in a play helps convey a story to us in a convincing manner. What we see and do in the liturgy should help convey reality to us in a convincing manner.

    In show biz, the director determines the blocking. In the Mass, the GIRM does so. In show biz, the actors generally improvise the business in order to play their roles naturally. However, the director probably has a very specific idea of what he wants the main characters to be doing during a scene to convey to the audience exactly how he wants them to understand what is going on, and may specify many of these finer details, just like the rubrics for the Mass do for the priest. The rest of those in the scene, while certainly not unimportant to the play, will receive less direction. I presume in the Mass, we do similar. In both cases, the business obviously should be appropriate to what is going on.

    If the play is Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser, Brutus probably doesn’t respond to Caeser recognizing his friend’s betrayal by high-fiving those around him, even if the director never forbade it. It distracts from what just happened to Caeser and is not a realistic response of Brutus on seeing the consequences of his actions. During Mass, after Christ’s sacrifice in atonement for our own betrayal through sin is made present to us at the Consecration, high-fiving at the sign of peace is arguably similarly inappropriate, even though the GIRM does not forbid it. It distracts from recognition of Christ’s presence and His redemptive sacrifice, and is not a realistic sign of receiving and passing on Christ’s promise of peace.

    On the other hand, if a background actor instinctively bows his head out of respect for Caeser when he enters a scene, the director will probably find nothing objectionable about it. If you bow your head out of respect for the priest, or an image of the Crucifixion, or at the speaking of Jesus’ name, I don’t see what is objectionable about that. Then again, I also don’t see what is objectionable about the ministers genuflecting to Christ during the Mass, but the director, wisely or not, gave directions about one of these actions and not about the other.

    Personally, I feel more comfortable reserving a gesture as significant as genuflection for the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but it doesn’t really alarm me that someone should want to show more reverence than expected.

  22. Chatto says:

    Hi Rosary Rose – ‘genuflect’ literally means ‘bend the knee’ so bowing isn’t included in this rubric. When to bow (and how deeply) is covered in other rubrics. So keep bowing.

  23. Matthew Gaul says:

    The nice thing about Western liturgical rubrics is that, if you don’t like them, wait a couple weeks and they’ll change anyways.

  24. Deo Credo says:

    Interesting question. Our oldest son also serves for our local OF parish. At some point in the last year or two the bishop sent instructions that the servers should stop bowing towards the tabernacle and instead pass between it and the altar and bow towards the altar. It seemed strange to me and I still am not clear on the reasoning but our bishop is wonderful (Thomas John Paprocki) so I trust that it is legit. Just because it seems strange doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.

  25. Pingback: THURSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Comments are closed.