Genuflection

Genuflection

[jen-yoo-flek-shuhn]
Genuflection (or genuflexion) (Latin genuflexio "bending of the knee") is an act of reverence in Christianity, consisting of bending onto (usually) one knee. Today the term is used mostly in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. The faithful who pass before the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (generally reserved in the tabernacle) are expected to genuflect on the right knee as a sign of devotion. If the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance or ciborium placed on an altar for a service of devotion, one may genuflect on both knees (called a "double genuflection"). Formerly, and according to the rubrics in force under the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the double genuflection was mandatory. Genuflection may occur at other times as well, for example when the Blessed Sacrament is being moved (e.g., from one tabernacle to another), or at certain points in the liturgy (e.g., at the words "and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man" in recitation of the Nicene Creed during the liturgy of Christmas and the Annunciation). In the Tridentine Mass, genuflections are made at all liturgical recitations of the Nicene Creed, during the Last Gospel and during certain other readings, such as the Epistle for the Exaltation of the Cross.

One custom, associated with the Tridentine Mass and the New Liturgical Movement or Reform of the Reform movement, is for lay people and sacred ministers alike (including sacristants and those employed by the church) to genuflect each time they pass in front of the tabernacle. Another custom is for a single genuflection upon entering and exiting the sanctuary to stand in for these multiple genuflections.

According to the Third Typical Edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the sacred ministers are to genuflect to the tabernacle upon entering and departing the sanctuary (except if prevented because carrying the cross or candles in a procession), and to make a profound bow when crossing in front of the altar at other times. Outside of the celebration of Mass, the normal custom for genuflections in the sanctuary would prevail.

It is was formerly required to perform a double genuflection (on both knees) before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a Monstrance, although the current rite for Exposition does not specify which type of genuflection and the opinions of rubricians vary on whether a single or double genuflection should be made.

On Good Friday and Holy Saturday Roman Catholic Churches do not contain the Blessed Sacrament. However, according to liturgical law, the faithful should genuflect to the cross on these days once it has been revealed in the Good Friday service. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Altar of Repose in those days; customarily when passing in front of that Altar, the faithful kneel on both knees and make a profound bow in that position . In churches of the Anglican Communion, it is customary on Good Friday to venerate a large cross or crucifix, and the devotional act may include a simple or double genuflection.

In the Maronite Catholic Church, there is an evocative ceremony of genuflection for the feast of Pentecost. The congregation genuflects first on the left knee to God the Father, then on the right knee to God the Son, and finally on both knees to God the Holy Spirit.

Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches generally make a profound bow in the same situations where a Latin rite Catholic would genuflect. In the Roman Catholic and Anglican Communions, a profound bow is an acceptable substitute if one is physically unable to genuflect. Due to Latinisation, however, many still kneel or genuflect in private prayer. It is considered extremely rude to enter a Greek Catholic church and genuflect rather than making a metasis (deep bow paired with crossing oneself).

Orthodox Christianity

In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, there are three types of reverences which would generally correspond to the western idea of genuflection:

  • Bow--this is a simple momentary inclination of the head and shoulders, without bending the knees. In some situations it is accompanied by the Sign of the Cross.
  • Metanoia (metany; поясной поклон, poyasnoy poklon)--similar to the bow, but deeper; sometimes referred to as a "bow to the waist." The metanoia requires making the Sign of the Cross either before or after the bow, depending upon the tradition of the church; bending at the waist without bending the knees, so that the worshipper's head is level with his or her waist; touching the floor with the fingertips of the right hand; and straightening up again. The metanoia is an abbreviated form of full prostration.
  • Prostration (земной поклон, zemnoy poklon)--This requires making the Sign of the Cross, getting down on hands and knees, touching the forehead to the floor, and standing up again upright. The requirement to stand upright again is commonly explained as being because Christ not only descended into hell, but rose up from the dead. On Sundays, during the Paschal Season (see Pentecostarion), and on Great Feasts of the Lord a metanoia is made instead of full prostration.

The times for making each of these reverences are fixed by tradition, though they may differ from one ethnic tradition to another, and are intended to help to unify the congregation in their active participation in the service.

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