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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth...

Has anyone noticed the disturbing trend for a bow of reverence to be substituted for the genuflection when passing in front of the Blessed Sacrament? This seems to stem from a misreading of paragraph 274 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002). This explains that one must genuflect to the tabernacle (if it is in the sanctuary) when approaching the altar at the beginning and the end of Mass (regardless of the where in the sanctuary the tabernacle is) otherwise the altar just gets a bow. It then goes on to say "Otherwise all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession." So you bow to altars and genuflect to tabernacles apart from at the beginning and end of Mass when, even if the tabernacle isn't behind the altar, you ignore the altar and genuflect to the tabernacle.

But in this age of declining piety and love for our Lord in the Eucharist this has been misread as meaning that during Mass you should ignore the Blessed Sacrament and bow to the altar instead! (As if the Mass had nothing to do with the Blessed Sacrament). This is a serious mistake because the same paragraph is very clear that "A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament" while "A bow signifies reverence and honour shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them" (275). Thus to merely bow when passing before the Blessed Sacrament implies either that one denies the real presence and admits the Eucharist only as symbol of Christ, or that one denies the divinity of Christ and is willing only to give Him reverence and honour rather than adoration. This interpretation would also have the absurd consequence that even after the consecration when the Blessed Sacrament is on the altar itself one ought to continue bowing to the altar (a mere symbol of Our Lord) and ignoring Our Lord Himself really present on the altar. It may be that people who interpret the rubric as forbidding genuflection to the tabernacle do not act in this way, but logically they should.

While the initial effect of this misinterpretation is that Priests and servers only genuflect outside and at the beginning and end of Mass; very rapidly the genuflection is omitted altogether both by Priest and people. Thus the impression is given that the doctrine of the real presence has been rejected wholesale. Often the only laity one ever sees genuflect today are those who haven't been to Mass for a long time and whose rusty habits were formed in a more pious era.

Here is the text in full (my emphases)

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 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.

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.