Genuflection is a sign of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. Its purpose is for Catholics to acknowledge the presence of and to honor Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In the Holy Eucharist, we truly believe that Jesus is present in His Body, Blood, soul and divinity.
It is easy for us to “go through the motions” as Catholics, and one of the easiest gestures that we have forgotten lately is to forget the meaning of why we should genuflect. Often, we find ourselves walking into church, finding a pew and then sitting down. So why should Catholics genuflect when they walk into a church?
Well, the act of genuflecting on one knee comes from court etiquette centuries ago and was done by a person in the presence of a medieval king or noble. It was a sign of respect as well as a pledge of service.
Christians adopted this custom over time, and it became fully integrated into the liturgy of the Roman Rite by the 16th century. The left knee was always used to give reverence to a king and so to distinguish the Christian usage of the custom, Christians would genuflect in church on the right knee to God.
The Catechism supports this teaching, “In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord (CCC 1378).”
A practical tip to know if it’s appropriate to genuflect in our Assumption Parish or any Catholic church is to look for the red sanctuary lamp. If it’s lit, that means Jesus is present and the proper response is to genuflect to show our love and honor. As a reminder, Catholics are only asked to genuflect while passing before the tabernacle. That means, if a Catholic church has the tabernacle in a separate chapel of Eucharistic reservation, you only genuflect when walking by it, not every time you enter the main body of the church.