UNDERSTANDING YOUR FAITH: GENUFLECTION
By Vic Scaravilli
Catholics observe many traditions in their worship. These various activities are done to honor and praise our God. The many traditions we follow are rich in symbolism. They are ways we acknowledge our faith and love toward the Lord.
Genuflection, which simply means bending the knee, is the most usual way we show reverence for the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle. This is commonly done entering and leaving the church. Another time this tradition is observed is during the mass celebration when the priest genuflects during the consecration of the bread and wine.
Genuflection was a way of showing reverence and worship in pre-Christian times. Among pagans, especially of the Roman Empire, it signified adoration and worship of the gods and the Roman Emperors. As a result, the early Christians were careful not to genuflect so they could not be accused of adopting a pagan practice and stood as they prayed.
By the second century, about 100 years after the death of Jesus, the habit of kneeling became common among Christians. However, genuflection does not appear to have become acceptable until well after the persecutions ceased and Christianity was no longer a prohibited religion.
During the early centuries, the Church prescribed the low bow from the waist rather than genuflection as the usual way to show respect of the Blessed Sacrament and to the altar during the celebration of the Liturgy of the Mass. It was in the 16th century when genuflection was incorporated into the celebration of the Mass.
Today, we genuflect out of reverence for the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist as it reminds us that Jesus is the Lord at whose name every knee should bend as the apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:10.
Another practice we observe is standing during the proclamation of the Gospel. Again, this tradition was started in the early Church and is still observed today. The practice of standing during the Gospel reading can be traced to the 3rd century. Throughout the first thousand years of the Church, there are many references to this tradition.
The practice of standing to greet the Gospel is as old as the Church herself. While the earlier readings from the Old and New Testaments, instruct, inform, and inspire people, the reading of the Gospel were viewed as an encounter with the Lord Himself. Standing, similar to kneeling, is a way to show reverence for Christís message to us.
Probably no other action identifies a person as a Catholic so easily as the Sign of the Cross. This practice is one of the oldest because it was used as a way to recognize other Christians in times of persecution. The simple act of tracing the cross on oneís body was how a person identified himself as a follower of Christ to others. This practice is documented as early as the second century.
Today, we use this tradition in many ways. It is used in the administration of the Sacraments, the beginning and ending of the mass, before the reading of the Gospel, during prayers, and when we receive the Eucharist. This simple gesture sums up our faith. We believe in the triune God and dedicate all of our activities to Him.
We are fortunate to have many different traditions in our worship. As we continue to observe them, remember that we do them out of our love for our Lord and to physically show our faith and trust in Him.