Maybe your parents trained you. Maybe it was your grandmother. Maybe it was Sister Mary Margaret. Someone along the way probably taught you that you should genuflect when you enter your pew in a Catholic Church. Many Catholics do it out of instinct or natural reaction. How many times have we actually paused to think about what this action means?
In our Catholic faith, the tradition of genuflecting as we enter or exit a pew actually has nothing to do with the pew, but everything to do with the one who is in the Sanctuary...no, not the priest, but rather, Jesus Christ. Catholics genuflect in Church in order to show our reverence to the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The tradition began as a recognition of the importance of Jesus in our lives. In the past, people would genuflect before important figures, such as kings or princes. It was a gesture that recognized the importance of the person in front of them. Early Christians recognized that Jesus was not just a king, but the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Prince of peace. And so, because Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist, they recognized that they should at least pay the same type of respect to Jesus as they would an earthly ruler. Thus, the tradition began.
So for us in 2017, we continue this practice. I will recommend three things to think about when you genuflect to the tabernacle. First, it is an act of humility. It is a recognition of the sovereignty of God. It is a statement saying, “You are God and I am not.” In a certain sense, it reminds us that God is more wonderful than us and we humble ourselves before his glory.
Second, it is an act of service. Just as knights would kneel before their king and say “At your service,” so too for us, as believers, we put ourselves at the service of God. And God’s service will be to love him and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we genuflect, we can see ourselves as knights before the great King.
Finally, it is an act of love. Many times, when a man proposes to a woman, he will kneel before her with a ring in his hand. He asks for the privilege of giving himself to her and of her choosing to love him back. In a similar way, we do this when we genuflect to Jesus. An opening of our heart in love to the one who loves us to the point of death on a cross.
So today, and for the rest of our lives, let us not simply genuflect out or reaction or habit. Rather, let us genuflect out of humility, service, and love. When we do this, we will be more open to recognizing Jesus’ love for us in our lives.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl